Revolutionary Girl Utena (Volume 6: The Beginning of the End) 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)
24: 'The Secret Nanami Diary'
Right. So after all the heavy plot development of the preceding two episodes, it appears the writing team decided to take a break and insert the usual filler piece. What we have here is essentially a recap episode which takes us on a brisk stroll down Nanami memory lane, using the very obvious device of Mitsuru having kept a secret diary wherein he chronicles all of Nanami's petty schemes. This is about a dull as you'd expect. I'd suggest skipping it, but it's already on the DVD, so you may as well breeze through it.
25: 'Their Eternal Apocalypse'
As mentioned earlier, Akio finally gets around to installing Utena and Anthy in one of the spare bedrooms at his mansion, which is certainly going to make Anthy's late night 'visits' with her brother every Saturday night a lot more convenient. This is only one of several changes that mark the start of what fans generally refer to as the 'Akio Ohtori Saga'; others include the sudden resumption of correspondence from 'End of the World' to the Student Council, the abrupt appearance of a strange gondola installed in the pillar that supports the Duelling Arena, and a new event formula for the coming episodes.
Specifically, now that Mikage and his Black Rose Duellists are no more, Akio tries a new tactic... direct recruitment of the Student Council members. (Why he should want to do this when technically he already has them working for him is rather puzzling. My personal take on this is that the writers ran out of ideas but needed more warm bodies to throw at Utena, so they figured enough time had passed and that no one would notice if they started recycling some of the original duellists again. Which is what they now proceed to do.)
The first on the chopping block is Saionji, whom Touga 'introduces' to Akio. Akio takes the lads for a ride in his flash car, and it's obvious that Touga's been taken for a ride by Akio before. (Ahem.) After cruising for a bit, Akio announces that he's going to reveal to Saionji the 'End of the World', and our rather thick green-haired boy finally puts two and two together.
When next we see him, he's much more confident and grabs Anthy in front of Utena and Miki, seeming more than ready for the challenge of a duel. Later, in the Duelling Arena, things go badly for Utena when the Sword of Dios suddenly vanishes from her grasp in mid-fight (a development which comes as a shock not only to her, but to Akio and Touga, viewing the battle at a distance). Although she looks set to lose at this point, at the last moment Anthy intervenes and - for a change of pace - pulls the sword out of Utena, which gives her the weapon she needs to finish the duel and emerge victorious.
26: 'Miki's Nest Box: The Sunlit Garden'
With the new formula now established, it's Miki's turn to take a ride in Akio's big flash car. (This time the person doing the 'introduction' is his sister Kozue, who through general innuendo makes out that she's been, well, making out with Akio.) A lot more is revealed to Miki that the 'End of the World'; both Kozue and Akio use his attraction to Anthy as a means to get him to challenge Utena once more, and we're treated to the new standard version of the fight up in the Duelling Arena, complete with, erm, big flash cars. (No, I'm not joking.)
In case you're wondering where the title for this episode comes from, it refers to a relatively minor incident at the start where Kozue falls (and Miki catches her) after trying to save a bird's nest when she heard a certain tree was going to be chopped down. The two of them proceed to erect a birdhouse together, but the background story events suggest that their parents are divorced and that their father is preparing to marry again... which may have something to do with Kozue's erratic behaviour (or it might not).
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 6, we have a decent selection of extras. First, there's an art gallery (essentially an automatic slideshow of 9 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 Mysteries of Utena', and ostensibly answers some important questions about the series. In point of fact, however, the coverage is really scattershot and doesn't even address any of the main mysteries of the show. (For example, Ikuhara really seems to be hedging when he claims that they were simply using lesbianism as a 'symbol' to represent minority groups... something that directly contradicts the position of author Chiho Saito, who's said on numerous occasions that Utena and Anthy should be considered 'a married couple'.) Moreover, both the interviewer and Ikuhara seem more interested in discussing how the Utena film differs from the TV series, which again isn't precisely what you'd expect from the title of this interview segment. At least he does get in a good discussion of the origin of the 'shadow girls', whose theatrical pedigree is tied to the use of 'kuroko' in Japanese stage plays. Anyway, at just under 5 minutes in length, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that not a lot of ground is covered... and, thankfully, this also means that there aren't any real spoilers to speak of, so you could conceivably watch this before viewing the three episodes on this disc.
Next on the menu is an actor interview with Leah Appplebaum, who plays Nanami on the English dub. Her previous voice acting is negligible (Erika in Pokémon), but she does take the time to wish anyone else who might be thinking of getting into VA work the best of luck, explaining that 'it's not all about making funny voices'. At just under 3 minutes long, there's not a lot of material, but it's always nice to get to 'meet' the actors behind the animation. (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 21-23 of Revolutionary Girl Utena and a brand-new special feature: a karaoke (music-only) version of the show's super-catchy opening theme song (Rinbu Revolution), accompanied by subtitles whose highlighting 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 releases (Ariel, Descendants of Darkness, Gall Force, Tokyo Babylon, and the CPM manga line).
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 6 features yet another sister-brother pairing, this time of Nanami and Touga, looking for all the world as if they were just dancing when she had a sudden impulse to wrap her legs around him. This is printed on a plain white background with a blue rose border this time. 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. (Although, again, the 'summary blurb' is misleading.)