With Sailor Mars abducted by the Black Moon, Sailor Moon presses Chibi-Usa intel she doesn’t have. Mamoru grows rather protective of Chibi-Usa and learns a little more about her, the fact that her parents are in danger, and that they told her to seek out the legendary warrior Sailor Moon should anything bad ever happen to them. Meanwhile, Ami reflects upon her parents’ divorce and her father’s absence in her life. These latent abandonment issues become fodder for the next of the Spectre Sisters, Berthier (pronounced BEAR-tyay, all French-like), who uses those issues to psych Ami out during a chess match that could very well win Sailor Mars back.
Again, we have a solid episode that doesn’t waste any time. We get those quiet, leisurely moments of Mercury exploring her connection to her element and silently meditating in the pool. We get enough of it to give Ami her moment without spending half the freaking episode on it. THAT is good pacing. And it speaks directly to my point about how good story comes from character. Those moments in the pool aren’t self-indulgent, artsy bullshit; they’re pauses taken to add atmosphere and context to the story being told about Ami, her perspective, and her feelings. What we learn of her at the pool ties directly into her issues, which tie directly into the climax of the episode. It is excellent narrative construction, and it justifies slowing things down for a few minutes of screentime.
Another triumph of the pool scene was its fun, lightly comedic tone, which really helped to balance out the mood. Not that Dark Kingdom arc was completely devoid of comedy, but it pushed the melodrama really hard, and even someone like myself who derives far too much enjoyment from the over-the-top shenanigans of teen angst can veer into eye roll territory when it’s laid on too thick. Starting in the previous episode and continuing here, we’re getting a little comic relief. Nothing too zany or slapstick, which wouldn’t really suit the overall tone of the show. Just enough to lighten things up a touch. It’s really to the show’s benefit that they’re threading in a little more comedy, and it’s a trend that I hope continues.
This episode deviates considerably from the manga, with an increased focus on Ami and her family background, which is great, considering she’s the focus of the episode. It really makes the climax more of an internal struggle for her. He trade-off, however, is that it comes at the expense of the supporting cast. The source manga chapter for this episode established Motoki as the civilian ally to both the Senshi and Tuxedo Mask, a friend of theirs who is in the know about their secret identities. I always liked that. It gave him a sort of Alfred Pennyworth quality that the manga’s adaptations lacked, since he was clueless the entire time.
The manga’s Act 16 also reprised the new characters of Kotono and Asanuma, and not only developed Asanuma’s fascination with Mamoru, but used it to highlight Mamoru’s admittedly nebulous psychic powers. While Mercury is and should be the priority here, I can only hope this glossed over material might show up in a future episode as it was some really nice character development. You know, I hoped that Crystal would deviate more from the manga, and I certainly got what I asked for here. It just stings that in this case, I love what was lost just as much as what replaced it. As someone who believes that more character development is seldom a bad choice, I’d love to have it all, but odds are we may not find the time for it, given the constraints on screentime left in this series.
We also got more time with the Black Moon Family. We are introduced to the dynamic between brothers Prince Demande and Saphir, who designed and created the Droid servants. There is some tension between these brothers which foreshadows troubles to come. You know, there Saphir is, having a moment in the Tetris Room, and along comes his brother ready to lay the smackdown at the slightest questioning of his methods. And of course, Demande bullies his brother in response to a fairly innocent comment just to establish his dominance. Oy, my big brother issues are flaring up like crazy.
I will once again state how much I love having Rubeus interact with the Black Moon higher-ups. It really makes him feel like part of this organization, unlike in Sailor Moon R, where the only member of the upper echelon with which he interacted was Esmeraude.
On top of the narrative, the visuals in this episode were incredibly strong, though one should distinguish between art direction and animation quality. Now, in terms of actual animation, meaning the amount and flow of movement, this episode was okay, but just okay. It’s clear that all the effort here went to design, because this episode’s art design is fantastic. All the character designs are sharp and on-model. The proportions are good, the facial features consistent. Even the color palette feels less washed out than in other episodes. It feels just a touch bolder and fuller. I have never found Chibi-Usa cuter in my life. Those shots of her sleeping face were so damn adorable I whimpered. And she’s not the only one with a very personalized look.
There’s one close-up on Venus in the command center scene that looks very distinctive. Something about the way her facial features are drawn that is very recognizably Minako, but looks just a touch different. Given how homogenous anime faces (just the face, not the hair) can be, I hope they continue to tweak the characters in subtle ways to make their facial features more varied and distinctive.
While this episode did have some really good qualities, it was not a slam dunk. The first is the logical loophole of the Tuxedo Mask doll. No, I’m not being petty. Seriously. Think about it. When did he make that doll and for whom did he make it? Was he like… putting on little puppet shows for Usagi. Is that part of their private sexy time?
P.S., Mamoru… if you need to hide your face, that’s some pretty shitty ventriloquism. You need to go back to improv class, mkay?
Really, though, that’s a minor issue. The only thing I really didn’t like was that horribly uncomfortable scene where Mamoru goes to hug Usagi when she’s feeling down. Now, in theory, this is good. Boyfriend sees girlfriend upset. His instinct is to hug. He deploys cuddle bombs. This is a solid and time-tested strategy, and most of the time it’s a perfectly valid course of action, but did anyone get like super uncomfortable when Usagi pushes him away not once, but twice, and he just forces that hug on her? I mean, I know she gives into it after a moment, but something there was just off.
Look, I get the whole concept behind the Good Will Hunting power hug. Sometimes people push you away because they want to see if you’ll come after them and still be there. But sometimes people push you away because they don’t feel like being fucking hugged at that moment. I know Mamoru was just trying to comfort Usagi, and this could just be a fuck-up on the animators’ part, but that embrace looked a little forceful and awkward. Dude, if you go to hug your girlfriend and she resists you… twice… maybe it’s not the best time.
Overall, though, we have another strong episode that effectively utilized character to forward the plot. February has been a very good month for this show. I look forward to seeing Jupiter throw down with Petz in the next episode, but for now, let’s just sit back and bask in the glow of hearty, substantial character development.
Mmm… that’s the stuff.