Looking at the forums thread for the 100th episode of the ANNCast I learned a shocking fact. Apparently there are people in the anime fandom who have never seen Revolutionary Girl Utena. This is a sad state of affairs that must be rectified as soon as possible. With something as unusual as Utena it is clear that not everyone will enjoy the show. Its avant-garde nature, melodramatic style, and odd sexuality can easily turn people away from this show. But all those things make the show at least worth sampling to see if they appeal to you. It is just a show that feels so different that you have to see it just to experience what it brings to the table if you consider yourself any sort of seasoned anime fan. You don’t have to love it and you don’t even have to watch all of it. But is should have at least a passing familiarity with. When the series was out of print this claim was a harder sell but recently Nozomi has re-released the series with remastered audio and video. Plus on they have episodes streaming on their YouTube page. Now is the best time to sample the series legitimately as well as pick it up on disk in a resplendent re-release. But as great as the show is the extras included in the new box sets are just as enticing.
If Nozomi has proven their worth with anything, it is these Revolutionary Girl Utena box sets. Picking up the series with a major remaster of animation and sound is great, but more than anything else is the new life the booklets bring to the show. Many anime titles come with extras but few bring you such knowledge that is packed into these allowing you to walk away with an even better appreciation for Utena (I didn’t know it was possible to love it more).
The booklets are just treasure troves of information. First of all they have the meatiest of all extras in the form of cast interviews. And not just one or two members of the production staff are interviewed. Of course they have conversations with the director, Ikuhara but they also have some amazing conversations with almost every conceivable main staff member who worked on both the original anime and the remastering. They explore what went into the production, how collaborations went down, what was cut and changed as the series was developed, what snags and accident bits of genius they encountered along the way, and the feelings on the show after it was over. Any topic you would love to hear about in an interviews and more. It is remarkable to see how much the show changed from its initial concept to the end result. At points in the creation there were a team of magical swordswomen at the center of the show, Anthy and Utena were the same character, and even the name of the show itself went through various iterations. It is fascinating to see all the different tweaks they made to arrive where they did and what inspired them to do each of them. Everyone is fairly straight forward in their comments except Ikuhara. He sometimes tells you straight out what he is thinking but other times (especially with the individual episode commentaries) he hides his thoughts in metaphor much like the show does. But if you can grok his odd way of thinking there are some amazing insights into the themes of the anime. Also the books are invaluable for fans of Mawaru Penguindrum as he goes into things like his fascination with the theme of the “Wanted and Unwanted” that gets an even deeper examination in his latest work. If you ever desired a better understanding of this somewhat surreal show these books are the prefect guide through the labyrinth of metaphor. And then there is the artwork included in the books.
The production sketches, character art, and gallery of the many locations was enough to still my heart. The concept work shown for Ohtori Academy and the dueling arena are especially amazing. Utena’s limited budget made still shots important and you could see how much thought went into the architecture of the series, but this collection of pencil sketches shows it in minute detail. And the library of the many scene shots makes you appreciate the background that is, well in the background, and easily glossed over as you watch. All of this is ratcheted up in the movie with dizzying results. There are pages dedicated to the production of these intricate parts of the movie, layering pieces on top of each other and moving them in a way that seems unlikely any other production. Equally striking are the ideas for character options, always fun to see; it looks like they were thinking of making Utena blond for a while; and I can’t possibly image Touga with short-hair. In the character studies, you even see one of Anthy after she’s been slapped, guess they needed to get that right since it happens so often! Since Utena is from an age where many things were still done by hand, you end up with a greater appreciation for all the effort.
The disks themselves are also loaded with extras. Some of them are the interviews, sketches, and trailers that came with the original Central Park Media release of the anime. You know those interviews are old because they are from the Big Apple Anime Fest but they are still just as relevant and interesting ever. They also have trailers for the US and Japanese releases and some music videos that are so 90s it hurts. The real prizes are the commentary with Ikuhara and Chiho Saito on the last episode as well as Ikuhara’s commentary track on the movie. Truly an amazing set of extras. Also the ring you got for ordering all three box sets was something I begged Central Park Media for way back when they were first releasing the sets. It is the prefect little bonus for the series.
As a designer I’m pretty much in love with the packaging of these releases. The boxes play up the theatrical elements, the clean lines, and the architecture that is so present in the show. The silhouettes have a mysterious quality that is enhanced by the striking colors and patterns. Each booklet is vibrant and glossy and as we just mentioned, jam-packed with information. And if you don’t want a duelist ring after watching Revolutionary Girl Utena, then I just don’t know what to say.
Utena is my all time favorite anime series so I am so glad to see that it get such wonderful treatment with its re-release. It is a mind-blowing series and it has been given an equally eye-popping release. If nothing else I hope it does well enough that Nozomi looks into picking up Mawaru Penguindrum as well. Given their track record I feel they have proven themselves the best company to release the show in English. If you have not already watched it then go and sample it today!
Think of this as a thank you letter to Nozomi for bringing us something truly special.