Sailor Moon Crystal Act 8 – Minako/Sailor V review

Sailor V comes to town in a Sailor Moon Crystal episode that is almost perfect. Here's Michael's review...

Sailor Moon 2014

This Sailor Moon Crystal review contains spoilers

Sailor V introduces herself to the Sailor Guardians, not only as the costumed crime fighter they know, but also as the Princess of the Silver Millennium, Serenity, as well as her earthly identity, Minako Aino. Welcomed by her new teammates, Minako’s friendly smile and enthusiastic attitude hide her unwillingness to think outside her lone agent mentality, having worked solo for so long. Despite the counsel of her cat mentor Artemis, the yang to Luna’s yin, Minako decides to take Kunzite on alone and realizes with the eleventh hour arrival of the other Sailor Guardians that being part of a team might just work for her after all. Meanwhile, Mamoru angsts over his failure to save Sailor Moon and ends up overcompensating at the next available opportunity, getting himself severely injured in the process.

Man, was this episode fun to watch. It took the manga story upon which it was based and improved upon it wonderfully. Whereas in the manga, Sailor V was merely introduced to the crew and immediately joined their ranks, this episode is very much about Minako, told largely from her point of view. It tackles an aspect of the character I’ve wanted to see explored in other versions of the story but never have, her difficulty integrating into the team due to the fact that she worked on her own for so long. To its credit, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon did have Minako as more of an outsider to the group, but that had more to do with her lame, manufactured terminal illness story than any kind of difficulty playing with others she may have developed over the course of her solo adventures.

Here, Minako isn’t exactly deceptive toward the others, her friendliness isn’t insincere, but she is clearly keeping them at arm’s length. It seems she’s humoring them, not really trusting that they’ll be any kind of asset to her. She views their inexperience as a liability that will only slow her down. Having had the weight of this mission on her shoulders for so long, it seems she trusts that burden to no one but herself. The thing is, it’s easy to understand where Minako is coming from. She does have seniority over the others by about a year, she’s already not only aware of her past life but awakened to those memories, and she knows exactly what’s going on.

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Next to her, the others could easily come off as a quartet of well-meaning but ultimately inexperienced schoolgirls fumbling their way through a mission they don’t understand with supernatural abilities they have yet to fully master. She’s even taken part in training them through the Sailor V video game. She’s the seasoned soldier, and they’re the rookies. So, you get where Minako is coming from.

At the same time, you know exactly why she’s wrong. We’ve seen the potential each of these girls has individually and the strength they show as a team.  They support each other, have each other’s backs in battle, and together they can kick some serious ass. And they’ve done this well without Sailor V’s direct intervention so far.

The Butterfly Effect continues to impact the story, and that impact is the most conspicuous here that it’s been to date. It was my theory that the changes to the series would be fairly minimal until the arrival of Sailor V, and that theory remains on track. This episode deviates more from its manga counterpart than any of the others.

Like Jadeite and Nephrite before him, Zoisite survives where, in the manga, he was killed. As such, the scene where Kunzite surveys the corpses of his fallen comrades does not exist, and Kunzite’s attack on the Sailor Guardians is not motivated by grief or vengeance. Minako doesn’t immediately assimilate into the team, and her one-on-one scenes with both Artemis and Kunzite are all-new, and hint not only at her previous relationship with Kunzite but the idea that the Four Heavenly Kings have a past existence as well in which they were considerably different from who they are now.

Because of Sailor V’s whole lone wolf schtick in this episode, also new is the last-minute save by her new teammates and her realization of just what an asset they are. Also, on the Usagi side of things, we do get more Silver Millennium flashbacks, which I love the inclusion of. I love how they’re keeping that thread going. Basically, about half this episode is new stuff. It starts and ends with the same beats as it did in the manga, but the middle is rife with changes, and in my not-so-humble opinion, those changes are for the better.

Now, obviously, according to the preview for the next episode, it will be an analog of the manga chapter that follows this one, and those who hold to the theory that Crystal will adapt the manga chapters one-for-one all the way through the Black Moon arc certainly have support for their argument, but just take a look at how much of a departure from the manga this episode was. The same basic story, true, but it involved Minako in a much more comprehensive way and actually developed her character in one episode more than any of the other girls’ characters have been developed in that time. She had a whole arc within that one episode, and her growth was a direct result of that episode’s events. So, if this episode was that much of a departure, I can only imagine that next week’s will be even more of one, and that the Butterfly Effect will continue to evolve the story of the manga, elevating it to a more substantial and satisfying piece.

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This episode teased a lot and did so very well. With Zoisite alive, the idea that the Four Heavenly Kings are going to be playing a bigger part in the endgame of the series — and hopefully the journey leading up to that endgame – – seems more and more viable. The scene between Sailor V and Kunzite, where she tries to appeal to his true self, opened a lot of doors, the most obvious of which would be the past life relationship between Venus and Kunzite, the beta couple who didn’t give in to temptation, making their love tragic in a whole different way from Serenity and Endymion’s. One thing I’m very interested to see is the Endou / Evil Endymion mini-arc, because in both the manga and Classic, only Kunzite was around for this. In Crystal, it’s likely Endymion will interact with Jadeite, Nephrite, and Zoisite as well, and I’m very interested to see those exchanges.

Outside of story, this episode was just a pleasure to experience. It was beautifully animated, and I feel the animators have really started working the kinks out of their process. If this is what the episode looks like before it is fine-tuned for the DVD/Blu-ray release, I cannot wait to see it after it is touched up! The score continues to be evocative, enhancing each scene without overtaking it, and the placement of character themes is artful and well done.

I’m also a big fan of Minako’s character design, most notably her hair. Minako and Rei’s hair was often drawn very sloppily and looked far too similar for my taste. Minako especially, as her hair by all right should not fall the way it does if part of it is pulled up into the bow. Three little lines do not cut it. Here, however, her hair is drawn as though it’s actually being pulled up. It falls properly, and has a slight waviness and thickness that Rei’s does not, allowing the character to have more distinct appearances. More than that, Minako’s face actually looks different from Usagi’s, apart from hairstyle. I don’t know if his is just my eyes playing tricks or if the hair thing was just really successful, but it appears to me that there are actually differences in their facial features.

And then there’s the transformation sequence, which I like so much better here than in Classic. For one, I thought the star stencils in the ribbon looked cheesy and lame, so their absence here was a balm to my soul. Though Venus’s powers are love based and her element is technically metal/gold, I’ve always seen light as the theme of her powers, and to see her wrapped in a ribbon of light without any stupid fucking stars cut out of them made me take her a lot more seriously. It just feels more mature and elegant, so much so that the exploding bidet of stars that cap off the sequence… I don’t even mind them. In fact, I think they work better here.

And there was also the nice touch of her not actually shouting “Venus Power Make Up!” because as far as the narrative is concerned, she has not been revealed as Sailor Venus just yet. LOVE. IT. Though it’s petty and I won’t be disappointed if they don’t go for this, I do hope that her transformation pen will alter upon her reveal as Sailor Venus to match the others’. My neurotic brain was always bothered by the fact that hers stood out from the others in its design. It could happen, and I’d like it to, but if not, I’m not going to pass judgment on the show for not catering to a mere pet peeve of mine.

If I do have one complaint about this episode, and of course I do, it would be an issue I take with the big climactic moment where Sailor V realizes the value of her teammates. Mercury, Mars, and Jupiter go into this beautiful speech about how they were all lonely, but Usagi made them all friends, and now they’re true companions who stand by one another when things are hard.

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And that’s all well and good, but it’s utter bullshit.

Don’t get me wrong, this theme has been played up in Sailor Moon before, but not in the manga and not here. And this, my friends, is where the pacing issues with the manga (and subsequently with Sailor Moon Crystal) are the most apparent. I hear things like “We don’t want the building of the team to take a long time. Let’s just get the whole team together! Why drag things out?”

You motherfuckers need a new definition of “dragging things out.” Not having Venus show up for 32 episodes is dragging things out. Holding off for 13-15 eps so that we can get to know each of the first four, giving them a chance to establish their personalities and roles within the team dynamic, would be just fine. Ideal even. But we don’t do that. The story just chugs on like a locomotive without time for any real substantial character development.

“So what?” you might say. “Just give me some shiny, color-coded, elemental girl power! That’s what we want!” Again, that’s all well and good, but here’s the thing. These girls are going on about their friendship and the storms they’ve weathered together, and true, they have fought together in battle, something not to be taken lightly. But they’re not just selling Minako the camaraderie of sisters in arms. They’re talking about personal friendship, about going over to Mako’s apartment so she can make them all dinner, about hanging out and bonding… and we don’t see any of that. How could we? There was never any time to. Oh, we’re told that they’re all besties now, but we never see that process, that bonding. We don’t see them hanging out. We barely even see them interacting at school. We’re just informed by the writers through the characters’ mouths that they all love one another now, and the result of that, well… it kills the scene.

This moment where Minako, who’s been so alone not just in her personal life but in her mission, enduring this heavy burden by herself for over a year, thinking that even with allies she’s still ultimately alone in this, finally realizes that not only does she need these other girls as teammates but wants them as friends… that potentially beautiful and powerful moment just ends up feeling kind of cheap and hollow, unearned, undeserved. It’s lip service where it could have been catharsis and revelation for want of just a few extra episodes of interaction and interpersonal development between these girls.

And that’s why I piss and moan about it so much. Because it matters. Because it makes a difference. And it’s frankly the only thing that holds this episode back, making it merely enjoyable where it could have been transcendent.

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Rating:

4 out of 5