With the abduction of Tuxedo Mask, Usagi has grown depressed and is causing her friends concern. Minako reaches out to her new friend, suggesting a trip to the salon to help lift her spirits. What starts out as a fun, uplifting outing quickly turns deadly. Kunzite schemes to find Sailor Moon by analyzing the DNA in a strand of hair she left behind in battle. Our heroes and villains cross paths at a salon, where Kunzite has corrupted the staff, transforming them into his minions. As if Usagi weren’t already off her game, Tuxedo Mask shows up… now an agent of the Dark Kingdom.
It’s interesting, the parallel here between Usagi and Naru in their ensuing depression over the loss of a loved one. Granted Nephrite died, but for all Usagi knows, Mamoru is dead. Also, we see how Usagi has drifted further away from her civilian life. When Naru was going through her depressive spiral, Usagi knew enough to be there for her, but now that it’s Usagi’s turn, Naru is no longer close enough to her to even know anything is really wrong. Some of this is due to necessity and the maintenance of Usagi’s secret identity, but whatever the justification, the result is the same. The other Sailor Guardians are her inner circle now, and even the one who just showed up about a week ago (in story time) knows her circumstances and needs better than her nominal best friend whom she’s known for years.
Minako is the other star of this episode, and I dare say it’s the first real Minako episode. Now, in terms of episode count, this is Sailor Venus’s fourth appearance, and it’s the second episode in which we see her civilian form, but it’s the first time we get to actually spend time with Minako, the first time she interacts with Usagi on a one-on-one basis, something all the other characters got in their debut episodes. This is the episode where we really get to see Minako’s personality (or what she has of one, but we’ll get to that in a minute), and most importantly, her transformation sequence.
This may sound trivial, but the dual identity is a major aspect of the superhero genre, and the transformation sequence is a major element of this anime in particular. It signals the bridging of those two identities, the shift from civilian to hero, from girl to young woman, from victim to victor; it unites the two sides of the character’s identity into a whole. It counts for something. Thus, this episode being the one where we actually see Minako in her civilian life, acting as a peer and friend, then transforming into the heroine whom we’ve known about since before she even appeared in the show… it closes a circuit, it completes a loop, it visually and thematically makes Venus one of the girls and completes her integration onto the team.
Looking back at these early days of Minako, considering what a weak and inconsistent character she becomes in subsequent seasons, it really becomes clear what a waste of potential she is. Here you see a real go-getter, a seasoned veteran of this war now working along a bunch of newbies who have only been in the game for a few months. All these girls came to the table with a fairly rich backstory (at least as far as the manga is concerned), but Minako was the only one whose backstory involved superheroics. She had potential to be the unflinching leader, the champion of the cause, the Sailor Guardian who had to remember how to be a team player both on and off the battlefield. Instead, what we got was a random assortment of quirks tied together and shoved inside an “Usagi 2.0” suit. More’s the pity. In fact, by the time we get into the later half of Sailor Moon R, Minako’s only really defining characteristic is that she’s… how to put this delicately?…
COMPLETELY. FUCKING. BATSHIT. INSANE.
Pick any Venus-centric episode — any episode — past the midpoint of R and show me even the slightest bit of evidence that Minako isn’t bugfuck crazy. I dare you.
Venus doesn’t really have much of a personality, and there’s a reason for that. See, in all fairness, Usagi is the copycat. Minako was created first, and when Sailor Moon got the green light, many of Minako’s characteristics were transferred over to Usagi and magnified. The retroactive result is that Minako comes off more or less as a watered down Usagi. Unfortunate, but that’s what happened. Now, there were certainly plenty of opportunities to start developing Minako’s character in another direction. With Usagi taking over as the flawed, anti-male-gaze everygirl, it freed Minako up to maybe become more serious, more tragic, or perhaps more love-obsessed, athletic, graceful, or charming, all without losing any of the depth she gained throughout her adventures during Code Name: Sailor V. Instead, she just became Usagi’s shadow, occasionally having a crush on someone or spouting forth some malapropism, and aside from that she’s pretty blank a slate. This is why whenever someone says Sailor Venus is his or her favorite, I can immediately sniff out that their knowledge of and/or interest in Sailor Moon is purely superficial, because I cannot fathom how, based on all the characters’ personalities, Venus could be anyone’s favorite. She’s just so thin and poorly developed.
All that said, this episode takes place before all that degradation. In this episode, Minako actually earns her place in the cast, showing her ability to intuit what exactly Usagi needs when the others, who have known her considerably longer, can’t. I will admit that, prior to my knowledge of Uranus and Neptune, I thought the lez card would totally go to Venus. I had no concept of the cultural differences between the U.S. and Japan regarding friendships between girls, and I got a serious Sapphic vibe from Minako during that hairbrushing scene. I know better now, of course, but at the time, I thought it a very charming prospect to have the character in an all-girl ensemble who represents the goddess of beauty and love, having very traditionally feminine features and characteristics, to be the lesbian. I’m perfectly happy that Minako likes the D, but how progressive would that have been?
On the subject of dick, let’s take a moment to talk about how much of one Artemis is in this episode. Not that he doesn’t have a perfectly valid point about not lingering to grieve in a time of war, but… dude, a little empathy wouldn’t kill you.
Let’s also talk about the sheer awesomeness of the youma in this episode. She’s like a demon Pippi Longstocking. For once, the thematic powers of the youma are actually cool and effective instead of just being straight up ridic. And it’s interesting that Kunzite has chosen to continue corrupting humans rather than utilize existing youma.
And, of course, this episode couldn’t pass without us discussing Dark Tuxedo Mask and his black roses. It’s interesting to see “Endymion,” conversing directly with Metalia, something no other character aside from Beryl — not even Kunzite — has done. This was a solid intro for Dark Tuxedo Mask from both the Sailor Moon side of things and behind the scenes in the Dark Kingdom. The rivalry between Endymion and Kunzite is just fantastic. It’s honestly one of the best aspects of this last stretch of episodes.
As for poor Usagi, she’s already traumatized enough by this whole ordeal, by finding love and then losing it, only to see Mamoru alive again… and then he’s evil? And trying to kill her? Because he’s allied with the Dark Kingdom?! You can see the compounded trauma of all this stuff in Usagi’s eyes, and it’s dramatically brilliant. The “turned lover” is a classic trope for a reason. It works. And this encounter raises more questions than answers for both Usagi and the audience. How far would Tuxedo Mask have gone before Beryl pulled him back? Is Mamoru anywhere in there? Can he be restored, and what will it take?
And, uh… who else thinks Beryl is totally banging Endymion in her downtime?