This Sailor Moon Crystal review contains spoilers.
Sailor Moon Crystal Season 3 Episode 1
Not much time at all has passed since the showdown with Death Phantom, and Usagi’s life seems to have returned to normal. You know, except for the fact that her daughter from the future has come back in time and is now effectively her little sister whose Elektra Complex is less than comfortable to see in action, though not as bad as it was.
It seems that a hot young couple from the famous Mugen Academy is now on the scene. Unbeknownst to our heroes, Haruka Tenou and Michiru Kaiou seem keyed into some strange goings on possibly related to the new baddies who are behind recent news reports of people devolving into monsters. When a Mugen Academy student succumbs to this transformation, the Senshi activate their new powers to save the host from the demonic entity within and realize they need to investigate Mugen Academy.
This review goes out to everyone who said I was just a manga hater, that I’m never satisfied, that I’m petty and a dramaturgy stickler and just want to complain about everything that isn’t the 90’s Sailor Moon anime. To them, I emphatically say:
This episode was fucking amazing. Top to bottom fantastic on pretty much every level. The story was tight, the animation was damn near flawless, and I loved it. See? I like lots of stuff. I just need it to be good. It’s not a high bar.
Let’s start with the story. It’s as though the production staff heard my prayers for them to abandon to the 1:1 adaptation of the manga and instead aim for episodes that properly fit the medium. I did a page count, and this episode covered roughly 60% of the corresponding manga act, and as a result it was structured and paced exquisitely.
It opens with a hint of the enemy to come, goes immediately into reintroducing our heroes and establishing their relationships to one another. We’re also introduced to some new characters who provide an organic segue to Mugen Academy, which provides us with the monster of the week. Our heroes get to show off their new transformations, they attack, they win, and the episode is capped off with the establishment of both a new mission and the plot to the next episode. We had a full story with a decently paced conflict that was executed and resolved, while opening the door to the next chapter. THAT IS HOW YOU FUCKING DO IT. And they did, and it was glorious.
Now, it’s certainly possible that next week’s episode will merely be the remaining 40% of “Infinity 1: Premonition,” but considering that the manga act ends with Sailor Moon and Chibi-Moon transforming, with the ensuing monster fight not coming until the beginning of “Infinity 2: Repercussions,” it’s possible they’d save that brief fight and its immediate aftermath (including the first silhouetted appearances of Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune) for the end of Episode 3×02, rather than the beginning of 3×03. Because HOLY CRAP would it make a better ending than an opening, and it seems from this premiere that someone on the writing staff realized that their fidelity to the source material shouldn’t necessarily extend to Takeuchi’s pacing problems. I can only hope that this more relaxed adaptation continues into future episodes. Please let it be so. Please.
In any event, this episode flowed seamlessly. The reintroduction of returning characters, the introduction of some (but not all) of the new players, just enough of the supernatural conflict of the season to pique the audience’s interest and establish the new mission… seriously. This was choice. As a viewer and lifelong Sailor Moon fan, I was satisfied. I felt as though so much happened in this one episode. It was such a satisfying meal. Shots took their time but didn’t linger interminably and self-indulgently. They told a story and moved on. The rhythm and energy… this episode practically crackled with it. Well done, Toei.
I’d also like to note that it seems Crystal is borrowing a little from Sailor Moon S here, having what looks very much like a daimon egg sequence at the root of the monster’s appearance, rather than the Mugen Academy girl simply transforming into the monster. And you know what? That’s not a bad idea. It totally worked for me.
Just the experience of this episode was a delight, and it was so much easier to enjoy being free of artwork that was shitty to the point of distraction. No, these new character designs are solid, and the quality of the animation has reached a whole new level. It’s risen several, actually.
Everything looks so good. SO GOOD! Faces are drawn with smooth curving lines, rather than the sharp, awkward angles of a child’s drawing. Proportion and perspective are working. When someone is at a 3/4 angle, their eyes are spaced and shaped accordingly. And the cats? The cats look so fucking great, I can’t even! Their boxy faces from previous episodes are gone. I love these new designs for them, the way their fur tapers at the cheeks, the detail given to the ears. I’m going to come right out and say it, this is my favorite depiction of Luna, Artemis, and Diana ever. That includes the manga, the 90’s anime, PGSM; everything. They look fan-fucking-tastic!
I am loving the new color palette. So often the palette in Crystal’s first 26 episodes seemed kind of washed out, the colors flat and pale. While I have nothing against pastels, it just felt like it drained a lot of vibrance and color from the show, so while I’m sure I’m showing some Classic bias here, I have to say that the reversion to a richer color palette is a welcome change. Seeing Ikuko’s hair as a nice, deep blue-black rather than a washed out lavender just feels right.
Similarly, with Jupiter’s hair… I’m aware of the whole “yankii” visual shorthand, how red hair in Japan is considered a delinquent look, which was supposed to feed into people’s misconceptions about Mako-chan. I know all that and I get it, and I actually have an incredible fondness for red hair. Jean Grey and the Weasleys are my peeps, guys. That said, seeing Jupiter trade out that chalky magenta for a nice auburn that complements her sailor fuku while also getting that yankii connotation across… just… thank you, Sailor Moon Crystal. Thank you.
On the flipside of that, I’m glad the colors are bright enough that we don’t fall into the trap in which the 90’s anime so often found itself, where all the darker-colored fuku shift toward black. There were so many times Jupiter’s green was approaching pine, and Uranus and Neptune’s color schemes required a focused eye to discern their colors. Here in Crystal, Jupes has always had a nice, lush green, and Uranus and Neptune have their royal blue and sea green, respectively.
I really appreciate how Neptune’s accent color is clearly navy, different from Uranus’ royal blue. I was never a fan of the feminine lesbian borrowing from the color scheme of the masculine lesbian, while the masculine one had her own thing going on. It always reeked of the underlying sexism that pervades so much of Japanese culture. You know, the masculine one is her own person, and the feminine one is an extension of the masculine one. Pfff… fuck that. So, I absolutely love that Crystal’s color palette is so crisp and clear, so well defined.
In terms of visual style, the willingness of the art team to include more comedic cutaways and SD model distortions (like there were in the manga, after all) is very welcome and adds some much needed light to what otherwise becomes soapy (bordering on campy) melodrama.
The grainy film and shaky-cam effects given to Saturn’s visions are pretty cool, and in a fantasy series full of fantastic visuals, it’s a nice way to distinguish these prophetic visions from what it actually happening in the moment. The brief use of the same effect in the opening sequence right before the intro of Saturn might otherwise seem out of place, but given the context, it’s a great inclusion.
And what about that opening theme? Well, aside from the nude shot of Chibi-Usa and Hotaru, which I’ve discussed previously here, I have only one complaint. The use of footage from the actual show gives it a very patched together, lazy TV dub feel that I really don’t like. The doily pattern obscuring 2/3 of the screen only makes it worse, especially since it doesn’t appear anywhere else. Using footage from the actual show is just not something I generally see in anime openings and it feels very out of place, but it’s only a few seconds, and the rest of this opening is fucking great. The song is totally growing on me and gets me all pumped for the episode. Sweetness! The opening theme sets the tone for the quality of this new season’s animation and so far it doesn’t disappoint.
The animation is such a step up. Not feature film quality or anything, but that’s not what I was expecting. My standards are not unreasonably high. They’re pretty fair. It’s just that the first two seasons of Crystal failed to meet even those. This is not that Crystal. This feels like a whole new show, and I mean that in the best way.
The new transformation sequences… I just… halfway through Mercury’s sequence I gasped with joy and beat my chest all Celine Dion style. And yes, some people have noted that there is a little choppiness in these new transforms, that it looks like a frame or two is missing here and there, and I won’t argue that. But even taking that into account, these sequences are LIGHT YEARS AHEAD of what we were getting before.
There’s no shitty, ungainly CG that sucks out all the energy and momentum from this spiritual invocation of cosmic power. Just some nice, smooth, 2D animation that looks fantastic! The girls move with purpose, fast enough for you to really feel the energy building around them without going so fast you can’t see what’s going on (Mercury transformations from early Crystal, I’m looking at you).
Of the new sequences, Venus is probably the weakest link. Ironic, considering she probably had the best one in the first two seasons. I liked her gymnastics ribbon, the color contrast of her silhouette with the background. I’m not as much a fan of her trailing shower of stars (to say nothing of the one shot where she looks like she’s touching herself), but it’s still pretty good.
I was kind of hoping that the Inner Senshi would get new Planet Power wands, something we’ve never seen before in any medium, but I’m fine that we don’t. The star wands are just fine, and why not get a little more mileage out of them?
The animation of Sailor Moon’s self-intro seems almost like a direct response to the criticisms of Crystal’s previous animation quality. And thank God for that! They’ve also fixed Mercury’s self-intro stance, so she no longer looks like her hips can cut glass. That’s a nice improvement.
And the best part of all of this? If the preview for the next episode is any indication, the animation will maintain this level of quality in future episodes. Halle-freakin-lujah!
So, after all that fanboy squee and high praise, do I have anything negative to say? Were there any cons to this episode? Well, really only one, but it has more to do with the series overall than this episode itself. It’s just a logistic issue that’s always bugged me.
One thing I never quite understood… if the Tenou Building and the Kaiou Building are in such close proximity to Mugen Academy, what’s with Haruka and Michiru taking helicopters — plural — to go to school? I suppose it was for Takeuchi to make a point of how rich and glamorous they are, but it seems terribly impractical to go to all that trouble to summon the helicopters, board, prep for takeoff, fly over, disembark, and take the elevator all the way down to the high school floors… rather than just walk a couple of blocks.
Then again, Takeuchi has never shied away from loading up the cast with independently wealthy orphans who don’t have things like parental authority and financial restrictions getting in the way of them living like fucking rock stars. We don’t know for a fact that Haruka and Michiru’s parents are dead, and if they’re not, where are they? These girls are sixteen and in high school. Where are their parents? And if they are dead, we’re now at four characters who are legal minors who somehow live alone, three of whom are fucking loaded.
To be fair, Mamoru does live beneath his means. That apartment isn’t huge and he seems to rely on public transportation, so… he’s got an inheritance can live off of for a few years. Fine. But how the fuck does Mako-chan live? She’s a full-time junior high student who doesn’t have a job. Were her parents rich too? And even if they were… I mean, I know child welfare isn’t as intrusive in Japan as it is here, but surely a fourteen-year-old girl, or even a seventeen-year-old boy, living alone would be a blip on someone’s radar.
And all this before we get to these inexplicably parentless sixteen-year-old girls who are each able to afford living in a luxury suite of her own thanks to some “benefactor” who is never actually explained and whom we never see. And then once Setsuna (who was reincarnated backwards after Pluto’s death last season, and is now an eighteen-year-old college student) shows up, it seems she’s got no family either, but does have a fucking building named after her and can afford university. WHERE ARE EVERYONE’S PARENTS?!
But again, that’s such a peripheral issue and does very little to interfere with my suspension of disbelief or my enjoyment of the series. “Infinity 1: Premonition, Part 1” was an immensely enjoyable episode, an incredibly solid season premiere, and promising new beginning.
This is quite simply the Sailor Moon Crystal we deserve and should have had from the start.