Ami Mizuno, the top student at Juuban Junior High, finds her loneliness assuaged by Usagi’s friendliness (and her ulterior motive of getting Ami to help her study). When Ami starts acting strange, Usagi follows her to the Crystal Seminar, a buzz-worthy cram school, only to find that the Dark Kingdom have taken it over and are using the students to find the Silver Crystal. Sailor Moon does her best to stop them, but when she finds herself in a bind, Ami awakens to her second identity, the guardian of water and wisdom, Sailor Mercury!
In a departure from the manga, we open with Ami’s point of view, her world in which Usagi and her friends are background players. This was a nice way bring us into Ami’s world and set up her motivations right up front. It was a nice way to bookend the opening and closing scenes of this story (not counting the tag), showing how much Ami’s life, even outside of Sailor Mercury, has changed just for having befriended Usagi.
There was more to the Dark Kingdom scene than in the manga. It contains the introduction of Queen Beryl and her interaction with Jadeite, but it allowed for some more time to get a sense of Jadeite’s character. Not much, but at least a little. In this version, he doesn’t seem as cold and confident as he did in the ’90s anime or Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, but rather somewhat insecure. I’d compare him more to his manga personality, but aside from his boner for Sailor Mars, he didn’t really have one. Let’s face it, Mars left him sizzling on the floor Cajun style before there was any chance to develop his character at all.
Also of note is the appearance of the Dark Kingdom, and while I do have a tender spot in my heart for the creepy subterranean design of the anime — to say nothing of the grotesque monster face atop Beryl’s throne — I actually prefer this manga style model used in Sailor Moon Crystal. As I said in the previous review, it really feels like a place where people live. I don’t care how evil you are, sleeping in a cave cannot be comfortable, and evil has an eye for beauty too, especially elegance. Beryl’s throne room looks like a place a ruler would spend her time, a place where she can regroup and plan. I much prefer it to that massive hall in the ’90s anime where she held an audience with her citizens, like, 24/7.
In a departure from all previous versions, we see Luna with a fully functional command center. Its design evokes images of the Silver Millennium, with its mixture of classic Greco-Roman architecture and advanced technology. It is even reminiscent of the Silver Crystal itself (in its lotus form). I have to wonder where this command center is. There are stairs (love the design on them!) leading down from above, but it appears to be in some kind of void. In the Sailor V manga, it is established that Artemis had a full-on base below Crown Game Center, which I guess is nodded to in Sailor Moon, both the anime and manga, with Luna using a rewired Sailor V video game as her comm and research system. The Luna of Crystal has definitely received an upgrade in the equipment and resources at her disposal.
Another element new to the franchise is made when Usagi and Ami brush hands. We now have up front confirmation that Usagi won’t be the only one prone to flashes of the Silver Millennium, which holds a lot of promise. It may be too much to hope for, but might this suggest that with twelve episodes worth of extra space for the Dark Kingdom arc to unfold (which, while not explicitly confirmed, does seem the most sensible and likely course of action), we’ll get more development on the Silver Millennium, possibly even the past lives of the Sailor Senshi? The lack of Silver Millennium material has always been a disappointment to me in all entries in the franchise, and I would absolutely love to see what Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Venus were like in their past lives. Were they as different from their current selves as Usagi is? In what ways? What were their stories? Come on, Sailor Moon Crystal. Make it happen.
So, in line with the manga, Ami’s transformation pen comes out of some kind of prize dispenser at Crown. You know, as much as I poke fun at Luna’s “magical kitty turds” from the original anime, I prefer some kind of magical materialization than having incredibly important magical items hanging around all willy nilly in some arcade prize dispenser. What if someone else got them? What if some other girl, or boy for that matter, banged on the machine after Ami got her transformation pen? Would he get the disguise pen? Does Luna have some kind of release-on-command ability with this thing? There are just too many variables. I’d sooner take magical kitty turds any day.
Like in the manga, Usagi’s disguise pen is not really essential to the plot. In fact, there seem to be situations specifically manufactured for its employ. This would be fine if infiltration were part of the plot or Usagi spent any considerable amount of time in her disguise, but she almost always transforms into Sailor Moon on the very next page. It really just seems like a contrived excuse to showcase Usagi in different outfits, and knowing Takeuchi’s love of fashion play, this doesn’t seem like a reach. And while there’s nothing wrong with fashion play, when you disrupt the story to do it… well, I can’t speak for everyone but I certainly find it irritating.
This is one area in which I think the ’90s anime worked better. Usagi’s disguises were a lot more necessary. She needs to sneak into a bar? Well, she needs to become older. She needs to sneak onto a cruise ship? She becomes the photographer. And she makes the most of those disguises. She spends time in that bar gathering intel. She’s able to sneak around the cruise ship under the guise of “work” and her camera is actually used to uncover a plot point. Here, as in the manga, the disguise is a one-note stepping stone that really isn’t all that necessary.
Surprisingly, we have another use of Sailor Moon’s ultrasonic crying (which, in this scenario, happens not to work), which was not part of the Sailor Mercury intro story in the manga. This suggests to me that it may be more of a plot point than in previous versions, which, while in and of itself is not something I really care one way or the other about, does give me hope that certain one-shot or rarely used elements of the manga will be made less random and convenient, providing a little more context and continuity, which I’m all for.
While it was suggested with Usagi’s transformation sequence, with Ami’s (and from what we see of Rei’s in the preview for the next episode) it becomes clear that while Sailor Moon Crystal is taking its cues primarily from the manga, there are certain elements that are borrowed from the ’90s anime as well. As there are no transformation sequences in the manga at all — the girls transform into the Senshi pretty much instantaneously within a single frame — this makes perfect sense. To use manga as a basis for Crystal is all well and good and a rather smart decision, but it is nonetheless an anime. It is a different medium, and thus it’s smart to model the elements of it that are more anime-specific on the other anime.
Ami’s enthusiastic acceptance of Usagi’s friendship is set up well here by the teaser, in which Ami’s loneliness was emphasized, yet another area in which Sailor Moon Crystal is drawing from the ’90s anime. While Usagi’s friendliness is certainly there in the manga, and the other girls were certainly all loners to some degree, it was the anime that really explored the idea that they were lonely and that this loneliness was dispersed by the way Usagi brought them all together.
We end on Rei in this episode, very much the way we ended on Ami in the first one. And now that I’m remembering, a similar cameo was made by Mako-chan in the manga at the end of the story preceding her full introduction. And then there’s the preview for the next episode, which outright confirms the introduction of Sailor Mars, as well as Zoisite, both of whom were introduced in Act 3 of the manga. If it will be as direct a translation as these past two episodes have been, we can expect to meet Neprhrite as well. While I’m all for an earlier intro of the generals (especially Zoisite), I am really hoping they don’t die on the same schedule. It would be such a waste. However, building on my speculation that Sailor Moon Crystal will be more inclusive of Silver Millennium material, which it already has been, I don’t think it’s too much to hope that we’ll get more face time with the generals that we did in the manga. Whether it’s posthumously or while they’re still alive…that’s a whole other story.
So, as I’ve said, and I promise you all that this will be the last I speak of it, I wouldn’t have been so hasty with the debut queue. Even if how it was done in the manga… you know what? The manga wasn’t always better. Sometimes it was. Sometimes the anime was. Frankly, I don’t think either got the pacing perfectly (except episodes 22-36; that shit was flawless). The manga intro’d the characters too quickly, the anime took way too long.
With 26 episodes to cover the Dark Kingdom arc, I don’t see the harm in holding off on Mercury until Episode 4, Mars, until Episode 7 or so, and Jupiter until Episode 10, and then bring Venus in halfway through in Episode 13. That still give you half the series with the full team in play, while allowing enough breathing room for each character to really shift the dynamic. That’s the thing. No one likes monotony. No one wants to be bored, but without ANY status quo, you never have one to shake up.
That said, it’s clear where they’re going on this matter and it is what it is. The show is still deeply entertaining and, to be honest, there’s a certain amount of nuance an anime is capable of that a manga is not. Things like timing, camera movement, sound design… all of these add a layer of texture that, while there may not be many changes to the text itself, do end up conveying mood and character in a way that still images do not.
Yes, Ami is introduced and transformed into Sailor Mercury all in one episode (Act 1’s cameo doesn’t count), and Rei is coming in next time, but despite the fact that the story is almost identical to its manga origins, I felt like I got to know Ami a lot better in this second episode of Sailor Moon Crystal than in Act 2 of the manga. I feel like she really went through an arc, however small, and thus I’m ready if not eager to bring another character on board. I feel like we’ve gotten to know Ami well enough, if not as well as I’d have liked, to change the ensemble again. The Crystal writers have earned it… but just barely.
So, all in all, I liked it, it was well done, and I’m looking forward to the introduction of the next Sailor Senshi next time in “Act 3 – Rei / Sailor Mars.”