This Sailor Moon Crystal review contains spoilers.
Sailor Moon Crystal Season 3 Episode 3
The Sailor Senshi reflect upon the various new mysteries unfolding before them, not the least of which is the duo seen fleeing the battle who look suspiciously like Sailor Senshi. Chibi-Usa’s new friend Hotaru seems to have some issues at home as well as some odd health problems. Meanwhile, the girls head up to the mountains where Rei has gone to train so they can throw her a surprise birthday party. While there, they run across some kind of Mugen Academy retreat where students are being recruited by Eudial into the service of Pharaoh 90.
The plot really feels like it’s moving along at a decent pace on both the heroes’ and villains’ sides. The Sailor Senshi open the season by investigating a new threat, and the Death Busters just do their thing until the Senshi prove to be a match for them, at which point they actively address the issue. There’s a really good back and forth, and both sides seem to be genuinely playing off each other, rather than just running in circles and butting heads once an episode.
One of the chief complaints about the ’90s anime was its formulaic nature, and it’s a very fair criticism. While it does allow for a simple plot framework, within which emphasis can be placed on character development over many episodes, it does raise logical questions like, “What are they thinking?” and “Why the hell are they taking so long to do X or address Y?” That’s just the nature of filler. Wheels are spun, and things generally take longer than they should.
On the other side of the coin, Naoko Takeuchi is frankly not the best writer, and she had serious problems with pacing during the first two arcs. She rushed through moments that could have used more attention and been better explored while lingering interminably on things of little to no consequence. She wasn’t the most experienced writer on the block, and you could feel it in the awkward, herky-jerky way she was telling the story throughout the first two arcs.
However, by the time she got to Infinity, she seemed to have hit her stride. The story hits the ground running, but it doesn’t feel rushed. Maybe that’s a product of the writer having honed her craft. Maybe it’s a product of the heroes’ characters and relationships having already been established. Or maybe it has something to do with having the enemy based locally, somewhere our heroes can plausibly investigate in the premiere, unlike a subterranean kingdom in the Arctic or a barren planetoid. Maybe it’s all of those things.
In any event, the Death Busters provide a very different challenge from the enemies the Senshi have faced before in that they’ve involved themselves in the daily activities of modern Tokyo. The Dark Kingdom and Black Moon would certainly manipulate and/or hijack the citizens of Tokyo for their purposes, but those were short term schemes. Whatever’s been going on at Mugen Academy has been going on for a while, so the Death Busters have committed to this plan, indoctrinating an entire generation of students. That’s fairly terrifying. As for our two favorite Mugen students…
It’s interesting how well we’re getting to know Haruka and Michiru before Sailor Uranus and Neptune really establish themselves as a presence. Considering that each of the Inners transformed within her introductory episode, it’s a refreshing approach. Hell, we’re three episodes into this story, and there’s still been no reveal that Haruka (not Uranus, but Haruka) is a girl. They’re really committing to this little misdirect, huh?
More time with Haruka and Michiru is never bad. They seem to have an air of mystery in their civilian identities that they never had in Sailor Moon S, where they were certainly idolized by the girls, who found them to be glamorous and more sophisticated, but were still fairly open and friendly with them. Due to the heavy Usagi/Mamoru emphasis of the manga, a lot of the character dynamics deliberately parallel that relationship, and here Haruka and Michiru are set up as a reflection of the alpha couple, even going so far as to decoy as romantic rivals. Of course we know that Michiru has no interest in Mamoru and that Haruka’s flirtation with Usagi is no more than that, but just the cross-pairing of these couples is interesting, a sort of narrative divide and conquer.
Usagi certainly seems to have grown over the course of the first two seasons. She doesn’t necessarily doubt Hotaru’s kindness toward Chibi-Usa, but she is understandably wary of Hotaru’s superhuman abilities. Even if they were used to help Chibi-Usa, who knows what long-term side effects could come of it? And yet she knows enough not to say anything disparaging about her to Chibi-Usa, who is obviously quite taken with her. It’s a subtle bit of character development, but it says a lot about how far Usagi has come already.
As for Mamoru, it’s interesting seeing him hanging out with the girls in their command center. It makes him part of the team in a way he never was in the ’90s anime. He is, of course, not part of the team proper, but he is involved beyond just randomly showing up as convenience dictates and throwing out a platitude before hightailing it. Beyond that, he’s doing research on his own, having visions and trying to interpret them. I’m glad his psychic abilities have carried over and continue to be explored.
It’s always interesting to compare the manga/Crystal and the ’90s anime. In Sailor Moon S, Kaolinite always has that sort of smug, femme fatale look on her face, even in her supposedly benign “Kaori-kun” civilian form. She’s not even trying to hide the fact that she’s an evil bitch. In the manga and Crystal, she seems more invested in her civilian persona, possibly because even though Professor Tomoe has crossed over to the dark side and is in the thrall of Pharaoh 90, the mistreatment of his daughter might be enough to snap him out of it. By having Kaolinite at least attempt some kind of façade, it makes the not-so-good professor’s contentment with his circumstances much more believable and really sells that he has drunk the Death Buster Kool-Aid.
It also adds another dimension to Hotaru. Even though we know what Kaolinite is really up to, we don’t know how much Hotaru knows, and Kaolinite seems to be very kind and attentive to her. And yet Hotaru seems to outright hate her. This could just be standard parental displacement, Hotaru snapping at a woman in her father’s life who is not her mother, but I think it’s more than that. I think Hotaru’s gut is telling her that there’s something off about Kaori-kun despite the woman’s apparent benevolence. A lot of mystery is being built up around this girl on a lot of levels, and it works very well.
Though it was shown in passing in last week’s episode, here we get a much clearer picture of Hotaru’s illness, which we still don’t know the nature of. It seems to have more weight here than in Sailor Moon S, where she was basically just a little frail. Too much exertion and she’d tire out. In Crystal, we may not yet know the exact nature of Hotaru’s illness but we can really feel how it’s weighing her down. She’s literally bedridden from exhaustion, there’s talk of her taking medicine, she mentions pain; you really feel that this girl is afflicted with some kind of condition.
We get a lot of great stuff in this episode, but it ain’t all moonlight and roses. Despite all the improvements that have been made this season, there are still some systemic problems with the manga that Crystal hasn’t been able to shake. One particularly egregious failing is that the villains are fairly flat. They don’t tend to get very strong characterization when they first appear, and they’re gone so quickly we’re not given enough time and exposure to them to infer any. Even the long game characters like Beryl, The Shitenou, and the Black Moon Clan aren’t very well fleshed out. So far, the Death Busters are following that trend. Sure, we saw Eudial in the previous episode for one scene, and she’s front and center in this one, but we don’t really get a sense of her personality. To be honest, we never really get much on any of the Witches 5 in any version of the story.
Sailor Moon S is my favorite season of Sailor Moon, and I’ve watched it many, many times. And you know what I remember about Tellu, Viluy, and Cyprine/Ptilol? Practically nothing. They’re there for an episode, then they’re gone. Eudial and Mimete’s characterizations aren’t particularly rounded, but they’re at least around long enough to make an impression. If you asked me about Eudial’s personality in Crystal, I would have nothing to offer you other than she’s evil and overly sure of herself, which distinguishes her from the other female villains in this show how exactly?
It’s odd that Takeuchi went to the trouble of creating distinct designs for every character and even gave them quirks and idiosyncratic personalities (The Materials Collection reveals all kinds of trivia about the characters, more the heroes than the villains) that we seldom if ever see in the narrative itself. They’re informed attributes. She pays lip service to these characterizations without doing very much if at all to show them. It can become frustrating and even boring.
Another thing about this season I’m actually not loving is how they’re really ratcheting up the yuri vibe between Chibi-Usa and Hotaru. Yes, in the manga Chibi-Usa does comment on how pretty Hotaru is, but there’s nothing romantic about it. It just sounds like what it is: one person taken aback by another person’s beauty. Whatever. But in Crystal, Chibi is clearly crushing on the girl, what with her dazed eyes and full blush in her cheeks. It’s the same look that Tomoyo gives the titular hero in Card Captor Sakura, and Tomoyo is totally in love with Sakura.
Look, there’s a lot of gay in Sailor Moon, and it’s great, but this is the season where a lesbian couple is featured front and center, the lead character has a fleeting lesbian experience (seen in the final shot of this episode), and pretty much every Inner Senshi questions her sexuality, if only for a moment, because they mistook a butch girl for a pretty boy and thought “he” was hot. Is that not enough? Do we need to take two grade school BFFs and turn that into romance too? Not that grade school romance isn’t adorable. It total is. But that’s not what Chibi-Usa and Hotaru are to each other, so the writers better cool their fucking jets on this, because I’m not having it.
And before anyone starts in on the whole girls’ yuujou phenomenon in Japanese culture, I’m aware of it and the social mechanics surrounding it, but that is not what this looks like. It looks like a watered down lesbian crush, which is not even what the manga depicted, so that can’t even be used as an excuse for this.
While this episode was still light years ahead of the Front 26, it is a step down from the last two. It seems to suffer a little from the problem seen much earlier in Crystal’s run of feeling like two different episodes stitched together at the eyecatcher. The first half is really just fallout from the two-part premiere, while the second is a very self-contained and somewhat rushed action plot. I actually think that action plot would have made for a great episode, it’s just that it was so compressed into the second half that it didn’t have enough time to breathe. The plotting of this episode is certainly not as bad as that of, say, Acts 9 & 10, which were just a structural and narrative mess. Those acts/episodes literally felt like they were written while Naoko was drunk.
“Infinity 2: Ripples,” could have been organized a little better, but simply shuffling a few scenes around would fix the problem entirely. The narrative weirdness isn’t as bad or is at least much easier to ignore because the writing and animation are so far superior to early Crystal. I mean, let’s be honest here. At its worst, Season 3 can roundly kick Season 1’s ass.
It seems the trend for this season is for episodes to end a few pages into the next act, so if pressed to guess when next week’s episode will end, I’d have to say after Neptune’s violin attack. Let’s see.