Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Sailor Moon S
Blu-Ray - Season 3 Part 1
Even though the Black Moon has been vanquished, there's no rest for the Sailor Guardians. A mysterious new enemy is rearing its head, led by Professor Tomoe, Kaolinite, and the Witches 5. Their goal? To find the three talismans hidden in the pure heart crystals of three unknown people. Even more troubling is the appearance of two new Sailor Guardians, Uranus and Neptune. Neither of them seems to want to work with Sailor Moon and her friends, and they're also after the talismans. They claim it's to prevent the coming of a disaster they call “The Silence,” and even though Rei and Mamoru have been having dreams and visions about it, can these new Guardians be trusted?
Sailor Moon S is hailed as one of the best seasons of the five-season series, and even just from the first few episodes, you can see why. Unlike its predecessors, Sailor Moon S gets right down to business introducing the new villains (the Death Busters) and bringing fan-favorite characters Uranus and Neptune in without delay. Even though the story does take on a monster-of-the-week element later on, it never loses its focus – each episode centers on the issue of the pure heart crystals Professor Tomoe and his henchmen are hunting, as either the girls themselves or those they know are targeted. This is all interwoven with better character development for most of the cast (although Mamoru, Michiru, and Usagi somewhat less), making almost all of the episodes feel relevant rather than like filler. The result is a more exciting and better-paced set of episodes that capture the reason why this franchise inspires such devoted nostalgia.
Everyone, not just Usagi/Sailor Moon, gets a chance to be the heroine for at least one episode. There's a greater focus on Rei in general, with the series opening on her visions of a terrible destruction she terms “The Silence.” This vision causes Rei to be more jittery overall this season, and you get the feeling that study sessions are held at her house in part because she feels they're all safest in the temple. We also get a glimpse at both Ami's and Makoto's insecurities through episodes 97 and 105. In episode 97, Ami reveals the pressures she feels at being labeled as “the smart one,” and how she worries that no one can see her actual personality behind her ambition and enjoyment of academics. In episode 105, Makoto has to cope with the fact that her position as “the strong one” may have been undermined by a defeat at the hands of a daemon, leading her to question her abilities as Sailor Jupiter. These two episodes reveal that the girls are more than just their character types, and that they harbor a lot of concerns about those specific images of themselves. This feels very real for a fifteen-year-old and the various crises of adolescence, reminding us that the Sailors do have lives outside of the Guardians and their friend group. This is also the case for Minako in episode 100, when she realizes that being Sailor Venus has totally eclipsed the other things she used to enjoy, forcing her to make a decision about them.
Although Michiru largely remains an unknown quantity outside of her “art prodigy” and Sailor Neptune personas, we do get to known Haruka fairly well. In her flashback episode, we are privy to her awakening as Sailor Uranus at Sailor Neptune's hands, and we see that even in middle school, she was more comfortable dressing in boys' clothes. She resisted becoming a Guardian before doing so for Michiru's sake, and there's a real sense of the bond that formed between the two girls almost instantly. It's also clear that this is a romantic and sexual bond; Michiru expresses that she's had a crush on Haruka for a while, and Haruka just as plainly falls for Michiru very quickly. Their relationship is accepted by the show at large, and even better, it isn't fetishized for our viewing “pleasure.” Haruka is almost chameleon-like in her shifts from masculine to feminine, and everyone is equally comfortable with both once they find out about this, which you don't even necessarily see from media made even today.
There are some touches to these episodes that are distinctly Kunihiko Ikuhara's, and we can see the roots of what would later become Revolutionary Girl Utena in some scenes and characters. Haruka and Michiru certainly foreshadow Utena and Anthy, and perhaps most interesting is the number of women (daemons, but they're female) who become motor vehicles, with the clearest link being the daemon in episode 92. (What is it with Ikuhara and vehicle-women?) There's also an increase in the sexuality of the daemons, with many of those led by first henchman Kaolinite having their heart-sucking stars on their breasts or upper thighs so that they have to remove or pull down their clothing in order to attack. On a different note, the comedy is smoother in these episodes, with the exception of episode 108, which relies on using the characters' English skills for its humor, mostly employing slapstick and English lines. (Professor Tomoe gets a particularly good one: “Note to self: don't run and cackle at the same time.”)
Professor Tomoe's dub actor, Keith Silverstein, appears to be having a lot of fun with his role, and he hits a very good balance between “insane” and “evil.” Both Erica Mendez (Sailor Uranus) and Lauren Landa (Sailor Neptune) do a very good job as well. Although Megumi Ogata will always be the voice of Uranus in my head, Mendez hits a similar pitch that is neither masculine nor feminine to work with the character's gender ambiguity. Landa's Neptune can sound overly formal at times, but since that is in line with the character's anime portrayal, I don't have much issue with it.
Once again, this release's real issue is the video quality. On a personal note, my review copy's DVDs came with scratches on them, rendering them difficult to watch (and impossible in the case of two discs). The Blu-Rays did not suffer that particular issue, but the picture quality is still lacking – the colors are oversaturated to the point where everything looks oddly dark, and there's a general graininess to the picture quality. It isn't nearly as bad as the Season One release, but it also isn't as good as it ought to be for a release of this caliber. Sound quality is fine, as are subtitles, even if I'm still miffed by the decision not to translate several words of the song into English. Last I checked, “gomen-ne” did have a perfectly serviceable English equivalent.
Sailor Moon S is off to a good start in terms of story and dub quality. The animation isn't great, and the characters' legs often appear to be missing definition between calves and thighs, but the girls feel like more of a team than they did in either Sailor Moon or Sailor Moon R, and the slow understanding that builds between the Inner Senshi and Neptune & Uranus foreshadows the work that they will need to do when the main plot gets going. “Ai no Senshi” remains among the best of the series' insert songs, reminding us of Usagi's willingness to sacrifice herself of the good of others, and there's even a distinct difference between Kaolinite's and Eudial's approaches to getting the talismans. If it weren't for the quality issues, this would be a thoroughly impressive set, as the limited edition once again comes in a shimmery box with a full-color booklet. There's also another cast interview, this time including Umino's dub actor. If Viz could just get a handle on the video quality, this would be the perfect package that fans have been waiting for.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : A-
Animation : C
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Story moves forward at a good pace, humor is more smoothly integrated, Haruka and Michiru's relationship is handled well, new dub voices are good, everyone gets satisfying developement
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