The Tsukino family goes away for a weekend at a hot springs resort situated by a lake… that just so happens to have a legend surrounding it of a yokai (a type of Japanese demon) that sleeps beneath it. According to this legend, a pair of young lovers were attacked by a woman whose jealousy transformed her into the yokai, and they sealed her away, going straight to heaven right after as sealing demons away kind of knocks your life force out. Well, apparently the story isn’t just a story, and the Dark Kingdom takes note of the demon’s energy, which is similar to theirs. They, of course, learn about this and pursue the situation at the exact same time Usagi and her family just happens to go there on vacay, but why not?
Wow, it’s like the writers sat down to break the stories for this last batch of episodes and decided to tackle every stock anime episode there was. We already got the ski lodge episode. Now comes the hot springs episode. Mind you, this is not even remotely a complaint.
I really like this one, and not just because it aired in the U.S. on my birthday in 1995. It’s pretty strong, and I like the way it incorporated Japanese folklore (even if it was a folk tale invented for the show, it does draw on certain cultural archetypes) and how it featured a monster completely unrelated to the Dark Kingdom, which made for a much more unpredictable fight. It also had a refreshing structure and a metric fuck ton of foreshadowing.
Spending this episode with her family, the most important civilians in her life, was a nice, subtle way for the writers to underline Usagi’s character development and how far she’s come from where she started. This is not the Usagi that Shingo can easily outwit and get the best of. It’s not the Usagi that dreads her mother and sees her father as the indulgent good cop. Her brother is now squarely behind her in terms of maturity, but she loves him anyway, and her mother’s experience is suddenly an asset now that her father is getting all kinds of chastity belt reptile brain thoughts. And she loves them all, because over the course of all her adventures, she has come to see the big picture. She has battled evil, found and lost love, and watched people die.
In light of all that, a quirky, mildly annoying family becomes a pretty comforting thing, a thing that you damn well want to protect, and she does. Usagi does what her father can’t and saves her family. Good on Kenji for standing up to protect his wife and kids. I like how they showed how he’s just an ordinary salary man, not an action hero. His daughter is the hero in the family. Still, he does whatever he think he’s capable of to defend his family.
The scenes between Usagi and Shingo are great, but the scene between Usagi and Ikuko was really sweet, especially with how Ikuko handles the topic of boys, knowing all too well that Usagi’s at the age where she will start falling in love and might need some guidance on how to handle her father’s patriarchal crazy, almost certainly having had to do so herself when she was Usagi’s age. However, Ikuko is also a wife and mother. She knows her husband and genuinely understands where he’s coming from. She may share some of those concerns. Considering how heavily Ikuko was played for comedy in the early episodes as Usagi’s unpleasable helicopter mom, it’s nice to see that, as Usagi has matured, we are now capable of seeing a more nuanced depiction of her mother.
While the emotional core of this episode lies with Usagi’s family, there’s also a strong thread involving her relationship with Mamoru. Her encounter with Evil Endymion and desperate appeal to his inner self, though seemingly futile, actually works to some extent. Dude is totally on the verge of cracking, which is likely what makes certain beats in next week’s episode possible.
I’m a fan of the yokai. Her tale of jealousy is obviously an allusion to Beryl’s jealousy of Serenity and Endymion’s love, but that’s not why. It would really be easy to dismiss her as some evil, vengeful bitch, but I think this episode was more about loneliness and pain, and how even the best of us can be corrupted by those feelings. The yokai does allude to Beryl, but also to Mamoru, whose good heart has been corrupted by Metalia’s malice. The whole tale of the yokai also plants a theme that will resonate throughout the season, that the sealing of evil comes at a high cost and that cost is usually someone’s life.
This episode covered a lot of ground. Though dismissable at first glance as filler, it performs quite a few functions. It brings Usagi’s family back into the foreground so that when we see them in the finale, representative of what’s at stake, we care about them. It continued to explore the breaking down of Mamoru’s brainwashing, foreshadowed revelations and encounters in the episodes to come, and even provided us with one of the most genuine, unforced moments of friendship between the five Sailor Senshi.
Now, when I say that moment is unforced… it both is and isn’t. See, the Sailor Senshi do not belong in this episode at all. Their appearance is completely superfluous in the battle and not only doesn’t really add to it, it takes away from it. It dilutes the emotional content of the episode and its climax. They’re just shunted in there for no real discernible reason, and it really, really stands out in a horrendously awkward way. It feels forced and tacked on, and I think the episode would have been much stronger thematically if Sailor Moon solved this problem herself. It was her family. It was her lost love. It was HER FUCKING VACATION.
That said, while hate the Sailor Senshi showing up, I love that Ami, Rei, Makoto, and Minako showed up. That feel-good scene at the end with the five girls in the hot spring, aside from being played under one of my top five favorite Sailor Moon songs ever, was just so sweet and so real. And while the set up for it felt completely unnatural and forced, the actual moment did not. It’s one of the few scenes in the entire first season of the five girls hanging out that feels organic, true to life, and true to character all at the same time. And I hope they enjoyed it, because starting with the next episode, shit is about to get so, so real.