It appears that the Sailor Guardians have had it with Sailor Moon’s foibles and have turned on her, a development that has attracted the attention of the Dark Kingdom. Still, Beryl is no fool. She has Kunzite send in his youma to confirm this and possibly use Sailor Moon’s emotional fragility to separate her from the Silver Crystal. Of course, this was all part of the Sailor Guardians’ plan when they staged this whole falling-out, but just how much of it is an act and how much of it is the overdue surfacing of some repressed resentment? The Sailor Guardians find themselves facing the age old question: How deep undercover is too deep?
At last we have come to the final filler episode of the season, and as filler goes it’s a decent story.
What may seem on the surface like a simple cat-and-mouse undercover story actually does serve a function. We’ve spent over forty episodes watching Usagi blunder her way, to varying degrees of success, through her mission, Luna criticizing her and doubting her capability nearly every step of the way. In that time, we’ve added another cat guardian and four more Sailors, all of whom have questioned Usagi at some point or another, Rei being the most vocal. So, the idea that they could have all decided that they’d had enough, while unlikely, carries a hint of truth nonetheless. Watching this episode for the first time nearly two decades ago (oh, man…), I was 99% sure that it was all a trick, a coordinated effort to get the best of the Dark Kingdom in some way, but the fact that there was even that 1% that thought there was a chance it was real… that’s very telling.
Because the truth is, even Rei, who picks on Usagi way more than is necessary, is justified in being impatient with her and doubting her. Usagi is a very unlikely hero and does fall short in a lot of ways, and it’s understandable that her teammates and mentors would hit their limit at some point. Throughout the episode, Usagi suspects that Sailor Mars might be getting a little too into character, that Rei is enjoying it a bit too much. Mars denies this, of course, claiming that it’s all in the name of the mission, and given her track record, it’s east to believe her.
But then, at the climax of the episode even the other Sailors have a moment of doubt as to where Mars truly stands. And this is what makes the episode work. In fact, it’s the only thing that does, because without the neutral parties in the Moon/Mars feud second-guessing Mars, there are no stakes, there is no genuine chance that the team may be fractured. And that chance only lasts a few seconds, but it’s enough to accomplish its goal. Jupiter’s suspicion that Mars really is plotting to take over actually does cause legit friction between the Sailor Guardians. By seeding that doubt, only to subvert it with the unwavering loyalty of the teammate who is typically the most critical of Sailor Moon, it reinforces the strength of the five Sailor Guardians as a team.
This also justifies the episode’s placement in the sequence. This is an episode that could only have happened now, after not only the full assembly of the team, but the full integration of Venus into the group not only as a teammate but as a friend, having just gone through her rather emotional spotlight episode. Minako had already proven she was Usagi’s friend with the whole salon incident, but the whole Allan/Katarina episode gave her a chance to be vulnerable with these girls (particularly Usagi), to show them her trust and accept their friendship. And with that the circle was complete, and it was the perfect time to test that bond right before the end.
On a pure enjoyment level, it is always fun when the good guys finally start taking the fight to the enemy, especially by way of outsmarting them., (it’s why “Rumors, Bargains, and Lies” is such a fantastic episode of Babylon 5), and the Sailor Guardians straight up play the Dark Kingdom here. And again, the best part is that there’s a grain of truth to it all. It’s believable because, even though the Sailors would never betray Sailor Moon, they can’t deny that she’s not the best leader, not the best soldier, and that it is at times tempting to just shove her out of the way so that they can get the job done. Rei especially.
And what makes it even better is that the whole ruse was Usagi’s plan. Usagi, of all people. Bad-ass.
The villains are also to be credited in this episode for being smart. Props to Beryl for at least suspecting that it’s all a trap and pursuing the apparent opportunities while proceeding with caution. We get a fantastic character design for Oniwa Bandana (well, at least her true form; the style of the human she possesses is such an eyesore). Speaking of which, it’s cool that “Nana Asahina” goes after Naru because she’s been saved by Sailor Moon so many times. I commend the writers for starting to poke fun at what a freakin’ pin cushion Naru is. Man, I do not envy Mrs. Osaka’s hospital bills, to say nothing of her business insurance rates, considering all the shit that seems to go down at her store.
All in all, this is a rather strong episode, and nice swan song for the season’s filler. It was an entertaining story that was thematically sound and well placed. Could you imagine if the ice skating episode had been placed here? How much would that have sucked? This episode definitely goes to show that there is a tier system for filler, ranging from fun and constructive to a tedious waste of time, this episode obvious falling into the former category. However, filler it unarguably is.
The last plot point of note was the near healing and subsequent second abduction of Mamoru. It’s intuitive that something that major would lead directly into the three-parter that closes out the season. Instead we get three buffer episodes in here, which does to some degree kill the momentum of the story. A fair argument could be made that Mamoru spending five whole episode in the brainwashing pod was a way to really drive home the extent of his brainwashing this time so that when Beryl tells Sailor Moon that it’s permanent, we believe that it just might be.
Still, it would have been fairly easy to write Evil Endymion into the last few episodes. After all, Evil Endymion playing on Sailor Moon’s emotions and entreating her to turn to join the Dark Kingdom to be with him would have been for more enticing than Kunzite doing it. Ultimately, though, this is a very minor complaint.
As episodes go, this one was fun, interesting, and had the added bonus of finally acknowledging and putting to rest the question of just where everyone’s loyalties lie. While we were pretty sure of where Sailor Mars stood with Sailor Moon, this episode completely obliterated any lingering doubts. The Sailor Guardians are stronger for its events, and now going into the final three episodes we are even more secure (if that were even possible) in the strength of their friendship and loyalty to one another. And that alone makes this episode a worthy inclusion.