So, now that Volume 2 of Sailor Moon R has been released – again – and we have our shiny new replacement discs to remedy the audio sync problem with Episode 80, we’re all set to deliver a comprehensive review of the Blu-rays as a whole for those moonies out there who haven’t already checked it out for themselves.
First off, the features from the Season 1 Collector’s Edition that were encored here are just as nice as they were the first time around. The shiny chipboard box, the full color booklet character bios, episode summaries, song lyrics and translations, and oodles of beautiful artwork (some of it I’m fairly sure was commissioned exclusively for Viz’s great Sailor Moon re-release and yet perfectly emulates the anime’s now vintage art style… it’s all good. It’s beautiful.
We do get every episode of Sailor Moon R, uncut and uncensored, with the language options of the original Japanese or Viz’s brand new dub, and the option of dialogue-only subtitles, songs and text included, or just going naked. It’s all good. And I still love these menu screens, themed by character right down to the cursors.
Unfortunately, there are still some technical issues, and I think it best to just get the bitching overwith so that we can focus on all the good stuff. So, from a technical standpoint, where do the Sailor Moon R Blu-rays fall short?
The HD transfer isn’t always solid, and the picture comes off rather grainy a decidedly not-small portion of the time. Considering the significance of this project and the demand for the merchandise, the “restoration” doesn’t seem like much care went into it.
Viz Media has a built-in market for every single item of Sailor Moon merchandise they have to offer if they just do it right, but they risk putting off likely customers by half-assing the transfer to HD. It’s still an improvement on the Season 1 Blu-rays. Bright colors, for instance, are less likely to bleed even when the saturation is turned up on a “bold” or “dynamic” setting.
Still, it confounds this reviewer that, given the potential market at Viz’s fingertips, why they risk alienating that market? The new dub is great, and it’s wonderful to see the episodes uncut with a clean translation and subtitles, but it kind of takes the viewer out of the moment with pixels constantly dancing throughout the frame.
The whole recall debacle on the Disc 2 of Volume 2 does call into question what Viz’s screening process is here if something like that slipped by them all the way through distribution, but the fact that they provided customers a free replacement for both the Blu-ray and DVD discs affected, offering clear instruction on the website on how to confirm by serial number, went a long way. I’ve played my replacement discs, and I have no complaints there.
The cut-off between Volumes 1 & 2 is much better this time around. Rather than opting to split the show right down the middle, Volume 1 contains 22 episodes, and Volume 2 contains 20, allowing the first box to end on Episode 68’s big showdown between the Sailor Senshi and the Spectre Sisters (and Rubeus). It accomplishes the goal of leaving the viewer wanting more without leaving them unsatisfied or screwing up the narrative’s momentum, so points to Viz for that.
Now, of course, we come to the meat and potatoes of any home media review, the extras. I suppose we’ve become a bit spoiled as home media consumers, but The Lord of the Rings films came and went, revolutionizing the potential of special features, and for better or worse we can’t unring that bell, so here we go.
Volume 1 had considerably less material than Volume 2. There are picture galleries on every disc, and they’re gorgeous, but again… it’s mostly stuff we’ve got in the guide booklet. I will say this: considering they take up about one-third of the season, Ail and An do not get a lot of love, unfortunate since their arc has some of the most original aesthetics in the series. Even if you weren’t a fan of the Makai Tree arc, it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t visually engaging.
The Anime Expo Cast Interview features the cast talking frankly about what the show means to them. Their answers seem genuine and personal and not pre-packaged fluff. Cherami Leigh’s (Sailor Venus) anecdote about meeting the original cast — in particular, Ron Rubin, DiC’s Artemis — and the passing of the torch was really sweet.
Robbie Daymond (Tuxedo Mask) offers a little inspirational, pre-Shia “Just do it!” moment, and it’s refreshing that it references Nike, rather than Mr. LaBeouf. All in all, we’re treated to some insights we haven’t seen in previous interviews, so it’s not being completely repetitive, but… it’s still from Anime Expo 2014. And here we first encounter a running theme with a lot of this material. It’s great, but why is it here? Why wasn’t it in with the Season 1 stuff?
There are two In-Studio interviews, one with Cristina Vee (Sailor Mars), and the other with Amanda C. Miller (Sailor Jupiter). Vee talks about the casting process and how she auditioned for both Beryl and Luna before landing Mars. I actually think she would have been a great Luna, but that’s neither here nor there. It’s a fun piece, but it’s stated outright that it was from her first day of recording. Again, why wasn’t this on the Season 1 box?
The interview with Miller is also fun, but that was to be expected; she never fails to disappoint. Her insights into her character and what she adds to the ensemble are interesting, as are the glimpses she offers into some of the behind-the-scenes dynamics between the cast. The fact that she was a Sailor Moon geek from childhood definitely comes out in the way she talks about the property.
Volume 2 offers a joint interview with Stephanie Sheh (Sailor Moon) and Daymond from Otakon. It’s cool to see the vibe between these two, the only members of the principal cast who have been working together from the first episode, and to get their take on how working on the show has affected their lives, being the phenomenon that it is.
You really get a sense that their appreciation of the fans is genuine and not just lip service, and the interview questions such as “In your opinion, is there a difference between West Coast and East Coast fans?” are fresh and elicit interesting answers we haven’t really heard before. Sheh talking about her mother’s excitement at having her daughter work on a property that she actually knows, Sailor Moon having been dubbed over and released in China decades ago, is precious. And both of them showing Motoki some love is pretty great. But the jewel in the crown is watching the two of them attempt impressions of each other’s characters. Solid gold, I tell you.
There are more in-studio interviews, this time with Cherami Leigh and Veronica Taylor (Sailor Pluto). Seeing their processes and their work with Voice Director Suzanne Goldish is a fun look behind the curtain. Taylor especially has some really great things to say about how something as simple as a planetary naming theme can turn young girls onto astronomy and science.
Props, though, to the interviewers for asking her how she feels about Pluto’s demotion to a dwarf planet. I was hoping for something like this, and I’m glad they went there, doubly so that Taylor’s answer was actually serious, comprehensive, and a little nerdy.
A “Welcome, Chibi-Usa” featurette serves mainly as another cast interview, this time featuring Sandy Fox (Chibi-Usa), but it also includes most of the Inner Senshi actresses in a round table discussion about the character and how her inclusion in the cast really changes the direction of the show.
It’s a fairly in-depth look at both Chibi-Usa and the psychology behind her alter-ego, Black Lady, making for a very solid featurette that I’d like to see more of; not just the actors revealing how the sausage is made (which is fantastic, don’t get me wrong), but also talking about the show, its arcs, and how their characters factor into the stories as they evolve.
The Sailor Moon Anniversary featurette is really more fan squeeing, which is nice when the fans have something interesting to say. Unfortunately, it’s not that often. However, it is all worth it to see that one girl accessorizing her Naru cosplay with a chocolate parfait. Respect. It’s also nice that attention was given to cosplayers of color and cosplayers of size. There is a Black, curvy Princess Serenity who looks just lovely.
The main issue with the extras is that, while entertaining, they seem kind of misplaced. We’re still getting stuff from Anime Expo 2014, and it’s great to have it, but if it had been where it belonged – on the Season 1 Blu-rays – it would have freed the Sailor Moon R Blu-rays to have more material on, say, what our heroes are going through this season and how their characters are developing.
To be fair, we did get some spotlight on Chib-Usa and Pluto, the new additions to our heroic ensemble, and that’s exactly what should be happening! New cast members get their chance to shine! But we got nothing on the villains of this season and will probably never get anything about last season’s villains or the supporting cast. Where are the in-studio interviews with those guys?
As I said in my review of the Season 1 Blu-rays, the extras for Season 1 were pretty sparse, but looking at all this material, it’s clear they didn’t have to be. If the interviews with Vee, Miller, and Leigh had been there, these sets would have had room for more material apropos to this season.
Look, I know making Blu-rays takes time and money, but I just shot a whole bunch of B-roll (behind-the-scenes interviews and the like) for a project I’m working on, and it took all of a few hours on a budget of, like, zero dollars. That’s all. It’s not hard.
I guess my question is what are they waiting for? Are we still going to be seeing footage from two years ago in the Sailor Moon S Blu-rays? Because that would really be kind of ridiculous. I imagine there will be some kind of spotlight on the Outers, possibly Usagi’s upgrade to Super Sailor Moon. Would it be too much to hope for that a season overview, a discussion of the themes and storylines, or maybe some focus on the villains might be in our future? I don’t know. All I can say is, if I see another clip from AX 2014, my head will be shaking.
Despite all that, though, is it worth it? Absolutely. Come on. It’s freakin’ Sailor Moon! The new dub is remarkably good and fun to watch, and even just having all the episodes with nice, clear sound in the original Japanese is a treat worth the price of admission.
Ultimately, my nitpicks are really just that: nitpicks. It’s still a complete season of one of the best anime of all time in some nice, shiny packaging with some great extras that, while oddly placed, are nonetheless entertaining. So, yeah. If you’re a hardcore moonie, pick this set up. It’s all that and a bag of sweet bean odango.