With Sailor Moon Crystal now in the mix, it’s only natural to look back to the original 90’s anime, Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon, and compare. The closest comparisons would be drawn to the first season (or series, however you prefer to say it), since Crystal started with the Dark Kingdom arc.
Here’s the thing.
Sailor Moon, especially the first season, is full of filler. Like, a lot of filler. Seriously. There are entire episodes that are twenty minutes of fluff grafted to a single plot point, which may or may not even contribute to the overall arc of the season.
Honestly, if it didn’t win continuity points for introducing the disguise pen, would Episode 3 even matter? No. So, for those of you who don’t feel like going back and watching the entire first season, here’s a nice, neat viewing guide to the highlights of its 46-episode run.
Beware, because there are some spoilers here if you haven’t watched the episodes. You can always skip the text and just watch Sailor Moon episodes right on this page! You can also click the blue episode titles to link to our reviews of each episode!
It’s the pilot. How can you skip the pilot?
And even if it’s not the best half-hour of television in the world, at this point, Sailor Moon’s origin story is so iconic within the anime world that even people who hate the show know it. It has become the anime equivalent of a radioactive spider. Talking cat Luna taps Usagi to become Sailor Moon through the ancient, mystical power of accessorizing. Girl is reluctant until her best friend, Naru is assaulted by the first of many, many monsters to do so over the next few years. Hot masked dude shows up, demonstrating the offensive power of formal wear and botany.
The day is saved. A hero is born. For better or worse, it’s a straight up classic.
Finally Sailor Moon gets a partner, Sailor Mercury, who is level-headed, intellectual, and whose predominantly defensive powers are a useful complement to Sailor Moon’s more direct attacks.
This episode did well to establish Ami as an interesting character in her own right before she even becomes a Sailor Senshi, and that whole attempted misdirect of Luna sensing a powerful energy from Ami and suspecting her of being a bad guy would have worked great if she weren’t in the opening credits.
Ah, the first time (and not by far the last) that the episode title gives away the entire episode. Trust me, this title is not the worst offender on this list.
So, yeah, buses start disappearing after leaving Hikawa Shinto Shrine. Luckily, the high priest’s psychic granddaughter, Rei, ain’t having that. She becomes Sailor Mars and incinerates the youma of the week in a fucking pillar of fire. How’s that for beginner’s luck?
The shrine, where Rei lives and works as a miko alongside her pervy yet somehow lovable grandfather, subsequently becomes the unofficial headquarters of the Sailor Senshi.
The girls check out an amusement park that is actually a trap laid by Jadeite for innocent people and all their nummy energy. This is the first episode where the power trio of Moon, Mercury, and Mars work as a team. It explores the character dynamics between these three girls, who will be the only Sailor Senshi around until the second half of the season.
It also marks the first meeting of Rei and Mamoru, whose shared dislike of Usagi leads to one of the best romantic subplots in all five seasons of the show. And aside from that, it’s just plain fun.
Yeah, I skipped the death of Jadeite, because aside from that, nothing interesting happened in that episode. And while Nephrite had a brief cameo in Episode 13, this is where he’s properly introduced. We learn that he has a different method of collecting energy, one consistent human alter-ego, and a rival in the charmingly treacherous Zoisite. He also, in his civilian guise, catches the eye of Naru, laying the foundation for his eventual downfall.
This episode opened the mythology up in a major way, developing the power politics of the Dark Kingdom, specifically those serving Queen Beryl directly. It also hinted at further involvement and development of Tuxedo Mask. And on top of all that, a tennis-themed youma. Tennis. Themed. Youma. Something tells me that mullet was not an accident.
Usagi gets a love letter from Tuxedo Mask but is disheartened when every girl in town gets one. Good thing, because it’s just a ploy by Nephrite to lure Sailor Moon out. However, dumb-ass somehow thinks Sailor Moon just might be Naru, who has a hardcore crush on his alter-ego.
This episode is the first real beat in the Naru/Nephrite storyline. It’s also the first time we have confirmation that Mamoru is Tuxedo Mask and the first time Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask actually work together and interact beyond a brief inspirational exchange.
A princess comes to town to showcase her family’s heirloom crystal, suspected by all in-the-know parties to be the Mystical Silver Crystal. All of them crash the gala, Nephrite because his alter-ego is a millionaire socialite, Usagi by way of the disguise pen, and Tuxedo Mask because hey, a fancy masquerade party is the one place where he’ll blend in. Naru is also there on account of her mother owning a huge jewelry store, giving Naru an opportunity to interact further with Nephrite, forwarding their story.
It’s the first appearance of Kunzite, and thus his and Zoisite’s relationship. And it’s Usagi’s first kiss, which is supposed to be romantic but, given the context (she’s drunk and practically passed out, and Tuxedo Mask steers her away from the crowd), just comes off as kinda rapey and weird.
Now fully aware of Naru’s feelings for him, Nephrite sinks in his hooks and exploits this advantage, using the poor girl to help him find the Silver Crystal, which they don’t.
Meanwhile, Zoisite, looking for any weakness in Nephrite to exploit, sends a youma after him. When Naru gets caught in the crossfire, Nephrite surprises everyone including himself by saving her, showing everyone that his fondness for Naru just might be sincere.
Just… who is coming up with these episode titles?!?
Okay, so yeah, Nephrite dies, but the real point of interest is how he dies. Zoisite sends some youma to lure Nephrite out by using Naru as bait… and it actually works, only Nephrite schools the crap out of them. He carries Naru to safety and finally comes clean about his deceit and manipulation. This first act of honesty actually leads to a very sweet rapport that could have led to a genuine, if somewhat problematic (she’s fourteen!) romance.
Most of the episode is spent developing this possibility, but it’s cut short when Nephrite dies to save Naru from Zoisite’s minions a second time. He slips away in Naru’s arms, his passing mourned by even the Sailor Senshi, who are there in the end to witness his redemption. If the direction of his dispersing energy bears the weight of any symbolism at all, his change of heart made a difference and he went to Heaven.
So many reasons this episode is on the list.
Zoisite steps up as Queen Beryl’s go-to guy. We see the first appearance of Metalia, the dark entity Beryl serves, who adds a new dimension to the search for the Silver Crystal: the Rainbow Crystals. We see the debut of the poorly named Moon Stick which switches Sailor Moon’s finishing move from destruction to healing and purification, which becomes a running theme for her character for the remainder of the series.
But most importantly, this is the introduction of Makoto, the street-fighting, boy-crazy girl who turns out to be the bold and bad-ass Sailor Jupiter, who would be more than enough reason to put this episode on the list even if she weren’t my favorite.
Usagi does what she can to help Naru through her grief over the loss of Nephrite. Meanwhile, Rei is thrown off her game when Makoto turns out to be a lot harder to boss around than the others.
Mamoru is on the verge of realizing he’s Tuxedo Mask, and the snagging of a Rainbow Crystal is just the catalyst he needs to finally merge his two personalities. And, of course, Zoisite is a catty-ass bitch, just the way I like him.
A strong episode in and of itself, but made even stronger by the attack call (from a boxing-themed youma) “I am a champion lovely punch!” I’m not even kidding. I want to have the balls to run around shouting that at people.
Not the plottiest episode in the bunch, I’ll grant you, but it is a rare Luna-centric episode. It pulls a great bait and switch with the identity of the episode’s Rainbow Crystal carrier, allows for the development of a more awkward, vulnerable side of Rei, and offers us one of the funniest episodes in the season.
And who is at the center of all this comedy? Zoisite. Of all people, Zoisite. A fussy, flaming gay guy versus a wall of sewer rats. I can offer you nothing more.
This episode may be filler, but it’s the best kind of filler.
Continuing the thread started in Episode 26, when Umino helped to cheer Naru up and even saved her life, he seeks help from former crush Usagi to win Naru over, so she projects her own fantasies onto him, and we end up with Tuxedo Umino. I’m dead serious. We also throw down with a tempura monster who (you guessed it) traps everyone in balls of fried batter.
Also, the Sailor Senshi lose the one Rainbow Crystal they’ve collected up to this point when Sailor Moon is faced with the choice of forfeiting the crystal or watching her friends die.
Guess who shows up in this one? Zoisite spends this episode galavanting about in Sailor Moon drag to lure Tuxedo Mask out so he can steal his Rainbow Crystals. It nearly works, with Kunzite nearly killing the Sailor Senshi , Tuxedo Mask cornered and badly injured by Zoisite, but then Sailor Venus appears just in time to save everyone’s ass, and our team is finally complete.
Before they can square off with a pissed off Zoisite and Kunzite, Beryl extracts her generals, having seen and recognized Tuxedo Maskless’s face and not wanting him harmed. Venus is only in the episode for a total of about five minutes of screen time, but she totally steals the spotlight. Oh, and Luna’s male counterpart, Artemis, shows up with her.
Picking up right where the previous episode left off, Venus is welcomed to the team, though they don’t meet her as Minako until later. Zoisite challenges Mamoru to an all or nothing duel for the crystals, which he accepts despite his injury. Usagi ends up coming along for the ride, and we learn about Mamoru’s utterly clichéd tragic childhood. The two finally learn each other’s secret identities just in time for Zoisite to fight dirty (what’s new?) and critically wound Tuxedo Mask.
But that’s not all, folks. A single tear from Usagi’s eye draws the Rainbow Crystals, merging them into the Silver Crystal, which sets itself into the Moon Stick, transforming Usagi into the Moon Princess we’ve been searching for all along.
This episode is wall-to-wall plot and character development. A must-see.
The Sailor Senshi (who made it to the battle site just after Tuxedo Mask was injured) spend all episode trapped in the alternate dimension where Zoisite brought them all. Usagi in her princess form flattens Zoisite without even blinking, and Kunzite takes him back to the Dark Kingdom only to have Queen Beryl fry him for attempting to kill Tuxedo Mask against her orders.
There’s a touching death scene that adds some genuine depth to the villains, after which Kunzite, mad with grief, takes on all five Sailor Senshi and nearly kills them all. In the end, Tuxedo Mask is abducted and placed in some kind of healing/brainwashing chamber.
This is also when we first learn about the Silver Millennium, the long lost civilization where the senshi and Tuxedo Mask lived in their past lives until Metalia’s forces annihilated it. This episode, combined with the previous two, becomes the concluding chapter of an incredibly strong three-parter.
Minako tries to lift Usagi’s spirits with some make-over action, but the salon they visit is under the power of the Dark Kingdom. As if that weren’t enough to kill an already fragile buzz, Tuxedo Mask shows up, but his roses are now black and his loyalty lies with Queen Beryl.
This episode was the first time we really got to know Minako off the battlefield, see her transformation sequence, and witness the establishment of her friendship with Usagi. The youma was equally menacing and comedic. Kunzite’s plan was actually pretty smart and only went awry due to an unforeseen technicality. Plus, there was the sharp left turn of having Tuxedo Mask, who was always suspected to be evil when he really wasn’t, actually turning to the dark side. Solid.
Ah, the ski resort episode, a staple of anime throughout the years.
While easy to dismiss this one as filler at first glance, it does accomplish several things. It shows a definitive shift in Tuxedo Mask’s behavior, his true nature and instinct to protect Sailor Moon starting to claw its way through all those layers of brainwashing.
It also traps Usagi and Rei together, giving them the opportunity to finally deal with the fact that Rei’s heart was broken when the revelation of Usagi and Mamoru’s past lives and epic romance pretty much put the kibosh on chance Rei might have had with him. And while it would have been completely understandable and in character for Rei to take this out on Usagi, her response to the whole situation is not only refreshingly mature but believable. As much as she and Usagi fight, they do care for each other, and this episode really sets up their interaction in the season finale.
While this is the only episode in Season One that features some kind of enemy completely unrelated to the Dark Kingdom, the story of the Lake Monster is a subtle allusion to the love triangle in the past between Princess Serenity, Prince Endymion, and the bitter, jealous Queen Beryl.
There’s also another major development in Mamoru’s emerging true self, putting him in just the right headspace for the events of the episode that immediately follows. But this ep also offers a coda for Usagi’s family, who, like her school friends, were fairly prominent in the front half of the season but gradually faded into the background as more Sailor Senshi were introduced.
The episode is devoted almost entirely to the Tsukino family and features some of their strongest character moments in the entire 200-episode run.
Evil Endymion goes after the former Rainbow Crystal carriers in an effort to reawaken the youma spirits sleeping inside them. This brings Ryo, the hot nerd on Mercury’s radar, back into the mix.
Not only did this episode encore several guest characters from earlier in the season, it reminded us that even brainy girls have beating hearts, and God bless Jupiter for calling Ami and Ryo out on their noble martyr bullshit. Sailor Moon finally does what we’ve been screaming at her to do for episodes and heals Mamoru of Beryl’s brainwashing, but he’s abducted again and placed back into his pod, Beryl doubling down this time on his brainwashing to prevent another reversion to his true self.
The Sailor Senshi finally find the secret entrance to the Dark Kingdom but before they can get very far, Kunzite shows up and tries to banish them to some other dimension and grab the Moon Stick. The Moon stick, however, ain’t having this and sends our girls to safety… on the moon. Where they can breathe?
Anyway, some holo-recording of Queen Serenity, Usagi’s past life mother, shows up and delivers all the backstory we need about the final days of the Silver Millennium and how she was unable to prevent the annihilation of her civilization and the deaths of her people (including her daughter), but was able to spend the last of her energy sending their souls to a peaceful future on Earth. Armed with this new knowledge, the girls return to the present, indirectly kill Kunzite, and dig their heels in for the final battle.
Okay… you know… fuck it. I give up.
Guess what happens in this one? Yep, the Sailor Senshi step up for the final battle against the Dark Kingdom, but end up getting picked off one by one in fairly short order by a cadre of — and I am not making this up — demon faerie strippers. No. For real.
While this episode is a bit of a letdown in that the Sailor Senshi’s last stands happen so fast, with so little fanfare, and at the hands of some underlings we’ve never met before (we couldn’t have at least pulled Jadeite out of his eternal sleep for this?), it simply cannot be skipped. And that’s not to say there weren’t some great moments.
Jupiter electrocuted the enemy with her hands tied to her side and took two of them with her, and Mars’ fond goodbye to Sailor Moon was followed by the greatest “fire soul” attack of all time. It’s not that their deaths weren’t good, they were just way too rushed, and in a season that spent so much time on filler, rushing the climax is a particularly egregious sin.
Still, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t get choked up just a little.
This is it. This is the battle royale with cheese.
Sailor Moon squares off in a brutal, very uncomfortably physical fight with Endymion, who’s fresh from the brainwashing pod, so no mercy. She ends up healing him, but Beryl kills him, like, ten seconds later. Sailor Moon never actually has to fight Beryl, but does end up standing off against a Godzilla-sized Beryl/Metalia hybrid that is so hardcore it forces her to finally power up to her princess form and unleash the full power of the Silver Crystal.
Just when the tide seems turned against her, the ghosts of her fallen friends join her, adding their power to her own, and the Dark Kingdom is defeated. As Usagi’s life ebbs from her, she wishes for an ordinary life, the one she lost when all this began, and… it totally works. She gets her wish. By way of some subconscious activation of her messianic-level powers, Usagi, Ami, Rei, Makoto, Minako, and Mamoru are all resurrected with no memory of each other or their adventures but the possibility that a little time and a lot of déjà vu will bring them all together again.
This episode nearly made it onto the proper list by sheer virtue of the fact that it’s the only backstory we ever get on Minako and the only time we get to see her in action as Sailor V, but it’s hardly required viewing. It might have been if it actually focused on any of the events of the Sailor V manga that inspired Sailor Moon. The love story from that retroactive prequel was tragic enough and actually tied to the plot, and would have made a lot more sense than some ass-pulled love triangle with two British twentysomethings, one of whom Minako never even had a shot with.
Still, while not part of the essential list, it was an episode deleted from the English dub, thus being a bit of buried treasure for newbies, and does provide some more insight into a seriously underdeveloped character. Seriously. Everyone I’ve ever met who claims to be a Sailor Moon fan but actually knows very little about the show claims Venus as their favorite. Based on what? All the character development she never gets? I’m sure the fact that she’s the leggy, blue-eyed one with flowing blonde hair has nothing to do with it.
This article originally ran on May 16th, 2014.