Note: Plenty of Sailor Moon spoilers await you…
Two Sailor Senshi have been abducted by the Black Moon, two of the Spectre Sisters killed in exchange. This time around, Petz targets Sailor Jupiter, who it turns out is feeling a little under the weather. The Senshi deduce that Chibi-Usa is not in league with the Black Moon, but is very much at the heart of their arrival in this time, and they vow to protect her. Meanwhile, Asanuma gets closer to the truth of all the strange occurrences surrounding him when his stalkerish obsession with Mamoru leads him to overhear a conversation between his senpai, Usagi, and Luna.
This is the third episode in a row that’s been well paced and chock full of solid characterization, this time with Mako-chan in the spotlight. We get a little exposition here on her parents and her backstory just as we did with Ami last time. There wasn’t much backstory for Rei in the manga chapter adapted into Episode 15, and Lord knows there was already enough going on in that chapter to warrant some serious cuts, but I hope they’ll be able to delve further into that aspect of her life at some point. Back when the content of Sailor Moon Crystal was still up for some debate, there was talk of adapting “Casablanca Memories” as an episode, and while that would no longer be possible without some radical changes (which are highly unlikely at this point), I hope something in that vein comes to pass.
In terms of the friendship between the Senshi, we’ve come to place where it’s really starting to gel. Considering how hollow most of the platitudes about friendship and loyalty rang during the Dark Kingdom arc, it’s striking just how much a few scenes of interaction, even if it’s just hanging out and talking, can add credibility to those relationships. When Mako-chan talks here about how she’s come to count these girls as her friends, about how both their shared loneliness and shared calling have brought them together, I buy it. It’s unfortunate that we lost her little anecdote about her classmate, especially since it relates to Asanuma, but I’ll live.
The little acknowledgement of how Mako-chan always seems to be packing a little static electricity is a great touch. Part of the fun of super-powered characters is exploring the trivial ways in which their powers manifest in their everyday lives. One of my favorite moments from X2 was Iceman frosting up Wolverine’s soda, because if you had that power, why wouldn’t you use it all the time to make your life a little more convenient? Sure, this is a different situation. Mako-chan’s little static shocks are anything but convenient, but it’s the other side of the coin. Some super-powers really would be a pain in the ass on a day-to-day basis, if just in tiny little ways like having a tendency to give people electric shocks. Love it.
Jupiter gets to use her new power here, but it wasn’t handled especially well. Sparkling Wide Pressure could have had a better, more distinctive design. Not that I was really a fan of 90’s Jupiter’s thunder Frisbee, but the attack could at least have some kind of visual distinction from Supreme Thunder, which it did not. It’s not that it wasn’t a good moment, it’s that designating it as the new attack rather than the old one seems kind of pointless if they look exactly the same. I am, however, loving that Flower Hurricane has not been forgotten and gets some play here.
One power I was very much not loving and haven’t been since it introduction is this random ability the Senshi all seem to have to fly, but only sometimes. Where the hell did that come from? This seems to me like another instance of an effect that works better in a print medium where they background visuals are less defined than in animation, where every image is deliberate.
As for our baddies, we got some good face time with them too. While the Black Moon scene accomplishes its goal of establishing Petz as the villain of the week and revealing a little more of Prince Demande’s motivations (and thus his character), the omission of Saphir’s commentary on Demande’s behavior, robs both of some character development, specifically the dynamic between the brothers. Demande comes off as considerable less brutal and drunk as power if he’s not threatening his own brother. While not the most important facet of the show, it was one of the few elements of the Black Moon Family that kept them from being completely one-dimensional. Hopefully, future episodes will retain the interactions between these two.
One thing I never really understood on an emotional level was the way certain villains in the Sailor Moon franchise, particularly in the manga, are depicted. They often talk of revenge against the Senshi for their fallen loved ones or comrades, but we rarely see any fury or anguish on their parts. They all seem to wear these perennial smirks. I mean, I get they’re supposed to be evil and everything, and when discussing how you’re going to destroy someone who did you wrong there might be a little schadenfreude in the delivery, but given what a point they make of avenging their loved ones, we don’t really see any kind of demonstrable signs of actual grief or loss. They seem about as upset as they would be if someone totaled their car. It keeps the villains from being relatable, three-dimensional characters, and straw men are just less fun to watch.
While Asanuma’s material cut from the previous episode wasn’t moved into this one, we still got a lot of him, all of it deeply relevant to the story at hand. The more I see of Asanuma, the sadder I find it that he never made it into the 90’s anime beyond a brief cameo in one episode Sailor Stars. He really adds a distinct flavor to the ensemble, weaving rather organically into the storyline by way of his interests, personality, and pre-existing connection to two characters with whom he clearly has very different relationships. True, both Mamoru and Makoto are his senpai, but his dynamic with Makoto seems far more casual and sibling-like as opposed to his hero worship of Mamoru from afar. This really goes back to my assertion that Mamoru really needs his own supporting cast. Not that they should be given equal weight as Usagi’s, but just enough that Mamoru seems like he has his own life outside his girlfriend.
Still, despite his greater prominence in the manga, Asanuma is still far scarcer than it seems he should be. It’s odd that Takeuchi never developed him into a more prominent character, because he seems to be set up here as rather significant. How many civilians are really in on the Senshi’s secret identities? Currently, it’s him and Motoki, the latter only because he stumbled right into their command center, which is located underneath his family business. Asanuma is really shaping up here to be a valued ally to the Senshi, a sub-plot that never really goes anywhere.
Then again, at least Asanuma made it to the screen, which is more than can be said for poor Unazuki. It starting to look like she may not make the cut for Sailor Moon Crystal at all, as her scenes keep getting glossed over. And it’s not a huge loss as she’s admittedly a fairly insignificant character, but it’s unfortunate nonetheless.
In addition to its narrative strength, this episode was very strong visually. Whoever is in charge of Venus’ character design deserves a major shout-out, because she looks amazing in the command center scenes. From the lines and details of her facial features to the fall of her hair: she really lives up to her name. Everyone else looks pretty good too, but Minako seems to be getting an extra bit of love from the artists. But brothers and sisters (and any beautiful people in between), I ask you what an episode of Sailor Moon Crystal would be without some animation fail! Indeed, here in this episode, after the big introduction of the Cutie Moon Rod, the Moon Stick is suddenly back… and Usagi is using it to perform Moon Princess Halation.
Are these fuckers even trying some days?
Still, the complaints with this episode are precious few. It really gave the focus to Mako-chan in a way that was organic and made sense while moving the story of Chibi-Usa and the Black Moon forward. We learned more about our heroes and our villains, what makes them tick, and what that means to the story.
My only real gripe would be the reveal of Neo-Queen Serenity, which I’m sure came as a surprise to no one, but I’ve discussed this before. Every generation comes to a franchise afresh, and they deserve as much of a mystery as the veterans had their first time around. And while Chibi-Usa’s appearance gives away a lot just by itself, the tendency of Takeuchi to gut her own mysteries and telegraph all her information in the least subtle way possible is one of her greatest weaknesses as a writer.
But again, it’s a minor gripe. Over all, this ep was solid.