Sailor Moon Crystal: Episodes 1 through 5 Review
Sailor Moon Crystal started in the fall of 2014 and continues to be in production as of the writing of this article (in Feb. 2015). Sailor Moon Crystal is a retelling of the original story of the popular girl's anime from the 90's, Sailor Moon. The basic story and characters are the same, but the way in which the story is told is sometimes radically different. The main differences are that Sailor Moon Crystal has an all-new look for the character designs, technology used in the show has been updated, and humorous distortion of the figure is taken out, heightening the seriousness and the drama of the story. This makes Sailor Moon Crystal, I believe, a deeper, more refined work of art, while keeping in everything that made us original fans fall in love with the characters.
According to the news portion of popular anime streaming site Crunchyroll, the first episode of Sailor Moon Crystal was viewed over a million times in the first two days of its premiere. That shows, beyond a doubt, that Sailor Moon remains one of the biggest and most influential hit anime series of all time, with fans coming back after 17 years, still eager for more. To this day, Sailor Moon is also a hit cosplay choice, and you're bound to see people dressed up as various Sailor Scouts at most conventions. What makes this show so fascinating and compelling to so many people?
Since I didn't want to wait until the series was done to critique it, and who knows how long it might keep going, I thought that what I might do instead is to critique it as it goes by discussing blocks of episodes at a time. To start off, let's take a look at the first part of the first season, episodes 1-5.
Episode 1. Act 1 - Usagi - Sailor Moon
Sailor Moon Crystal starts off basically redoing the old anime right from the start, but that doesn't mean it's exactly the same. High school student Usagi Tsukino is having a beautiful dream about a princess and prince, when she suddenly, comically wakes up, freaks out because she's late, and crashes down the stairs.
As she panics and rushes off to school (not with toast in her mouth now, sadly), the credits reveal a fairly cool new theme song and show animation of various characters that haven't been introduced yet, basically, the five inner senshi; Sailor Mars, Mercury, Venus, Moon, and Jupiter.
Again, on the way to school she bumps into everyone's favorite kitty, Luna, a black cat with bandages on her forehead. When Usagi (kind of stupidly) pulls them off, she reveals Luna's secret she had been concealing: a gold crescent moon mark underneath the bandages.
When Usagi gets to school, she's punished for being late by having to stand outside the classroom, and it's revealed that she's not exactly such a great student. We then meet Naru, Usagi's friend, who fans of the English dub know as Molly.
At lunch, the kids at Usagi's school are talking about Sailor V, a masked superhero. Interestingly, this is because Naoko Takeuchi, the creator of Sailor Moon, actually created Sailor V as an earlier character, and later incorporates her into the character of Sailor Venus. In fact, as we'll see later, when Sailor Venus is first introduced, there is confusion about whether she or Usagi should be the team's leader, and over which of them is the real re-incarnation of Princess Serenity.
So, back to the lunch conversation, we hear that Naru's family owns a jewelry store. Since they're going to offer some kind of sale making normally expensive jewelry more affordable, Usagi is dying to go check it out.
At the store, there is quite the mob of women gathered, also after discounts on fine jewelry. But things quickly take a turn for the worse when it turns out Naru's mom, who is running the store, is actually possessed by an evil being from another dimension who is using the sale and the store to lure in victims in order to feed off of and drain their spiritual energy. I hate Mondays...
Basically, it ends with Usagi discovering her powers and using them as Sailor Moon to save the women. This is accomplished with the help of Luna, the talking cat she ran into earlier, and a mysterious cape-and-mask-wearing stranger who calls himself Tuxedo Mask.
Unbeknownst to Usagi, she actually bumped into this boy earlier on the sidewalk, and made the OBVIOUS LOVE INTEREST FACE:
So you know, this sets the stage for what's going to happen in the next episodes, which bring out one new Sailor Scout per episode, with a general pattern of:
- A bad guy shows up trying to get energy and/or information about the Legendary Crystal
- A new friend is introduced as a character
- That new friend is actually a new Sailor Scout
- Luna and Usagi help that person understand their powers
- That new character is essential to fighting the bad guys this time
What bummed me out before as well as now was that Naru is never a Sailor Scout, although she does show up in a minimal role in later episodes as sometimes being important to the plot. In these episodes, however, it feels almost like she gets dropped like a hot rock as soon as Usagi starts hanging out with her new Sailor Scout friends.
However, in this episode, it's pretty cool to see the new incarnation of Sailor Moon use her signature attack, Moon Tiara Boomerang, to beat the bad guys for the first time.
I loved this episode and would give it 5/5 stars, despite it not being all that different from what I remember in the original show.
Episode 2. Act 2 - Ami - Sailor Mercury
Of course, this episode introduces Ami Mizuno, who is revealed to be capable of becoming the first Sailor Scout to join Usagi/Sailor Moon's team, Sailor Mercury. Mercury in Japan is astrologically aligned with the element of water. Hence, Ami gets water-based attacks.
Ami is a girl in Usagi's school with a genius-level IQ (they say her IQ is 300), who even studies during breaks. However, she doesn't seem to have much time for friendship with all that studying, and people tend to think of her as aloof. Usagi is still pleasant, sunny, and nice to her, and so Ami warms up quickly to her and Luna.
Things go south when it turns out that Ami is being captivated by a brainwashing computer program. Usagi and Luna show up to investigate and have to fight a monster sent by Jadeite, a servant of Queen Beryl. When Usagi is caught and can't move, Ami has to awaken her inner ability to become Sailor Mercury to save her. Tuxedo Mask, still a mysterious character at this point, shows up and also helps during the fight, but vanishes afterwards. The two girls leave together, and a new friendship is born. The teaser at the end is that the next episode will be about Rei Hino, the girl who will become Sailor Mars.
It's a good episode. It's basically like the old Sailor Moon, but I still liked it fine. I feel bad because I think that Ami is a great character, but she gets a bit overshadowed by the other Sailor Scouts sometimes.
Episode 3. Act 3 - Rei - Sailor Mars
So, this episode follows the pattern established by the last one. Sailor Mars is Rei Hino, a local shrine maiden who goes to an all-girls academy, a different school from Ami and Usagi.
As Ami and Usagi are gathering information about their new roles as Sailor Guardians, they hear rumors about a demonic bus that's supposedly been abducting children punctually at 6pm every evening. Since the local shrine where Rei Hino works as a miko is the last stop before the evil bus takes a detour into hell, some worried mothers blame Rei and the shrine for their children's disappearances.
Rei is frustrated and doesn't know what to do. Luckily, Usagi, who shows an obvious girl-crush on Rei at first sight, is willing to help. Of course, it's Jadeite, the villain from the previous episode, driving the bus. I think his plan was to lure Sailor Moon and Sailor Mercury to his lair to trap them in another dimension. When they go, they're no match for his formidable ice powers, until Rei realizes her ability to transform into Sailor Mars, and well, you know the rest.
Again, this is similar to the previous series' treatment of the same episode. The only difference here is that in Crystal, Rei is introduced immediately following the introduction of Ami. This is... ok. I kind of like that they're shortening and condensing the show's story arcs by cutting out uninteresting filler events. But at the same time, they might have cut out too much because I feel like there should be more episodes with just Ami and Usagi bonding and learning how to be sailor scouts together before their team needed to grow. Because I like Ami, I don't want to see her get overshadowed by the introduction of too many new characters too quickly. This episode also kind of throws too much information at the viewer at once, which seems like it was hastily plucked out of what should have been a few more Ami-Usagi episodes and inserted clumsily into this one. I generally like the way they handled this beginning/introductory arc, but in this episode in particular it all seemed forcibly rushed compared to the previous Sailor Moon series.
Episode 4. Act 4 - Masquerade Dance Party
This episode breaks the pattern and there is an adventure that doesn't revolve around the meeting of a new Sailor Scout character. Instead, this one centers around Tuxedo Mask/ Mamoru. Who is he, and can the Sailor Scouts really trust him?
At this point, the Sailor Scouts also don't know who their Princess is, the person they're the Guardians of. You would think Luna would know that since she's from the Moon Kingdom and all, her Princess she's searching for must be Sailor Moon, but she might just not remember that. Anyway, when the girls hear of a party for a Princess D, they wonder if she might be the Princess who possesses the Legendary Silver Crystal the bad guys are searching for.
Usagi just sees it as an excuse to dress prettily and go to a fancy party, but Ami and Rei are a bit more cautious. Usagi dances with Tuxedo Mask, who ends up saving her later, but she also ends up saving him by using her "disguise pen" magic to produce a parasol to slow both of them falling.
When the baddies are fought and the day is saved, Tuxedo Mask and Sailor Moon have a romantic moment. But Luna wants answers and interrogates Tuxedo Mask about his intentions. He admits that since he is also looking for the Legendary Silver Crystal, the same thing the Sailor Scouts and their enemies are after, he may be their enemy. The mystery thickens. A teaser briefly shows Makoto, the girl who will soon become Sailor Jupiter.
I liked this episode. It made up for many of the problems of the last one. I liked the dancing and the romance, and how it left in some of the comedic quirks of the original series while maintaining the elegance and class of Crystal and the manga of Sailor Moon. I tend to like episodes where the characters are shown in wholly new outfits too, because creating such an episode takes more work than simply showing the characters in their usual uniforms. And these ballroom gowns look pretty damn good, so props to the artists there.
Episode 5 - Act 5 Makoto - Sailor Jupiter
This episode follows the familiar pattern of previous episodes which introduced a new Sailor Guardian to the squad. In this one, tall transfer student Makoto Kino is having trouble fitting in at Usagi's school. People make fun of her due to her physical strength. Perhaps this wouldn't be such a big deal here as it is in Japan... I guess that might be why I'm not super wowed by this episode. It seems like a big cultural difference, here, if a girl is strong, that's considered a good thing, especially if she's good at sports. But in Japan, they seem to kind of look down on (figuratively anyway) girls who are taller and/or more aggressive or physical.
Makoto compensates for this unfortunate cultural prejudice against her by being super feminine. I don't know, it doesn't sit comfortably with me that they would need to write her this way, what's so bad about having a girl be tall and aggressive and even a bit masculine? Ah well, it turns out anyway that Makoto is actually a whiz in the domestic sphere. She tells Usagi that she lives alone, but it's not probed into further (what happened to her parents and with her old school and all that), but Usagi is impressed by her mad bento skills.
So then, following the formula, the Sailor Scouts get caught up in a demonic bridal shop, and of course, Makoto has to awaken to her powers, become Sailor Jupiter, and defeat the evil.
I like Makoto as a character. She's clearly faced some bad hardships with poverty and bullying, and Usagi's friendship is necessary to her as a way of making her feel comfortable at her new school. This is probably the only episode so far that made my eyes well up, so there's that. Otherwise, this episode really just follows the expected formula established by previous Sailor Scouts' awakenings, so it wasn't all that climactic. But, even as an average episode, it was still pretty good.
So, these first 5 episodes kick off the beginning of Sailor Moon Crystal. The show is visually stunning, has good music and sound effects, and all-around improvements were made on the 1990's cartoon we all cherish. However, it's safe to say it gets better later. Establishing new characters is difficult, and this show's creators definitely had their hands full when it came to the challenge of wanting to introduce the cast of Sailor Scout characters, and the main bad guys, more quickly than in the original 90's anime. I think they did... an ok job.
Sometimes it felt like an info dump, and sometimes it felt like not enough time was given to explore the personal back stories of each girl or to showcase their individual talents and personalities. But, these first five episodes were all still memorable and worth watching, while doing an adequate job. And while I might complain about the hasty exposition, it is kind of an improvement to streamline the process of introducing the main cast, getting straight to the major battles of the story. It gets better, but is a decent start.
1. Mikikazu Komatsu, " "Sailor Moon Crystal" 1st Episode Viewed One Million Times in Two Days", Crunchyroll Anime News, July 07, 2014, http://www.crunchyroll.com/anime-news/2014/07/07-1/sailor-moon-crystal-1st-episode-viewed-one-million-times-in-two-days.