Queen Beryl’s new agent takes over Jadeite’s turf with style, doing things a little differently than his recently iced compatriot. Rather than going for the volume of a large crowd, Nephrite prefers to single out one person whose energy is nearing its peak, and his first victim is… actually not Naru. It is, however, a good friend of hers, a young tennis phenom named Rui Saionji.
First, let’s just address the elephant in the room:
Am I the only one who finds it funny that the youma in the tennis-themed episode looks like a big, beefy bulldyke? Okay, look, they straight up name-dropped Martina Navratilova; that youma’s mullet was no accident. Also, I gotta say… I feel a little uncomfortable with the imagery of an extending phallic symbol knocking out an obviously dykey figure. I’m not saying the creators of this show were trying to make any kind of statement, but the innuendo is at the very least unfortunate.
Considering what a game-changing episode this is, it doesn’t really develop the Sailor Senshi at all. In fact, it develops everyone but them. This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s worth noting. Tuxedo Mask suffers some kind of strange seizure, nothing to debilitating, but in a fight to the death any debilitation is too much. Actually, I take back my earlier statement. Sailor Moon is developed slightly in the sense that she first realizes that Tuxedo Mask is vulnerable and, by distracting her, can prove to be a liability in the heat of battle. It served to humanize him more in her eyes, nudging him ever so much closer to the edge of that pedestal on which she’s put him.
Naru also receives some development here as we catch a glimpse of her early childhood and a close friendship outside of Usagi. It makes me wonder how long Usagi has known her if she’s never heard of Rui before. While under Nephrite’s spell, Rui becomes obsessive and hostile, and seeing how it affects Naru is heartbreaking. Someone give this girl a fucking hug! She needs it, for Christ’s sake! And yet, this isn’t even the most important point to be made with Miss Osaka. No, Naru’s more significant development in this episode has to do with its star: Nephrite.
Yes, there’s a new man in town, and his name is Sanjouin Masato. He’s handsome, charming, obscenely rich, and lives in a… not-at-all creepy abandoned church… out in the middle of a pine forest? Yes, as covers go, Nephrite could be a touch less conspicuous, but he doesn’t seem to give a whole lot of fucks. I mean, if blending were the goal, I doubt he’d been jumping fences in so devil-may-care a manner.
Nephrite’s, or rather Sanjouin’s high visibility is but one aspect of a larger theme. Right off the bat, it is established that Nephrite’s M.O. is very different from Jadeite’s. Again, it’s unfortunate we didn’t see any of the other generals, Nephrite in particular, interacting with Jadeite, because getting to know the former sheds some posthumous light on latter’s character.
Jadeite wasn’t a character with a lot of patience. He wanted big results and he wanted them right away, a standard villain disposition that doesn’t really stand out until compared with someone like Nephrite. Where Jadeite targeted crowds, Nephrite finds an individual whose energy is peaking, picks the right moment to insinuate himself into their life, and “curses” a personal item of theirs with his mark, turning it more or less into a drug. Through their artificially induced compulsive behavior, the victim’s natural energy output is enhanced so that when the moment is right, Nephrite can collect from afar. As such, he doesn’t need a shitty new disguise every week. It’s perfectly believable for a wealthy, well-connected man to just happen by people of talent, especially local celebrities. Thus, having a consistent alias actually makes his job easier. And that little detail denotes the main difference between the two: Nephrite is all about the long con, and there’s no better example of this than Naru.
I don’t think having Naru first lay eyes on “Sanjouin” in this episode is an accident. She is such a huge part of his arc and the ultimate tragedy of his character that you want to set up that dynamic right away. Sure, Nephrite does have a different scheme every episode, but Naru is always there in the background, slowly growing in importance. It’s for this very reason that Nephrite’s other major relationship is established here as well. Yes, it is in this episode that we are introduced to Zoisite. Excuse me for a moment.
ZOISITE! ZOISITE! OH, HOLY AMAZEBALLS HOW I LOVE YOU, ZOISITE, GOD OF BITCHCRAFT AND TREACHERY! YOU GO, BOY! YOU HOVER OVER EVERYONE IN FLURRY OF FLOWER PETALS AND JUDGEMENT! YES! YES! BRING IT ON, BITCH!
Seriously, the second he shows up, he is such a colossal bitch, and I fucking love it. Of the Shitennou, he is by far and away the most fun and the only one who’s ever really played for comedy. He is at turns petty, treacherous, manipulative, vulnerable, and comedic, and for that, he is my favorite. Forever. But to get back on topic…
Zoisite is introduced as a mere foil for Nephrite, someone he doesn’t like and can’t predict, who knows how to get under his skin. It’s never really stated why. Zoisite has his own assignment and, in fact, gets pissed in a later episode when he fears Nephrite is horning in on his turf. He doesn’t have anything apparent to gain from throwing Nephrite under the bus except Queen Beryl’s scrutiny, which… who really wants that? Regardless, though, in his one brief scene, his personality is well enough established that we don’t really need to know why he’s doing what he’s doing. We already believe he’d do it. Zoisite is not only willing, but eager to exploit Nephrite’s weaknesses to get ahead, and Naru will in time become (at least from Zoisite’s perspective) Nephrite’s greatest weakness. Thus, Nephrite’s relationships with Naru and Zoisite are interwined on a very fundamental level. It’s only fitting that both are established here.
Altogether, a strong introduction for a fan favorite and solid support for the argument that sometimes the adaptation improves upon the source material. Aside from Kunzite, the Shitennou were fairly one-dimensional in the manga. The anime may bombard us with filler, true, but when it comes to the characters’ interpersonal relationships, it is by far the superior work. The Nephrite arc helps to develop not just his character, but those of Naru and Zoisite to a degree the manga never even approached, and thank God for that!
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