It’s time for Hanami, the Japanese festival of getting shitfaced on sake while watching the cherry blossoms fall! Since Haruna is kind enough not only to chaperone some of her students but to also let Rei and Minako tag along, the whole Sailor Team is together, as well as Naru, Umino, and Natsumi. Murphy’s Law naturally comes into play, and Ail and An unleash Leshy, a surprisingly competent cardian who manages to destroy Sailor Moon’s brooch.
Inside her mind, a de-powered Usagi communes with Queen Serenity, who shows her that her will to save her friends has reformed the Silver Crystal. Though it doesn’t shine as brightly now, it’s still powerful. It merges with Usagi’s shattered brooch to create a new brooch, and she transforms into Sailor Moon once again to save her friends. The Moon Stick is apparently lost, but with this power-up comes the Cutie Moon Rod! So, with her new swag, Usagi unleashes some Moon Princess Halation on Leshy and saves her friends!
Wow. You know it’s going to be a big episode when they go to the really good animation house. The shading, the coloring, the sharpness of the character designs and how well they’re kept on-model make for a truly a gorgeous episode to watch. The fact that it’s about one of the most scenic festivals in the world and gives us a moment in the Silver Millennium only increases the eye candy factor.
I am always up for some Queen Serenity and some Silver Millennium tie-ins. Sadly, this is the last we’ll see or hear about the Silver Millennium for a long time, and we don’t even get that much. I can’t help but feel Sailor Moon as a series would have been stronger overall if the Silver Millennium, even the ghost of it, had been more involved in the story.
Leshy is possibly my favorite Cardian of the lot. There is some debate on what the proper Romanization of this character’s name is, but I’m standing by Leshy. There is a ton of precedent for Sailor Moon incorporating various aspects of western folklore alongside its eastern folklore, and a leshy, while traditionally male, is a kind of Eastern European tree spirit. So, props to our friend Leshy. She had a cool, Heian-inspired form as well as a more monstrous form that actually made cherry trees look creepy, she successfully gathered up a lot of energy, and she managed to destroy Sailor Moon’s brooch. No other cardian, youma, or recurring villain up to this point can make that claim. So, right on, Leshy. You go, girl!
There was a lot of fun stuff in this episode, even just the civilian portion, and it’s a prime example of how a single episode of Sailor Moon can be deeply fulfilling all on its own. This episode has lots of character moments and some great humor, and that’s before the action plot kicks in. Usagi actually answering Rei’s digs at her with that hot mustard prank was priceless. Best. Fire Soul. Ever.
I always got the impression that Umino and Naru-chan were already official by this point, but it seems here like their relationship is still somewhat ambiguous. I laughed my ass off when she zipped him into the sleeping bag. It was a little mean, but she made it up to him later. I really do love those two as a couple. They make far more sense together than I think anyone would have suspected.
And then there’s Haruna once again being completely inappropriate by hanging out with her students off the clock. There is, of course, the possible explanation that she’s just doing something nice for her students, but you just know it’s because she couldn’t pull together any plans of her own. Dammit, Haruna, maybe if you didn’t hang around with kids half your age, you wouldn’t get attacked by the monsters that target them. Ever think about that? To her credit, she pulls herself together rather well when she sees her students are in need of medical attention. She doesn’t last very long as she gets attacked herself, but she was on the right track. Oh, and anyone else notice that little cameo from Ami’s gardener friend from last season? Good continuity there.
This episode also offers a little background on Ail and An. Unfortunately, this little snippit is not only fleeting, it contradicts information we get in only a few episodes when it’s revealed their home planet was something like 99% ocean, but it is still nice to have moments that show our nominal villains in a happier time where they weren’t as antagonistic as they are now. It adds dimension. A quick aside: that shot of “Natsumi” ducking around the tree to show up as “An” on the other side… slick as hell.
But now for the meat and potatoes of this review: the power-up. It’s nice that the writers didn’t drag their feet on the whole “failing powers” idea. Sailor Moon’s tiara fails in one episode, and in the next not only does it fail again, but her brooch, the very source of her powers, shatters. And onward we go!
Now, I know all these power-ups occur in the manga, but I’ve always wondered just how much the merchandising directives pushed Takeuchi into including them. Sure, they have some plot relevance, but not really. Sailor Moon to Super Sailor Moon is an upgrade that makes plenty of sense. Eternal Sailor Moon I’m meh on, mainly because I hate the painfully busy outfit and the equally clunky weapon, but I can kinda sorta get behind the idea of a final form that precedes and possible even runs concurrent to a portion of Neo Queen Serenity’s reign. This particular power-up, however, I am rather torn on.
On the one hand, it makes sense to incorporate Usagi’s recently attained princess form (and all the power that comes with) into her superhero identity, but aside from her new brooch the outfit is exactly the same, and this transformation brooch, of all them, is probably my least favorite. As I’ve said in my Crystal reviews, the exterior of the brooch just looks like a cookie from a cheap bakery. It’s just a very graceless design, glaringly unsophisticated considering this upgrade is supposed to reflect her newly assumed royalty. I do like the interior of the brooch, though. Putting the Silver Crystal in there works very well on a symbolic level — incorporating the physical manifestation of the monarchy’s power into the device that generates the Sailor Moon persona — as well as solving the practical issue of where to put the Silver Crystal now that there’s *sigh* no Moon Stick.
No Moon Stick. Okay, look, I don’t have any problems with the Cutie Moon Rod in theory. The scepter design effectively invokes the image of royalty, and Moon Princess Halation, while a little long for my taste (seriously, that attack has more false endings than Lord of the Rings), is breathtaking visually. It’s just that, well… I really, really, really loved the Moon Stick. Not so much its name. In fact, that’s one area where I feel the DiC dub trumps the original, because “Crescent Moon Wand” and “Moon Scepter” actually sound like mystical objects of power and awe, whereas “Cutie Moon Rod” is pretty hard to take seriously as the instrument of either a hero or a royal, and “Moon Stick” just sounds fucking stupid.
No, what I loved about the Moon Stick was its design. It was simple, elegant, ergonomic, and it has an air about it that is very… I know I’ve been using the term “mythic” a lot lately, but here it really applies. It’s a crescent moon on a handle. It juxtaposes the imagery of the celestial with the hand, the universal symbol of human intelligence and ingenuity. Yes, the people of the Silver Millennium weren’t technically human, but they’re certainly humanoid, and the imagery tracks.
The Moon Stick is the perfect symbolic representation of cosmic powers channeled through human will. It represents Usagi’s princess form and a tie to the Silver Millennium. It was used by Queen Serenity herself to seal Metalia and her forces, and what Sailor Moon used to defeat them when that seal was broken. It is a source of physical and spiritual healing, a divine tool that both on its own and with the help of the Silver Crystal has wrought miracles. And it’s just traded in for an “upgrade” for the sake of merchandising.
We don’t even get any confirmation on what exactly happened to it. To have a treasure and magical tool so mythic and so important just sort of brushed aside in favor of some shiny new bling just feels kind of… I know this sounds dramatic, but it feels a little disrespectful. Why couldn’t it have been transformed into the Cutie Moon Rod or at the very least had its loss or destruction acknowledged? If Queen Serenity had taken this moment to tell Usagi that in defeating the Dark Kingdom the Moon Stick did what it was meant to do and that its time has now passed, that it now joins Silver Millennium by passing into legend, allowing for a new beginning and the creation of new legends… that would have been closure enough for me. I’d still miss it because it’s freakin’ awesome, but at least with something like that I could accept its replacement.
I guess my issue with this power-up (and even more so next season’s, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it) is how unnecessary it ultimately is. New attacks are certainly welcome and some power-ups are cool, provided they serve some deeper (preferably narrative) purpose than hocking some new merch, but this one just feels forced and unnecessary.
And yet, having said all of that, this episode is still pretty damn great. It is, for my money, the strongest episode of the Makai Tree arc, certainly the only one with any real lasting effect on the series. It was a solid story that was at turns moving, poignant, and funny. It took us back inside the Silver Millennium, if only for one scene, allowing for a brief reunion with Queen Serenity. And on top of all that, it boasts solid action sequences that are beautifully and dynamically animated. Not too shabby, Sailor Moon. Not too shabby.