If you possess even the slightest interest in the Sailor Moon franchise, you have undoubtedly already watched the über-hyped premiere of the series reboot, Sailor Moon Crystal, released last Saturday. As many of us did, you probably set up your alarm around five a.m. and watched the episode online while your imagination transformed your surroundings into a Japanese household in order to feel part of the actual premiere. You could, of course, simply have waited for the sun to come out and stream the damn thing via hulu.com or the likes at a decent hour, but where’s the magic in doing something so mundane?
Whichever the case, you watched it. At least once. But, seeing as it debuted on a weekend, the special weekly period were we turn off our brains and survive on instinct alone, there is a chance you still haven’t made up your mind on whether it was good or bad. And that’s why I’m here for, to answer such unsolvable mysteries of the entertainment industry. That’s my entire purpose in life and, yes, I am aware of how sad that is (especially when said out loud on a family gathering).
Nevertheless, the answer is fairly simple. Sailor Moon Crystal’s premiere episode was… OK, I guess.
The thing’s by no means bad, but it seems to just exist in order to fill up a hole that never needed filling in the first place. In fact, I am not really sure if said hole was even real in the first place. In other words, this anime is just there for the sake of being there.
Or nostalgia. Everything has to be nostalgic nowadays.
Here’s the main issue. This is a reboot of a series that has been hypnotizing able people for 20+ years now. It is not a retelling, a modernized remake, or the story told from another point of view; it is but a simple repeat of what has already been reiterated ad nauseam.
As any reboot that prides itself as one, it needs to fulfill the daunting and unavoidable task or re-telling an origin story everybody already knows. Again. Spider-Men, Supermen, and Batmen all over the world have not been able to escape this technicality and neither could Usagi Tsukino (or Serena as many of us knew her on our early days roaming this Earth).
But, unlike many members of the endless parade of reboots, which try their best to tackle well-known stories that have become their own clichés from a new perspective – with varying degrees of success –, this is a (somewhat stale) shot-by-shot remake of the very first episode of 1992’s Sailor Moon series. The reason behind this is as simple as it is sad. Allegedly, this new series is going to be as faithful to the source material as the budget allows. As such, this is supposed to be a panel-by-panel rendition of the original pilot chapter that gave birth to the Sailor Moon trust fund for the pockets of Naoko Takeuchi and, as forum lore sustains, 1992’s pilot was the one and only episode of that series that remembered and respected its manga roots.
This is why, as much as many of us have tried, it is damn near impossible to extrapolate one series from the other and take up Sailor Moon Crystal at face value as its own thing without the need of comparison. It is based upon an existing franchise and its main selling point has always been “it will be more close to the manga than the last one.” They dug their own grave here! (Or built their own yen-paved stairway to heaven. Anything is possible at this point).
Supposedly the differences between the two animated renditions are going to be more noticeable once Act 2 hits us but, then again, the marketing department for Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen sustained it was a good movie up until it was released on Blu-Ray so… who knows what is real anymore?
However, thhere is one key difference between the two renditions, though. The pacing.
Namely, the pacing of Sailor Moon Crystal is abysmal. Even though it tells the exact same thing we’ve seen before, everything happens so quickly it barely feels like anything happened at all.
The basic plot point rundown is still present for the duration of its 23-minute run: klutzy blonde girl wakes up late for school, gets scolded for being a terrible human being in any level, saves a black cat with a so-called bald patch in the shape of a crescent moon who turns out has the ability to talk, ‘transforms’ into a magical girl thanks to said cat, battles the monster of the week inside a jewelry store and cue ending theme and the ubiquitous つづくof yore.
It feels outdated somehow. Even the big dramatic battle near the end gets done in a second.
“You’ll never defeat me!”
“Oh, no! I’m defeated!”
It doesn’t help that our main character, Bunny Moony (despite what everyone told me, knowing a little bit of foreign languages once in a while DOES detriment from the joy of watching overseas media) is still the most annoying collection of colored lines ever created and granted her own distinctive voice. She cries about everything, has not a single idea of her own and possesses no ability worthy of mentioning whatsoever. To prove a point, one of her main weapons is the ultrasonic sound waves created by her exasperating cry.
Not that her original self was any different, mind you, but she came into being during the early 90’s, a decade where we though Full House was a TV show worth our time, and Rugrats was the best thing that ever happened to us.
The way we perceive life has changed a bit since then. Our morals, our notions, our dreams, have evolved quite a bit since that era of simplicity, baggy pants, and monochromatic handheld video game systems. And, along with this evolution of human concepts, so have changed the ideals we look up to. The characteristics that define heroes this time around are more complex and a lot more subtle than before.
Usagi Tsukino’s Sailor Moon was never meant to be anything but an unlikely hero. The collective representation of the last human beings you would ever wish to become responsible for the fate of the Earth. She has always been the heroine you are ashamed to be rescued by, and always will be. That is her fate. She starts like that in order to fulfill a character journey that takes her from one end of the spectrum to the extreme opposite (as well as making her supporting cast appear that much more interesting). And, still, even though she maintains her basic traits, here she feels obsolete, even more incompetent, and even less capable of—
Oh, wait. That’s not time’s fault, is the art style’s fault.
Don’t get me wrong. The new character designs, inspired by Takeuchi’s actual drawing style, are gorgeous… if you’re making a series of pin-ups or, let’s say, a serialized romantic manga directed at young girls. But it just does not lend itself for animation, at least not the kind of animation that insists on having cheap slapstick moments as “girl falls down the stairs” or “girl gets cartoonishly scratched in the face by a cat”. The characters look stiff and out of place doing this kind of stuff. Such smooth lines, huge eyes and detailed outfits are meant to live out soap opera-levels of romantic drama, not unfunny pain-related gags. They’re so stiff they’re incapable of showing any kind of emotion. It’s a dead ringer of your show’s quality when Kristen Stewart is capable of emoting better than your animated character.
It’s also this visual representation, with its elongated legs and defined face features, that obliterates any suspension of disbelief. No matter what every other character keeps saying, that is neither the height nor the face of a 14 year old girl. It’s as if someone casted a 22 year old to play Usagi and hoped no one would notice. Long gone are the almost chibi proportions of the characters, along with their over exaggerated and clichéd anime reactions that actually emoted.
What the public wants in this day and age is stoicism. That’s what’s relatable for the common girl. What they look for is realism in their magical shows featuring talking cats and soul sucking demons that possess jewelry! That’s why we have reduced female members of the population into stereotypical jewel-hungry zombies! BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT FEMALE EMPOWERMENT IS ALL ABOUT! SHINY ROCKS!
After watching this one episode of Sailor Moon Crystal, one thing should be clear to anyone with eyes. This is not a series aimed at a new audience. This was made strictly for the fans, specifically, the ones that already know the story by heart or, at least, have a fleeting memory of what it was about.
Remember how there was a teensy-weensy veil of mystery surrounding the silhouette of Princess Serenity that appeared on the original series? First scene of this episode (after a lengthy and obviously-there-to-take-up-time sequence in space) outright spells her as Usagi by going through the motions of the old-fashioned “past lives” dream. Remember how the animation budget and character design helped made the real identity of Tuxedo Mask not so obvious? Here, if you do not get who he really is by character design alone, they help your brain make the obvious connection via a nifty “who wears a tuxedo in the middle of the day?” line. Even that guy’s mysterious demeanor gets thrown out the window thanks to intrusive thought bubble dialogues that add nothing at all to the experience.
Everything’s spelled out for you, is what I’m saying.
There’s no room for the audience’s imagination at all. This is, without a doubt, the worst kind of fan service there is. And, still, there was no room for Tuxedo’s trademark “I served no purpose at all in this episode” rose. What gives?
Even the whole aura surrounding the Sailor Moon in-universe mythos is lost. One of the more enjoyable aspects of the original series was the fact that most characters knew about the existence of a Sailor Moon beforehand, like she had been a powerful hero centuries ago, forgotten by history books. This shed light on the fact that Serena might have been a part of something more complex than what her brain could grasp. And it all began with Luna telling her “Usagi! You’ve become Sailor Moon!” This simple sentence added a lot of depth and importance to the character, a complexity that probably spawned centuries of evil vanquishing. It implied a position of goodness filled up by countless women since the dawn of mankind.
Here, instead, Usagi comes up with the name Sailor Moon on the spot due to the fact that she knew of Sailor V and saw the moon before battling the monster of the week. Gravitas there was not. To make matters worse, the only thing Sailor Moon is good at in this episode is following orders (ambivalent orders like “do it!”, without anyone bothering to explain what “it” is, but orders nonetheless).
Sailor Moon Crystal’s first episode is just OK. It is enjoyable at its core and features good-ish animation overall (which makes me feel worried about the future of this series, especially the quality of later episodes down the line once the budget has been blown by episode 7). But it’s completely unnecessary and, dare I say it, lacks any sort of heart. I could even see the watermarked yen symbols splattered all over, especially during the not-so-impressive CGI transformation scene that took forever to get done.
Despite these shortcomings, I am sure to come back and watch the whole 26-episode run. Why? One reason alone. No, it’s not nostalgic value. It’s because of its music. The music is amazing and actually makes you feel things. This aspect of the series is especially spotlighted thanks to the fact this collection of sounds is sandwiched between the most fitting theme songs Sailor Moon could ever deserve, courtesy of Momoiro Clover Z, an idol pop group you should be listening to right now. I could watch this anime sans dialogue all day long and nothing of value would be lost on me. The music tells the whole story, and it tells it way better.
However, nothing beats the feeling of being up to date with the latest rendition of one of the most popular animes in existence. Smugness above all.
EPISODE RATING: ★★★