Queen Beryl teleports Sailor Moon to her chamber, where she reveals an Evil Endymion with new and improved brainwashing. He proceeds to torture Sailor Moon in a physically painful and emotionally devastating variety of ways, and while neither her tiara nor her healing powers can defeat him, one touch to the star locket does the trick. Once again answering to Mamoru, he and Beryl mortally wound each other before he turns his attention back to Usagi for a teary goodbye as he dies in her arms once again.
Meanwhile, Beryl turns to Metalia in desperation, and her dark mistress answers her not by healing her body but by hijacking it, merging with her to create a titanic lotus of death from which she springs, ready to destroy the Earth. Usagi, however, is not about to let that happen.
Having finally achieved her full princess form, she uses the power of the Silver Crystal against Metalia, the ghosts of her fallen friends joining her for one last fight, adding their power to hers. Metalia is destroyed, but the strain of channeling all that power has tapped Usagi’s life force completely. As she, Mamoru, and her friends’ bodies are all swallowed by the light of the Silver Crystal, she makes one last wish, to have back the ordinary life of simple joys that she has lost. And she gets that wish.
Usagi wakes up in her bed without any memory of being Sailor Moon or meeting the others, who have also been resurrected, ignorant of their shared history. Same deal with Mamoru. Only Luna and Artemis remember, and while they do find it sad that the all the love and friendship between the Sailor Guardians has been forgotten, they have hope that, with time, they’ll all meet again.
Here we are, folks, the grand finale. The DiC dub merged this episode with the one before it, and it goes without saying that I prefer them as two separate episodes, because this one is paced PERFECTLY. T
he final confrontation between Sailor Moon and Endymion is given room to breathe, unfold, and really take its toll on us. Queen Beryl (just Beryl herself, not the Beryl/Metalia hybrid) went down a little quickly for my taste. After all that, I was kind of hoping for her to scrap with Sailor Moon directly, but the fight with Endymion was far more important, and if I had to pick one, I think they made the right choice. Besides, Beryl’s defeat was really just a way to get the hybrid up and running, and oh holy crap, how great was that?! Oh, the feels!
There was even a nice balance here with what’s going on in Tokyo, showing Luna, Artemis, and the Tsukino family. A few shots of Grandpa and Yuuichirou, Motoki, and perhaps Naru and Umino would have been nice, but the episode is certainly no weaker for their absence.
While I never really needed an explanation for Usagi’s princess form to appreciate its symbolism, it was nice that they set up how Sailor Moon wouldn’t be able to unleash the Silver Crystal’s full power without becoming a “full princess.” This leaves no ambiguity about the power of the crystal, but the implications are also key.
Queen Serenity died to unleash the full power of the Silver Crystal. Usagi would be no different. But Queen Serenity was also able to ensure the reincarnation of the princess, Prince Endymion, and her court, which makes all the resurrection at the end of this episode far less of a deus ex machina than it otherwise would have been. I suppose that for it to be a perfect parallel, Usagi would have to remain dead for the others to come back, but I’m much happier this way.
Even if it is a cheat, I’ll take it. Especially the implication that what truly elevated Usagi to royalty and her full mystical potential was not how daintily she sipped tea or how well she waltzed, but in her devotion to her people — not just her teammates, but all of humanity — and her willingness to sacrifice herself to save them.
As for everyone forgetting their superhero identities, I honestly have no idea why this was done. All Usagi asked for was her life back, and a youma-free planet pretty much accomplished that. Even if the producers of the anime didn’t know at the time the episode was written that the story would continue, why not end on Usagi and her friends’ tearful reunion, followed a final romantic two-shot of Usagi and Mamoru? That would have worked splendidly.
Why all this business with the forgetting and undoing all the character development they went through? It was very clearly implied that they’d all eventually meet up again and remember anyway. This seems like kind of a pointless move, but it’s a minor gripe.
And now, having covered the season finale, let’s take a step back and look at this first season of Sailor Moon as a whole based on its most crucial elements.
THE STORY: The premise at hand is excellent. An ordinary schoolgirl awakens to mystical powers in order to combat a long dormant evil, one that eons ago destroyed not just any ancient civilization, but a lost Utopia of which the heroine, in her former life, was the crown princess. As this unlikely hero slowly rises to meet her challenges and accept her fate, she comes to understand her strengths and realizes just what a hero she truly is.
There are two major arcs in this season that run concurrently, the search for the Moon Princess/Silver Crystal and the assembly of Sailor Moon’s team. Both stories have some nice twists and misdirects, and hint at a rich mythology and history for these characters.
The “phlebotinum” (as we Whedonites have come to call it) of this season is fairly vague until we hit the Rainbow Crystal arc. The whole energy suckage thing works well enough, but it does render the villains’ goals rather nebulous for about half the season. Once the crystals come into play, it gives the villains a tangible, quantifiable trophy by which their success can be measured, and the story is far better for it.
The only area in which the story itself failed was in the exploration of its own mythology. I always found this rather curious. The brief glimpses of the Silver Millennium we actually got added considerable dimension to the narrative and the characters. That the writers didn’t delve further into it, even by just making shit up, is kind of baffling, especially considering how many episodes were laden with pointless filler, which brings us to one of the hugest complaints about this anime.
THE PACING: There’s no question in anyone’s mind (at least anyone that I’d like to know) that this season was paced horribly. Where it’s good, it shines, but between those tent poles there were so many filler episodes that ranged from inconsequential to flat-out tedious. The manga’s Dark Kingdom arc could certainly have benefitted from some expansion to further flesh out the characters and the mythology, but 46 episodes was a bit much, especially since most of that added material was mere fat rather than additional meat.
THE CHARACTERS: No bones about it. The characters are amazing. Usagi’s growth, both on and off the battlefield, was handled gradually and realistically. She doesn’t evolve into a completely different person. She’s not fully realized nor should she be. She’s fourteen.
However, her adventures do give her a broader perspective on her life and her world. Her values evolve. She finds her courage. The Usagi standing strong against Metalia in the finale still wants all the simple, adolescent joys that made her life worth living, but she is a far cry from the callow crybaby who whimpered over a little blood on her knee.
Usagi’s relationship with Mamoru is portrayed rather well and is far more layered than in the manga. They start from a place of genuine antagonism, but being a constant presence in someone’s life breeds familiarity and even a certain degree of fondness. By the middle of the season, they’ve come to recognize each other’s good qualities and show genuine concern for each other, even if they still default to semi-hostile banter. Between their camaraderie on the battlefield and their complicated civilian relationship, their change of heart toward one another upon learning each other’s true identities is totally organic and believable.
Tuxedo Mask himself is quite the wild card, played as an ambiguous third party. Luna warns Usagi not to trust him, and no sooner do we become confident that she’s just paranoid, he actively starts pursuing an agenda that conflicts with the Sailor Guardians’. And then, just as we’re confident he’s back on our side, he’s actually turns evil for the remainder of the season. The revelation of his identity is also a fun process. At first no one knows who Tuxedo Mask is, then the audience knows, then he knows, then the villains know, and then finally the Sailors know.
The Inners also get their fair share of development, Rei getting the most and Minako the least, with Ami and Makoto falling somewhere in the middle. Some of the changes to their characters are not favored by manga purists, but I think they more often than not added some welcome complexity to each of those characters. Rei’s relationships with Usagi and Mamoru made for an incredibly fun and touching triangle.
Both Rei and Mamoru clash with Usagi, and they bond in their mutually snarky way over how annoying they find her, but in time both come to realize how deeply they actually care for her. Manga purists object to the anime version of Rei not being stoic and distrustful of men as she is in the manga, and I will concede that her anime persona is a radical adaptation of the source material, but the way I see it…
Sailor Mars’ guardian planet was named for the God of War. She is an Aries, an astrological archetype known for short tempers, impulsivity, and an all-around combative nature. Fire, her element, is a symbol of passion. Given all that, which Rei sounds more thematically appropriate? The feisty, impatient firebrand or the cool, aloof dude-cynic? I’m going to go with the former, especially since stoicism, like the color blue, is something of which Naoko is obviously fond, going by her tendency to assign it to characters ad infinitum. How many stoic, aloof, Vestal virgins do we really need? I’m going to say one; two, tops.
Sailor Pluto being aloof and not showing much emotion makes sense, given the archetype on which she’s based. Sailor Mars? Not so much. So, my vote goes to anime Mars, but back to the big picture…
All the lead characters themselves (with the exception of Venus, due likely to her limited episode count) as well as their interpersonal dynamics are rather well developed, their love for one another believable and relatable. This includes the villains, all of whom are given considerably more dimension than in the manga. The Four Heavenly Kings were given clear, distinct personalities and hung around long enough for us to really get to know them.
Jadeite was the least developed of the four, ironic since he had the longest tenure in the spotlight. Nephrite was given a steady alias as well as a full redemption arc that culminated in his defection from the Dark Kingdom and subsequent death. Meanwhile, Zoisite and Kunzite were made into lovers, a trait that became their one noble quality. They were selfish, petty, murderous villains… but they did truly love one another. Zoisite was arguably the pettiest character in the series, and yet his death scene struck a chord with many of us. He exhibits some of the worst traits a person can, traits that I personally abhor, and yet I love him. He’s my favorite villain of this season, possibly the entire series.
While the pairing off of the Four Kings and the Sailor Guardians’ past lives is lost, I personally don’t mind. I think the one-for-one matching is awfully convenient. Four and four, just so happening to have personalities that mesh and are conducive to four couples? A little too clean for me personally. The aspect I do wish the anime had kept was their backstory as Endymion’s personal guard. That would have been great.
Surprisingly, Beryl didn’t get much development either. We know she had a thing for Endymion in the past, but there doesn’t seem to be any kind of implied history between them. It seems like she meets him in that flashback and just decides he’d be some nice arm candy for her once she’s queen of the world. The anime says nothing of her life as one of Endymion’s subjects who loved him from afar, her jealousy being the weakness that Metalia exploited to corrupt her. And there’s certainly nothing mentioned of how Beryl was reincarnated, grew to adulthood in our modern world, only to regress to her past life self when she was drawn to the D Point and broke the seal on Metalia.
It’s a beautifully tragic backstory that makes for a very unfortunate omission and a curious one, considering Beryl’s degree of importance to the story. Skimping on Jadeite I can understand, but Beryl?
THE MINIONS: The youma can be divided into three camps. First, there are those who are legitimately scary and/or beautiful. These youma have designs that are either ripped directly from our nightmares (Morga, Kyurene, Moolyd), are based on some kind of traditional Japanese folklore (Yasha, Jiji, The Lake Yokai), or at the very least have a truly sleek, artful design (Thetis, Binah, the DD Girls).
The second category is comprised of youma that aren’t particularly scary but at the very least have an aesthetic you can take seriously (Garoben, Kigaan, Petasos). The third are youma whose designs and attack themes are just plain ridiculous. Some of them are fun enough that they kind of work (Shakoukai, Zoyrin Gellar), but the rest (Tesuni, Bunbou, Mitsuami)? Not so much. Truth be told, the youma were kind of hit or miss, but few of them were complete jokes.
THE PRESENTATION: The visuals were very uneven. You can definitely tell which episodes they put the bulk of their budget into, because there are stretches of consecutive episodes where there isn’t even any shading and the characters are off-model in several scenes. The stock footage is always pretty, but it doesn’t bode well for your overall quality when the best animated portion of the episode is the one that we see every week. The opening and closing sequences are well done (I’m partial to Opening #2). So, while the animation quality of Season 1 wasn’t consistent, when it was good, it was really beautiful.
As for the music, the disco-heavy score is a little tough not to laugh at when you first hear it, but it grows on you, especially if you’ve got a soft spot for disco in the first place. If you don’t, there’s also a fairly ubiquitous smooth jazz feel to the rest of it. As music is purely a matter of taste, whether or not the songs are good is fairly subjective, but I maintain that if “Yumemiru Dake Ja Dame” doesn’t make you at least bop in your seat a little bit, there is not nearly enough joy in your life.
OVERALL VERDICT: This season as a whole was very good. A little bloated with filler, especially in the first half, but there’s a reason it’s referred to as Sailor Moon Classic. The subsequent seasons, while narratively tighter and better animated, never quite capture the same feel of this first run, and for multiple reasons.
First of all, character development on the Inners pretty much stops halfway through Sailor Moon R. There are certainly character-centric episodes for each of them all the way through Sailor Stars, but aside from Rei’s recurring prophetic dream in Sailor Moon S, not a single one of them gets anything that resembles an ongoing storyline or even any kind of lasting consequences beyond the occasional power-up or new attack. In their spotlight episodes, they might come to some kind of revelation or deeper understanding of themselves, but it doesn’t really stick or resonate throughout the rest of the show. If you skipped that episode in the sequence, you’d never be able to tell.
All character development past this point goes to new characters who join the ensemble, such as Chibiusa, the Outers, the Sailor Starlights, and even certain villains. I love all those characters and enjoy what they add to the mix. I absolutely adore the development they’re given. I just wish it weren’t at the expense of the original team, especially since each season is certainly long enough to accommodate an ensemble of this size.
None of the villains from here on in have the same level of mythic resonance that the Dark Kingdom does, at least not in the anime. This is not to say they aren’t fantastic villains. They’re varied, colorful, interesting, and just plain fun to watch, but the Dark Kingdom was so connected to the mythology of the Sailor Guardians and the Silver Millennium, and the rest of the big bads (with the exception of Nehellenia) are not.
I understand it’s hard to recreate a bond that profound without undercutting the original, but greater strides could have been made to tie future villains into the mythology. And no, the whole Chaos retcon/arc-welding doesn’t cut it. That was an eleventh hour ass-pull that just happened to fit.
All this is not to say the anime is all downhill from here. In fact, there are several areas in which the next four seasons are superior to this one, but for good or ill there is a noticeable shift in the style of storytelling. In terms of narrative, Sailor Moon can really be divided into the first season and everything that came after it. After all, the Dark Kingdom arc was originally planned to be the whole story, and the anime reflects that, what with all the closure at the end of the season. That very same closure now seems kind of pointless considering it was undone in the very next episode, but we’ll explore that topic in the next review when we start in on Sailor Moon R.