The Sailor Senshi finally throw down with Beryl, Jupiter recovering almost immediately from her little bout of brainwashing to join the fray. When things start to look like they might get destructive, Mercury whisks everyone away into some pocket dimension, where they throw everything they’ve got at Beryl, including the Holy Sword. As Beryl shrivels and crumbles to dust before our very eyes, she laments the loss of her chance to finally be with Endymion, but he is completely unfazed and return to the Dark Kingdom.
Sailor Moon follows Endymion through the portal, but the other senshi cannot, so they take the long way to the Dark Kingdom’s entrance, which is located all the way up at the North Pole. On their way in, they encounter the Shitenou. Things look touch and go for a moment, but they manage to reawaken their past loves’ true selves. The reunion is short-lived, because a pissed off Queen Metalia, having no further use for the Shitenou, blows them up right in front of the senshi’s eyes. Soldiering on, the girls find Sailor Moon confronting Endymion. Unfortunately, having realized the situation is beyond hope, Sailor Moon uses the sword to kill her beloved before repeating history and turning on herself.
This episode was actually an improvement in many ways on the manga chapter on which it was based. The first thing I noticed was that Motoki’s moment was cut, which would obviously affect the sub-plot of him knowing the Senshi’s identities, but 1) That can always be introduced at a later time, and 2) WHO THE FUCK CARES about that when we got so much added to the episode in its place?!
The long awaited fight with Queen Beryl was far superior here in Crystal to how it went down in the manga. It was more dynamic and involved all the senshi, which works really well toward selling them as a team, and not just Sailor Moon’s back-up singers. Sure, she’s the leader, she’s ultimately the most powerful, but those other four girls are more than just window dressing standing by at all times for a homogenous Sailor Planet Attack. They each have unique qualities and abilities that add to the team dynamic and deserve to be showcased in their turn, and that’s what was done here. And then they do the joint attack, and it works very effectively.
The bit with Beryl’s necklace made the fight a little less straightforward, which is really what makes a fight interesting. As the recent Legend of Korra finale illustrated beautifully, a really good fight has a push and pull to the action, advances and setbacks, the upper hand constantly shifting between the parties involved. That’s exactly what happened here, and it was very effective. This episode’s superiority to the manga was vast, and yet…
Something about it just felt a little off. Something made this whole scenario, which was very well executed, feel like a rather anti-climactic final bow for the villain who has pretty much been in the driver’s seat from day one. And I really had to think about it for a bit to figure out why. It really comes down to two factors, the first being specific to this episode, and the second being a leitmotif of the series as a whole.
In terms of this episode and this fight specifically, Beryl’s last minute pathos rings kind of hollow. Beryl has this somewhat clichéd but ultimately relatable backstory of being motivated by a love that wasn’t returned, and her desperation to have that love for herself led her to sell her soul. No problem. I’ll bite. The problem is that up until now, all we saw of her desire for Endymion was one stationary shot of her stalking him in Episode 9 and a few flashbacks where she was already evil and murderous, and killed him out of spite. It wasn’t until she was dying in this episode that we flash back to a depiction of her pain and longing in a sympathetic light. If this had been shown earlier or if we had seen some present day indication of her feelings for Endymion beyond pure selfishness, something that hinted at her vulnerability even despite the persona of sophisticated evil she presents to others, this moment of pathos, of tragedy, would ring much truer. Instead, by throwing it at the audience at the last minute, while the average viewer may gain more sympathy for Beryl, empathy is not as easily evoked. It feels shoehorned in, a last-minute stab at characterization that feels too little, too late.
The greater problem, however, lies in the structure of the story. While this episode was leaps and bounds ahead of Episode 9 (in this reviewer’s rather controversial opinion) because it actually kept the narrative momentum going, it mirrored the structure of that episode by having the spilled over conflict of the previous episode resolved halfway through. And it seems this is a recurring pattern in Crystal just as it’s a pattern in its source material.
Stories seem to begin and end in the middle of the chapter or episode. Not every time, but often enough that it bears mention. Now, given the nature of serial storytelling, it makes sense to have some kind of carry-over, especially in episodes that end on a cliffhanger, but all too often what would have been cleanly one episode’s worth of story begins in the middle of one episode and ends in the middle of the next. Just look at Episodes 9 and 10 of Crystal.
The second half of Episode 9 is all about Usagi’s reaction to the events that have just transpired, the trauma she’s just endured, and it takes that entire second half to build her back up to being functional, leading to the decision to go to the moon. The first half of Episode 10 features the entire journey to the moon and back, complete with some history and lessons learned, needed answers the girls finally receive that inform how they will proceed from that point forward, punctuated by an epic shot of the team overlooking the city with a new sense of meaning and purpose. The rest of Episode 10 is incredibly good, but feels like it’s a separate story, related to what came before but not connected directly to it. However, if you took Episode 9b and Episode 10a and presented them as one episode, it would flow incredibly well and satisfy so much more deeply.
A similar problem is presented here. To have Beryl kick the bucket halfway through the episode just feels disrespectful to Beryl. I took similar issue with her treatment in Classic, which was assuaged only by the fact that she wasn’t entirely destroyed. She wasn’t in control per se, but she wasn’t entirely possessed by Metalia. She merged with her, definitely the junior partner in the deal but not a mere meat puppet for her master. Thus Beryl was still in play to some degree.
This is a problem I’ve had to varying degrees for the last four episodes: some single acts should be expanded into entire episodes, and some full episodes could stand to be compressed into single acts. The pacing of this show overall is a tremendous clusterfuck. Half the episodes work well from start to finish, but the other half just feel like a mess of moments (however quality those moments may be) arbitrarily rationed out by running time.
It’s not that the second half of this episode isn’t good. It’s an excellent second half. What it should have been is the second half of the episode that followed. I mean, having the generals survive Beryl is a little weird and completely unprecedented. It feels just a little wrong, but I actually kind of like it. For whatever reason, it works. However, like Beryl, they were dispatched way too quickly. They deserved to have their own episode or at least a longer battle sequence. They really did. Because they were just here and gone, and I was left thinking, “That was it? That was the reason they’ve been kept alive all this time? To be flattened by Metalia in one stroke? Blerg.”
From that first moment in Episode 4, when we saw the Shitenou standing together as a team after the masquerade ball, this was the fight I’d been anticipating, a four-on-four showdown between the Guardian Senshi and the Shitenou. I’m glad it happened. It was well placed, giving them something to do, keeping them involved in this conflict while allowing the interplay between Sailor Moon and Evil Endymion to remain between them. But, as noted above, a good fight has twists and turns, a swinging pendulum of advantage. It may even come in stages, the very environment or tone changing as the battle evolves. This fight had none of that. It didn’t serve nearly as well as a swan song for the Shitenou (at least as physical beings) as, say, their previous appearance two episodes ago. That was a very dynamic sequence, a tough act to follow, and this fight did not follow it successfully at all.
If the previous four-on-four had been the end of the Shitenou, it would have been a much, MUCH stronger end, wanting for only one thing. That one thing, what this scene did have going for it, was the Shitenou’s revelation of their past selves and heel-face turn. That built directly on their near turn in their last appearance, and it totally worked here. If it had come at the end of a longer, more involved battle, it would have blown the roof off this episode. Instead, I’m left feeling a little cheated. The Shitenou were built up beautifully over the course of these past twelve episodes, and they’re squashed like bugs without much fanfare at all. Speaking of which…
The Sailor Senshi’s mourning was so forced and rushed. It was the opposite extreme of Usagi’s interminable moaning in Episode 9. It would be one thing if the senshi each reacted differently. If one (probably Venus) was so hardcore that she tabled her feelings temporarily to deal with the situation at hand, two of the others weren’t as strong but followed her lead, and the last was just a fucking wreck that needed some sense slapped into her, that would have worked. But they all just watched their past life loves get blown up right in front of them, and they all recover from it in unison ten seconds later? Fucking no. Just no.
What was handled quite well in that scene was the senshi’s appeal to the Shitenou’s humanity and underlying goodness. Citing Usagi as this great friend who brought them all together and created this bond between them rings so much truer here than it has previously because we’ve seen them hang out. We’ve seen them actually be friends. In this instance, a little really did go a long way. The difference made by just a few moments of genuine interaction between these girls is massive.
Compare this lauding of Usagi’s inclusive nature and the power of the five girls’ friendship with the similar speech at the end of Episode 8. The earlier speech comes across as hollow lip service, an informed attribute of the series with little to no textual support. But here? Here I believe these girls are actually friends. I believe that they believe in the strength of that friendship. I believe their devotion to Usagi. And I believe all that because we saw the basis for it. We saw them go through a few battles together. We saw them help each other through dark moments of pain, loss, and loneliness. We saw them take lighthearted jabs at one another’s sillier qualities. Basically, we saw them be actual characters.
And this is why I rant and rave about character development all the time. Because just a little bit of it completely changes the tone and adds narrative and emotional depth to events that otherwise might be fun to watch but don’t stay with you and affect you. Good writing, whether poetry, prose, or drama, is meant to move us, to tug at our heartstrings, to make us feel. When it doesn’t, it’s not that it necessarily fails, but it sure as hell doesn’t succeed.
This episode was pretty good, which is a shame considering that with some slightly better organization and pacing, “pretty good” could have been easily been upgraded to “completely fucking amazing.” Instead, the two big conflicts of the episode cancel each other out dramatically, when they could have individually shined much brighter given more room (read: their own episodes) to breathe. But hey, it definitely beats starting one episode with a second act, and ending it with a first act. It beats it by a mile.