This Sailor Moon Crystal review contains spoilers.
After Chibi-Usa gives our crew the skinny on where she’s from and why, the connection between her tragedy and the Black Moon combines her interests with our crew’s. It is promptly decided that they should accompany her back to the future in order to ascertain the full scope of the conflict and get some clues on how to proceed. However, first they must pass through the forbidden Space-Time Door, guarded by mysterious lone guardian, Sailor Pluto.
Once in the future, they’re attacked by Esmeraude’s lackeys, Chiral and Achiral, but their asses are saved at the last minute by… another Tuxedo Mask?! Nope. As they learn once they enter the abandoned Crystal Palace and spy the sleeping queen, their savior is in fact Mamoru’s future self, King Endymion.
The episode starts out so strong, gearing us up to travel to the future, and then just starts spinning its wheels again. It’s bad enough that after four episodes that were stuffed to the gills with plot and character, all the momentum built up to this point is chucked out the window for stuff that makes very little sense in so many ways.
First off, I don’t care how kind or sensitive or good you are, when you’ve just gotten more information than you’ve had for days about where your kidnapped friends are, who gives a shit about whether or not a little girl has had a long day. You keep going. I’m sure this was to show was a good daddy Mamoru is. Isn’t he dreamy, ladies? Aren’t your ovaries just churning at how good with kids this guy is? Ain’t it the sweetest? RAINBOWS AND SPARKLES!!!
We get it. He’s a good guy. But he puts the kibosh on an abduction investigation while the trail is still hot, delaying pursuit for twenty-four hours so that poor Chibi can have a cup of cocoa and a nap. Sure, Ami, Rei, and Mako-chan are still out there, possibly being tortured, raped, or whatever by the enemy (assuming they’re alive at all), but no. By all means. Why not take the time to show us what a sensitive guy you are? That totally matters right now.
Of course, the likely real reason for this delay was so that Chibi could spend the night at Mamoru’s place, which would compel Usagi to spend the night there. And thus, we could have some completely unnecessary drama about Usagi’s jealousy over a grade schooler.
This is something I’ve always hated. I realize the point is to show how immature and insecure Usagi is, but I think it crosses the line, taking her from hormonal, immature teenager to stupid asshole. Chibi-Usa is a child. She’s a child. If she has a crush on Mamoru at all, there’s no sexuality attached to it. Her crush on him is about as substantial as “I want to marry you, Daddy.” When little girls say that, they have no concept of what marriage actually is and entails. It just means spending your time with a nice man who makes you feel good, and who is the primary example of that? Daddy.
That’s all that is.
And for Usagi to make that into something it’s not, something worth getting jealous over… well, first off, she’s entertaining the possibility that her boyfriend is at least potentially a pedophile. And if that’s the case I could understand why she’d want to keep Chibi-Usa as far away from him as possible, but for very, very different reasons.
None of this is the case, however, and it just makes Usagi look ridiculous. And that might be halfway tolerable if it were played mainly for comedy, but this is being treated as a legitimate dramatic beat. The fact that Mamoru is even dignifying this bullshit with an attempt to convince Usagi otherwise… I wouldn’t blame him if he broke up with her right there. Seriously.
It would have been totally different if Usagi were merely jealous of the attention. If her response had been more along the lines of, “Of course you’re not *into* her, but there are only twenty-four hours in the day. I’ve got school Monday to Friday and half a day on Saturday. I’ve got homework and entrance exams and family obligations, not to mention a part-time job that involves saving the world from the forces of darkness. I’ve got two good hours a week to spend with my boyfriend, and I don’t really feel like sharing them with a 7-year-old who literally fell out of the sky and onto my head, and then proceeded to insinuate herself into my life and household, supplanting me at every turn.”
Obviously Usagi would be far less articulate, but you get the point.
If this were about how much time and attention Chibi-Usa has taken from her, I would understand, but viewing her as an actual romantic threat just makes her insufferable.
Of course, all of this was probably just an excuse for Mamoru to be reassuring and perfect and take her into a sweeping, romantic embrace. And that’s fine, but priorities, people. We’ve got shit to do. We’ve got abducted friends to save. Date night can be postponed.
The expansion of Luna’s dream sequence is really nice. It gives us more time with Queen Serenity and actually does a very effective job of establishing mood and tone without spending a hundred freakin’ years on it. We don’t need much. The quiet stillness of the room with the Space-Time Door and Queen Serenity’s awe and reverence for it, despite even her cosmic level of power, tells us all we need to know about its significance. The fact that Luna is drawn to it also gives some subtle characterization on her in that she has some kind of spiritual acuity. We first saw it in Episode 14 in the ruins of the prayer room with her thoughts and actions there and the brief appearance of her human form. The idea that Luna is drawn to the deeper mysteries is something I would definitely love to see developed further.
We didn’t get a lot of time with the Black Moon this week, though Esmeraude finally did something. Sort of. She sent Chiral and Achiral after our people, and they had some impressive moves, but it wasn’t much of a fight.
And this is a recurring problem with Sailor Moon Crystal and just about the only way in which the Black Moon arc has been weaker than Dark Kingdom. Every fight is practically the same. The baddies show up, make an impressive display, and get some good licks in until the tide turns. And once it does, the fight is essentially over. Our heroes get a shot, they take it, they win.
And that’s kind of boring.
There’s little to no volley between the two sides, no back and forth. I realize that all that character development and plot we’ve been getting is probably at the expense of good action, but if Avatar and Korra have taught me anything, it’s that it’s eminently possible to have an interesting, layered plot and exciting, comprehensive action sequences. It certainly can be done, so the fact that is isn’t being done point to a flaw in Crystal’s methodology.
And last, but by no means least, we get the introduction of Sailor Pluto, who, as a fellow Scorpio, I’m rather fond of.
This intro was handled pretty well. She gets the moody, mysterious intro, stepping out of the mists of time – literally – to meet our heroes. She gets to be a bad-ass what with some staff-twirling action and some Dead Scream. I have to admit, I kind of miss Dead Scream being whispered, something I always really liked about the first anime, but there was no precedent for that in the manga, so it’s not something I can really be bothered by.
Honestly, Pluto is great here. She has a nice character design and, for the most part, a rich, cleanly defined color palette. I’ve always been bothered about how much overlap there is at times in Pluto and Saturn’s outfits in the first anime. Pluto’s fuku is supposed to be black, but comes off lavender in some places, and their bows are pretty much the same color. I much prefer their coloring in the manga where it’s very clear that Pluto’s color is black with crimson/garnet accents, while Saturn is purple with copper-y brown accents. It helps to give each character’s Sailor identity its own flavor.
On the matter of visuals, this episode is off the top of my head the strongest and tightest yet. Not perfect, mainly in that I still think Moon Princess Halation looks a little awkward, but all the characters were on-model, the effects looked good, the motion smooth. This episode was visually sumptuous, and I can only hope that now that this bar has been raised, this is the level of quality we can expect from the remaining seven episodes.
My only complaint with the visuals is the variation, or rather lack thereof, in the skin tones for Pluto and Achiral. Sailor Moon Crystal has very consciously employed a pastel, watercolor palette for a lot of the background characters and locations which can result in the picture looking a little washed out.
On the matter of Pluto and Achiral, their skin is brown. Granted, Pluto’s varies from episode to episode. She’s sort of occasionally ethnic, but she’s always noticeably darker than the others. A character trait like this weighs very heavily in anime, since the country of origin (and most often setting) is Japan, which is fairly ethnically homogenous nation with little variation in skin, hair, and eye color. I always found Pluto’s appearance to very refreshing and distinct, so to see her so pale is kind of a disappointment. She’s not the exact same color as the others, but she’s close enough that she might as well be.
And Achiral… I mean, in both the manga/Crystal and Sailor Moon R, he and Chiral are only around for one episode. That’s not a lot of time to develop personalities, especially for a set of identical twins. Their coloring was the only thing that really distinguished one from the other, and having to do a double-take to make sure of which one is which wastes time.
Overall, this ep wasn’t bad per se, but it was sub-par, especially after what powerhouses the last four episodes were. Time wasted on Usagi’s petty jealousy of a child not only assassinates her character by inches but takes time away from more important and more interesting things like world building, time travel, and the action sequences. The episode was named for Sailor Pluto, but she’s barely in it, let alone the focus of it. We didn’t even really get much on the Black Moon, certainly nothing we didn’t already know.
For my money, you could have cut everything between the opening scene and the scene where Chibi-Usa takes everyone into the timestream, edited them together and played it off as the same day, and the episode would have worked fine. You would lose Luna’s dream but if that had just been planted earlier, it wouldn’t even be an issue. And then you could spend the rest of the episode either in the time warp, which was done rather well in R, or usher them into the future, take more time with Chiral and Achiral, and actually give the reveal on King Endymion. Again, it’s a problem in the DNA of the manga: Naoko’s less-than-optimal grasp of chapter breaks, but that’s spilt milk at this point.
The episode could have been worse, sure… but it could certainly have been much, much better.