Now THIS is the Utena I remember.
Ikuhara is fully in his occult-opera groove, and mmmm, that is some glorious nonsense. It's
downright magical. My desire to blog wars with my desire to not ruin anything for anyone lucky enough to not have seen this yet, so I'll just stick to the big picture.
So, after the student council spent all of last arc trying to break Utena's will with their own, we switch tactics from the overt to the repressed... and make a clean break from their themes with a remix of "The Revelation of Absolute Destiny", themed dueling arenas, and the infamous Elevator of Emotional Torment.
The Black Roses' schtick is creating duelists from that old Jungian anime favorite, the shadow. In response, Utena starts relying more on her own "higher self", Dios, to win battles, rather than her own skill, or even luck.
Not that she seems aware of this. The Black Rose antics provide the first overt "magic" we've seen that isn't dismissed as a trick of some kind, and while Utena doesn't seem too shaken up, she does turn to another character to stay centered. We'll see how this works out.
Amazingly, the dub is actually sort of good here! The always magnificently-hammy Dan Green and Liam O'Brien foreshadow their yaoistic pairing in Descendants of Darkness with Mikage and Mamiya, and Akio's fiancee totally sells her trip through the Elevator. Shame the rest of the cast is as awkward as always.
So yeah, the Black Rose arc is full steam ahead for loopy greatness. Utena's particular charm is the way it totally wears its heart on its sleeve, but isn't above blowing off some steam by going even further over the top to poke fun at itself (which is to say yes, there's another Nanami comedy episode on this disc, and it's actually one that gets directly referenced in the movie). I genuinely have no idea how much of my love for this show is totally legitimate and how much is camp value, but the series definitely swings both ways.