Why Sailor Moon Crystal Isn't a Total Disasterby Rebecca Silverman,
Poor Sailor Moon Crystal – it's had a tough time. Hyped as the new, more faithful Sailor Moon anime that would delight fans of the manga, it turned out instead to be more of delight to critique, with blogs devoted to picking apart its animation, myriad laments about how the old show was better, and even a little fussing about how it's too close to the manga. I'm certainly not exempt from any of that, and some of the criticism is totally justified – if you're redoing the show, why have poor Sailor Mercury still pose like she really has to pee after her transformation? But you know what? I still love Sailor Moon, and I enjoy it in all of its incarnations. Sailor Moon Crystal is no exception. And for all of the things it's gotten wrong, there are still a few that it has gotten really right. For example...
The Art is Closer to Naoko Takeuchi's Original Manga
The original manga version of Sailor Moon has some gorgeous artwork, anatomical issues aside. Rather than simplifying Naoko Takeuchi's designs like the earlier series did, Sailor Moon Crystal instead adapts the images on the page to animated form, making as few changes as possible. The result is that Takeuchi's dramatic use of the whiplash line from the Art Nouveau movement is rendered even more beautiful by actual movement, with long, sinuous curls floating in the ever-present breeze, decorative architecture, and some fabulous dresses. Princess Serenity's moon gown may have a kind of weird design, but with the filmy quality the new anime gives it, it becomes ethereal, and that dress that Usagi wears at Prince Demande's place is luscious – you can practically feel the sumptuous fabric, and the butterfly design is beautiful, much like Takeuchi's originals. All of this makes the “princess” theme of the story stand out more, and in the first two story arcs, that's pretty important. On a similar note,
Sailor Moon Crystal allows the Sailor Guardians More Than Just Two Attacks Each,
which really helps us to get a better sense of the strength of their enemies. It stands to reason that each successive bad guy would be a little harder to defeat, right? But if it only takes one “Fire Soul” to kill both Monster A and Monster D, how much of a strength difference can there really be? Is Mars just having a bad day when Monster D beats her? Crystal fixes that by having the girls use some of the many attacks they have in the story, so if Venus has to whip out “Rolling Heart Vibration” instead of “Crescent Beam,” you know that the situation is more serious. Plus it's just generally more interesting to watch when you don't know what attack each Guardian's going to break out, especially since they mix things up a bit even from the manga. It also helps each girl seem more distinct, like they're not just differently colored clones of each other. That's another legitimate complaint, and one that leads to, most of the comparisons people make tending to be between the old anime and the new. On that front it's worth mentioning that
Chibi-Usa is Significantly Less Annoying and More Believable in Sailor Moon Crystal
Not that she isn't still kind of irritating. But you don't see the kind of rampant hate that the older version of the show generated (I once found a site about microwaving your Rini figure; sadly the Internet has eaten it), and Sailor Moon Crystal lets us understand more where she's coming from. She's much less abrasive than in the earlier version of the story, with Crystal allowing us to see her moments of fear and worry as they flash across her face. She's played straighter here as well, making her less of a comedic character designed to annoy Usagi and giving her a backstory and personality of her own right from the beginning. In Crystal we can see her as a lost, scared kid far from home and doing her damnedest to solve her own problems, setting up a parallel between her and Usagi. We can see her character develop almost from episode to episode, and that's important not just because she's pretty much driving the story in the second season, but also because she's the strong female character Usagi isn't yet. When she falls into temptation, it's not just because she doesn't want to play hero anymore, it's because she's overwhelmed by the responsibility and loneliness she's had to endure. She and Usagi are both shaped by their circumstances, and she reminds us that underneath it all Usagi's really just a middle school kid in way over her head, not a galactic princess born and raised to a great power. Also, her more positive portrayal here gives us some hope for Usagi and Mamoru's future – apparently they raise a very smart, self-reliant, and determined daughter, which may be as heroic as anything else they do. And speaking of our masked hero...
Sailor Moon Crystal Makes Mamoru an Actual Human Character
Yes, back during the original Sailor Moon's run, there were plenty of people with a major crush on Mamoru Chiba/Tuxedo Mask (my mother included; she still has a little Tuxedo Mask figure on her dresser), but he definitely had some issues, not the least of which was his stunning green sport jacket/black turtleneck/purple pants combo. Then there was the fact that he was a college student dating a fourteen-year-old, a man with zero control over his magical powers, and even unable to transform by his own volition. A heartthrob of the 90s, maybe, but that may not be a ringing endorsement today. In contrast, Crystal's Mamoru is sixteen to Usagi's fourteen, instantly making him less of a creeper. He's just as invested in the fight as she is (maybe even a little more so at times), making them more equal partners, and he has full control over his powers. Crystal even gives him his real attack, Tuxedo la Smoking Bomber, which, yes, does involve roses, but is still more impressive than a single stem and a cheesy speech. He's also got a school life, his own interests, and a caring demeanor that helps to offset Usagi's more selfish moments – simply put, they compliment each other. He feels more like a hero to the girls' heroines in this version, and since we're supposed to be invested in his relationship with Sailor Moon herself, that's pretty important.
Sailor Moon Crystal may not be the show everyone was hoping for or wanted, but it also isn't the total disaster that it's reputed to be. But it does capture that essential essence of the original, that an ordinary girl can become extraordinary, and that's what drew me to the story in the first place. It isn't perfect, but if it can bring viewers the same excitement that it brought a lot of us back in the day, and maybe even do that better in a few places, then isn't it worth it? Maybe someday we'll get our dream adaptation that fixes everything wrong with all the other versions, but for now, it's worth giving Crystal a chance to show you that there's still something magical about Sailor Moon.
Have you been watching Sailor Moon Crystal? Does it live up to your expectations as a Sailor Moon fan, or is it just a monument to unfulfilled potential? Let us know in the comments!
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