Sailor Moon Crystal Act 5 – Makoto – Sailor Jupiter review

Sailor Jupiter joins the fray, but how does this compare to all the other incarnations of Sailor Moon lore? Mike has a lot to say about it.

Sailor Moon Crystal Trailer

The bridal shop in the mall is the newest hot zone of Dark Kingdom activity, as customers are going missing. Meanwhile, Usagi befriends transfer student Makoto Kino, a tomboy who leaves a trail of rumors in her wake. When Makoto finds herself in harm’s way, the Sailor Senshi rush to her defense, but their help turns out to be a mere bonus, as Makoto manifests her powers as the Senshi of thunder and courage, Sailor Jupiter.

Okay, as everyone should know by now, I love Sailor Jupiter. She is my favorite of all the Senshi. ALL OF THEM. So, naturally, I’ve got a lot to say about this episode. You may want to take a bathroom break now.

Of the four origin stories depicted thus far, this one differs the most between incarnations of the Sailor Moon story. As expected, this episode followed the manga fairly closely with the bridal shop plot and did so quite effectively. In comparison to the 90’s anime, it’s hard to say which one is definitively better, as each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

This episode feels much more like Jupiter’s story than her intro in the 90’s anime, which was basically just the episode where she happened to show up and factor into the plot. It got a lot more inside Mako-chan’s head and touched upon aspects of her character that would have been perfectly easy to introduce and explain in the 90’s anime and yet never were: the reason for her school uniform, the fact that she lives alone, etc. We actually got a brief look in flashback of the now iconic rejection by her senpai, which we had to wait all the way into Sailor Moon R to get back in the 90’s, and even then it was buried in a musical sequence that was really about a peripheral character we never saw again. So, the point totally goes to Crystal on that count.

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Let it also be said that, for better or worse, there was a lot going on in Episode 25 of the 90’s anime. Jupiter’s intro was one of several story elements coming into play at a major shift in the direction of the season. You had Zoisite stepping up as the general in charge, the onset of the Rainbow Crystal saga, the introduction of the Seven Great Youma, the introduction of the Moon Stick and the shift from destroying the enemies to healing them, and lest we forget the awakening and first appearance of Queen Metalia. How they managed to accomplish all that AND successfully introduce a major new character like Jupiter is nothing short of artistry. Which episode is stronger? It’s kind of impossible to say, as each is what’s appropriate for the series to which it belongs.

When Mako-chan first appeared in the 90’s anime, her debut had been a long time coming. We’d spent half the series with the power trio of Moon, Mercury, and Mars, establishing a pretty solid status quo, and Jupiter shook everything up on both a super and civilian level. Season 1 of Sailor Moon was divided rather cleanly into two halves, and Jupiter’s arrival was one of several story elements that signified this change. The door had closed on a rather intense story between Naru-chan and Nephrite, and it was time for a fresh start, so bringing all those changes in at the same time felt right.

In Sailor Moon Crystal…it’s Episode 5. There is no status quo to shake up, because it changes with every episode, and thus Jupiter’s arrival isn’t as much of an event. It’s merely the next Senshi intro in the debut queue. As such, there’s less pressure on it to be a, “wham episode,” affording the story the freedom to focus simply on the character, her background, and her initiation onto the team without balancing several other plot developments. It’s a simpler story, and whether that makes it the better story is entirely subject to one’s personal taste.

Look, it’s no secret to anyone on this site that Sailor Jupiter is my favorite character in the mythology, and I expected to have a very strong opinion on which episode was the stronger of the two, but…I don’t. Both are enjoyable, and each feels fitting in terms of content and tone for the series in which it appears. The fact that the manga Mako-chan is my least favorite iteration of the character and yet I enjoyed this episode immensely speaks volumes about the creative team and what they brought to the table.

I will say that I vastly prefer the introduction of the Moon Stick in the 90’s anime to its intro in the manga and Crystal. In the 90’s anime, it is central not only to the plot of the episode but the mechanics and formula of the second half of the season. Its function has a direct correlation to the nature of the enemies from that point on and establishes the recurring messianic motif of Sailor Moon’s ability to heal both physically and spiritually. In the manga and Crystal, Luna just tosses Usagi some new swag as a token of leadership because she racked up an acceptable quota of teammates. It wasn’t even actually utilized until several issues down the line. It’s just sloppy, clunky storytelling. So, the point definitely goes to the original there.

There is also the difference in villain. This version has a standard youma commanded by Nephrite, who by this point in the 90’s anime had just died. This is pretty significant for a couple of reasons, namely Nephrite’s passing comment that he’s seen the look in Jupiter’s eyes before. As all hardcore moonies know, while never substantiated in the text itself, Takeuchi has both stated and depicted through promotional art that each of the Senshi was romantically involved with one of the generals in their past lives, Jupiter being paired with Nephrite. Given that Jadeite made a comment about an attraction to Mars, Nephrite made this comment about recognizing something about Jupiter, and both survived in Crystal where they died in the manga, this can reasonably be construed as evidence that these past life pairings will be depicted canonically and possible even explored.

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As for Nephrite himself, I will say that I much prefer his character design in Crystal. It’s cleaner, smoother, he (in fact, all the generals) looks more his supposed age, and his hair is way, way better. Look, I don’t have anything against guys having long hair — college was a very hairy time for me — But Nephrite’s long, voluminous, because-I’m-worth-it hair in the 90’s anime always rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it had to do with the fact that he was posing as some kind of reputable socialite in the incredibly traditional and aesthetically homogenous society like Japan that would not likely accept such a look, but it just felt too big, too hair metal. I hated it. I actually liked Nephrite’s look in PGSM quite a bit. It was striking and different, and I wouldn’t have kicked him out of bed. But I think Crystal has nailed his aesthetic perfectly. He’s got the long hair working. It’s full, it’s wavy, but it’s far more subdued and streamlined. If long hair were to fly in a militaristic paradigm, that’s how it would be done. Frankly, it makes it easier to take him seriously.

As for the other generals, Zoisite and Kunzite appear in the manga directly following Nephrite’s death, establishing Zoisite’s dynamic with Kunzite (sadly platonic here) as well as his  motivation for being the next to attack the Senshi. Crystal showed none of this, and with good reason. For one, Nephrite didn’t die, and thus the entire exchange wouldn’t have made any sense at all. And I’m okay with this omission, because it was shown rather clearly in the previous episode that the generals will be working as a team, taking turns and possible even acting in concert from time to time. We will be seeing more of all of them, so cutting a brief exchange here does not bother me in the slightest.

One last aside before bringing this whole review home to its main subject, I liked the shot where Tuxedo Mask’s mask fully concealed his eyes. I understand that the mystery of his identity was never much of a mystery at all in the manga. In fact, considering how much the 90’s anime hinged on the assumption that viewers were already versed in the manga, they put in some admirable effort into playing that mystery straight. And yes, it’s not the biggest secret in the world, but it’s suspension enough of disbelief that Usagi can’t recognize him through the mask when it conceals his eyes. When it’s barely a mask at all, thin around the huge gaps that show Mamoru’s eyes, it’s just more than I can accept. I know she’s not the brightest girl on the block, but she’d have to be completely fucking stupid not to work it out at that point.

Besides that fact, for good or ill, there will be people, young and old alike, coming to Sailor Moon for the first time with each new incarnation. Whatever their reasons, they don’t know the story yet, and I think they deserve as much of a mystery as anyone. Same thing for Usagi’s true identity as the Moon Princess and the Minako decoy move. It may be obvious to some, even to first timers, but it’s a perfectly legit mystery that adds another level of fun to the story, and half-assing it just because the established fandom has been there before isn’t really fair to the newbies. But I digress.

The real focus of everything here is our girl Jupiter herself and her depiction in this episode. As I said, I strongly prefer 90’s anime Jupiter. She’s a little harder, a little spunkier, a little more damaged, and a lot funnier what with her senpai backstory becoming a running gag paired with her boy-craziness. Not that manga Jupiter is a pushover by any means, but to me the manga Senshi have always been more…homogenous. True, we’re offered more details of their home lives and backstories, but it all seems to be empirical information, informed attributes that we’re merely told of that don’t often play out in the girls’ narrative characterization and interactions. One could argue that their characterization is merely subtler, and subtle characterization is not in and of itself a negative, but when it’s so subtle that you don’t get much of a flavor for who these girls are as individuals, much less how they interact with one another, I’d say you’ve passed subtle a few exits back and are heading straight into bland country.

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Here in Crystal, at least in this first appearance, Mako-chan is a pretty generic shoujo girl. She’s sweet and romantic and…that’s about it. We get a lot of rumors about her and why she left her last school, but unlike with the 90’s anime, at no point did I think that these rumors were even partially true. Here, Mako-chan is just another sweet, hapless victim of the bitchy middle school rumor mill. To her credit, on the battle field she certainly kicks ass and gets in more licks in her trial by fire (or, rather, flowers and lightning) than any of the others so far. But off the field, she’s just a misunderstood, heartbroken girl who’s too tall for her teachers’ liking. There’s no comedy to her, there’s no quirk. She had a guy she liked that ended up breaking her heart (and I actually really like that neither he nor his girlfriend were demonized by the authors or by Mako-chan herself; shit just happened), but there’s none of that thunder, that spunk.

Mako-chan’s boy-craziness in the 90’s anime was used for comedic effect, but it also served a deeper purpose. It rejected the script that the boy must pursue the girl. It gave her agency in a romantic (and by implication, sexual) context. She became a role model to young girls, letting them know that if you like a boy, you don’t have to wait for him to come to you; that you can crush on as many boys as you like, and it’s okay to have those feelings; that your bourgeoning sexuality, though perhaps not yet mature and ready to be acted upon, will be yours to own and enjoy as you see fit when you see fit. And if anyone tries to slut-shame you, you punch them in the face. Here she’s just another romantic girl.

Zzzzzzzz…

In terms of her other qualities, where in the 90’s anime, Mako-chan’s aptitude for domestic tasks was a way to break the tomboy stereotype and give her dimension, here it just feels like another part of the shoujo package, a way for the writers to communicate to the audience “No, no, she only looks like an amazon. She’s really dainty as hell!” And I do not approve. I’m aware that it’s acknowledged in the text that Mako-chan’s domesticity is an affectation she cultivated to compensate for her tomboyish qualities, but I always thought that was bullshit. It always felt to me like an apology, as though she weren’t so much celebrating her feminine as well as masculine traits as she was making herself more palatably feminine so that people, boys especially, would like her better. And fuck that.

So, I think it’s fair to say that I’m not a huge fan of this interpretation of Mako-chan, but I’m in full support of this Sailor Jupiter. I like how her flower attack is shown to be as powerful and deadly as her thunder and lightning. I like that she puts up a fight (and rather successfully) before she invokes the power of her transformation pen. And holy crap, best transformation music so far. Like, by a longshot. All that said, it is only Episode 5, and there’s a lot ahead, so perhaps she’ll diverge from the manga Mako-chan to some degree. I can only hope.

This episode was the best yet, easily the most complex and satisfying. One of the problems I’ve noticed and mentioned about Sailor Moon Crystal is its rather leisurely pace (within the episodes, that is). The truth is not much happens, and considering that the episodes of the 90’s anime only had about another minute of content, they feel twice as long, because they didn’t waste their time. The stories have several beats and twists, enough that by the time that eyecatcher announces that halftime commercial break, it feels like we’ve earned it. The Sailor Moon manga is, shall we say, not the most eventful. It takes its sweet time and not much really happens in each individual issue. Now, in adhering fairly closely to the manga, Crystal finds itself in something of a trap. Its episodes have the same lazy pace and lack of weight. Some material has been added, particularly on the Dark Kingdom side of things, which I appreciate, but the first four episodes felt a bit thin.

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Not this one.

We got solid moments with the lead characters, we got decent utilization of the recurring cast, a good intro of Mako-chan both as herself and Sailor Jupiter, and it really felt like the plot moved along. If felt like a lot happened, both leading up to and including the climactic fight, which was great and escalated to the right degree at all the right places. While certainly a less complex story than its 90’s anime counterpart, it was no less interesting and strong, and if it is an indication of the direction in which the series is heading from here on out, perhaps it is the shift in the wind that its 90’s predecessor proved to be after all.

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Rating:

3.5 out of 5