With the much anticipated premiere of Sailor Moon Crystal, the original anime is being re-released, remastered, and repackaged. In conjunction with DVDs, Blu-rays, and a DTO release, episodes are now available to stream on Hulu, four currently up with two added every Monday. What better time to go over the original ’90s anime classic with a sharp, critical eye? So, here we begin with the very first episode of Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon.
Vapid, shallow, lazy crybaby Usagi Tsukino’s life is turned upside down when Luna, a black cat with a mysterious crescent-shaped bald spot, gives her a magic brooch that enables her to transform into a champion of love and justice. While Usagi digs the outfit, she’s not too keen to jump into the fray until her best friend Naru becomes a victim. So, Usagi takes a page out of the book of the headline-stealing vigilante Sailor V, and becomes Sailor Moon. She kind of sucks at the gig and buckles under the pressure almost immediately, but a few encouraging words from the mysterious and impeccably dressed Tuxedo Mask help her go the distance, save Naru, and start her down the path to her ultimate destiny.
All of Usagi’s personal relationships are pretty well established, which is good, considering every single one of her friends and family will be monster bait before the series is done. It’s also notable how quickly a sense of status quo is established, considering how early it will be thrown into upheaval when Luna comes along, heralding Usagi’s transformation into Sailor Moon.
The establishment of Sailor V’s presence is effective and natural, noting the importance of that character, at least in what she represents to Usagi, right from the beginning. The Silver Crystal is also mentioned up front, which is interesting, considering how long it takes for the plot to come back around to it.
The only glaring introduction is that of Mamoru. At least some attempt could have been made to preserve the mystery regarding Tuxedo Mask’s true identity, but it’s all super on-the-nose. He practically has a neon sign blinking over his head saying “this dude is important!” And, you know, looking back…Tuxedo Mask is pretty fucking useless at first. I mean, I’m all for inspiring the heroine to fight for herself, but this is her first battle. Girl’s a rookie. That’s the best you have to offer? Lethal flower arrangement and an empty platitude? Whatever, man.
At just over the four minute mark, my gender alarm goes off for this first time. In a culture like Japan, where gender roles are so rigidly defined, we’re going to be seeing a lot of this. You’d think that in a series focusing on girls being athletic and violent, worrying about things like proper girlish behavior wouldn’t really be emphasized, but again, this is Japan where even the kind of chocolate you’re supposed to like is genderized. Here Naru scolds Usagi because she snuck a bite of her lunch early. You know, because…vaginas neutralize hunger? The girl skipped breakfast. Cut a bitch a break.
I wonder if when Naoko Takeuchi created Naru-chan she knew how much mileage the anime adaptation would get out of the character. Naru was more or less designed to be a victim Usagi would have a personal stake in getting off her ass and saving, the catalyst for her initial transformation into Sailor Moon, perhaps a symbol for the ordinary life Usagi seeks to maintain, but that’s about it. However, she ends up becoming a huge supporting character in this first season.
While there is certainly a lot of male gaze exploitation in anime, even at times in Sailor Moon, I really don’t think the “nudity” in the transformation sequences warrants that kind of criticism. If they were meant to be salacious, we’d see skin, but Sailor Moon, unlike other shows, goes out of its way to replace the characters’ flesh tones with flashes of color to illustrate the mystical (and one might even argue spiritual) nature of what’s happening. We don’t see vulva or nipple, and we barely even see breast lines, so I’m going to give the transformations a pass…at least until the third season when Sailor Moon’s looks look like some kind of cross between an ice dance and a striptease.
All in all a good pilot, though it does pose a few questions that never quite get answered. To whom exactly was Jadeite flipping the bird? Where did the police radio function in Sailor Moon’s odango caps go? For that matter, what about their apparent whining amplification powers which are never used again? But most importantly…what the hell does Luna eat that gives her turds such magical properties?
I jest, but seriously. Doesn’t it look like she’s shitting magical glitter?