Black Rose Arc: All Killer but How Much Filler?

There are many points that one can debate in Revolutionary Girl Utena due to the nature of how Kunihiko Ikuhara tells a story. Sometimes his imagery has a clear and obviously metaphor behind it and other times things are purposefully left vague so that audience can draw their own conclusions on what certain things mean. The exact nature of the power of Dios, what is real and what is illusion at the school, and what exactly happens to Utena at the end of show can all be debated back and forth. There are as many interpretations of Nanami’s Egg as stars in the sky. But oddly enough one of the oldest and fiercest debates I have seen people get into has nothing to do with any of the symbolism in the show itself. It is if the Black Rose Arc is filler or not. The dread word filler casts a icky cold chill on the heart of many an anime fan. Perhaps it makes them flash back in to horror of the unbroken train of 76 episodes of Naruto filler, the infamous Island Arc of Nadia, or the dreadful last few arcs of the Kenshin anime. The question is can you label the Black Rose Arc with the shameful title of filler?

Having been full engrossed in Utena a couple of times over now, I start to pick out certain aspects that I might not have otherwise. I’d say this is all for the better; my love has not waned for Nanami’s dramatics nor Chu Chu’s mischief. But there is a question that comes up now and again regarding the place the Black Rose arc has in the story. Breaking it down in certain ways can make it seem like filler, but I’m not so sure it really is.

There are several reasons people call the Black Rose Arc a filler arc. The first is that at the end of the arc no one but Akio and Anthy remember any of the events that transpired in the Mikage Seminar. Since neither Utena or the Student Council remembers the arc how important could it really be. Touga also spends most of the arc practically catatonic. He never talks except for when they use old voice samples. This leads to some people to theorizing that Takehito Koyasu was unable to voice Touga and this arc was made to kill time until he could come back and voice his vital character again. Also people would say that minor important events happen but they could have all happened before or after the Black Rose Arc will only a minimum of effort. One of the biggest things people bring up to prove the arc is filler is that by the time the anime started the Black Rose Arc it had caught up to the manga. Therefore anything not based on the manga is filler. The other camp would claim that since they were essentially started together the anime story has no greater or lesser precedence. They are simultaneous stories with the same start. Also Mikage and later Ruka were added into side stories of the manga as they were so popular in the anime. But does a manga extra that effect the filler status of the anime?

On the other hand people defending the arc will say that several significant things happen that raise the arc out of the filler ghetto. We get the development of many of the secondary cast including the Student Council and their related, friends, family, and enemies. You only understand how twisted Kozue is or how lonely Wakaba is in the Black Rose Arc.  That in turn show us volumes about the Student Council members related to them as well. Also this is the first formal introduction to Akio outside of Tracing A Path. By the end of the arc we slowly learn that Akio is up to no good and that Anthy is more involved with the insidious nature of the duels than she lets on. Also this is when Saionji gets readmitted back to the school after his expulsion which cannot be ignored as a minor event. There is also the revelation that the duels and the attempts to tap into the power of Dios have been going far longer than this current batch of students. The arc is also a powerful bridge from the lighter parts of the Student Council Arc to the darkness of the Apocalypse Arc. Without this building of the themes, tone, and characters the rest of the show would seem to be out of nowhere.

There is a certain lack of Utena in this arc, especially when it comes to the duels. Utena takes her role as protector very seriously but the fights themselves are very redundant. She almost has a backseat to the story during the Black Rose arc. So considering the show isn’t called Fast Times at Ohtori Academy, the balance seems off. However, her personal life gets quite a boost here as we meet and start to learn about Akio (what we learn: AGH!) and his relationship to the school as well as End of the World which are all significant. You could argue that all this could all be sped up but it also adds a lot of questions and tension about how it will resolve and I don’t think that’s a function to be taken lightly.

Mikage is also a very interesting character in the fact that he is in many was a dark mirror of Utena. They look very similar with their pink hair, slim frame, and delicate features. He only enters into the search for the power of Dios in earnest when he is doing it to save another. By the end of his journey he has shown that his actual motivations were far more selfish and delusional than Utena’s. But the fact is they both started on the same road paved with good intentions. One just quickly spiraled down towards the path to hell. In fact his duel episode is called Qualifications of a Duelist. It can be augured that Utena fighting Mikage who is essentially the dark version of herself is what qualifies her to go out to the later duels. Sort of like Dark Link in a Zelda game.

The real curiosity through this whole section of story is Mikage. The whole system at his “seminars” is where we first realize just how freakin’ creepy RGU can be. It also goes a long way in showing everyone’s personal demons and thus framing them in contrast to Utena. Mikage also brings about a lot of questions about The Rose Bride; who can be one and why. The problem seems to be, what happens with Mikage is kind of like what happens in Vegas so it stays in this arc and that’s that. In any case, this arc of the series does go to show that the goings on are not only mysterious and odd, but downright sinister at points.

Part of the problem in the end is that there are no strict guides for what is filler and what is not. There are some episodes that are clearly just time killing episodes set in between arc of an established story. Other times most episodes are clearly not in the filler category no matter how unessential they are to the plot. It is that middle area where most of the debate lies. In my opinion for something to truly be filler it must have no relevant bearing on the main plot line. Otherwise magical girl shows and super robot shows are mainly 48 episodes of filler and 4 episodes of actual episodes. I think that enough happens that is vital to the plot that while the episodes could be removed there would be a distinct loss with their removal making the whole series suffer. On the other hand if someone were to argue that the Black Rose Arc was filler while I would disagree I would not consider them a fool who had no evidence to back up their case.

I’m of two minds when it comes to this arc. On the one hand, it gives us some insight into the extended cast of characters swirling about Utena. One the other hand, most everything related to Mikage in this arc is never touched on again rendering it irrelevant. But considering how much most of us like the rest of the cast, or at the very least are curious about them, it doesn’t come off as a waste of time. Though I will say without the mysterious Touga I find this arc a little harder but not without merit.


3 thoughts on “Black Rose Arc: All Killer but How Much Filler?

  1. Daryl Surat says:

    Hmm…are there REALLY no agreed-upon guidelines over what constitutes filler/fill-in? Isn’t it typically understood that the term is applied to storylines which neither develop the characters nor ongoing storyline–the term is not used for non-serialized works–at all? Because I’m pretty sure most people understand that, even if they may not necessarily be able to verbalize it.

    The Black Rose arc isn’t as blatant an example as your typical shonen action-adventure’s foray into filler material, though. It’s a multi-episode story that does not advance the plot, but does develop the characters. Most character introspective stories are single-episode tales, and the Black Rose episodes are no exception. It’s just that we get several of them one after the other.

    From a production standpoint, filler at its purest results from when the creative staff (which is often, but not always, an entirely different creative team than usual) is explicitly told by the producers that they have to tell a story of X duration in which at the end of the day, everything and everyone has to be right the way they were at the beginning.

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