Sailor Moon R – Moon Returns: The Mysterious Aliens Appear review
A pair of energy-sucking extraterrestrials bring Sailor Moon out of retirement. Check out our review of the Season 2 premiere here!
So, here we are at the premiere of Sailor Moon R. That’s R for “returns” or “romance,” depending on whom you ask. Seriously. Before getting into the review proper, I would like to address some small changes I will be making in the nomenclature of these reviews.
Up until this point, I’ve been keeping more or less matched with the Viz re-releases when it came to episode titles and character designations. However, I have to admit that as a hardcore fan I died a little bit inside every time I wrote “Sailor Guardians” and “Four Heavenly Kings” when every instinct compelled me to write “Sailor Senshi” and “Shitenou.”
And yet I have no problem whatsoever calling Mamoru Tuxedo Mask, rather than Tuxedo Kamen. I will fully cop to this being a completely inconsistent method based on personal preferences, but that’s how I’m doing it. Since these 90’s anime reviews went on hiatus for a long time, my more Sailor Moon Crystal reviews already reflect this change.
In terms of the new characters this season, I’m siding with Viz here and going with Makai Tree rather than Makaiju, as Makai is a proper term with specific cultural connotations. As for our dark lovers, while I know the guy’s name in Romaji is properly “Eiru,” I’m going to adhere to the spelling “Ail,” which together with “An, creates a pun on word “alien,” as that is what the creative team clearly intended. It’s a clumsy pun to be sure, but nonetheless intentional. And that just about covers it.
So, without further ado, let’s start in on the premiere episode of Sailor Moon R!
It’s been two months since the Sailor Senshi defeated Queen Beryl and returned to their ordinary lives with no memory of their adventures. When a shooting star leaves a massive crater in downtown Juuban without any trace of an actual meteorite, it sparks quite a few questions. No one seems to have seen the massive botanical pod that slithered out of the crater, floated over to an swanky high rise condo, and disappeared inside.
Inside that pod were two young lovers, Ail and An, as well as the Makai Tree, a semi-sentient tree from which they draw sustenance. They send their minions, called Cardians, out to harvest energy, which they then bring to the Makai Tree to convert to nutrition for them.
The duo adopt the disguises of siblings Seijuurou and Natsumi Ginga and enroll at Juuban Middle School (for some reason?) and it seems their plan is a go. Until, of course, their Cardian attacks Naru, and we all know where that road leads. Realizing that the world still needs Sailor Moon, Luna restores Usagi’s memories of the past several months, and she becomes the pretty sailor-suited soldier of love and justice once again.
Let’s just start by addressing the elephant in the room. The Makai Tree arc, which spans the first 13 episodes of this season, was not in the manga at all. It was created expressly for Sailor Moon R for reasons covered in my Essential Viewing Guide for the season. Some dislike this arc for no other reason than the fact that it exists, and while I think there are certainly critcisms to be made of this storyline in both concept and execution, its lack of manga roots seems a fairly silly one.
Ail and An are fun characters with a cool visual design and theme. In them, we get the dark, sexy villain lovers who work in tandem, something that was teased once or twice with Zoisite and Kunzite but wasn’t a major aspect of their relationship. Ail and An’s abilities are complementary. Ail empowers the cardians, bringing them to life, but only after An has divined which one to use and presented him with her selection.
While their relationship is completely dysfunctional and immature, that’s actually what makes it the most realistic relationship in this entire show. True, we don’t know how old they are chronologically, but they are for all intents and purposes teenagers, and they act like it. They are impulsive, they both have a wandering eye, and they are jealous of each other to a profoundly hypocritical degree. In short, they act like the kids they are.
It is implied that only Ail’s wandering eye has been a factor on other worlds they’ve visited, but at least here on Earth An is every bit the perv her lover is, which is far more interesting than the cliché of some horny, roving guy and his jealous, clingy girlfriend. In this way, they’re kind of a perfect match for each other. They look cool, can be dark and deadly as well as incredibly funny, and they have a decent character arc. Despite all that, however, they are still incredibly problematic.
Very little about Ail and An makes sense. For one, how did that pod in which they were traveling through space have room for the two of them and the Makai Tree? Is it bigger on the inside, some sort of botanical TARDIS? I suppose it’s possible, seeing as the Makai Tree exists within some sort of dimensional pocket Ail and An seem to have created for it within the apartment. I’d accept that as an explanation were it ever given but it’s not, nor is any explanation of how exactly the leasing office of Juuban Odyssey failed to notice that one of their luxury penthouses is now inhabited by alien squatters.
What of the whole middle school student cover story? With Nephrite it made sense to have an alias. He needed a means of getting close to civilians and manipulating them, and the persona of Masato Sanjouin helped facilitate that goal. Ail and An, on the other hand, are just attacking people at random. How does posing as two humans, let alone two middle school students — let alone a brother/sister duo — help their cause? From what I can tell, it only seems to get in their way and draw unnecessary attention. None of that even touches upon the completely nonsensical nature of their powers, but that’s a subject I’ll delve into in the final review of this arc.
As for our heroes…
I’ve always had a problem with the whole memory reset at the end of Season 1. I understand the reasons for it, and it’s certainly something Usagi would wish for, but I’m just not a fan of the idea that forgetting your troubles is the answer to all your problems. The whole “ignorance is bliss” concept feels like a cop out and nullifies all the development those characters had over the course of the story.
After all, what is character but the sum of our experiences and memories? That was something I was never totally on board with, so I appreciated that the erasure of all Usagi’s progress is actually acknowledged by Luna and Artemis. They know all too well how far she came and are as disappointed by her regression as we are. Luckily, it doesn’t last long.
Though Usagi has completely regressed on the surface, there are hints that her memories of being Sailor Moon have merely been repressed rather than erased. Just being around Ami and Mako triggers some major déjà vu, and when she rushes to Naru’s aid she gives what is basically a Sailor Moon introductory speech, complete with hand gestures.
This is all confirmed when her memories are restored. She reacts with this sort of quiet resignation. She’s not just the screaming crybaby she was the first time she became Sailor Moon, effectively conveying the cumulative effect of all her experiences.
It was a smart move to make this episode about Usagi’s awakening only and not involve the others. Rei and Minako each make a brief cameo, but neither has a speaking role, which is fine. The only reason Ami and Mako have any lines at all is because they go to Usagi’s school and are thus already acquainted (though not quite friendly) with her. Same with Mamoru. He’s only around long enough to show us that he and Usagi are back to the relationship they had before any of their adventures brought them together.
While this episode is about Sailor Moon’s absence and eventual reawakening, it’s rather easy to overlook the fact that the true protagonists of this episode are Luna and Artemis. They are the ones with agency, with the choice to make of whether to leave the girls be or reawaken them. They’re so protective of Usagi, Minako, and the others that they’d rather jump into the fray themselves rather than lay this burden on the girls again. And they do. It’s only when they’ve exhausted their own abilities that Luna restores Usagi’s memory.
Luna really is fantastic in this episode, especially in that moment where Naru is being attacked. “Why is it always her?” We’re all thinking it, Luna, and bless your heart for saying it. I laugh out loud every time. I do call bullshit on Luna’s convenient mastery of her psychic abilities. She totally made the right call restoring Usagi’s memory, but when the hell did she learn how to do that? Where did that little gift come from?
And Luna, honey, if you’re not into Artemis, that’s totally valid. Just because you’re the only two talking cats on Earth, it does not at all obligate you to return his advances. But cutting up the guy’s face? Necessary? No. A firm shove would have sufficed. He got a little too close. It’s not like he said something lewd or started waving his barbed cat penis at you. Jeez, girl!
As far as premieres go, this one was pretty solid. Mid-range in terms of overall quality as far as Sailor Moon goes, but not to be dismissed. I caught us up with our characters, introduced a new enemy and central conflict for them to face, and brought our heroine back into the fold. Not bad at all.