This Sailor Moon Crystal review contains spoilers.
Two of the Four Heavenly Kings have failed to obtain the Silver Crystal, so this time Zoisite tries his hand and actually does a pretty good job. Working some fantastic drag – for… some reason? – – he plants a story in the news that gets the general public to do the searching for him and then drains their energy once the search proves fruitless. Meanwhile, Luna’s growing suspicion of Tuxedo Mask runs counter to Usagi’s growing trust in him. Indeed, Tuxedo Mask does seem to have motives of his own, but in the end, when Zoisite has taken down Mercury, Mars, and Jupiter, it is Tuxedo Mask that convinces Sailor Moon that she has the greatest power, the power to heal.
With the Moon Stick, Sailor Moon uses her power to revive the other Senshi and the people of Tokyo, at the same time driving back the Dark Kingdom… at least until next time. In the process, she wipes herself out, but Tuxedo Mask is there to catch her, and after a few more enigmatic dreams, Usagi wakes up in a strange bed, in the apartment of Tuxedo Mask himself, who turns out to be none other than Mamoru Chiba.
Where the previous episode unfolded slowly in the first half only to ramp up in the second, this one wasted no time at all. Even the teaser was like “Okay, this is where we left off, here’s the theme song.” Why? Because we had SHIT TO DO.
First off, the actual plot of the episode, including all the villains’ activity, unfolds much more evenly. Instead of just bringing in the supernatural element the second it’s convenient, we see Beryl and her subordinates conferring, assessing their goals. Later, we see Zoisite’s plan in action and are given a personal connection to it when Usagi’s mother is compromised. Then, in the final act, not only do Luna and the Sailor Guardians encounter Zoisite, but Queen Beryl as well… and not briefly or as some form of astral projection; Beryl straight up appears in the flesh, actually getting off her ass and taking action against the Sailor Guardians. As a longtime fan of this franchise, I found this enormously satisfying.
This is just one of the ways in which the butterfly effect at work in this generally faithful adaptation of the original manga is apparent. There are several others. By keeping Jadeite and Nephrite alive, the relationships between the Four Heavenly Kings are gaining depth every time they’re seen together. Even the brief bit of Nephrite in this episode, there essentially to confirm that he didn’t die, continues that thread just by virtue of him being there. That combined with other elements, such as the omission of the manga’s constant reintroduction of the cast in every goddamn chapter (which grinds the plot right to a halt), allows for new material.
The dream flashbacks to the Silver Millennium add depth to these past incarnations, making them feel more real, more constant, and more immediate to the audience. Instead of showing us the same stock footage time after time, we get a little more of the picture with each flash, making it more complete. This past incarnation is given greater weight to us as viewers and thus it’s easier to empathize with the effect they have on the characters’ thoughts and actions.
The inserts of footage from previous episodes of Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask interacting help to underline the bond between them. While it’s handled better here than in the source material, I still maintain that the ’90s anime (the first season of which I will hereafter refer to as Sailor Moon Classic) paced this a little better. Certainly Classic took too much time with nearly everything, but it allowed the relationships between Usagi and Mamoru and Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask to deepen over time in completely different directions, which made the mutual revelation of their secret identities all the more resonant.
In the manga as well as Sailor Moon Crystal, it’s never much of a mystery to begin with, neither to the audience nor the characters. Many would argue that this particular mystery is not really the point, and that argument isn’t without merit, but the development of that story and all the twists and turns therein allowed for those relationships to really evolve organically and not be entirely dependent on a previous incarnation that we never see much of in the first place. Now, in terms of pacing, we’re six for six (seven for seven, according to the preview for the next episode), but there’s no telling the butterfly effect will have.
Each subsequent episode of Sailor Moon Crystal is increasingly different from its manga counterpart, and it will be interesting to see how the story continues to deviate from the source material. The continued existence of the Four Heavenly Kings points heavily to some major deviations down the road, so the purpose of keeping Usagi and Mamoru’s relationship progressing at this pace may become apparent sooner than we think.
One thing’s for sure, that little cameo by Sailor V and Artemis was a deft touch. It’s little things like that which make Sailor Moon Crystal feel a lot smoother and fuller a narrative than the manga is. Again, I’m not slamming the manga, which I very much enjoy, but the cold, hard truth is that Naoko Takeuchi was not an experienced storyteller when she first started out and it shows. While she was definitely a big picture kind of gal, her grasp of character construction, narrative economy, and pacing were clearly still in their infancy. Crystal addresses those flaws in the source material and improves upon them splendidly.
All in all, Sailor Moon Crystal continues to really bring its A-Game. The team has really started to gel, with Mercury, Mars, and Jupiter working in concert against Zoisite himself, and it was a pretty good fight. Anyone else catch Luna recognizing Zoisite and acknowledging him by name. Dare we hold out hope that this Luna won’t have the annoying convenient amnesia that other versions of the character have been plagued with?
And good God! The music playing under that scene between Tuxedo Mask and Usagi where he encourages her and helps her to realize why she’s special… that music was amazing. It had that ’90s kind of angsty electric guitar, yet managed not to feel out of place in a contemporary piece, and it really added and air of mystery and dare I say romance to the moment. Can we get more of that, please?
There is something I’ve been wondering? Who built Luna’s secret command center beneath Crown? I mean, she clearly didn’t do it. She’s a cat. She can’t even hold a screwdriver. Unless she’s got some kind of telekinetic powers we’re unaware of, I have no idea how that place got built or how it got there. It does have a kind of pocket dimension feel to it, and if it’s a holdover from the Silver Millennium to which she merely set up some kind of portal, I’d accept that. Not readily, but I’ll take it.
The preview for the next episode is fairly expected. Mamoru reveals his backstory to Usagi and we finally learn more about Queen Metalia. There is a shot of Beryl walking alone and the corresponding chapter in the manga is where we learn of her backstory in this present life, something Classic never touched upon. In fact, it didn’t go into the backstory of this life or the previous one. In this scene, Beryl has a twinge of regret for what she’s doing, which adds a certain amount of pathos to the character, something glaringly absent from Classic. Here’s hoping that the butterfly effect will continue to add depth to the villains.
I personally would love to know more about who Beryl was in this life before she was infected by the evil of her previous incarnation. Or was she an evil person already? Either way, I’d like to see the stories of how she discovered the Dark Kingdom and of Luna and Artemis’ awakening from cold sleep and the search for their respective Sailor Guardians. Hopefully, time will tell those tales.