Synopsis: Utena Tenjou is a new student at the Ohtori Academy, where everyone seems in awe of certain sword-wielding students called duelists. Surprised to see her ex-boyfriend Touga in campus, Utena receives a signet ring from a rose similar to the one he is wearing. Utena then meets a strange girl named Anthy Himemiya tending to the rose garden. But Anthy Himemiya is also the Rose Bride, and her current prince Saionji is offended by Utena's presence. After seeing the signet ring in Utena's hand, Saionji accepts Utena sa a fellow duelist and challenges her to a duel. Utena is confused. She only accepts the challenge after witnessing Saionji's rough manner with Anthy. Utena starts to fight, not knowing why... but this will mark the beginning of Utena's search for answers, and ultimately, Utena's search for herself.
Review: As in the TV series, for one to be able to appreciate this movie, one must take things in the Utena universe's context. Everything that happens is dictated by their own set of realities, which is to say the least, different from what we're used to.
I can't really say that this is a sequel to the TV series. The cast is made up of the same familiar faces, but they are new people at the same time. Anthy is no longer the overly silent and docile girl that she was on TV; she has somehow grown a spine for this movie. The new Anthy is more assertive, and is even a bit naughty and flirtatious... she also looks a lot better. The movie Utena is not as self-assured as the TV Utena -- she is more withdrawn, and it seems that her originally more impulsive nature has been traded in for a more cautious attitude.
The plot is difficult to explain without giving away spoilers. I can't elaborate further than what I summarized above without revealing any of the surprise twists. What I can tell you is, this movie is loaded with various symbolisms. It gets as wild as Utena herself transforming into a car. While some fans were miffed by this outrageous development, it didn't really bother me because I actually got the message it was trying to convey.
The art and animation are no less than magnificent. Everything and everyone are drawn and portrayed beautifully. The movements are incredibly fluid -- from the characters' wind-blown hair to their graceful sword swings. The music shares the TV series' strange but fitting style. I must admit that there were a few unclear parts for me, but overall, I find this movie an exceptional piece of work. You need not have watched the TV series but having a bit of Utena background would make things easier to understand. Truly a work of art and a must-see for Utena fans... but I wouldn't use it as an introductory piece for the uninitiated.
Miscellanies: Only 10,000 copies of the limited edition DVD were released.