Revolutionary Girl Utena (Volume 5: Darkness Beckoning) Review
This write-up is a bit unusual in that it has been deliberately restricted to three sections: 'Episode Guide', 'Extras', and 'Packaging'. This is because this is only one of four individual DVD volumes of Revolutionary Girl Utena contained in Central Park Media's 'The Black Rose Saga Collection', whose overall review can be found here.
Episode Guide (and Possible Spoilers)
Remarkably, it's almost a non-comic-relief Nanami episode. But that's because it's not in fact about Nanami at all, but about one of her obsequious 'wolfpack', Keiko. As it turns out, the only reason she and the other two girls that constitute Nanami's 'groupies' choose to hang out with her is because it allows them all to get a bit closer to her brother Touga and all the trappings of high-society that go with being Nanami's 'friends'.
Unfortunately for Keiko, her attraction to Touga is discovered by Nanami, who then proceeds to expel the hapless toady from her inner circle. What to do, what to do? Yes, she of course makes a beeline for Nemuro Memorial Hall and our man Mikage. After retrieving her weapon from Touga's chest, our latest Black Rose Duellist confronts Utena, but again to no avail.
22: 'Nemuro Memorial Hall'
At last, another episode that's key to understanding what's going on in Revolutionary Girl Utena. To summarise briefly, Mikage finally gives up trying to find someone who can defeat Utena in the Duelling Arena and instead tries recruiting her directly to his side. Although he fails in this regard, the rest of the episode is very revealing about the history of Nemuro Memorial Hall and Mikage's involvement in the search for the Power of Dios.
The tale comes in several layers. Apparently, decades ago there was a brilliant professor named Nemuro who was overseeing a contract with Ohtori Academy on a project 'to revolutionise the world' and 'obtain eternity'. He had 100 gifted schoolboys working under him, and they were making definite progress... until a fire trapped all the students in the hall and it burned down with them inside.
However, it becomes clear that Mikage and Professor Nemuro are the same person. Just as curious is the fact that we witness (in flashback) Nemuro/Mikage being contracted (with a rose signet ring, of course) by none other than Akio himself (also looking just as young back then)! We also learn that while Nemuro was never driven with the same zeal to finish the project as the students working under him... until he met Mamiya, the sickly younger brother of a woman (Tokiko) sent round by the Board of Directors to inspect the project's status. Deciding that the only way to save the boy's life was to 'obtain eternity' for him, Nemuro set feverishly about the task.
But how did the fire actually start? Our glimpse into the past suggests that it was Mamiya who set the fire, making the realisation that the only way to achieve the next stage of the project was to sacrifice the 100 students. And yet, there's something not quite right here... when we jump back to the present, we see Akio being visited by a much-older Tokiko, who has come to the campus to visit Mamiya's grave.
23: 'The Terms of the Duellist'
So what the hell is going on here? A fair question, and one this episode aims to answer. Mikage again attempts to enlist Utena to his side, even going so far as to offer his personal assistance with any problems Utena or her friends might be having. With this assurance, Utena visits Nemuro Memorial Hall, but before she can have her meeting with Mikage, she notices the many pictures of the Black Rose Duellists adorning the corridor and deduces that Mikage is the one behind it all. Taking an active (rather than reactive) role for once, she challenges him on the spot to a duel.
During the course of the duel, Mikage's personal reality begins to unravel. He realises abruptly that the beautiful youth whom he's been talking to all this time isn't the real Mamiya at all, and that that boy did die not long after he (Nemuro) met him so long ago. It was Nemuro/Mikage who deliberately set the fire at the hall, tapping the energy of the 100 students he sacrificed in order to open the way to the Duelling Arena and the floating castle above it. It seems obvious that Akio (whom we now know to be something other than merely mortal) has been manipulating Mikage's mental state, trapping the latter in a delusion where he was someone else, but still working towards the same goal (which suggests strongly to anyone paying attention that Akio is 'End of the World').
And then everything's changed. The duel is over as if it had never been, and we find Miki and Utena wandering past a burnt-out ruin of a building on the edge of campus. Utena asks what's the story there, and Miki provides the fire story once more, but struggles to remember the name of the man it was named after in memoriam. It seems that in this revised world, Mikage/Nemuro never existed. Not a bad trick, that.
While the first two volumes of Utena ('The Rose Collection 1 and 2') were a trifle lacklustre in the special features department (notwithstanding a fair amount of DVD-ROM content which isn't going to be accessible to everyone), these later releases from 'The Black Rose Saga Collection' fare somewhat better in this department.
On volume 5, we have a decent selection of extras. First, there's an art gallery (essentially an automatic slideshow of 11 images, framed - that is, not full-screen - accompanied by sound clips from the show). This is followed by a interview with Kunihiko Ikuhara (the director) regarding Revolutionary Girl Utena (in actuality one-quarter of a single interview session was edited down and distributed across volumes 3-6). Although Ikuhara himself only speaks Japanese, the interview session is fully subtitled in English, so no worries there.
The segment included here is called 'The Voice of His Cast', and mostly concentrates on what his experience has been like working and living in the USA. Of all of these director interview clips, this one has to be the most entertaining, particularly as when the interviewer asks what was the hardest aspect of life in America for him to adjust to, Ikuhara comes back with the risible left-field comment, 'the pillows... they're too soft!'. Still, at just over 3 minutes in length, there's not a lot of time for Ikuhara to really provide any substantive comments, so it all feels a bit pell-mell.
Next on the menu is an actor interview with Carol Jacobanis, who plays the 'shadow girls' on the English dub. Her previous voice acting is limited to only a few credited roles such as Journey in the Gall Force series, Maho from His and Her Circumstances, Shinka from Labyrinth of Flames, and various roles in Boogiepop Phantom. At just under 5 minutes long, there's not a lot of material, but - not to be outdone by her colleagues (whose interviews appear on volumes 3, 4, and 6) - she does take the opportunity to discuss her involvement in the spiritual philosophy of Rei Ki. (I'm afraid there are no English for the Hard of Hearing (HOH) subtitles provided for this particular interview.)
Following this we have a quick text-only recap of the storyline covered during episodes 18-20 of Revolutionary Girl Utena and a brand-new special feature: a sing-along presentation of the new version of the 'duelling song' (you know, the one that plays when Utena has to fight one of her endless series of challengers) first featured in episode 23. Basically it's just the entire video clip of that fight from the moment the song starts to the moment it ends, accompanied by subtitles with highlighting that coincides with the timing of the Japanese lyrics, so you can pace yourself appropriately. I know, maybe not many people out there really feel the need to sing along with Japanese animé song lyrics, but it's fun to have this as an unexpected extra.
In the way of 'sort of' extras we have a brief advert for the 2003 Big Apple Animé Fest and a handful of trailers for other Central Park Media DVD releases (DNA2, Rhea Gall Force, Gall Force Trilogy, and Descendants of Darkness).
That's it for what's easily accessible right from your standalone DVD player. However, if you have a DVD-ROM drive on your computer, CPM have also included a PC-compatible application which will give you access to additional content in the form of the complete cast listing, production credits, and English dub scripts. These are nice to have, but the fact that they are put in a place not everyone will have access to means I can't give them full credit in the Extras score for these DVDs.
Each of the four DVDs included in the box set comes in a transparent Amaray case with double-sided sleeve inserts (a nice touch which is fairly standard on CPM releases), the reverse of which provide complete lists of both chapter breaks and voice casts (both English and Japanese) along with an abridged version of the production credits.
As for the cover art, volume 5 features yet another in the seemingly endless two-shots that the Utena packaging favours. This time around the picture is of Juri and Shiori back-to-back, the former with sword drawn and facing the camera and the latter looking away. This is printed on a plain white background with a golden rose border this time around. The back cover looks a bit busy by comparison, as every scrap of white space is filled with text... but it's better to have more information than less, so this isn't really a criticism.