Sailor Moon Crystal: Act 3 Rei/Sailor Mars review

Sailor Moon Crystal introduces Sailor Mars in the third episode. Here's our review.

A rash of disappearances all lead back to a certain bus that is last seen at Hikawa Shrine before vanishing. This “Demon Bus,” as the locals have come to call it, catches the attention of Rei Hino, a miko at Hikawa Shrine with psychic powers. Rei’s visions lead her to confront Jadeite, who is behind the whole thing, but she just ends up captured and brought to the Dark Kingdom with the rest of the victims. It turns out Jadeite’s plan was to lure the Sailor Senshi to the Dark Kingdom, and it totally works. Sailor Moon and Sailor Mercury show up to confront him, but it’s Rei, who awakens as Sailor Mars, that truly saves the day.

Like the previous two episodes, this one followed the origin story of its featured Sailor rather closely, and with good reason. They’re all debuts that include an interesting, entertaining adventure that ties directly into the introduction and development of a new character. Of the three episodes so far, this one deviated the most from the manga, which is still not all that much, but enough that it made a marked difference. That difference was for the better.

As Sailor Moon Crystal is going more with the manga’s tone and characterization, the Rei we get here is manga Rei. While she is a solid character who I look forward to watching, I’ve always had a preference for the Rei of the ’90s anime, and that’s not just sentimentality or nostalgia. I, for one, loved that the Sailor Senshi of Mars — you know, the god of war — was a short-tempered, sharp-tongued firebrand with zero tolerance for anyone’s bullshit. She was still a beautiful, spiritual young woman, but she was just more attuned to the archetype of her guardian planet than manga Rei, who was a rather stoic character. And I like stoic characters, but she’s SAILOR FREAKING MARS. That said, this show is manga-heavy, so in that I have to commend them for staying on task with their characterization. It shows commitment to their mission statement, and I can appreciate that.

There were some obvious parallels to Ami’s premiere, inserting brief little flashes of Rei’s life and isolation. In both cases (as well as with Mako and Minako when they show up), though for different reasons, it’s because people are intimidated by these girls. Whether it’s intentional or not, this is a very subtle commentary on the sexism present in cultures around the world. Girls who are intelligent, strong, confident, or otherwise gifted tend to put people off, to intimidate them, and the knee-jerk response of many people is to either shun them or tear them down.

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Ami’s classmates are deeply impressed by her academic achievements, but their awe is tinged with jealousy and just a touch of judgment, and rumors start to fly. Rei is an intelligent girl with a sense of focus and authority in spiritual matters. She’s also possessed of certain psychic abilities that appeared to be tied to her Shinto traditions, such as fire-reading. And the people that visit Hikawa Shrine are very polite to her face, but can’t help but mention to one another behind her back how creepy she is. Both these girls muddle through and take what pride they can in their strengths, but can’t help but feel isolated and alone until along comes Sailor Moon and Luna, who tell them, “No, your strength is not only valuable but appreciated. We need you to be your strongest, we need you to be your best, and we honor you for that.” The Sailor Senshi give these girls a sense of purpose and pride, transforming their social liabilities into heroic strengths. When Usagi and Ami see Rei, all they see is a beautiful girl with a powerful presence, and while they are a bit intimidated, they’re more starstruck than afraid.

Rei’s transformation sequence followed the pattern of the others, taking its cues from the ’90s anime (good) while having some really cheesily rendered and completely unnecessary computer animation (bad). I didn’t really notice this with Usagi’s transformation at first, mainly because I was so blindsided by the fluidity of the ribbons and the camera movement, but it really does stand out. With both Mercury and Mars, the elemental effects look awkward and kind of sloppy, and I find myself scratching my head wondering why the animators decided, in an unfathomable reversal of anime tradition, to decide that the footage on whose quality they would skimp would be the footage that will actually be reused repeatedly throughout the series. It’s a small quibble but nonetheless worth voicing.

Rei also had a brief flash of the Silver Millennium, like the others, furthering the theory that all the Sailor Senshi, and not just Sailor Moon, will get some past life development. In Rei’s case, this is also supported by the moment already present in the manga where Jadeite admits a powerful attraction to her. While not explicitly canon, official Sailor Moon artwork by Takeuchi herself has depicted each of the Sailor Senshi paired off with one of the Shitennou, who were Prince Endymion’s personal guard, Jadeite always being paired off with Sailor Mars.

If we’re getting more Silver Millennium material, and it seems like we are, might it actually explore a previous relationship between these two or at least a one-way attraction on Jadeite’s part? Something they’ve both forgotten in all the hubbub of reincarnation? It’s possible, considering Jadeite will be around longer. Oh, yeah, you heard me.

In the most radical departure from the manga so far, Jadeite survives his encounter with Sailor Mars. Just barely, sure, but survive he does, and the implications of this one change are enormous and deeply gratifying.  Since the announcement of Sailor Moon Crystal and all the way up through this episode, I’ve been speculating about the pacing of the series, hoping desperately that a narrative adherence to the manga’s plot points did not mean a direct translation of it in terms of pacing, because it is paced way too fast, allowing little room to develop the protagonists and even less if at all (in most cases) for the villains.

Knowing Jadeite was scheduled to die in this episode, I spent the whole time dreading it, and it took everything I had not to skip to the end just to know for sure. But then, as tradition dictated, Sailor Mars engulfed him in flames, and he…teleported out. Yeah, okay, he got a little toasted, but he saved himself in the nick of time, and will live to fight another day. Given Queen Beryl’s displeasure with his failures, he might be grounded for a little while, allowing Nephrite to feature in the stories where he canonically appears as the antagonist, but Jadeite is still around. There will be more of him to come. In fact, if the opening scene of this episode is any indication, it seems like there will be more of everyone.

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Act 3 of the manga featured the debut of both Nephrite and Zoisite, and we knew from last week’s preview that Crystal would follow suit. What we did not know was how much screen time they’d be getting. What were brief, one-line intros for each of them in the manga played out in a full scene of the two interacting with Jadeite and Queen Beryl, further developing the goals of the Dark Kingdom as an antagonistic force and establishing the dynamic between Beryl’s generals. The fact that Jadeite survives this episode is pretty much stating that we’re in for an entire series worth of interactions between the four Shitennou. Not necessarily all of them until the end. I imagine the Sailor Senshi will start picking them off eventually, but we can expect at least a few more scenes of the Shitennou actually being a team, both collaborating and competing with one another, and alternating in their attacks on the Senshi. Yes! Yes, please!

The greater implication for the entire series, however, is that while Sailor Moon Crystal will certainly be faithful to the manga, it will not have the slavish devotion of a literal interpretation. So far, the episodes have been one for one with the manga acts, including the preview for the next one, which will cover the masquerade ball just as Act 4 of the manga did. All this pointed to the theory that the 26 episodes of Crystal would cover the 26 acts of the manga that comprise the Dark Kingdom and Black Moon arcs.

However, there are only so many minutes in an episode, and if a literal, one-for-one depiction of the manga’s storyline were on the agenda, where would Jadeite’s death go now? What would be the purpose of keeping him alive if there’s no room to further use him, and why short-shrift the Black Moon arc by spending more time with the Dark Kingdom? The only reasonable answer is that, as I’ve been predicting and desperately hoping, Sailor Moon Crystal will focus exclusively on the Dark Kingdom and that the series’ success will pave the way for future installments continuing the saga.

As for Sailor Moon Crystal, it will likely intro the Sailor Senshi as early as the source material will allow in order to build up the full team, but will then proceed to telescope the rest of the storyline out. I am all for this. Let’s include “Casablanca Memory” and other elements of the girls’ character development that the ’90s anime, despite its behemoth size, never addressed. Let’s see more interplay between the Shitennou, allow more time for Usagi and Mamoru to actually fall in love in this life and not just base their romance on their alter-egos or past selves. Which is not to say I wouldn’t like to know more about Endymion and Serenity, and how their courtship began and their love unfolded. I want to know more about the Golden Kingdom and how it was corrupted and twisted into the Dark Kingdom, how Beryl was seduced by Metalia in both this incarnation and the one previous.

And you know what? If we have 26 episodes to cover 14 acts of manga, all of that is possible. The writers have that opportunity (or, I suppose, had the opportunity since all the scripts are likely already written if not animated), so let’s hope they use it. Because there is a world of potential that the end of this episode has just opened up, and I for one will be heartbroken if the creative team did not exploit the shit out of it.

And speaking of seeing more of the Dark Kingdom…I fucking LOVE how much of the actual Dark Kingdom (the location) we’re seeing. No formless caves and nebulous voids; the victims of the Demon Bus were taken to an empty hall in the Dark Kingdom itself. Not only does that make loads of sense and keep the world of the story a little neater, but by this logic the Sailor Senshi have already set foot in Queen Beryl’s palace or at least her domain. There’s something so creepy about this, possibly because of how wet behind the ears they still are at this point. To think that they’re in the near vicinity of the big bad who could probably kill them effortlessly at this point is just kind of terrifying. I mean really. The only thing that saves them here is Jadeite’s pride. If he hadn’t tried to take them on himself, concealing his plans to prevent any interference by his colleagues, the show would be over.

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Lastly, before I sign off, for those who take issue with the assertion that disguise power is largely a useless plot device that rarely has a function other than gratifying the mangaka’s fashion fetish… check this episode out. Usagi’s flight attendant disguise served no function. None. It made no sense, was not properly motivated, and ultimately influenced the story in no way whatsoever. Hell, the use of the flight attendant disguise in the ’90s anime at least kind of helped. Kind of. Now, next episode, where she needs to disguise herself to get into the masquerade ball and proceeds to maintain that disguise for the bulk of the episode? THAT is a solid use of the disguise pen and damn! Am I looking forward to it!

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3 out of 5