Usagi convinces the others (not that they need much convincing) to participate in The Moon Princess Contest, a skiing competition held by The Moonlight Course. How they don’t immediately sniff out a Dark Kingdom scheme at work here, especially now that seasoned veteran Venus has joined their ranks, is beyond me, but whatever. Yuuichirou (where have you been, dude?) offers his family’s house up for lodgings, since it’s in the area, and with Luna and Artemis placated by some lie about wanting to go off on a trip to train, our girls are all set. Naturally, as Kunzite is behind the whole thing, some youma action shakes things up.
I love love LOVE this episode. What could have been just Sailor Moon’s spin on an anime staple, the ski lodge episode, actually turns out to be full of emotional twists and turns and shows some of the best character development in the entire metaseries. And how cute are Luna and Artemis actually acting like cats, knowing they should probably get out the sunbeam, knowing that Usagi and the others are likely not being as responsible as they claim, and just choosing to believe the lie so they can enjoy a nice, long catnap? Adorbs.
Once again, the progression of the plot strikes a much better balance between episodic adventure and serial storytelling. Over the past few episodes, we dealt with the revelation that Usagi is in fact the Moon Princess, followed by a hardcore meltdown in response to this and the loss of Tuxedo Mask, followed by a brief bit of depression, then a motivated attempt to live up to her title, and now finally it’s time. It’s time to tackle the Rei situation.
From day one, Usagi and Rei have butted heads, and Mamoru was the perfect vehicle to illustrate this conflict. He was a walking, talking manifestation of their differences. Usagi thought he was a mean jerk, while Rei found him to be cute and witty. If Usagi saw Mamoru on the street, a round of acid-tongued bickering would be imminent. Rei pursued the guy romantically. On the other hand, both showed an interest in Tuxedo Mask, and would even compete over him. And, yes, while there was an underlying attraction between Mamoru and Usagi, neither one would ever admit it. They could barely admit it to themselves, much less anyone else or each other. Usagi was perfectly content to let Rei have Mamoru each other.
And then came the revelation of their identities, the revelation that all those times Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask worked together, Usagi and Mamoru were finding common ground, bonding, and actually enjoying each other’s company. Then, on top of that, the revelation of their past lives, of the tragic love of Serenity and Endymion, star-crossed lovers reincarnated to meet again, only to be torn apart again.
And where does this all leave Rei? She shared Usagi’s attraction to Tuxedo Mask, but she also liked Mamoru from the beginning, and now she’s lost them both. And even if he were to survive and return, she wouldn’t stand a chance, not against what he and Usagi have between them. They would be the couple reunited by destiny, and Rei would just be the third wheel. With this loss of Mamoru on multiple levels and his return as Evil Tuxedo Mask, she’s suffered everything Usagi has suffered and more, and she’s done so fairly gracefully, accepting the situation. The writers have acknowledged this, if only in passing, and would be justified in leaving the matter at that, which is all the more reason I’m thrilled they didn’t, because this conversation between Usagi and Rei was a long time coming and well worth the wait.
See, while it’s about Mamoru, it’s not really about Mamoru. It’s about these two girls, whose relationship with each other is far more interesting than the one either had with the guy in question. Mako-chan hit the nail on the head in her first appearance when she pointed out that Usagi and Rei fight like sisters. Yeah, their personalities do not mesh, and they grate on each other’s nerves and bicker, but there is a sincere friendship between them. Their fighting isn’t a threat to their friendship, but the foundation of it. As Rei will say to Usagi at the end of the season, in another conversation in the snow foreshadowed by this one, “We fought, but it was fun.” Not every friendship is hair-braiding and joint selfies. Sometimes we love people who spend a good chunk of the time driving us nuts, and those friendships are the most intriguing, because whatever it is we love about those friends, we love it so much it trumps all the shit that we can’t stand. It’s pretty remarkable if you stop to think about it.
Now, Rei… Rei could have gone off. There were about a dozen opportunities over the past few episodes for her to take some serious pain and frustration out on Usagi, and while I don’t think it would have passed without comment, no one would have blamed her, but she shows remarkable maturity on the matter, especially for the fourteen-year-old girl, especially in a dramatic context, ESPECIALLY for dramatic content aimed at a YA audience.
Rather than administer a merciless tongue-lashing to Usagi, Rei admits to herself that, even though Mamoru liked her, shared her dislike of Usagi, and enjoyed spending time with her, his heart was never really in it. Rei’s ability to admit this not just to herself but to Usagi, and to not convert her disappointment into resentment but rather encourage Usagi and Mamoru as a couple… it shows tremendous growth on Rei’s part. She’s not the same impatient, bitchy girl who put Usagi down because she was annoying and it was just so easy to make her upset. The ending of this episode proves that bickering will always be the nature of their friendship, but that they are indeed friends. The best.
Now, I’m not about to write a gospel canonizing St. Rei. The girl is still Rei Hino, and I appreciate that writers haven’t forgotten that. Even in the thick of her crush on Mamoru, Rei wasn’t blind to Yuuichirou’s appeal or his interest in her. Girl hasn’t failed to notice how Yuuichirou is hot for her tailpipe and she’s even recognized him as a potential boyfriend. And sure, his generosity is somewhat selfishly motivated, but he could have easily desired her and been a dick about it, and he wasn’t.
What’s more, in this episode, he demonstrates his nobility and affection for her by stepping up to defend her without knowing she has any superpowers. He does so, knowing for a fact that he doesn’t. And still, he steps in harm’s way and gets frozen in the process. This is contrasted with the now absent Mamoru for whom Rei harbored a pretty intense crush and the evil personality now behind his face. Though, on the subject of Mamoru/Endymion, he is becoming less and less subtle about his obstruction of Kunzite’s efforts. Not that he consciously realizes what he’s doing, but he’s started openly fighting Kunzite’s youma to save the Sailor Senshi. Worth pointing out.
This is a fairly strong episode in terms of narrative, character development, and placement. The youma was on the ridiculous side in terms of her appearance, but she fought as well if not better than many who came before her. This episode was tight, funny, and emotionally satisfying, but if there’s one aspect of it that annoyed the FUCK out of me — and there almost always is — it’s that this is a skiing episode AND a Sailor Mars episode, and yet… and yet…
There’s snow all around, ice ditches, mammoth snowballs, avalanches, and Sailor Mars is just running scared for her life. And I spend the entire episode screaming, “Bitch, your power is FIRE!” Because really now? Come on!