This Sailor Moon Crystal review contains spoilers.
Sailor Moon Crystal Season 3 Episode 2
While investigating Mugen Academy, Usagi and the others run into Haruka and Michiru, who offer them a friendly warning to keep their distance. Before they can argue the point, Kaolinite sends the Witches 5 to take care of the Sailor Senshi. After a tussle with the Witches’ daimon, the Senshi notice two shadowed figures fleeing the scene, having observed the entire battle from afar, and they appear to both be Sailor Senshi!
Wow. Seriously. WOW.
We’re two for two, people. The second part of our two-parter didn’t just match the quality of Part 1, it surpassed it. It seems my hopes and speculations about the structure of this episode were confirmed, and thank God for that! If it had ended with or just after Moon and Chibi Moon’s transformations, it would not have been a good move. Thankfully, they sidestepped that pitfall with tremendous elegance. They took the actual fight with the daimon out of Act 28 and stuck it at the end of Act 27, where IT FUCKING BELONGS!
This was a sensible move. After all, Part 1 was about 60% of the manga’s Act 27, and even with a few new shots and lines of dialogue thrown in, the episode would have run short without the fight. Plus, of course, the most important reason to include it: it’s the logical end and climax of the established conflict. It is, quite simply, the proper ending to that episode.
There’s something to be said for a good cliffhanger, but it has to be a GOOD cliffhanger, a tantalizing tease for something beyond the end of the story you just told rather than a story that stops right before or during the climax. That’s just storytelling 101. Narratively, there’s a difference between an end and a stop. Check out French cinema, particularly the films on the more “artsy” end of the spectrum. Dozens of them just stop without any kind of resolution or even a point being made. It’s like an actual ending was filmed and the director just decided to cut out the last five minutes. It’s infuriating.
That was how most episodes of Sailor Moon Crystal’s “Front 26” ended, because that was how the manga was written, and even though I’ll allow for the rhythms of print media being different from those of audio-visual media, even for a comic it could be kind of weird. The only reason it didn’t bother me more was because the manga was conveniently collected into tankoubon by the time I got to it in the mid-90’s. In a TV show, it just doesn’t really work, and this criticism is not limited to Crystal.
When Heroes first premiered, I was really intrigued by the premise and really liked the characters, but the writers were so horny for their own “comic book on TV” theme, that they wrote the early episodes to resemble the rhythms of a comic book. By the time they got about five or six episodes in, they realized it was probably a better idea to write a TV show like a TV show, and lo and behold, the show got WAY BETTER… until it got way worse, but that’s a whole other can of worms.
The point is that part of the reason this new season of Crystal is so dynamite, at least so far, is that it’s written in a way that suits the medium. It’s not ditching source material. It’s just shifting it a little, and the show is immeasurably better for it. Now, will this continue? Well, it’s hard to say.
Since Crystal seems to be going by the 2003-2004 shinsouban collection, there are 12 chapters of “Infinity” to be spread across a 13 episode season. Now, it’s entirely possible that due to the sheer page count of the first installment, we’ve got 11 episodes remaining for 11 acts, and we’ll be returning to the 1:1 adaptation ratio. However, considering we’ve already cut into the first few pages of Act 28, it is possible that the content of the episodes will deviate from the manga slightly, if only by a few pages here and there, to better organize the content. And OH MY GOD, PLEASE DO THIS!!! Because this episode was even better than the last, and that’s saying something.
First of all, it hits the ground running, like a good “Part 2” should. The mission to investigate Mugen Academy, established in the final moments of Part 1, starts almost immediately, following a little time at home with the Tsukino girls. I loved that quick line in the opening scene about the Women’s Association meeting. It’s nice to know that Ikuko has a life of her own outside her husband and kids. Not that I’m dissing homemakers to any extent, but I think any stay-at-home mom (or dad) will tell you that it’s not only good, but crucial for them to have a little personal time to themselves, some other activity outside running their household. And considering how conservative Japan is, especially when it comes to gender roles, it was very progressive of Takeuchi to give Ikuko a little something of her own to do outside the home.
The Mugen Academy mission itself is great. This story’s adaptation in Sailor Moon S comes surprisingly far along in the season, and what we see of Mugen Academy in that story is very different from what we see here. Here it feels much more like an actual school than just some office building we’re told is a school. Here, we get a sense of the academy’s personality and vibe. It has the slightly eerie tranquility of a cemetery or an empty playground, and Michiru’s violin solo in the deserted courtyard fits the tone perfectly. While she’s clearly important to the plot, I would totally buy that this was just the sort of thing a Mugen student would do. It suggests that Haruka and Michiru are either just naturally attuned to this place or that they’re cover is so damn good, they’ve blended seamlessly into the student body. Either way, wow.
Credit should also be given to the music here, not just Michiru’s solo, but the score itself, which bears a similar quality, ethereal and slightly haunted. I’ve been digging the music this season a lot so far. They have carried over some score from the Front 26, and rightfully so – some of it was very good – but their new additions to the score have been on point. This is a soundtrack I’m very much looking forward to collecting.
This Mugen mission also makes good use of the disguise pen, which is much better utilized when it’s pulled out from time to time, rather than an obligatory bit of episodic formula.
We see Haruka and Michiru building upon their civilian introduction and adding a bit more mystique, a little more ambiguity as to what exactly their involvement with Mugen Academy entails and which side they’re on.
Through the Chibi-Usa subplot, we get a nice intro to Hotaru and her otherworldly powers, as well as an odd association of her own with Mugen Academy. We don’t know much about this girl, but we see and learn just enough to justify her appearance at this time and place. This subplot also allowed for the return of some supporting characters we haven’t seen in a bit like Momo-chan and Asanuma (did anyone else think for a second that they recast Asanuma? His voice was super high and nasal for those first few lines).
Of course, we have to talk about the daimon fight itself, which is one of the best fights I’ve ever seen in the entire Sailor Moon franchise, certainly the most dynamic and visually interesting I’ve seen in Crystal. The tables keep turning. The Senshi have the advantage, then the daimon, then the Senshi again. It was just so watchable and satisfying.
In addition to our first look at Moon Spiral Heart Attack, we also got to see the other Senshi doing their thing rather well. I simply cannot get enough of Minako using Venus Love Me Chain in practical ways, in this case binding the daimon, if only for a moment. And while we’re talking about the daimon…
Much as I love the 90’s anime, and you all know that I do, I am the first person to admit that the monsters-of-the-week are often completely ridiculous, and while I’m not opposed to a little comedy in the heat of battle, it can get really hard to take a story seriously, even if the stakes are life and death, when you’re fighting an anthropomorphized vacuum cleaner. To the manga and Crystal’s credit, there’s never been a silly-looking antagonist. It just doesn’t happen. Even the lame, ineffectual ones at least look like a credible (if not terribly serious) threat.
This episode was a perfect example of that. The daimon was fucking scary, scarier than last episode’s, and it made Chibi Moon, the smallest and arguably most fragile of our heroes, bleed. Having the Witches 5 oversee the attack from afar was also a nice change from the manga and a clever parallel to Uranus and Neptune observing the Senshi at work from afar.
It’s also just plain cool to see the Witches 5 together as a unit, something that never happened outside of silhouette in Sailor Moon S. It’s cool for much the same reasons that seeing the Shitenou together in the Front 26 was cool. It sucks that they were kept alive only to be dispatched in such a lame manner, but the united presence of them as a team was exciting both visually and in terms of character interaction.
This episode built a lot on the foundation set by Part 1, and we got more than a little exposition, but it went down pretty smoothly for the most part. It’s almost as though having its delivery be an organic part of the plot makes it easier to take. Who would have thought?!
This episode also ended on the first image of Haruka and Michiru as Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune, which has been properly teased and built up to since last week. My only gripe with it goes all the way back to the manga. It’s not a mistake or anything, just something that’s always bugged me.
The whole Uranus Mask misdirect… like… what even was the point of that, Naoko? What kind of sense does it even remotely make? I’m all for throwing in a cool image for its own sake, but what possible internal motivation did Haruka have to accessorize her fuku with a cape and mask, especially since we never see her do it again? Meh.
Of course, I can’t neglect to comment upon the visuals which… oh… yes. YES. I always loved the amphitheater design to the Death Busters’ lair in the manga, which we didn’t see much of in Sailor Moon S. The mysticism of the Death Busters was largely downplayed that series in favor of their more scientific motif to distinguish them from previous villains. And while that’s all well and good, this is ultimately a fantasy series, and this kind of aesthetic is just going to resonate more for most people.
As for the animation, it was every bit as good as last week’s episode, and from the preview for next week’s, it’s safe to assume that this wasn’t a fluke for the sake of the premiere. This is just the new standard of animation quality and it’s here to stay. The regular animation is solid and smooth, and we’re getting more SD goodness. Thank you, Toei!
I neglected to talk much about the closing theme last time. I’m a really big fan. In fact, I like it more than the new opening. It looks beautiful, and the lyrics are lovely. I especially like the puns toward the end where they use “haruka” and “michiru” not as their names but as their literal meaning in actual sentences. But what I really love is the, for lack of a better term, Mega Man-esque sound to the music. Seriously. Imagine the karaoke version of this song and try to tell me it would be out of place in a Blue Bomber stage.
Now, was this episode perfect? No. I do have a few nitpicks, of course.
We can see Mamoru’s increasing irrelevance begin here. Ironically, he finally has something officially unifying him with the Senshi, his communicator, which… I mean points to the guy for attempting to coordinate his accessories with his girlfriend, but dude… what are you doing wearing that? For someone who’s supposed to be the author’s masculine ideal, and a masculine ideal as traditional and boring as Naoko’s, no less, this is not what I’d expect to see him in. It comes so close to manly without quite hitting the mark. But I digress.
How was he so late to the party? Doesn’t he have some kind of preternatural ability to sense when his soulmate and daughter are in danger? Time was, he would have been on the scene almost before our girls were. What the hell took him so long? What was he doing? Here, he doesn’t show up until the fight is over, and he’s not even transformed. You’re losing your touch, bro.
While I like that the animators were somewhat mindful of the timeframe, showing day, then twilight, then night, time still seems to move kind of fast, considering Chibi-Usa didn’t have to run that far to find her hat, and we transition fully from day to night between the amusement park and Mugen Academy.
On the subject of time, I will concede that seeing all of the transformations and intro speeches again was a bit of a time-suck. We could just as easily have had Sailor Moon’s sequences as well as the debut of Chibi Moon’s (which, by the way, how freaking cute were they? So nice for her to get a proper solo transformation that’s used more than twice), and the episode would have played just fine, arguably better.
Having the Inners transform and intro themselves as well really did kill some of the momentum, but I will give it a pass this one time for a few reasons. One, there wasn’t as much source material here as there was last week, and you’ve got a running time to meet. Two, it’s only the second time, and the sequences are still new and refreshing, so whatevs. But do I think we’ll need them every time? No.
All around, though, we got another solid episode. It was well written, well animated, the performances were on point, and the music was tight. If the show continues to improve, which I suspect it will, we are in for a real treat in the weeks to come.
Don’t forget to also check out my reviews of Sailor Moon R, which can be found right here at Den of Geek!