Sailor Moon Crystal: Showdown/Death Phantom Review

With one episode to go, Prince Demande has a last dissent and the animation keeps getting better. Our review of Sailor Moon Crystal Act 25.

Demande stands ready to tap the two Silver Crystals together, which will be … very, very bad. With the Senshi down for the count and no one else close enough to stop him, time has truly run out… which is why Sailor Pluto breaks the third taboo and stops it. Unfortunately, the cost of this Hail Mary is Pluto’s life. The impact of this pierces Black Lady’s heart, and she reverts to Chibi-Usa before transforming into the Sailor Senshi in training who will one day take up Sailor Moon’s mantle, Sailor Chibi Moon. Wiseman, however, gives exactly zero fucks about this and reveals his true name, Death Phantom, as he draws everyone into the void for one final showdown.

We got a mixed bag this week, which is rather disconcerting, considering how close we are to the end. The first half of this episode was just dynamite. We got backstory, emotion, the sacrifice of a character we’ve come to know and love, and the return of another, not to mention her transformation into a Sailor. Holy crap, people! That’s some good stuff.

So, everyone’s jazzed because a guardian to succeed Sailor Moon has been born, and then it’s halftime. And when we come back… meh.

So. Much. Meh.

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I can’t say that nothing happens. Demande finally bites the dust, and each of the Senshi gets to showcase their powers, but it seems like just when things are about to really get good, the episode ends. And yeah, yadda yadda, cliffhanger, but I’m tired of that defense. A cliffhanger is a button on the end of an episode, it’s not an excuse not have a decent ending. It doesn’t work here, because the entire second half of this episode takes all the momentum built up by the first half and flushes it straight down the shitter. It’s just talking and posturing and talking and posturing, and then Wiseman sucks our heroes into the void, reveals his true name is Death Phantom, talks a big game about how he’s going to lay the greatest smackdown of all time, and then… we’re done. Ha! Made you look!

Just… what? I can’t say I’m surprised at this point by this complete deflation of momentum, but I’m still disappointed. I just don’t understand you, Naoko. I really don’t. If the manga is any indication, Sailor Moon is going to vanish in her struggle against Death Phantom within the teaser of the next episode. That final volley, one last exchange between Sailor Moon and Death Phantom would have changed the entire tone of the second half, bringing things to a great crescendo, then having the cliffhanger of “Holy shit! Where did Sailor Moon go?” THAT would have been a great cliffhanger that didn’t completely neuter the ending of the episode, but let’s face it, I’m screaming into the void at this point.

I don’t want to ignore Demande’s death, which was about as good a send-off as that character was going to get. I just wish I felt more for him than I do. I wish I felt the way about him I think Takeuchi wants me to, but I’ve had a major problem with all iterations of the character.

In theory, Prince Demande makes for a really great villain. He’s got this interesting background as a political dissenter, which I find incredibly valuable in any situation, but especially when the heroes are in charge. Why? Because they’re not perfect. They’re human, and the idea that they’re going to just be the perfect rulers because they’re the good guys is patently ridiculous. There will always be dissent to whatever faction is in power, and while I certainly think the Black Moon’s views and methods are rather extreme, they are rooted in a valid point of view. For people who have had a life expectancy of less than a hundred years for the entire expanse of recorded human history, the prospect of a living for a millennium could be pretty freaking terrifying and they might not be ready to live that long. I can see very easily how some people would reject that as unnatural or even blasphemous, being such a radical departure from what we’ve known of our own mortality.

Furthermore, we’re never given any info on exactly how Usagi came to power and was crowned. Was there an election? Some kind of international summit of world leaders? What? Yeah, I know it’s just an extension of the fairy tale fantasy. The princess grows up to be queen, and that’s all well and good, but I find it eminently believable that there were at least a few people who were like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa… who decided this bitch was going to be queen of the fucking world? She’s a 22-year-old who barely graduated high school! Does she have some degree in political science that I’m unaware of?” Look, I love our girl and I’m not talking shit, but I think anyone would be well within their rights to voice those concerns, so the rise of the Black Moon family makes perfect sense to me.

So, for Demande, he’s got all that going on, and thus by necessity the inherent conflict of being the leader of an anti-establishment movement; he’s the authority over those who are bucking authority. By default, he’s kind of a hypocrite right there. Throw on top of that his relationship to Saphir, who is both his brother and subordinate, how Wiseman’s power might be driving him insane, and his love/hate obsession with the monarch he’s sworn to depose, and DAMN! That is some great material for a character. So, where does the trouble come in?

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Well, he’s a rapist, or at least he would have been if he’d been able to get away with it, and in my view there’s just no coming back from that. I’m sure he’s intended to come off as much more sympathetic, given the fairly virulent rape culture in Japan, where sexual assault/attempted rape is easily forgiven if you get to puke on the guy’s shoe (at least according to Hana Yori Dango), because, you know, then you’re even Steven. Look, I know Usagi is supposed to be all messianic and merciful and forgiving, but she looks just a little too torn up over the death of a guy who more or less psychically roofied her with full intent to make the most of it only four episodes ago.

Another problem with Demande is that, well, he’s insane, and I find it really tedious when villains are insane. I don’t have a problem with insanity in my villains per se, because while mental illness is, in reality, almost always benign, it is possible for people without a grip on reality to, whether by design or by accident, endanger others. That I’m fine with. It just seems kind of cheap and lazy, and it wasn’t even necessary. Demande was already an extremist. That’s already motivation enough for him to cross the line and commit atrocities. There’s nothing as dangerous as someone who believes beyond doubt in the righteousness of his cause, especially if he’s been corrupted by power. The insanity was completely perfunctory and really served no purpose up until his little “I’ma destroy the world!” moment. I don’t know. I just feel like he was a character with so much potential complexity that deserved a better, more imaginative send-off than just going batshit and getting taken out almost as an afterthought.

The other big death in this episode is that of my girl (Scorpio solidarity!) Sailor Pluto. Man, this was well done. I mean, really well done. The tragedy of this character is palpable. Talk about being stuck between two awful options. It’s unclear whether or not Pluto’s death resulting from this is just the toll the act naturally takes on her or some kind of punishment Queen Serenity worked into her powers as an incentive to never go there. If the latter, it’s a dick move. “Hey, I’m going to give you access to this awesome cosmic power, and if you ever use it, no matter how justified, you’ll die as punishment.” I like to think that it’s the former, that it’s just the natural cost of violating the laws of nature, otherwise Queen Serenity is a real asshole.

It’s interesting to me how big a part Sailor Pluto plays in the manga and Crystal, considering that it was more common for the first anime to spend more time, rather than less, with a character or plot element than the manga did. However, Pluto is barely in Sailor Moon R. She makes a few appearances at key moments (no pun intended), but she really doesn’t have much of an impact on the viewer emotionally. In the manga/Crystal, she’s major player in this arc. We learn about her relationships to no less than four characters and see how those relationships motivate all her actions. She’s given strong characterization, a fantastic arc, and a memorable death that serves the plot and the characters, especially Chibi-Usa, in a major way. In fact, Pluto got more of cohesive arc in just a few episodes than any of the Inner Senshi have gotten since day one. Sure, each of them got a few moments, a little exposition, but look at Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Venus over the course of these 25 episodes and point out to me a unique journey of growth any one of them went on. Can you really? I can’t.

Pluto’s arc here wasn’t terribly involved, but it was solid. In her youth in the Silver Millennium, she was charged with an immortal life of solitary service guarding the Space-Time Door, and so committed was she to that duty that she was willing to execute Sailor Moon, full aware of who she would later become. By interacting with people and experiencing camaraderie and friendship for the first time in millennia, she comes to remember the value of life in more than just an abstract sense, and she realizes that to protect life, to do her duty, she must forsake her duty. She must violate the letter of the law to uphold the spirit of the law, and she lays down her own life in the process.

Tell me where in Sailor Moon Crystal any of the Inners had anything even remotely that good.

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Pluto’s death makes quite an impact, the most direct of which is the penetration of the Black Lady persona and the triggering of Chibi-Usa’s memories. We see that Chibi-Usa used the Luna-P to stun Pluto and stole a time key from her. We really feel the weight of Chibi-Usa and Pluto’s relationship as Black Lady remembers it, and it’s enough to shatter the Black Crystal earrings (and the Black Lady persona), reverting Chibi-Usa to her natural state, though finally slightly older than she’s been for the last 893 (or so) years. And then…

Then Chibi-Usa transforms into Sailor Chibi Moon in a 100% 2-D transformation sequence that (with the exception of one eerily noodle-like undulation of her leg) looks fucking exquisite and only serves to underline how not only unnecessary but detrimental all that CG was to the actual transformation sequences in this show. Can you imagine how amazing they would have looked if they were just traditional 2-D animation? If you can’t, here’s a link to one fan’s vision of an imperfect but still very good 2-D transformation for Mercury.

You can actually see her moving. She’s not obscured by all the CG. Mercury is actually featured in her own transformation sequence, and it all looks like fluid animation. There’s no stiffness to her movements or clothes. Wouldn’t this have been great? Le sigh.

So, there you have it. This episode started really big, packing revelation, emotion, and plot twists into the shorter first half, while the second half didn’t make nearly so good a use of the longer running time it had. However, one thing about the entire episode, front to back, cannot be denied. 

Sweet mother of GOD, the animation was fantastic. Crystal has taken a lot of shit over its run for the quality of its visuals, and rightfully so. Even with the uptick in quality over the past few weeks (likely due to the fact that the later episodes just had the benefit of more time to be refined before their release), it’s still not the best show on the block in terms of artwork. Well, having watched this episode, it’s pretty fucking clear where the budget went. Even if the momentum of this episode did wane toward the end, damn if it wasn’t eye candy the whole way through.

So, that’s it, Crystal viewers. As of this review, there’s been no word of a second season (Dark Kingdom and Black Moon technically constituted one season, production-wise), so it looks as though Crystal just might end, at least until further notice, with Episode 26. Just one episode to go. Catch you on the flipside.

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3 out of 5