This Sailor Moon Crystal review contains spoilers.
Brainwashed by the Dark Kingdom, Mamoru sets out to seize the Silver Crystal by getting closer to Sailor Moon and randomly picks Crown Game Center as a place to stage this operation. He hypnotizes Motoki into accepting him as his best friend Endou (having gotten rid of the actual Endou), and lays in wait for Usagi, who inexplicably has trouble recognizing him. All this leads to a confrontation in the Command Center beneath Crown, where Sailor Moon finally throws down with Tuxedo Mask.
Sailor Moon Crystal Act 11 is a pretty mixed bag, because where it’s good it’s incredibly strong, but where it’s bad it makes no sense. Let’s start with the good.
The use of character in this episode was very strong. The girls’ personalities and voices were very distinct. At various moments, Ami shows her brainy side, Rei gets a little testy, Mako-chan is brazen and kick-ass, and Minako is a bit of a drama queen. And while certain displays of character from the manga such as Rei’s spiritual sunset moment are notably absent, in exchange we are given the gang good-heartedly teasing Minako for being a little melodramatic. Honestly, if there had been more of these little moments peppered throughout the early episodes, I probably wouldn’t have been as critical on the grounds of weak characterization. This episode did a really good job of conveying character by actually showing the girls interacting, rather than just relying upon bullet lists of personal information to function in place of any actual personalities.
The moonscapes were beautiful as always, and the ruins of the Silver Millennium just add a marvelous texture to the world of this story. I totally get the concept of “leave them wanting more,” but don’t leaving them wanting too much. The Silver Millennium was always such a tease, hinting at this rich mythos and backstory and ultimately showing very little of it. And the reason that’s so frustrating is because what we get is so beautiful and so intriguing.
The pacing of this episode was a little slow at first, but picked up really well. I’m normally wary of any episode where the halftime eyecatch comes up and essentially nothing has happened, but then I realized just how early in this episode that break comes in order to give us the majority of the plot development in one nice, long stretch. There are some nice twists and turns. The mind control on Mako-chan was handled really well and led to something we had yet to see: one of the Sailor Senshi attempting to fight another.
The final showdown in the underground command center had some great action and really delivered one emotional gut punch after another. Seeing Evil Tuxedo Mask harm Luna was just painful. In this situation, I really felt Usagi’s struggle to take him on, and how seeing Luna attacked really would be the last straw for her, the push she needed to get her shit together and move past her trauma. And that’s the mark of a hero: not being free from fears, doubts, or flaws but overcoming those things in order to do what’s right. In that moment, all of the denial and self-destructive self-indulgence Usagi had permitted herself since Mamoru’s capture was no longer acceptable to her. He hurt Luna, and thus the time for bullshit was over.
On a purely sensory level, there were some really nice visuals and beautiful music in this episode. The music used during Usagi’s transformation was so plaintive, almost haunting, and it really added to the… how do I put this? It added to the beautiful wrongness of the scene, the overall tone that things are not right or as they should be in Usagi’s world.
And now… now for the less than stellar stuff.
I give this series a lot of leeway when it comes to the “stupid fog.” I will totally allow and accept that some kind of Clark Kent glamour makes the characters unrecognizable in their super forms even to each other despite not wearing a mask of any kind. That’s perfectly fine. But Mamoru and “Endou” are completely identical except for their eye color and fashion choices. They have the same face, hairstyle, and hair color. And yet Usagi is all like, “He looks just like Mamoru!” Woman, this is supposed to be your true love — you know, that enduring, transcendental love we keep hearing so much about — and you’re what, not sure? Are you kidding me?
I can accept that Usagi, heartbroken and missing Mamoru, would spend time with someone who is obviously evil and almost certainly working for the Dark Kingdom (as far as she knows) just because he looks like her guy. That’s a very human, very adolescent reaction, and I get it. I won’t give her shit for that. But come on! Look at him! Do the fucking math! Your man got kidnapped by evil people, evil people whom you know for a fact brainwash people into their service. This is a thing we talked about onscreen, like, one episode ago. Where is the confusion coming in? I mean, I know Usagi isn’t very book smart, and she can be a little naïve, but she’s not an idiot. I can understand her courting danger despite knowing better as a result of grief or denial, but I call bullshit on her not even being sure it’s the same guy. What?!?
Having Endou/Evil Endymion’s eyes be red as opposed to blue is a nice, subtle touch to show that this is a different character. This works especially well here since the color of his eyes was not only mentioned but emphasized as something Usagi likes. But is that seriously the x-factor that makes his identity hazy to people who know him? While we’re on the subject of appearances, I don’t see anything particularly feminine about the real Endou. Some manga translations have him described as passive, which sounds to me like a much more accurate description. I’m going to chalk this one up to a poor translation.
I always found it particularly convenient that Reika’s book just happened to feature the stones from which the Four Kings’ names are derived. In the manga, it just opens to that page, a page they all just happen to be on. Here it’s just on the cover. As for our dashingly evil men in uniform, I know that by this point in the manga, they were all dead, so they didn’t appear in Act 11, but the previous episode went so far out of its way to establish them in Sailor Moon Crystal as a force to be reckoned with. They’re like the opposite of dead; they’re alive with a vengeance, and then… we don’t even touch base with them in this episode. This, I’m sure, was a result of budgeting time, but that is not a viable excuse here, because there is a serious offender on the matter of time-gobbling, and hated sin, thy name be henshin.
Listen, I like a good transformation sequences as much as the next guy. They’re a really great way to pump the audience up for a fight, they have this very spiritual rebirth vibe to them, and they’re just plain fun to watch, but this is my issue with their use here. This is a packed episode, and it’s not that I’m not glad they created some new material. The opening scene with Usagi’s moon dream was really evocative: a girl fruitlessly chasing her twice lost love through the deserted ruins of the world where they knew happiness. That is some powerful stuff. And I’m Mr. “Moar Silver Millennium!” (in fact, I’m a bit disappointed that if we’re bothering to spend more time in the Moon Kingdom, it’s not actual flashback), but if we’re going to be adding new content to an episode to the point where we have to cut some other stuff, I do not want excessive transformation sequences to be a factor in that time deficit.
That said, I am a fan of when stock footage is played over music that is not typically used for it. And while I like Usagi’s transformation into Sailor Moon set to that pensive, somber melody… somehow it just really slowed down the action in a way I can’t quite quantify. I can certainly allow for the convention of the actual transformations being instantaneous and the sequences we see being merely for the audiences benefit. I’m not worried about timing per se. It just seems that in this case, the momentum was lost.
And now for some decidedly petty bitching.
The bit in the manga with Naru and Umino is cut, which isn’t the hugest deal, but it did help to establish the passage of a few days. Luna’s statement that Usagi is going to Crown “again” doesn’t convey the same context. For all we know she just left to get something eat and is going back. I think this could have been handled a little more smoothly. As offenses go, this one is pretty minor, but nonetheless conspicuous.
And in some rare “attack” commentary, I definitely prefer the Venus Love Me Chain in Classic to this manga version of it. While I’m not so much for the over-heartification of so-called girls’ things, given the entire theme of Venus’ powers and identity, a chain of slender, golden, heart-shaped links is vastly superior to what ultimately looks like an expensive, high-end string of anal beads. Aino beads? No, I’ve gone far enough on that one. I’m going to let it rest.
All in all, this was a good episode, told well, with some real emotion and solid action. It suffered from some notable deficiencies, but it picked up the momentum of the episode previous and ran with it, successfully taking the story to the next level and ending on an emotional and effective cliffhanger. Well done.