Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune have revealed themselves, but while they’re not enemies, they don’t exactly seem to be allies either. Luna explains that they are Outer Senshi like Sailor Pluto, who have different responsibilities. Theirs is to patrol the edge of the solar system and protect it from outside threats, so if they’ve been reincarnated and are living in Tokyo, this new enemy must be coming from a great distance.
Meanwhile, Ami, who is always game for some practice exams, takes one hosted by Mugen Academy. The student who seems to be running the show, and the only one giving Ami a run for her money, turns out to be Viluy, a member of the Witches 5 with a sharp mind and competitive spirit, who appears to have weaponized nanotechnology.
So, here’s the thing. When I harp on structure, it’s not because I believe in following some arbitrary checklist of do’s and don’ts just because “the rules are the rules!” or some bullshit like that. It’s because the arts of storytelling and dramaturgy have evolved across wildly divergent cultures for several millennia of human history into a basic structure that favors what will best satisfy an audience. Styles vary across genre and culture, but the structure generally remains the same, and for good reason. That said, people break the rules sometimes, and my view on that is… that it’s fine to stray from the paradigm, provided that it works.
When the action plot of this episode didn’t kick in until after the eyecatcher, I braced for another rushed, paint-by-numbers plot that ultimately wouldn’t make much of an impact. I was proven wrong. And oh boy, am I glad I was.
Viluy’s plot was shoved into the back end of the episode. This much is true. But it’s executed so well, I didn’t even mind. As I’ve mentioned before, only two of the Witches 5, Eudial and Mimete, were adapted into actual characters for Sailor Moon S. The other 3-ish (Ptilol is like half a Witch?) only get a spotlight episode a piece, and they’re not terribly interesting. Well, on second thought, Viluy at least gets a philosophy to contrast with Mercury’s, and that’s something, but not enough that I remember it until I watch that episode again, and I’ve seen it a dozen times. Here in Crystal, it’s Eudial and Mimete that are flat and forgettable, while Viluy shows up and instantly commands my attention. She’s not as rounded a character as she is in Sailor Moon S, but she’s definitely got more personality than the first two.
Maybe it’s because her plan is already in play by the time we see her delivering her exposition to Kaolinite, but her story just plays out in a more interesting way. We start with Ami, a character we know and love, and this story grows out of her character. It leads Ami into a situation that’s being orchestrated by Viluy, whom we actually see interacting with her fellow Mugen students and with Ami via her assumed alias of Bidou Yui.
We get a sense of Viluy’s attitude, her standing at the school, how her classmates view her and relate to her. Thus, by the time the cat it out of the bag, we know who this young woman is, what she’s about, how she’s manipulating the situation to her advantage, and how good she is at it. And thus, when Ami becomes a thorn in her side, we get why she loses her cool; it’s rare that people get in her way or prove to be a challenge, and she doesn’t have any patience for it. It’s not a comprehensive backstory or personality profile, but it’s just enough for her to register as an actual person, as a character whose actions are motivated by who she is.
Through her interactions with Ami and Kaolinite, we can see that Viluy is not only intelligent but perceptive, not to mention a little passive-aggressive, which works out quite well for a cool, icy character. Mostly though, she seems to be self-aware and cautious in a way that Eudial and Mimete were not. In terms of villainy, she’s very clearly their better. She’s arrogant, as that’s par for the course with villains of this sort, but not to the point of recklessness. And once the cat’s out of the bag, she’s a refreshingly competent fighter who seems like she very well may have kicked the Inners’ asses if not for the intervention of the Outers.
It’s cool that we’re told that the Outers have stronger powers than the Inners and then we actually get to see it. Space Sword Blaster packs one hell of a punch, and not only fries Viluy but eliminates the daimon as well. Of course, now that Haruka and Michiru have interceded on the Inners’ behalf and transformed, their cover as Mugen students is blown, so even their stories get a push.
The Mugen story is also advanced by having Ami discover the animal labs and the caged daimon, thus finally confirming what our heroes have so far only suspected, that Mugen Academy is controlled by the Death Busters. Generally, I think the manga and Crystal are paced way too fast, but given how this story was set up in the premiere, the timetable on this one seems about right. I stand by my statement that “Infinity” was around when Naoko Takeuchi really hit her stride and figured out how to write. There are still flaws in her storytelling, but it’s a massive improvement on the first two arcs.
This episode also introduces a less-than-subtle but nonetheless effective bit of foreshadowing with Chibi-Usa’s art project, which nods to the Holy Grail, a major plot device that will show up in a few episodes, causing a sharp left turn in the season’s story. Bravo on that. Chibi-Usa manages to use her school project as a sneaky way of getting Usagi and Mamoru to talk openly about the weird vibe that’s growing between them. Good work, kid!
I appreciated the open acknowledgement (finally!) of Usagi’s jealousy issues. Mamoru gets a chance to be really classy and show how much he trusts Usagi, which only makes her feel crappy for being jealous, which she now realizes was ridiculous. From where I stand, this kind of growth would totally redeem her pointless jealousy from the other episode, provided she actually learns and grows from this and doesn’t backslide and pull that shit again.
It seems Haruka and Michiru’s mind games with the Inners and Mamoru in their civilian lives are proving to be more complicated than they suspected now that they’ve not only befriended them but everyone’s secret identities have been more or less revealed. And when I say “revealed,” it’s a bit misleading, because they don’t even transform in front of each other. They just recognize each other like you would if two people you know shared an incredibly distinctive look and identical facial features.
It’s always been interesting to me how little the Sailor Moon manga, just as a work itself, not even compared to any of its adaptations, cares for the concept of secret identities. Naoko obviously tried to work in masks early on, but when she stopped bothering, she didn’t make any attempt to suspend the audience’s disbelief. There was no stupid fog (fans, including myself, generally explain this away as a glamour of some kind) masking the identities of the girls. If you could see their faces, you could recognize them.
And here, Haruka and Michiru ain’t even trying. Nowadays, a lot of superhero properties are beginning to dispense with the concept of secret identities, since in the information age, anyone with a smart phone and enough time on their hands could figure out who someone is, especially with the help of everyone on the internet. But this manga was written long before that trend was started. In that way, it’s very ahead of its time in saying, “Hey, we’ve got bigger fish to fry. You found me out. Big deal. Moving on.”
If I had one nitpick about this episode, it would be Usagi and Chibi-Usa having yet another sleepover at Mamoru’s. Like, where are Kenji and Ikuko? Do they suspect nothing? One could one assume that Usagi is just telling them she’s spending the night at Naru’s or Minako’s or whatever, because I really don’t think the same father that had a near heart attack at the idea of his daughter merely talking to boys is going to be cool with her spending the night in her boyfriend’s bed.
I’m not complaining that it’s happening, but it’s starting to happen a lot, and how she’s getting away with it is never addressed. A quick phone call to her parents with some kind of alibi – just once – would do the trick. But honestly, it’s such a small gripe with an otherwise strong episode. This one was really good.
Now, on the matter of a completely cosmetic element…
I like the new version of the opening theme. Nothing against the first one, which I very much enjoy, but I guess I don’t fully appreciate the Japanese people’s collective boner for all things “moe.” Not that I’m in the business of being attracted to girls in the first place, but were I, their hotness would not increase proportionately by the metric of how sweet, naïve, and childlike they sound. So, while I do like the first version, a fuller, richer voice singing the lyrics with some confidence and strength is far more enjoyable to me than hearing the wispy, sugary voice of a kid who doesn’t fully know what she’s singing about. But that’s just me. I mean, it’s a good song. I’ll take either version. The new ending theme, however… ugh.
I know this Chibi-Usa song isn’t sexualized moe, so at least there’s that, but… look, I’m fine with Chibi-Usa being the subject, direct or inferred, of an ending theme. I’m fine with it being upbeat and cute. “Rashiku Ikimashou” is one of my favorite Sailor Moon songs. It’s one of my favorite anime songs, period. I have no aversion to cute and sweet, but if I didn’t already have Diabetes, this cloying, puerile piece of crap would have done the job. I was left with that feeling, that burning in your throat you get when you’ve had one pixie stick too many. Everything about it, from the music to the imagery is just awful. Can we just skip ahead to whatever the Tuxedo Mask song is? Because just what… the fuck… is this? Could it possibly be more out of step with the tone of this season? I’m hard-pressed to see how.
Honestly, on the matter of the ending themes, they probably should have gone with Tuxedo Mask for the first batch of eps, since he’s the known element, then once the Outers are formally introduced, they take over, and then we could end with a Chibi-Usa theme. Not the one we got, but maybe something about friendship that features Hotaru, since their connection will play so heavily into the end of the arc. Just a thought.
Overall, though, this episode was very strong on its own, and having Setsuna show up in the stinger was the icing on the cake. Let’s get down next week with the return of Sailor Pluto!