The Summer 2014 Anime Preview Guide Sailor Moon Crystal
by The Anime News Network Editorial Team, Jul 5th 2014
Now this is a story all about how
My life got flipped turned upside down
Now I'd like to take a minute but we'll be done soon
I'll tell you how I became Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon
In Azabu-Juuban Tokyo born and raised
Tripping over shit is how I spent most of my days
Falling down crying and whining and then
I'd irritate the living hell out of my friends
When a magical kitty
A defender of good
Starting comin' round in my neighborhood
She had a big plastic brooch and she said "We're doomed,
Unless you put this dumb thing on and become Sailor Moon!"
So this is brand spankin' new Sailor Moon, but in this first episode, it's basically the same ol' Sailor Moon you know (and either love with all your heart or don't, there doesn't seem to be a lot of middle ground when it comes to this franchise) with a spit-shine. The show leans heavily on the painfully 90s original manga character designs, somewhat revamped to look a little shinier more fashionable. The production values are weirdly askew; there are some nice moments, but overall the character animation is very, very stiff, with Usagi's off-puttingly giant hair moving in one big clunky-looking piece. There are some embarrassing digital zooms and, as has been mentioned a zillion times elsewhere, the bargain bin PreCure-style Toei CG transformation sequences are questionable at best, but those seem like something you'd get used to eventually (PreCure and LoveLive fans have been used to them for a long time now, after all).
Ultimately, though, the goofy charm of Sailor Moon shines through all the production weirdness. For the most part, the experience of watching this episode is as though things just haven't changed since the 90s; it's something out of time, with a fresh coat of paint. I laughed a lot, mostly at Sailor Moon's new blinking emergency light hair pieces and Tuxedo Mask's hilariously foppish prancing about. I was never big into the original show, but watching this was fun enough. It's clearly made for the diehards, and to make Naoko Takeuchi happy, and also to extract piles of money from Japanese moms who now have daughters of their own and want them to experience the thing they grew up loving. Sailor Moon Crystal isn't perfect, and it isn't going to change anime nor will it revolutionize the magical girl genre (or maybe not even gain any new recruits to Sailor Moon fandom), but it's harmless silly fun that harkens back to a simpler time. It's worth checking out.
Sailor Moon Crystal is currently streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu, and Viz.com.
Review: There are shows that are shows, and then there are shows that are events. This is one of the events. A re-adaptation of mangaka Naoko Takeuchi's 90s mega-hit Sailor Moon, Sailor Moon Crystal is a show with so much historical baggage that it's pretty much impossible to evaluate on its own merits. If any other show were to do, in this day and age, what Crystal does, we might very well taunt it straight to its grave. An ordinary girl who transforms into a magical warrior at the behest of a talking cat? Unknown forces seeking an all-powerful maguffin known only as the Silver Crystal? A mysterious top-hatted man named Tuxedo Mask? With any other provenience, it'd be a joke. But it's not any other provenience. It's Sailor Moon. The original magical girl phenomenon. The show that started it all. These are things we make fun of because Sailor Moon made them ubiquitous. So how on Earth do we judge them?
To begin with, we can stack them up against the original TV series. And they stack pretty well. Director Munehisa Sakai wisely resists the temptation to wallow in self-importance, to wink and say “look, we're remaking freaking Sailor Moon!”, instead creating a show that just is what it is: a fanciful shojo adventure with a fun lead, good energy, and a nebulous air of mystery and romance. His look intentionally recalls Takeuchi's manga more than Junichi Sato's TV adaptation, with fewer simplifications of character and background, and like Sato before him he focuses more on subtle atmosphere than magical glitz. The show's bi-weekly schedule should allow maintenance of quality, while working from a completed manga means the show is more faithful, more compact, and has ready-made storyboards. So even if he's no Junichi Sato or Kunihiko Ikuhara (and really, who is?), Sakai should be able to turn out a pleasing, well-put-together adaptation. Just… lose that embarrassing CG transformation sequence, okay?
Review: The story opens with a sweeping view of the galaxy, zooming in from the outer reaches to the planet Earth and its satellite, the moon. A beautiful, willowy blond girl and a handsome young man are about to kiss...when Usagi wakes up. Or rather, is woken up by her mother reminding her that she needs to go to school. Thus begins the saga of what at first appears to be a very unlikely heroine. Fourteen-year-old Usagi Tsukino is a crybaby, perpetually hungry, and really doesn't like school. She wishes she were anything but a schoolgirl, and luckily for her she's about to meet the talking black cat with a crescent moon on her forehead who will change that.
Essentially this first episode of the Sailor Moon reboot covers the first chapter of the manga, nearly word for word in some places. While this is really exciting for die-hard Moonies, it also has the unfortunate side-effect of nearly all of Usagi's lines being whined, and even I have to admit that that's kind of annoying. But the clear amount of loving detail that has been put into this episode makes up for a lot of that – scenes from the book are painstakingly recreated with color and movement, Usagi's hair is constantly blowing in the wind that seems to surround her (no one else's hair moves), and Usagi's perplexity at being suddenly given powers gives her, if not an edge precisely, at least an air of slight reality compared to magical girls who just know how to do everything the minute they transform. For the most part the animation looks very nice as well, although some weirdly clunky 3D CG is used during the transformation sequence. Naoko Takeuchi's art is much more closely mimicked than in the 1990s anime, so it does look a little dated – school uniform skirts are much longer than we're used to seeing now, and bangs have a very 90s look to them. For fans of the manga and old show, this won't be an issue, but those just getting into the franchise may be a bit thrown. (No word yet on whether they're going to update technology and give people cell phones.)
I'd be lying if I didn't say that I smiled like a fool throughout this entire episode. When Usagi yells her transformation phrase, it sounds exactly like it did in the old anime (no surprise, with Kotono Mitsuishi reprising the role), and the new theme song's explicitly girl power lyrics play right into the thesis I wrote on magical girls in grad school. (Revision time!) By following the manga so closely it does have some problems, like the fact that Usagi starts out as thoroughly annoying, but on the whole this looks like the filler-free remake that I at least was hoping for.
Sailor Moon Crystal is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Review: Everyone may have their own personal “most anticipated” title for the season, but in terms of sheer name recognition, it is hard to argue that this reboot of the classic shojo anime and manga is the biggest. Sailor Moon is, after all, the defining shojo title of the past 20 years, and with Crystal, it offers a chance for exposure anew to an entirely new generation; how cool is it that girls who watched the original animated version in the '90s could now be watching the new version with their own daughters?
The look of the series has certainly been updated, though without substantially altering the iconic designs. Usagi still has her trademark twin tails, Tuxedo Mask is every bit as dashing as before, and so forth. The difference here is that this time the series actually looks like it has a budget and is clearly aided in places by CG enhancements, especially in the initial transformation sequence. The result is still hardly top-of-the-line artistry but nonetheless a much prettier and crisper-looking effort which also features better animation. On the downside, Usagi is still initially every bit as pathetic and irritating a character as she ever was in any previous incarnation of the franchise – but then, part of the charm of the franchise has always been watching Usagi gradually grow into the role and responsibility of Sailor Moon. Less forgivable is that Kotono Mitsuishi, who has always been the voice of Usagi, seems to be going out of her way to make Usagi sound irritating, which results in a gratingly annoying vocal performance. Hopefully she finds a smoother sound as the series progresses.
For those who have never previously been exposed to the franchise, Usagi Tsukino is a cute and cheery but also rather pathetic 14 year old girl, one who has lots of friends but is clumsy, not too bright, and still quite a bit of a crybaby. She has a recurring dream of a princess figure running with a prince, but that's typical for a girl her age. One day while running to school she trips over a cat with bandages on its head and removes them, revealing a crescent moon symbol. She keeps encountering that cat over the course of the day until eventually it appears in her bedroom window and speaks to her and gives her a special jewel which allows her to transform into someone like the storied Sailor V, at which time she can sense that a friend, whose parents own a jewelry store, is in trouble. A baddie, it seems, has replaced the friend's mother to look for a legendary crystal, and Usagi, as Sailor Moon, must stop her – a task she is utterly unprepared for.
But audiences are definitely prepared for this and should not be disappointed. Any newcomer who is at least faintly tolerant of magical girl series should give this one a chance, as it is a pretty solid start to a revamp of a piece of anime history.
Sailor Moon Crystal is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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