Venus and the kitties get even more exposition on Nemesis and Death Phantom, but not soon enough to stop Tuxedo Mask from running into a time storm in the void, looking for Chibi-Usa who has unwittingly drunk Wiseman’s Kool-Aid and is being corrupted by his evil energy. Meanwhile, Usagi wanders the labyrinthine halls of the Black Moon Castle, only to happen upon the central reactor, where Saphir shows his true colors and attacks her. At the eleventh hour, her connection to the Silver Crystal activates some kind of Avatar State defense mechanism where she channels her future self and allows her to transform again. It also wakes up Ami, Rei, and Makoto, who were trapped in what is revealed to pretty much be death’s waiting room. They break their captivity and transform into Mercury, Mars, and Jupiter, reuniting with Sailor Moon for a long overdue fight with the Black Moon Family that Rubeus does not survive. With Pluto’s long distance help, the Sailor Senshi teleport off Nemesis and return to Crystal Tokyo. Unfortunately, the time storm caused by Chibi-Usa’s disappearance is still raging in the void, and Tuxedo Mask remains lost in it.
This episode was actually… really good. Usually, the manga chapters do not make for strong one-to-one adaptations, but this one worked very well, in some ways even better than the manga did. Several plot points aligned to establish a central conflict for the episode around which the story develops rather organically and crescendos in a way satisfying enough that the one thread left open for a cliffhanger was fun and enticing, rather than frustrating.
Not everything about the episode was a slam dunk. This was the third in a row that we got the backstory on the Black Moon Family and Nemesis, and while there were some new details about Phantom, it was mostly a rehash. Either give us the backstory in pieces or do one big info dump, but giving us the same block of exposition with one or two new details each time… not the best move. However, despite my objection to the style of its delivery, I’m a really huge fan of the mythology behind the Black Moon, which is far more cohesive and layered here than in Sailor Moon R. There’s a real sense of future history, of cause and effect and events building upon one another. We get the sense the establishment of Crystal Tokyo did not fundamentally alter human nature, magically purging humanity of its lesser qualities. Evil still existed even with Neo Queen Serenity running the world, and Phantom was living proof of that.
And though it’s subtle, there is some highlighting of Neo Queen Serenity’s own flaws (or virtues… or both, depending on how you look at them). The insight we get into her personality is that while she is made of sterner stuff than her younger self, she is still the same person underneath, someone who draws a line at killing humans. She can’t bring herself to execute someone to their face and may have even been the one to abolish the death penalty. However, sending someone to Nemesis, a planet which is essentially dead, is more or less a death sentence, thus the quality of Usagi’s mercy is certainly debatable, as is the question of which is the worse crime, killing someone outright or passively condemning them to a slow, painful death on a barren rock with a hostile environment?
Part of what makes the mythology so much stronger here is the fact that Usagi’s actions indirectly caused this apocalypse. If she hadn’t banished Phantom in the first place, sending him to Nemesis, where his power would grow exponentially, the Black Moon Family would never even exist, or at least Demande’s movement wouldn’t have the same gravitas and power that it does, certainly not the branding.
While Sailor Moon R did further develop the Spectre Sisters and gave us a wonderful redemption arc with them, putting them in a unique position amongst Sailor Moon villains (depowered, redeemed, and attempting to integrate into society), it was in many ways inferior to the Black Moon arc of the manga. ZIn it and Crystal, we get more background on Crystal Tokyo and the Black Moon, a lot more time to focus on Venus, who was a latecomer in Dark Kingdom, without having to share the limelight with the others. And we get so much more Pluto, not only in terms of face time, but in her characterization.
This was a manga chapter that not only lent itself well to adaptation, but improved with the source material. Saphir’s turn, which in the manga felt very sudden and choppy, feels much more organic here. In the manga, he seems like a lone voice of reason, divulging his borderline treasonous thoughts about his brother’s actions to Usagi in a moment of weakness. It’s totally jibes with everything we’ve seen of his character up until this point. Then, his switch is just flipped on a dime, and he turns around and throttles Usagi, giving the impression that it was all an act, undercutting the nuance of his character and slapping a black hat (or moon) on his head. Here in Crystal, Saphir’s turn is more gradual. No longer restricted to a few panels, we can see throughout his soliloquy that he’s really going through something. We see the effect his train of thought is having on him, so that when he snaps it feels like an utterly believable, natural product of his thought process.
What was unexpected but no less fitting was Rubeus’s turn and subsequent execution by Black Lady herself. Holy shit! Because Rubeus had every bit of doubt in Prince Demande’s stability that Saphir had, but he knew how to keep his mouth shut and play the game. It isn’t until he’s confronted with the full extent of Demande’s insanity and Wiseman’s grip on him that he says, “Oh, hell no,” speaks up, and get murdered on the spot for his trouble. I love me some infighting among allies, so the fact that Rubeus, someone so high on the chain of command, was killed by his own people in the middle of a fight with the enemy… that was a nice twist.
This episode also had a lot going on for it technically as well. We establish the setpiece of the reactor in the bowels of Black Moon Castle early in the episode. It seems like it could just be a nifty backdrop against which Saphir could deliver some morsels of exposition, answering some logistic questions raised in past episodes, but then he goes into this monologue about his brother and his motives… and then it turns out to be the setting of the big fight for the episode… and then the end of the fight overloads the reactor, causing some hefty destruction of the Black Moon Castle. Not to mention the climactic fight itself had some twists! Thank you!
The Senshi attack, Demande blocks them, he freezes them in place, then Sailor Moon busts out some Moon Tiara Boomerang that she’s been keeping on the back burner for a while, stunning Demande and freeing her friends. And that’s saying nothing of the aside with Rubeus’s execution. That’s a damn good fight, thank you very much!
The animation was also very pretty except in the few spots where it was abysmal. The reunion of the Senshi, with the frozen poses sliding across the screen toward one another just looked incredibly cheap and lazy, and it distracted me from the joy and tenderness running underneath that moment.
Still, this episode’s failures were relatively minor, and its successes were a joy to experience. It was colorful, fun, with a tight narrative that balanced three storylines very effectively. Let’s hope this last run of episodes does just as good a job of infusing the source material with a little extra grace and vigor.