The Rebirth of Sailor Moon Crystal

by Rebecca Silverman,

With any franchise that has a strong fanbase, a reboot or reworking of the source material is going to make some waves. That has certainly proven true for Sailor Moon Crystal. Where once fans could simply be divided about whether the manga or the 1990s anime was better, now things can go three ways: manga, Classic anime, or Crystal. For the most part, viewers weren't particularly kind to Sailor Moon Crystal when it debuted in 2014, and season two in 2015 wasn't much better, and while both seasons did do many things right, the flaws were so glaring that they outshone the positives. But Crystal is now on its third season, and its first as a proper television anime (seasons one and two were ONAs, or Original Net Animations), and things have definitely improved. It still isn't perfect, but the beleaguered reboot really is looking better.

One of the most noticeable of the improvements is the fact that the transformation sequences are no longer animated in clunky CG. Transformations are the backbone of any magical girl anime, the moment when “ordinary girl” becomes “superheroine.” In the first two seasons of Sailor Moon Crystal these were handled with questionably rigged and lazily textured 3D computer graphics, taking you out of the magic of the moment as you were struck by how awkward the whole thing looked. While season three still has its odd moments during the transformations, usually limbs bending like wet noodles, the grace has been restored to the process. The camera angles are also varied a bit, so even if the transformations are at their base similar to those in the Classic anime, there's a more modern feel to them, and Sailor Mercury's sometimes-mocked ending pose has been fixed so that she no longer appears to be in desperate need of a toilet. Following along these same lines is the fact that the character designs have been tweaked so that they look more fluid as well, with a softer, smoother appearance that is likely to appeal to new fans just discovering the franchise (and likely more accustomed to the look of Pretty Cure) and also just to give the show a brighter look. They're still faithful to Takeuchi's original art nouveaux-inspired look, but far less stiff than they were in the first two seasons. In general the animation just looks nicer – sure there are still derp-face moments and other less than wonderful segments, but on the whole the show just looks better. I can't imagine that we'd have gotten the twisted faces of Mistress 9 in the first two seasons, or the gentle waft of Hotaru's spirit form, both of which have added to the series.

Part of these changes can doubtless be attributed to the fact that season three has a new director in Chiaki Kon, where seasons one and two were directed by Munehisa Sakai. Kon has a better sense of how pieces build to form a whole, as she proved in her work as director on the 2006 series When They Cry, where such a skill was essential. (It also is probably where those twisted faces I mentioned above came from.) Apart from having been at the directing game longer than Sakai, she's also had more experience with female-oriented titles, having also directed Junjō Romantica's three seasons, Hanasakeru Seishōnen, and Zakuro, among others. While Sakai has directed two seasons of Pretty Cure, she's simply been working in this demographic longer.

Maybe a large part of Sailor Moon Crystal's 2016 rebirth as a better series can simply be attributed to the story itself, which gets much more interesting in general. The third arc, known as Sailor Moon S to anime fans and Infinity or Death Busters to manga readers, introduces the remaining Sailor Guardians of our solar system, a lesbian couple in Haruka and Michiru, and makes Chibi-Usa a stronger character by giving her the kind of growth Sailor Moon herself lacks. Hotaru's story is much more fraught than either of the previous arcs, and the Witches 5 are more powerful villains than any before. The Infinity Arc is arguably where Sailor Moon hits its stride in general, so maybe it shouldn't be such a surprise that that also seems to be holding true for Sailor Moon Crystal.

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