Sailor Moon Crystal: Act 24 – Attack/Black Lady review

Finally, an episode loaded with action, suspense, mythology, and character. Hopefully Sailor Moon Crystal can keep it up.

Nemesis is finally bearing down on our heroes with a slow burn into Earth’s atmosphere, its evil energy destroying everything it touches, and it’s giving me Majora’s Mask flashbacks. While Wiseman reveals his true nature, the time has come for the Sailor Senshi to throw down with Black Lady, and she proves to be a formidable foe, not only in terms of raw power but psychological warfare, toting out a brainwashed Tuxedo Mask as her trophy dude, playing on all of Usagi’s insecurities. Demande and Saphir are also there in Wiseman’s service, but Demande reveals the ace up his sleeve: he was never brainwashed to begin with. After dispatching his own brother (that’s some metal shit right there), he goes after both Silver Crystals and attempts to cause some serious destruction by touching them to one another, which is apparently like crossing the streams: to put it mildly… bad. No one is physically close enough to Demande to foil his attempt. Time has run out. If only our heroes knew someone who could fuck around with time…

Before getting into the review proper, I would like to give a shout-out to John, one of the regulars down in the comments, who pointed out that I haven’t talked very much about the voice acting in this series, which is a fair point.

I will say the casting on Chibi-Usa/Black Lady has been pretty dynamite, as has Sailor Pluto. Those performances are stellar. In fact, all the “Black Moon” arc casting is rather superb, except I think for Wiseman. It’s a personal preference and undoubtedly a cultural bias, but I find the whole manic falsetto schtick off-putting. It’s supposed to come off as unsettlingly unstable/insane or to be an exaggeration of the vocal wobbliness of old people (because old equals wizard), but it just sounds kind of weird and silly to me. It doesn’t make Wiseman sound creepy. It just makes him sound comical, like someone who’s so enthralled by his own evilness, he’s about to keel over and roll around on the floor with a case of the giggles at any minute. Not spooky. Sorry.

As for our main cast, there’s Kotono Mitsuishi as Usagi/Sailor Moon, and while I definitely appreciate reprising this seiyuu (voice actress) for arguably her most iconic role, something subtle has happened to her voice in the last 20 years. It’s nothing against her. It’s a perfectly legit byproduct of aging, but there’s something just a touch squeakier and whinier that detracts a little bit from the performance. It kind of makes me wish they’d just gone with a new seiyuu for Usagi to make it an all-new cast, seeing as she’s the only holdover from the 90’s anime. And the other Senshi? They do a good job. None of their voices sound out of character, but Jupiter is the only one who really has any flavor. The rest are fairly forgettable. The opposite can be said for Beryl and the Shitenou, who were all given voices that were both fitting and distinct.

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All in all, though, the voice acting in Crystal, while not always memorable, is certainly solid enough that in all my criticism of the series, it’s barely come up and never as a negative.

And now for the particulars of this episode…

“Act 24: Attack/Black Lady” has some really solid action, the emotional impact of which is built entirely on the set up from the previous episode. There’s been a pattern with the last few installments of alternating between episodes that are mainly exposition and navel-gazing and episodes that are heavy on action and pay-off. It makes me wonder how much better on average these episodes would be if they were simply an hour long. I realize that’s not standard operating procedure with serialized anime. It’s pretty much half-hour or bust, but still I think an hour-long format just might have served Takeuchi’s narrative style better, expanding the acts that are complete but rushed, and merging the slow burning pseudo-two-parters into solid complete episodes.

This pacing issue raises the question of the next two manga arcs and how they would play if animated into another season of Sailor Moon Crystal. Starting with “Infinity,” each manga act is roughly 50% longer than in “Dark Kingdom” and “Black Moon.” However much these first two arcs suffered from the ol’ nip and tuck, there’s no way each act of “Infinity” and “Dream” would survive the adaptation process without being completely gutted. That in mind, would that result in expanding each act into two episodes or readjusting the narrative breaks so that two manga acts would cover about three episodes? And how would that affect the enjoyability of the material? You can throw out all the purist/apologist rhetoric you want, but a story that cuts off in the middle (not the same as part one of a proper two-parter ending on a cliffhanger) is bound to make for a serious case of narrative blueballs. And Episode 14 of Crystal made it painfully clear that using the first half of an episode to end one story and the second half to begin another makes for a very narratively and emotionally disjointed viewing experience. Having every other episode do it would just not work.

The optimal thing to do, I think, would be to remain faithful to all the plot points of “Infinity” within a radical restructuring of the arc that would better accommodate the story and the needs of a serial narrative in an audiovisual medium. But that would actually be fulfilling and make sense, so you know they’ll never do it.

In terms of character movements in this episode, while we do get fun and unexpectedly complex twist with Demande’s whole 180, this episode’s focus alternates primarily between Black Lady and Sailor Pluto.

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The stuff we get with Black Lady is so fucking GOOD. It’s dark, it’s brutal, it really shows through her actions how angry and twisted she is. Reflecting my sentiment above, it really feels less like this episode is the proper climax that the previous episode never reached. Almost every plot point in the last ep, from Black Lady’s recruitment of the Black Moon brothers and Wiseman’s psychic seizure of them to her encounter with the Senshi at the palace, all of that comes to a really satisfying crescendo here.

This is not to say that everything surrounding Black Lady rubs me the right way. Part of why the whole Black Lady/Tuxedo Mask thing irks me so much (aside from the obvious incest) is that we just saw this dynamic in the previous arc. Bloodline specifics aside, it’s a nearly perfect facsimile of the latter third of “Dark Kingdom.” Mamoru is brainwashed by the primary villainess of the season who wants him all to herself as a lover and pits him against Sailor Moon, who uses her healing tears to appeal to his remaining humanity. Like, it’s seriously Beryl 2.0, only grosser because it’s his daughter that’s trying to jump on his joystick.

Come on, now. Is this the only way we can generate conflict between Usagi and Mamoru? And twice in a row? It’s kind of lazy, especially considering there’s so much about them that can be mined for drama. How about the fact that they’re very different people. Should they be together despite a certain nominal incompatibility just because they were lovers in the past? Do Usagi and Mamoru actually love each other or is it just the spiritual residue of Serenity and Endymion hijacking their present lives? And that’s not even touching the introduction of alternative potential suitors who might better matches for them (at least on paper) than they are for each other. Like, can you imagine if Mamoru met a college girl through Motoki and Reika who was really more on his level than Usagi, they vibed really well, shared some interests, were a little closer in maturity, and he dated her for a while… only to find that they’re too similar, that his heart really is with Usagi and he needs a spoonful of silliness and idealism in his life? Where’s that storyline? Oh, we’re just getting kidnapped and brain-raped again? Okay then. Carry on. As for everyone else…

In a rather cool twist, the evil eye that Wiseman gave Prince Demande deflected his brainwashing zap, and Demande has been playing Wiseman since by pretending to be his slave. Not that it does much good, because Saphir is actually under Wiseman’s spell. He attacks his Demande, who reluctantly kills him in self-defense. This is some truly bittersweet, twisted  Cain and Abel shit… and yet I don’t really care. The brothers’ relationship wasn’t really established very well. We got a little from Saphir in his monologuing to Usagi a few eps back, but that’s about it. I didn’t really feel it. Neither does Demande, at least not for more than a moment before he goes right back to his whole evil mastermind vibe.

To be fair, the best part of this was Demande breaking away from Wiseman to become his own evil. That smashing the Silver Crystals together idea is nihilistically brilliant, and it’s about to work when… okay, we all know what’s coming. Even if you haven’t read the manga, it’s pretty obvious that at the last second, when there’s no other hope and time has run out, someone with long, forest green hair is going to step in and halt time in its tracks. And this brings us to our girl Pluto.

I would like to take this opportunity to marvel at just how well Pluto is utilized in the manga’s “Black Moon” arc as opposed to her scant, almost perfunctory appearances in Sailor Moon R. She establishes a strong presence in the story, plays a unique and crucial role in the plot, and gets more development and characterization in just a few acts than certain other characters get over the course of the entire manga.

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The flashback to Chibi-Pluto first taking her station at the Space-Time Door back during the Silver Millennium is to establish the stakes of her inevitable betrayal of those vows. We know it’s the Silver Millennium because Queen Serenity (original flavor) is there to explain the rules to her. And Chibi-Pluto is ADORABLE. Seriously too cute for me to function, but I’ll try.

This actually raises a lot of mythology questions for me. Why was Pluto appointed to her position at such a young age? Given how Takeuchi depicts middle schoolers, Pluto can’t be more than ten (or the Silver Millennium equivalent thereof) here. Is she replacing someone? If not, why appoint her now, and why her? Is there some kind of pressing matter at hand that couldn’t wait for her to come of age? Is this a time of war? What? And, of course, none of these questions will ever be answered or even really asked because what character building? But I still want to know.

We find that of the three taboos that Pluto must never break, she’s broken two. Only one remains. So, we now have a character whose duty is to remain forever alone, forever vigilant, to never intervene in the history unfolding before her, and then Takeuchi does the one thing to that character that would make this charge unbearable: Pluto establishes human relationships. She is now given a personal vested interest in the events of history. She now has something she never had before: temptation… the temptation to break her vows. That’s some good stake raising. I’ll give Takeuchi that.

The suspense of the two Silver Crystals about to collide isn’t bad, but it seems like a wasted opportunity to not end things with Pluto’s intervention or at least raising the Garnet Rod, given the set up for it earlier in the episode. The whole “oh shit” of Pluto breaking the last of the taboos would have been a stronger cliffhanger for my money, but this one still worked.

What I absolutely loved loved LOVED about this episode was the revelation of Wiseman’s true form. It turns out “Wiseman” was just the empty shell of Phantom’s body, the body he long since abandoned. His spirit has merged with Nemesis, and he is now the very soul of the planet. He is the Black Moon. I don’t care what anyone says. That shit is epic.

A strong entry that translated rather well from the source material, this episode really held its own. It was a loaded baked potato of action, suspense, mythology, and character, and a powerful launch into the final two episodes of the season and possibly the series. Only two to go, Crystal. Don’t fuck it up.

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3.5 out of 5