Sailor Moon Crystal Act 13 – Final Battle/Reincarnation Review

In the penultimate episode of this Sailor Moon Crystal arc, our main heroine and Tuxedo Mask get closer in the face of Queen Metalia.

With Sailor Moon and Endymion down for the count, Queen Metalia swallows them whole (and thus the Silver Crystal within both of them) and uses that power to shroud the world in darkness. The remaining Sailor Senshi prove to be no match for Metalia, but upon sensing Usagi’s enduring life force, they give up their powers to buy her a chance. Taking strength from their fallen friends, Sailor Moon and a freshly restored Tuxedo Mask stand against Queen Metalia for the titular final battle…which does not occur in this episode.

First things first, it should be acknowledged that the areas in which this episode is effective are seriously undercut by some of Takeuchi’s narrative choices. One of the few strong points of “Act 9 – Serenity/Princess” (which, I know, everyone else in the world but me liked) was Usagi’s vow to never again be a tragic princess. And then in this episode, that’s exactly what she decides to be. Now, there is something to be said for the whole karmic cycle of tragically being stuck repeating patterns lifetime after lifetime. However, that only really works if the story is a tragedy, and Sailor Moon, for all its dark moments, is way too optimistic in its overall tone and end results to be considered a tragedy on any level.

In a non-tragic context (consider Please Save My Earth as an example), the patterns of the past are repeated until some crucial point in the plot where the characters turn left instead of right. Having acquired insight from their past tragedy, they change their fate this time around by choosing differently. In reference to this scenario, yes, the outcome was positive this time — Usagi and Mamoru survived where Serenity and Endymion died — but that was only because their respective bling protected them from what would have otherwise been mortal wounds. Their cycle of tragedy wasn’t broken due to any kind of enlightenment they reached or choice either of them made. They survived out of sheer dumb luck.

This one move destroys Usagi’s strongest bit of character development thus far. I’m aware it’s supposed to be all romantic and stuff, but that’s actually something I have a huge problem with.

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The romantic glorification of suicide is not something I can get behind. Now, certainly there is a moral premium placed on “noble” suicide (beyond heat-of-the-moment self-sacrifice) in Japanese culture that there isn’t in western culture, and I appreciate that this is a work created from a cultural perspective that is different from my own. Thus, I can accept that there will at times be certain attitudes and values represented here that I don’t personally agree with. But I don’t have to like any of them, and in this case I very much don’t.

I don’t think there’s anything romantic about Usagi killing herself as a response to her grief. I don’t think there’s anything noble or beautiful about it. I didn’t think there was with Romeo and Juliet when I read it as a teenager, and the only thing that made that story halfway tolerable was the deliberate point made of how monumentally rash and stupid the eponymous characters were. Now, as someone who is reluctantly far more familiar with both grief and depression than he’d like to be, I get it. I get that people can reach the point where checking out seems like the only reasonable option. I’m not making a criticism of suicidal people, because pain can lead even the most stable of us to do some incredibly self-destructive things. I’ve been there.

But I think even the most empathetic mental healthcare professional would back me up in my general attitude of “suicide: never a good idea.” Depression and suicidal tendencies are very real issues that should certainly be addressed and depicted in fiction. My problem comes in the idealization of it, especially on a show that, while certainly enjoyable for all ages, is primarily targeted at kids either on the cusp of or currently going through the psychological rollercoaster of puberty and adolescence.

And you can’t say that romanticization isn’t what’s happening here, because just look at how Usagi’s attempted suicide is depicted. With the sweeping, romantic score, the flashes of tender moments between Usagi and Mamoru (and Serenity and Endymion), all the talk about fate and love, and soul mates…this is not being depicted as an overreaction or unhealthy thinking. We’re supposed to be in Usagi’s corner in this moment. We’re supposed to be supporting or at least condoning her actions. And I can’t.

No criticism, in-universe or otherwise, is drawn to her actions her. Even when her murder/suicide attempt fails in its intent, it still gets a narrative shilling. It manages to produce the miracle that all Usagi and Mamoru’s other efforts could not, the reunification of the Silver Crystal, the implied subtext of which is “Hey, attempted suicide kinda’ saved the day.” Uhhhhh…no. No, I’m going to take a deluxe no burger, with a side of no, and some hot apple no for dessert. Thank you.

The funny thing about this episode is that, aside from the whole suicide issue, the few things I didn’t like about it were merely aspects of things I did like.

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Luna and Artemis going to the moon so that Luna can throw out one last prayer to Queen Serenity was fantastic, because it kept our beloved kitties in play. One of the things I definitely appreciate about the manga and Crystal is how the cat mentors seem to be far more actively involved in the story. They train the girls, yes, but they have other ways of being proactive, including but not limited to attacking the enemies themselves. They’re more than just fonts of far too conveniently timed exposition (which they still are); they actually do stuff.

That said, their abilities are rather poorly defined. I mean, can they just go to the moon whenever they want? If so, is it an express to-the-moon-and-back ticket or can these teleportation powers work site to site globally? What is the source of these powers, and what kind of toll does it take on them to use them? Because, if there isn’t one, why don’t they use them all the freakin’ time?

This may sound like nitpicking, but one of the obligations of a writer when creating a fictional world is to ensure that it’s consistent and logically sound, and that is an aspect of the creative process which Naoko Takeuchi does not really prioritize. And she’s not alone in that. I could go on for days about Rumiko Takahashi’s half-assed bullshit, but there it is. Say what you want about some of the faux pas that J.K. Rowling made with the Harry Potter series, and she made more than a few, the rules and limits of her world were consistent, and she had an answer for almost any question you could throw at her. That’s how it’s done.

Piggybacking off the active involvement of Luna and Artemis, this episode really gives all the characters an opportunity to shine. The Guardian Senshi’s united stand against Metalia really brought their journey in building a team to its proper crescendo. They’re a well oiled machine at this point, working together, united not just in their conviction itself but in the nature of that conviction. Even when they realize they can’t beat Metalia, they’re willing to sacrifice their powers and possibly even their lives (see, goal-oriented, heat of the moment self-sacrifice; totally kosher) just to buy Sailor Moon a chance. We see both their connection to each other and their devotion to their cause and their princess, and it’s really beautiful.

The henshin pen maneuver, while effective and emotionally evocative in and of itself, was executed better in the manga where it was actually brought up between the Senshi as a proposed solution to their problem. It felt much more organic than the expositing of this information directly to Metalia (for some reason) by all four Senshi, whom I’m forced to assume discussed this strategy at some point that we never saw and are all sure enough of its implementation to pass around the exposition stick and deliver their lines in turn.

Normally I’m all for sharing the wealth in terms of lines and face time, but in a situation like this, it all just brings the girls back to that place of being four mouthpieces for the same brain, and after the stronger individual characterization of the past few episodes, that’s definitely a step back in the quality of the writing. I could see Mercury and Venus trading off here, but all four of them just felt like forced egalitarianism.

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I love the conceit that the Senshi’s devotion to Sailor Moon comes not just from a sense of duty, but that they were each in their own way lonely until she came into their lives and brought them together. Nowhere do I see a better example of this than the climax of the Sailor Moon R movie. It’s used very effectively there as sort of a rallying cry not to save the world, which has already been done, but to save Usagi herself.

That’s what kind of rubbed me the wrong way about how it’s depicted here. The world is still in danger. Things are looking pretty grim. So, the fate of the world is worth giving up on, but Usagi’s smile…that’s the reason to keep on going. That’s the reason to pull out the big guns. Not the six billion lives at stake. Nope. Fuck that. It’s Usagi’s happiness that motivates the Senshi to carry on. Great priorities, ladies.

Tuxedo Mask is finally healed here, though I’m not entirely sure how that happened. Was it the reunification of the Silver Crystal that purged Metalia’s energy from his mind and body? I’m just going to assume that it was. What’s really nice here is the parallel between the Senshi coming to Sailor Moon’s aid and the spirits of the Shitenou coming to Tuxedo Mask’s. It put a nice button on their characters that I would accept as satisfying closure even if they didn’t show up briefly in the next arc.

Unfortunately, it also reminded me that they had died, which led me to the manner in which they died, which led me right back to how much of a letdown their last stand was in light of all the time and effort spent in keeping them around and reminding us of their presence.

And while I’ll admit this is a very personal thing…every single time that Usagi and Mamoru use their pet names for each other, I cringe. It takes me right out of the story, because they have not earned them yet. I’m all for them crying out for one another, because they do have a legitimate connection, but they’re verbally claiming a kind of intimacy with each other that they have not yet developed. I’d actually prefer it if they called out for one another by their past lives’ names, because that’s the connection they actually have. But they’ve spent no time as a couple in this life. Even if “Usako” and “Mamo-chan” came as early as the end of this arc, I could digest it a little better, because they’ve come together over the course of this story, and that coupling is sealed with assumption of present life pet names. But spilt milk, I guess. I mean, it is what it is, and at the end of the day it’s a fairly minor complaint.

I mention it only because it is a distraction for me, something that takes me out of the story, even…hell, especially when I’m finally starting to feel their connection. It’s like asking someone to move in with you on the third date. There’s nothing wrong with cohabitating, but are you really there already?

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And the thing is, I am starting to feel their connection. At this point in the story, I really do feel they’ve logged enough screen time, had enough conversations, interacted in enough meaningful ways, and endured enough hardship (including the Endou/Evil Endymion bit) that they really have gotten to know each other, to explore their feelings for one another, to grow together organically based upon their joint experiences. I, for one, think that if the situation had progressed in more or less the same fashion as it has in these past thirteen episodes but without the forced “Ermagerd! Trer Lerve!” bullshit, I would more effectively feel what I’m supposed to be feeling: emotional investment in the strange, bittersweet romance budding between two kids who are in just a little over their heads. But, however we got here, here we are, and I really like Usagi and Mamoru as a couple in this episode.

Usagi takes center stage, as is proper, and Mamoru’s role is to support her. She’s the hero. She’s the savior. She’s the one who ultimately has to take the stand, but he’s supporting her, not only emotionally but by adding what power he has to her own. He has a relevance that is really very powerful and fitting to the tone of the manga. When people talk about how the Sailor Senshi of the manga take a backseat to the Usagi/Mamoru romance, they’re not wrong. The manga does focus more on the love story and thus gives Mamoru more plot significance, whereas Classic and PGSM seem to be far more about the bond of friendship between the five girls. In that sense, Crystal, taking its cues from the manga by having Mamoru be the one standing with Usagi at her moment of truth, totally works and plays very well — and not at the cost of the Senshi’s involvement in some fashion.

And, of course, I couldn’t fail to mention the sheer awesomeness of something Classic never even attempted: the full length Moon Stick. I mean, look at that thing. It is just pure fantasy awesomeness. It sucks that its debut here is marred by some surprisingly shitty animation, but it’s hard to get hung up on that when it just looks so cool. And the Silver Crystal’s lotus form? Love it. Love it, love it, love it! Aside from the obvious beauty of something crystalline taking a botanical shape, the lotus infuses some refreshing Buddhist symbolism in a series with a symbology that is largely Judeo-Christian. It nicely complements the messianic symbolism used in the depiction of Usagi’s character. And, aside from that, it just looks plain fucking amazing.

This episode actually has plenty going for it. Its biggest problem, really, is that its title is rather misleading, because this wasn’t the final battle, at least not all of it. It was really more like the penultimate battle, which admittedly makes for a far less dramatic title, but you know…when you call something final, people are going to expect a certain degree of finality, and with Metalia still alive at the end of the episode, it can lead viewers to feeling some disappointment that they otherwise wouldn’t had their expectation not been toyed with.The episode makes good use of all the regular characters, and despite the fact that Metalia is hardly a compelling villain, the stakes are high enough at this point that we care about whether or not our heroes beat her. Not so much because we’re invested in seeing Metalia go down (we don’t really care about her enough to hate her and crave her demise) as we are in what is gained, or rather saved, by it.

Of course, the actual final battle will take place next time, in the notoriously schizo “Act 14 – Conclusion and Commencement / Petite Étrangère,” but we’ll cross that patchwork bridge when we come to it. See you then, moonies!

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3.5 out of 5