We last left Utena and Anthy still "engaged" thanks to Utena's ability to defeat all the challengers presented to her, so that she can keep Anthy free to do what she wants. The Black Rose Saga picks up right where The Student Council Saga left off. Saionji has been expelled for his actions and after his loss to Utena, Touga has become deeply depressed and gone into hiding in his room. To try and help her big brother, Nanami has taken over as acting Student Council President. Nanami really has grown up some, but she's still a bit of a comic relief with her silly, evil fantasies. Miki isn't as much of a main player as before, especially at the end, but near the beginning we finally get to meet his twin sister, Kozue. His sister really likes to get under his skin by upsetting him. Her actions and thoughts make her a perfect candidate for the Black Rose group, which I'll get to shortly.
It turns out that Anthy has a brother, Akio. He's engaged to Kanae Ohtori, the chairman of the board's daughter. Kanae really doesn't like Anthy though and quite honestly, I don't blame her. There's something really weird going on between Anthy and her brother when they shut the blinds and no one else is there. Granted, we're not sure what, but it just looks bad to me and is definitely not appropriate! Anyway, thanks to her hatred of Anthy, Kanae is another great candidate for the Black Rose group. Supposedly, Akio knows nothing about his sister being the Rose Bride or anything about the duels going on at the school.
Remember the previous Rose Bride, Shiori, that back-stabbed Jury? Well, she's back at the school and really upsets Jury! Apparently, she is no longer with the guy that she stole from Jury. They "went their separate ways." I don't think there's any way Jury will forgive Shiori, but honestly I can't blame her. I don't think I'd forgive her either! Shiori isn't as innocent as she seems though, once her inner thoughts are revealed, which makes her a perfect candidate for the Black Rose group as well.
As you can tell, this Black Rose group is going to be a huge problem for Utena this year. All her challengers come from duelists that they have recruited because of evil in their hearts, stemming from jealousy of a loved one. They are being recruited by Mikage, who is a teacher at the school. His protégé, Mamiya, takes care of the black roses that they use the poison from to mind-control their recruits. Their goal is to kill the Rose Bride so that they can install their own Black Rose Bride. Of course, Utena and her friends have no clue what is going on, because every time Utena wins a duel with one of them, their black rose ring disintegrates and they have no memory of what happened, of dueling, or of anything that can help solve the mystery.
Included on the DVD are interviews with the director and art boards that are just fantastic. Even better, there is a 90 page book with interviews and amazing line drawings. I'm not sure why seeing them on printed paper is so much better to me, but it's a really nice bonus feature included with the box set. Whereas The Student Council Saga was all about the council fighting Utena, The Black Rose Saga is all about the subvert group trying to find a Black Rose challenger to beat Utena and kill Anthy so that they can have their own Black Rose Bride. There are quite a few more recruits that I've mentioned here, pretty much one per episode. The first few episodes are mostly fighting, but it gets back to more of a story before too long and by the end, you find yourself shocked at what happens and wanting to know more continually. I would have liked a bit more plot and fewer fight songs. I must say though, I was completely lost sometimes. I'm really hoping that the next saga will answer a few of the questions as to the true nature of Akio and his plans, and of Utena's captured prince who appears to be Akio's prisoner. Obviously, Akio knows a lot more than he lets on and I can't wait to find out what!