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by Jonathan Mays,

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon

Episodes 1-25

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon
After over a decade at the top, Sailor Moon's presence is fading quickly. In the mid-90s, it dominated the anime scene, carrying Cartoon Network to record-high weekday ratings. Now, it's a fraction as powerful, seen only on a few local stations in pre-dawn timeslots. Next week, all of ADV's Sailor Moon video releases will be given "out of print" status, and Pioneer's discs can't be far behind. Even in Japan, merchandise sales, the driving force of the Sailor Moon franchise, have screeched to a halt. By any account, Sailor Moon is on her last legs.

But Toei and creator Naoko Takeuchi aren't ready to close the book just yet. Last July they announced a new live-action TV series, as well as a re-edited release of the manga. Is it a force to reawaken Sailor Moon, or the last gasp of a fallen franchise? We'll know for sure in a few months.

In the meantime, there's a new show to enjoy.

Through the first 25 episodes, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon is a capable addition to the Sailor Moon library--better than the anime and manga in some respects, much worse in others. Several factors, namely your level of interest/obsession with Sailor Moon, will determine if PGSM is worth your time, but in the end, it depends on whether you accept the new actors and changes to the characters and story.

As a live-action show, some alterations were necessary, starting with the audience. These aren't Oscar-caliber actors (especially the 15-year-old girls), and the special effects won't be confused with Weta's work anytime soon, so believability is a serious issue. If watching prepubescent girls who fight evil with plastic toys while sporting shiny tiaras and short skirts is enough to make you laugh or cry, I guarantee you won't make it through more than two episodes. Maybe three if you have a friend to crack jokes with, but certainly no more. The acting is poor, the cats are stuffed animals, and you've probably seen better costumes at a cosplay masquerade; take it or leave it.

Production values aside, chief producer Yoshiyuki Okazaki made some smart decisions that add new life to the Sailor Moon story, now in its fourth incarnation. It resembles the manga much more than the anime, but it's still a rather liberal retelling, with new and revised stories, and even a new character. Minako, instead of striving to become a pop star, already is one from the start, with a much more distant and enigmatic personality to match. Then there are a few tweaks: Usagi is less whiny, Makoto is less boy-crazy, and Rei prefers not to sing.

The best change so far is the introduction of Hina, Mamoru's girlfriend. She's kind to Usagi, considerate of others, and extremely devoted to Mamoru. Instead of taking the easy route with a despicable girlfriend for the audience to hate and Mamoru to ditch with ease, the director has all but assured a heartbreaking resolution. In the meantime, Usagi herself is heartbroken, and her struggle to reconcile her feelings shows a part of the character that we don't see until much later in the anime and manga. It was a thoughtful addition, and I can't wait to see how they get out of this one.

Sailor Moon fans will also notice the "Dark Endymion" arc has been replaced with a "Dark Mercury" one. The jury's still out on this switch, but in the early going, the evil Mercury route is an effective use of the "friendship vs. loneliness" theme that carries the show. For all its corny dialogue and campy situations, Sailor Moon has always been a haven for enduring friendship, one of the reasons it's a good show for kids. The live-action version keeps this aspect fully intact.

Alas, not everything is an upgrade. The battle scenes, which usually consist of a whole lot of spinning and somersaults and not much else (well, they jump rope once), are insultingly bad. Defying physics and saving the world with a plastic Bandai wand is one thing. Doing it this horribly is quite another. Given the opportunity and ample time--at least two minutes--you, I, or anybody else could easily put together better choreography than the utterly insipid routines they feature in each episode. They're inexcusably poor, and I'm certain they've cost PGSM a good number of viewers. Motoki's strange obsession with his turtle and Zoicite's piano addiction are less flagrant, but they're sure to leave you scratching your head as well.

In early episodes, PGSM moves at an uneven pace--some episodes are filled to the brim, others do nothing to advancce the plot. This improves beginning with episode seventeen, when a new director and a fresh batch of music enter the scene. As the arc reaches its climax, the series adopts a more somber mood, sometimes taking itself too seriously, but usually staying within reason. I hadn't expected a show like this to have silent moments exceeding half a minute, but they're done surprisingly well. And Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" is so perfect for Sailor Moon.

So, can you overlook a few missteps to have fun with Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon? It may not matter. As Sailor Moon spends less and less time on US televisions and video store shelves, the Moonie market could crumble beyond repair. One theory has Toei letting all their US Sailor Moon licenses expire in order for them to promote the new live-action show. If true, it's a risky proposition at best, because the window for Sailor Moon fandom certainly isn't getting any larger with each passing day.

Assuming Sailor Moon's popularity remains at a reasonable level, the chances of seeing it over here are probably about 50/50--higher because it's Sailor Moon, lower because there's much better live-action TV to be brought over first. And if it does reach North America, it'll almost certainly be without a dub, as lip-synching would be a nightmare, and Power Rangers-style editing isn't possible this time. Still, cross your fingers; Sailor Moon's been left for dead before. That was in October of 1996. Then it found a home on Cartoon Network, and we all know what happened from there.
Overall : C+
Story : B
Music : B

+ Solid story improvements
Weak acting, miserable fight scenes

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Production Info:
Series Director: Ryuta Tasaki
Kenzo Maihara
Takemitsu Sato
Nobuhiro Suzumura
Masataka Takamaru
Ryuta Tasaki
Screenplay: Yasuko Kobayashi
Music: Michiru Oshima
Original creator: Naoko Takeuchi
Masayuki Hasegawa
Hiroshi Yamashita
Shinya Maruyama
Yuba Sakata
Shinichiro Shirakura
Kouichi Yada

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Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon (live-action TV)

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