Sailor Moon – The Painting Of Love: Usagi And Mamoru Get Closer review

Sailor Moon offers up meditations on identity and self-perception in this plot heavy installment. Here's our review...

Zoisite is feeling the heat from Queen Beryl after two consecutive failures and steps up his game. He goes after the next Rainbow Crystal carrier, a reclusive painter named Yumemi Yumeno whose works often involve romantic scenes that we, the audience, should find rather familiar. Upon seeing Mamoru and Usagi, she ropes the two of them into model for her, forcing the two of them to spend time together. Just when things are looking up for poor, shy Yumemi, Zoisite attacks and rips out her Rainbow Crystal, transforming her into the beautiful and deadly Binah.

As the show really starts to explore the themes of identity and perception, we get an episode like this which touches on those themes rather subtly with a character like Yumemi Yumeno while exploring the more on-the-nose issue of who Usagi and Mamoru are and how they perceive one another. They clearly find each other attractive physically, and both are good people, more or less nice to those around them despite a few rough edges. They both attract other people, either by their looks, personality, or both.

And yet, thanks to first impressions, they can’t stand one another. They easily fall into old patterns of verbal sparring, but when placed in a situation where they have to be still and quiet, they’re actually afforded the opportunity to see each other in a different light. It reminds me of the central conceit of the Buffy episode “Hush.” When people stop talking, they start communicating.

Through Yumemi herself, however, we get a much more abstract meditation on the intertwined concepts of identity and self-perception. We have someone who’s Hollywood Homely, someone who in the ultra-glamorized world of fiction is rather plain, but extremely talented and brimming with inner beauty. However, she feels unworthy of that beauty within, as though she doesn’t deserve to be the artist that she is unless she herself is a work of art, which is why her phony self-portrait is a variation on the princess from her subconscious who inspires her, rather than an accurate depiction. This self-portrait that hangs in the gallery is how people perceive her, because it’s what she projects. This is the woman worthy of their praise and respect. It isn’t until Usagi’s trademark love and good vibes boost her self-esteem that she takes the self-portrait down and replaces it with an accurate self-portrait, presenting her true self to the world, now with confidence and self-respect. And we get the impression that her gallery and her career is going to be just fine, possibly better, and even if it’s not, she’ll be better.

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There is also, of course, some serious plot action here, more foreshadowing of Usagi and Mamoru’s true connection, in the painting of the two lovers, one of whom is giving the other a piece of jewelry, which Usagi immediately codes as her locket music box. And later on, Tuxedo Mask makes that connection as well.

“Oh, hey, is this your ugly music box?”

“Uh… you can hang onto it.”

It’s also worth noting that Sailor Moon saves Tuxedo Mask here, showing that their relationship is starting to become one of equals. I mean, yeah, she’s a superhero, he’s a superhero, and that’s always been the case, but even in top form, she’s had damsel moments where some guy had to come in and at least save her a little bit. In this episode, not only is that unnecessary, but she ends up saving him. Their script is starting to change and their original roles are falling to the wayside, especially now that he’s openly competing with the Sailor Senshi. It’s kind of hard for Sailor Moon to ignore that, even if she does have googly eyes for him, and this leads us to another comment on perception and identity.

Yes, Usagi almost dropped the Moon Stick in the river. Yes, she’s still pretty irresponsible. But at this point, she doesn’t merit the full brunt of the criticism Luna and Rei foist upon her. Is Sailor Moon a battle-hardened, take charge soldier? Is she a strategic and prudent leader? No, but she’s hardly the hapless crybaby she was. And yet, that’s how she’s still getting treated. Luna and Rei (and perhaps others in Usagi’s life) are working off an old model of her that is no longer the reality of who she is. And to some degree, I understand. When you’ve perceived someone in a certain way for a long enough amount of time, it’s difficult to see how they’ve changed, even when those changes are apparent.

Nonetheless, Usagi isn’t validating their appraisal of her by reverting back to her old self nor is she hinging on their validation. She goes out and does what she has to do. And she does a pretty good job. This is another rare case where I prefer DiC’s dub to the original.

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In both versions, Luna criticizes Usagi, and rather than just take it or break down crying, Usagi calls Luna out on her constant criticism and the careless belittlement that comes with it. Now, here in the original, Luna does something I personally hate and shrugs it off, baffled because all she did was speak the truth. You know, as if that makes it any less hurtful. Like, bitch, don’t act all surprised. You know what you did. However, in the DiC dub, Luna is still astonished, but rather than get defensive, she’s impressed that Usagi (Serena) is finally growing a backbone, which beside making Luna more palatable also speaks more to the point of the episode: that we need to be proactive in shaping how others perceive us.

While the only out and out romance in this episode pertains to the one between Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask, or one might argue their past lives, we also get the next beat in the Naru/Umino story. I like how gradually Naru warms to him. She goes from a place of constantly ridiculing him alongside Usagi, to appreciating his friendship, to putting up with his weird bullshit out of affection for him to, in the next few episodes, coming to see him as a viable romantic prospect.

I certainly appreciate that in the episode all about art, they used the good animation team. Our lead and recurring characters look great, and Binah looks amazing. This isn’t just to the credit of the animation house that handled this ep. The design team gets props too. Of the Seven Great Youma, Binah (I refuse to go with Viz’s erroneous Romanization, which has been an issue on a few occasions) has my favorite character design, hands down. Cool powers too. She’s someone I can actually visualize fighting for the Dark Kingdom back in the day.

I really wish Takeuchi, and by extension the animation team, had gone for a greater variety of wardrobe and hairstyle for Princess Serenity to make her identity not quite as obvious. But fuck, at least she and Endymion get different outfits. The Inner Senshi look exactly the same in the past, despite their outfits being entirely anachronistic, and their future selves from Crystal Tokyo are identical except for slightly different proportions in their character designs. Lazy. Come on. Are you telling me Jupiter’s going to be going with that ponytail forever?

And lastly, the odd thought of the day. Okay, so since Episode 7 made it clear that the song “Moonlight Densetsu” (the show’s opening theme) exists in-universe, isn’t it a funny coincidence that the tune inside the locket so closely resembles a major Top 40 pop hit? I guess we can assume that the same subconscious memories that inspire Yumemi also inspired some songwriter in Japan. Why not?

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4 out of 5