Review: Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Black Rose Saga

Revolutionary Girl Utena began its run with a tremendous impact. The show’s first thirteen episodes were a rare blend of gorgeous artwork,incredible music, and strong writing that brought the cast and setting to life. To match, let alone exceed these episodes going forward is a tall order. While it certainly is possible, there also exists the real chance that the show could simply fall apart at the seams at this point, as well.

On the academy grounds, there was once a building devoted to study. One hundred special students reported to the structure, as they hoped to unlock the secrets of eternity and of revolution. The building met a fiery fate one day, and none of the inhabitants within survived. The disaster was quickly forgotten, and the Nemuro Memorial Hall was erected in its place. At a glance, this hall is but a deserted reminder of the past tragedy. Deeper within though, the mysterious Mikage Seminar can be found. It is said that this group can provide guidance for those in need.

Shortly after her triumph over the Student Council, Utena began receiving the notes. Every day, a new challenge appears in her locker each on a card bearing the mark of the black rose. At the dueling grounds, her challengers wait amid strange silhouettes that litter the ground, and one hundred vacant, neatly arranged desks. These foes are unlike those she’s faced before, though. Friends, acquaintances, and familiar faces arise, one by one to challenge Utena, each proudly wearing black roses on their breasts and black Rose Ring on their fingers. The new duelists share the one goal that’s been lain out to them: to atone for their sins by causing the Revolution and killing the Rose Bride. With the chime of the dueling bells, these new duelists fight with a passion not found in the student council. Their emotions are wild, their wounds run deep. Each of the fighters is haunted by the sins of their pasts, of which they desperately seek to cleanse themselves.

The story, while simple at the outset, provides a fascinating look at the darker elements of the school itself. As each black rose finds its host, viewers are given a voyeur’s view at the personal lives of the students that aren’t normally in the lime-light. Tales of jealousy, ire, and unfulfilled desires bubble to the surface as these students are forced to grow up, even if it’s just by a tiny amount. These tales are tied together by the tragic, yet fascinating tale of Mikage, and the original student of the Nemuro Research Group. Details on how these two stories came to intersect are hinted at, merely glimpsed upon for much of the arc, as everything builds to a satisfying climax.

The musical score takes a darker turn to match the Black Rose Saga’s shift in pacing and tone. The cheerful melodies that were found throughout the previous act were mostly replaced, by tense string-heavy tunes. Iconic melodies are warped into sinister mockeries of themselves, and the show’s signature pre-battle anthem, Zettai Unmei Mokushiroku, receives a hard-edged make-over. A new selection of hard-edged vocal melodies accompany the battles.

Utena is a show that simply keeps getting better as it progresses. The Black Rose Saga’s darker tone and more personal tales are a welcome change of pace from the episodes in the previous arc. Characters that were just background dressing suddenly gain significance, and their own issues, while simple on the surface, are those which can speak volumes to viewers. With one arc remaining, there is much potential for an incredible finale. At the same time, there is a great possibility that this potential can be squandered. Hopefully, the latter doesn’t come to pass, as a poor finish would leave far worse than a simple bad taste in one’s mouth at this point.

Revolutionary Girl Utena is distributed by Nozomi Entertainment.
The series can be purchased at Right Stuf.

Thanks to Nozomi for providing a review copy!

About the author

Samantha Ferreira

Samantha Ferreira is Anime Herald’s founder and editor-in-chief. A Rhode Island native, Samantha has been an anime fan since 1992, and an active member of the anime press since 2002, when she began working as a reviewer for Anime Dream. She launched Anime Herald in 2010, and continues to oversee its operations to this day. Outside of journalism, Samantha actively studies the history of the North American anime fandom and industry, with a particular focus on the 2000s anime boom and bust. She’s a huge fan of all things Sakura Wars, and maintains series fansite Combat Revue Review when she has free time available. When not in the Anime Herald Discord, Samantha can typically be found on Bluesky.

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