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A logical step for the young fan of anime is this series from the creator of the popular crossover hit Sailor Moon. The story line skews slightly older, not for its violence but for its complexity. The theme is modern mythology, not intergalactic warfare, so it's more interesting and less violent than in Sailor Moon. And less bubble-headed. Our heroine, Utena, is admired by classmates who share Sailor Moon's giddy hysterics, but Utena herself is solid, noble, and strong. Saved by a prince as a child, Utena dresses in the men's uniform of the expansive Ohtori Academy. Her goal is to be prince, and in this introductory disc (seven episodes, nearly three hours of material), she shows signs of becoming one. The scheming student council allows her into the mysterious forest arena, where she wins a sword duel (not played for blood) and wins the devoted loyalty of Anthy, the mysterious Rose Bride. They become a team, discovering the riddles of the arena forest and fending off challengers (while excelling in classes to boot). While some Westerners may read far too much into the sexual politics of the series, it's very old-fashioned at its core: Utena's affections are girded toward a duelist who just may be the prince who saved her years before. Some mild domestic violence and oddly subtitled songs ("Absolute Destroy Apocalyptic," "Paleozoic Era in the Flies") will ruffle some parents, but for ages 9 and up it's engaging entertainment. Utena delivers for girls what Star Wars did for boys: a never-ending series of adventures that one can imagine themselves in, whether daydreaming or playing in the backyard. The DVD comes in both subtitled and dubbed formats. --Doug Thomas
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