Sailor Moon – Usagi’s Awakening: A Message From the Distant Past review

This classic Sailor Moon episode gets a ton of things right. Check out our review!

The Sailor Guardians finally find the entrance to the Dark Kingdom, or at least a portal that lets out in its general vicinity. On their way there, they encounter Kunzite, who threatens to send them into some time warp that will send them to any random point in history. Before he can, however, the Silver Crystal derails his plan by sending the Sailor Guardians to the ruins of the Silver Millennium, where a hologram of Queen Serenity shows them the final days of their fallen kingdom and the events that led to that fall and their deaths.

By the time they return, Kunzite has beaten Luna and Artemis’s asses into the ground. Royally pissed off, together the Sailor Guardians take Kunzite out, ready at last to end this war.

This episode is pretty big fan favorite, and with good reason. It’s the most we ever get in one dose of the Silver Millennium, a fascinating and seemingly important yet highly overlooked aspect of the franchise’s mythology. This episode is amazing and satisfying in many ways. It connects a lot of dots and, to its credit, answers a few questions I don’t think anyone was asking.

For instance, the origin of Tuxedo Mask. As it turns out, the reason Mamoru’s heroic persona manifested in formal evening wear was that Prince Endymion’s last moments of happiness with Princess Serenity were a dance during a masquerade ball. We also learn the reasons behind the war between the Earth and the Moon, and of Luna and Artemis’ cold sleep.

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This, of course, makes me wonder where those capsules were kept. Were they on the moon, in the ruins of the Silver Millennium or were they hidden somewhere on Earth? How were they never discovered or tampered with? How did the capsules know when to release the cats? Was it technology, magic, or some combination thereof? I’m sure plenty of people don’t care about these things.

I’m not one of those people.

As a longtime lover of science fiction and fantasy, the consistency of an internal mythology is something I find incredibly important. Part of the reason I love Tolkien so much is that what we read was the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much about Middle-Earth and even the characters we follow that we don’t learn within the course of the novels. There are battles in the War of the Ring we never even see. But that information exists. All that history and culture is canon, and that base of knowledge informs what we do see. The consistency of character, behavior, culture, and everything else built upon it adds texture and verisimilitude to the story. It makes it feel more real and complete, even if we don’t know why.

Now, I’m not suggesting that every single writer or story requires tomes upon tomes of backstory and world building, but I do believe it the responsibility of a writer to always ask the next question and to have at least a fairly solid background on the world of the story before heading into the narrative.

Simply put, I don’t need a detailed history of the Silver Millennium’s agricultural economics, but I’d like to know who Princess Serenity’s father was and if he’s not around, why he’s not around. And While the final manga chapter hinted at Princess Serenity being immaculately conceived, 1) there are plenty of differences in the canon of the manga and that of the anime, and 2) that manga chapter was written several years after this episode was, and it doesn’t take a cynic to doubt that this eleventh hour revelation was part of some grand plan on Takeuchi’s part.

Obviously, as the ruling monarch, Queen Serenity is the more important parent, but who was her husband? Did she even have a husband? Did the matriarchal culture of the Silver Millennium not require wedlock for childbearing, especially in regard to the naming of a legitimate heir to the crown? That would actually be a really interesting feminist statement had it ever been made, but it never was.

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How was travel between the Earth and the Moon possible? Was it some ancient lost technology, some kind of moon shuttle? And if relations between the two realms were forbidden, why would such a form of transport even exist? I suppose if it was the role of the Silver Millennium to guide to progress of Earth’s people, some diplomacy must have been necessary. Was it only at the ruling level? And how easy was access to one of these shuttles (or other form of transport) if the crown princess could sneak down to Earth multiple times?

How exactly can everyone breathe in the Silver Millenium? It’s established in the manga that there was a dome of some kind, but if these moon people are from the moon, who put the dome there and why would they need it if the natural habitat in which they evolved was a vacuum? And even if all that could be dismissed, how are the present day Sailor Guardians able to survive in the ruins of the Silver Millennium? Wouldn’t the dome have been destroyed too? And how did NASA never find any of this stuff? At least in Please Save My Earth, it’s explained that the alien scientists were very small and that their abandoned outpost, due to its miniscule size, could be easily overlooked.

And I understand, of course, that little to none of that had any bearing on the story of this episode… but that is entirely the problem. We only spend one episode on the Silver Millennium, one and a half if we count the clips from Episode 35. And for my money, that is not even remotely sufficient.

The first season of Sailor Moon was 46 episodes, nearly half of which were more or less irrelevant filler. There is precious little substance given to Serenity and Endymion’s love story and even less given to Beryl, which is rather unfortunate, considering it’s the only bit of depth and sympathy her character ever gets. And that is what bothers me, not that we didn’t have the time to cover this stuff, but that we did and it was squandered on an episode about wedding dresses, an episode about killer park rodents, an episode about demonic housepets, an episode about creepy French dolls, and lest we forget an episode about the Munsters’ Beach House.

We had time for all that, but not the epic history and personal tragedies on which this entire story was predicated? Weak.

And that, of course, is just a lack of development on the elements that make sense. It doesn’t even touch the stuff that straight up doesn’t. Like, we have this ancient old world Anachronism Stew, and that’s fine. All this backstory takes place in a pre-historic era, after which mankind had to evolve again from scratch, so I can accept a little cultural line-blurring in regard to architecture, fashion, and weaponry, but the whole Victorian masquerade ball and the sailor outfits are just a little too jarring for me. To say nothing of the fact that the Sailor Guardians look exactly the same with hairstyles and hair accessories that just so happen to jibe with the era into which they would later be reincarnated.

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Admittedly, this is not the show’s fault. They were just taking their cues from the manga, but I just find it confusing that, given what a fashion fetish she has, Naoko didn’t jump at the chance to design some Hellenic or Medieval outfits for the Sailor Guardians’ past lives. How bad-ass would that entire battle sequence have been with the Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Venus jumping into the fray looking like the Xena Squad?! More to point, how much more thematically appropriate would it have been?

Yeah, I’ve got more than a few criticisms. They are, after all, what plot holes inevitably yield, but it doesn’t mean I dislike the episode. In fact, it’s one my favorite episodes not just of this first season but all of Classic. There’s a lot here that works, and it works really well.

First off, the story just hits the ground running. Literally. The first character we see is Luna running down the street. No time is wasted in this episode, because there’s no time to waste: it is pure plot from top to bottom. The visuals are gorgeous, the scale is epic, and it fills in a lot of the blanks. It is exactly what it needs to be: the last bit of set-up we need to head into the grand finale.

I really feel for the characters involved. While I maintain that Serenity and Endymion’s romance is a little thin, at this point I’m so invested in Usagi and Mamoru that I more or less buy it. We don’t see much of Queen Serenity, but what we see reveals a lot about her character. As both a monarch and a parent, she is willing to sacrifice herself for the well-being and happiness of others.

Yeah, the messianic symbolism on her was less than subtle, but I felt it was ultimately effective and earned. The lineage of that monarchy, starting with Queen Serenity and continuing in the next life with Usagi, carries a common quality of love and sacrifice, of physical and spiritual healing, and most notably resurrection. These are all very traditionally messianic qualities, so the cross of broken pillars, however blatant, is deserved. She couldn’t save her people’s lives, but she saved their souls at the cost of her own life, and that’s pretty awesome.

One side note about the scene where the dead are sent to Earth… I know it’s just a goof, since the Outers weren’t even in the manga (and probably not even in Noako’s head) at the time this episode was produced, but that Sailor Guardian in the background with the wavy hair… I like to pretend it’s Sailor Neptune in one of the most bad-ass Easter eggs of all time. Even if it’s not.

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While most of this episode dealt with the Silver Millennium, the story framing the flashbacks wasn’t useless. It did forward the story and have consequences, namely Luna and Artemis getting their asses roundly kicked by Kunzite and the Sailor Guardians killing him in response.

I have to say, aside from the nice touch of calling out for Zoisite, I find Kunzite’s last stand rather anti-climactic. He’s built up as this total bad-ass and he goes down pretty easily. Yeah, it’s five against one, but he’s a tested soldier of considerable power facing off against five kids, even the most seasoned of whom has considerably less experience. I’m not saying they wouldn’t defeat him, but it should have taken more of a fight. I think shoehorning this confrontation into the end of an episode that it really has nothing to do with was a bad move, but I’ll speak more to that in the next review. The point is, Kunzite is down for the count, and we all know who put him there.

Now, Dark Kingdom, beware! You go get ‘em, girls. Because nothing says “fear my wrath” like a pink doily background!

This episode stirs a lot of feelings in me every time I watch it, some of reverence and exaltation, others of quandary and mild disappointment, but in any event, it is one of the tent poles of this season. It’s the final building block in the foundation of this story’s ultimate conflict and it serves well its purpose. And while it may not have given me everything from it that I wanted, I suppose it delivered everything I needed, and in that it is inarguably a success.

A brief aside: this episode and the two that follow were the first I’d ever seen of the original Japanese subtitled. The translation was not as good, and had Kunzite yelling “I will never refresh!” Out of context, this was one of the most random and hilarious things I had ever heard in my life. Still is.

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4 out of 5