The Sailor Moon movies are an interesting case. Three in number, though not what one could structurally or stylistically consider a trilogy, each is named for a season of the anime and loosely based on that season. Very loosely based. In fact, since the release of these films, moonies have debated their exact place in the continuity and how they fit into the Sailor Moon mythos.
The short answer is, well… they don’t.
One film is based on a manga side story, another on some design sketches, and the third on the aesthetic of probably the most maligned arc of the anime. None of the films even attempt to conform to their associated seasons aside from the heroes’ magical items, transformations, and attacks, and perhaps some thematic imagery, nor do they reference their seasons’ events or villains. When exactly these adventures occur in the series’ timeline is unclear at best, and they don’t seem to have any lasting effect on the characters or story of the TV series (with one debatable exception).
The movies are very separate from the rest of the anime continuity, but does that render them pointless or irrelevant? Some might argue yes. I say no. But what, then, is the significance of the theatrical films?
Sailor Moon R: The Movie
There are a lot of moonies out there who turn up their nose at the Makai Tree arc, and it’s not beyond understanding. The 13-episode arc that opens the second season, created for no other purpose than to buy some time before the “real” arcof the season could go into production, is the very definition of filler. It spins its wheels, it introduces attacks that are never seen again, its events are rendered ultimately meaningless, having no lasting consequences, and (cardinal sin to some) it has no basis in Naoko Takeuchi’s manga. So, basing the films aesthetic and imagery motifs on it was risky. Fortunately, it worked.
Fiore and the Xenian Flower are indisputably based on the looks of Ail and An, the dark lovers who serve as the arc’s antagonists. And that was a great idea, because whatever legitimate complaints can be lodged against this arc, its aesthetic isn’t one of them.
The R movie offers us Fiore, one of the more well-rounded villains in the entire franchise. He’s a fully realized character with complex emotions and motivations, and his past is woven directly into the backstory of not just a major character, but the male lead of the entire franchise. He and Mamoru have a connection that goes back not just to childhood, but an incredibly pivotal time in Mamoru’s life, the period just after he lost his parents and his memory. And Fiore doesn’t just have an interesting backstory (heavily implied to be related to Ail and An’s), he has an arc of his own.
Mamoru’s relationship with Fiore really challenges labels. They were only children, so it wasn’t sexual, but was it a grade school romance, more than mere friendship? Does it even matter? Sailor Moon has always been progressive on matters of sexuality and gender, but to have the male lead, the heroine’s love interest, have a sexuality or romantic history that isn’t necessarily 100% straight is pretty freakin’ cool.
The movie also recontextualizes Usagi and Mamoru’s relationship, revealing that they met as children, as Usagi was visiting her mother in the hospital on the occasion of her brother’s birth when she came across Mamoru and offered him a rose to cheer him up, very possibly spurring Mamoru’s affection or roses, which… mind BLOWN!
In the end, none of this resonates in the anime. The events of this film are never referenced, but it’s such an emotional roller coaster – Moon Revenge, y’all. Moon freakin’ Revenge! – and enriches the characters so much, it’s hard to dismiss.
Sailor Moon S: The Movie
Of the three films, this one is the most canon, being based on the longest manga side story in the bunch. And if Luna’s lack of character development in the series proper irks you, then it’s definitely going to win points, but outside of that it’s pretty weak. Princess Snow Kaguya isn’t particularly interesting as a villain. She’s entertaining in an arch, hammy kind of way, but compared to the feast that was Fiore, she doesn’t quite impress. She has something of a backstory that hints at an encounter with Queen Serenity in the time of Silver Millennium, but it’s glossed over pretty quickly, too quickly to really satisfy.
The movie features the Outers—Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto—as it is the season where they really stole the show, but their appearance here feels perfunctory, obligatory. They don’t drive the plot in any way. They’re just sort of there, though to be fair, none of the Sailor Guardians, except for Moon and Chibi Moon really get any time in the sun in the movies.
The only carryover from this movie, and any of the movies, into the series is the long anticipated coupling of Luna and Artemis, but it’s debatable. It seems like this isn’t so much a threatrical event that had consequences in the series, but rather something that happened offscreen in the series that got a “and this is the moment it actually happened” moment in the movie.
Sailor Moon SuperS: The Movie
Of the three films, this one borrows the most from the season it’s based on. It features Chibi-usa developing a connection to a white-haired pretty boy and it grooves with the season’s motif of dreams, innocence, and the purity of children.
It also features the Outers, who had barely appeared in SuperS, and yet feel more involved in this story than they do in the S movie. Pluto didn’t appear at all in SuperS, which firmly marks this adventure as outside the continuity. Pluto shows up in Sailor Stars, appearing to have died in S, which explains why Uranus and Neptune are so surprised to see her, and yet she’s right there alongside the others in this movie, at a time when she’s supposedly presumed dead, to exactly no one’s shock and amazement. Um… sure.
Ami’s First Love
While not one of the theatrical features, this short was the opening act for the SuperS movie, based on a manga short story. Ami’s first love was one of a trilogy of short stories (the second going to Makoto, and the third shared by Rei and Minako) called the “Exam Battle Series.” Why the other two were never produced as anime shorts is baffling to me, because if it meant that the other three girls got a long overdue trade in for a new transformation sequence like Ami does in this one, that alone would have been worth it.
Ami’s First Love is cute and well-animated, and it gives us a much welcome look inside Ami’s perspective, but it suffers the same problem as the films: no consequences. It’s a fun little story, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it stands apart from the series entirely and is thus, however entertaining, ultimately unimportant.
What Could Have Been?
While it’s understandable that Sailor Moon wasn’t yet the cash cow during its first season that it would eventually become, and thus no theatrical film was made for that season, it’s baffling how a Sailor Stars movie never came to pass. At that point, the franchise had four years of momentum behind it, but alas… nothing. It does make one wonder what those movies would have looked like.
Since the team was still forming during the first season and no one on the production staff seemed to give a fuck about continuity, I think some kind of Sailor Moon/Tuxedo Mask/Sailor V team-up would have made for an interesting adventure, perhaps one revolving around one Phantom Ace AKA Danburite AKA Adonis, a prominent character from the Sailor V manga.
And a Sailor Stars movie? Well, good sense would have it focus on, or at least heavily feature, the Starlights as they’re the belles of that season’s ball. However, the same could be said for the Outers in Sailor Moon S, and they were little more than an afterthought in the S movie, so who knows? Maybe a Sailor Stars movie would have finally given Saturn some silver screen time or something? Or it could be another ass-pulled story with a rando villain. It certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented. Alas, we’ll never know.
So, which of the three films is the best one? Now that they’ve all been released by VIZ for the general public’s consumption, comparisons are inevitable. For my money, the R movie is head and shoulders above the others. Between its animation, its story, its villain, its finale, and its cultural significance, it’s kind of hard to argue otherwise, but feel free to do so. As far as I can see, the film’s only weakness is that it wasn’t long enough. I could have sat through another hour of supporting character-driven subplots, but that’s just me.
The Sailor Moon S movie looked great and had some awesome action and music, but the plot was woefully thin, and unless you’re in the mood to spend an hour investing in the doomed, interspecies first love of a cat, there’s really not much to sink your teeth into. It doesn’t even really mesh with the themes of its parent series all that much, except that it deals with hearts and crystals. That’s about it.
The Sailor Moon SuperS movie definitely grooved with its corresponding season’s motif, focusing on dreams, illusions, innocence, and the chaste and pure grade school romance of one Sailor Chibi Moon. Badiane is odd in that she is both a flatter character than Princess Snow Kaguya and infinitely more fun to watch. She doesn’t have any real motivation per se, but it is just a blast to sit back and watch her go extra with every damn line.
And this, good readers, is as good a time as any to give you all the skinny on VIZ Media’s home release of Sailor Moon SuperS: The Movie, which like the others is available on Blu-ray and DVD. So, how does it measure up?
For details on the actual plot of the SuperS movie and Ami’s First Love, click here.
The full English dub cast—minus Christine Marie Cabanos, as Sailor Saturn sadly never fits into any of the movies—returns for this final theatrical outing and is joined by Colleen O’Shaughnessy as Perle, Kyle McCarley as Poupelin, and Tara Sands as Badiane. O’Shaughnessy’s performance is competent but doesn’t particularly stand out, though to be fair she isn’t given much to work with. Perle already had plenty stacked against him after a season’s worth of time with Helios, who is a tough act to follow. And on top of that, his character isn’t all that interesting. What O’Shaughnessy definitely accomplishes is underlining the fact that casting a grown man to do the voice of Shingo in the series was SUCH a mistake. Get an actual young boy or a woman for those jobs or you run the risk of 10-year-old who sounds like he has either a pituitary disorder or a smoking problem. Seriously. McCarley as Poupelin also gives a decent but not particularly noteworthy performance. The real feast here is Tara Sands as Badiane, who just embraces the evil and really sinks her fangs into it.
O’Shaugnessy and Sands also appear in Ami’s First Love as Mercurius and Bonnon, respectively, but Kate Higgins really takes the cake there, as is proper, in her portrayal of Ami. It’s really the only time we get inside the head of one of the other Sailor Guardians, and while I still think that Higgins’ and Stephanie Sheh’s (Sailor Moon) voices are a little too similar, which wasn’t the best casting choice, there’s no doubt that individually Higgins does a great job with Ami.
The extras on the Blu-ray, not counting Ami’s First Love, which shouldn’t be counted as an extra but technically is, consist of three interviews: Kate Higgins, Sandy Fox (Chibi-usa/Sailor Chibi Moon), and Tara Sands. It was really nice to get an interview with Higgins, since we’ve seen so little of her in the behind-the-scenes content of the various home media releases, and get a sense of her relationship to the role and the franchise. I appreciated that the questions Sandy Fox fielded in her interview were neither fluff nor recycled material from earlier interviews. For example, she was asked to choose between Perle and Helios, and she made a choice. Not a suprising one to most fans, but the reasons she gave were good reasons. The big standout, though, was Tara Sands, who I’m hoping can find a more permanent home in the Sailor Moon family. She had good answers to good questions, especially on the subject of her artistic process, but there’s a charisma that comes through in her interview that is simply infectious, and it makes me want to both see and hear more of her.
A Final Thought
As stated above, the Sailor Moon theatrical films are an interesting case: the draw of a hot property, beloved and lucrative, but essentially void of the stories that made those characters shine in the first place, focusing instead on one-shot adventures free from the burden of continuity. And free they were. Just try to work out where in the continuity of each season its corresponding movie would fit. It’s easier said than done. In a bunch of ways, these movies shouldn’t work and yet they do, one more than the others, but that’s an open debate.
Soon the tradition will continue, albeit in a different guise, with Sailor Moon Crystal’s next arc being presented not as a fourth season, but a duology of theatrical films. Will those two films be able to do what the story it justice? Well, not if each of them is only an hour long, I can guarantee you that.