Sailor Moon Crystal Episodes 1-4
by Gabriella Ekens, Aug 31st 2014
I feel a bit bad for Sailor Moon Crystal. It must be hard to situate yourself within the legacy of one of both anime and manga's most beloved franchises. The original series, while divergent from the manga, holds up surprisingly well for its age and budget. There are few ways to criticize this show that don't involve direct comparison to one of Sailor Moon's previous adaptations.
In these first four episodes, Sailors Moon, Mercury, and Mars joined the team and then they all went to a party. This is a straightforward adaptation of the manga's first four chapter and just less than enough to judge where it's going in terms of story. I've been told that you can't really tell where a Sailor Moon adaptation is going until after Sailor Jupiter's appearance (which is next episode), and I'm inclined to agree with that. However, I have to evaluate the show as it stands right now… and it's not good. Not terrible or without promise, but lacking in artistry, identity, and most importantly engagement. I was excited for this show, and the product that came out disappoints me, but I can't deny how I feel.
Sailor Moon Crystal is so poorly animated it's hard to believe that it comes out every two weeks instead of the usual one. The characters are off model more often than they aren't. Luna sometimes looks more like a horse than a cat. This is a shame since Sailor Moon Crystal has a really good idea behind its design. That's conveyed by the art noveau-ish eye catch illustrations, which are playful, elegant, and unlike anything else I've seen in anime. This show is trying to have lots of personality, and it succeeds for a while. The first episode - before a lot of the big aesthetic issues kick in – has detailed, storybook-like backgrounds and some pretty good direction. However, almost none of this is carried over into the next three episodes, where the modeling issues with the overly lanky character designs often mar the deliberate posing. I think part of the issue is that the animators wanted to be faithful to Naoko Takeuchi's original manga designs, which were in no way designed for animation. Takeuchi's art style is great, decorative, but also noticeably flat even by lineart standards. I imagine that makes it hard to adapt, especially around the eyes. In Takeuchi's illustrations, the faces are flat, and the eyes are unrealistically tilted towards whichever direction a character is facing. It looks fine and is in fact one of the most distinctive parts of her style, but it becomes a problem in animation, where faces will constantly need to change directions within a single shot. The inbetweeners just can't keep up. Design-wise the villains suffer the most in this adaptation, especially in comparison to the original anime. There, Queen Beryl's headquarters was this abstract nightmarescape constructed out of black, bulbous stone. Here they seem to live in some vacant hall that's perpetually bathed in blue light. The color design in general looks like it's trying for something vibrant but slightly subdued, like Mawaru Penguindrum's look, but it misses the mark by making all of the colors too subdued. Very little attracts the eye.
My only narrative issue with this series is that interactions between the senshi are so fawning that they don't come off as authentic. These girls are so into each other that they blush after high-fiving. And while I'm certainly in favor of showing positive relationships between young women on children's television, you can do that without making them unrecognizable as friendships. These are more like old women's and yuri fans' ideas of how young girls behave around each other, not anything that I remember from my own girlhood. I understand toning down Usagi and Rei's fights over boys from the original series, but they didn't have to completely neuter Rei's character, who butts heads with Usagi even in the manga. As a young girl, I was more entertained and could relate more to Usagi and Rei's bickering than their mutual praises here. This is all fine on its own - it's just that this is ostensibly a children's show, and I can't imagine children being all that entertained by this. It's for people who are already deeply invested in these characters and no one else.
If you want to introduce Sailor Moon to little kids, I'd recommend sticking to the 90s anime, which is going to be re-dubbed soon anyway. If you're intent on this version of the story, then it seems better to just read the manga up to this point. I haven't, so I'm excited to get to parts of the story that the original anime didn't cover. Maybe it'll come alive. Sailor Moon Crystal isn't dead in the water yet, but if it becomes engaging later on, these first four episodes will probably be skippable.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. She writes at animeintrospection.tumblr.com.
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