Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal Part 2
Limited Edition [Blu Ray and DVD]
With the Dark Kingdom defeated, Usagi and her friends think that maybe they'll have a little time off from fighting villains. Those dreams are quickly defeated by the appearance of a strange little girl named Usagi who falls from the sky. Chibi-Usa seems to be seeking Sailor Moon's help, or at least her Legendary Silver Crystal, with something that's happened to her mother, and she's being pursued by a group calling themselves the Black Moon whose goal seems to be more to destroy Earth than to steal its energy. When Chibi-Usa's true identity as Mamoru and Usagi's future daughter is revealed, everyone will have to take a trip to the future to try and set it right so that they'll have a future to look forward to.
As the adaptation of the original manga's second story arc, known in the original anime as Sailor Moon R and in the manga as the Black Moon arc, Sailor Moon Crystal's second set of episodes introduces not only new villains, but a new Sailor Guardian and a hint of what's to come for the girls in the future. That lands in the form of Chibi-Usa, Usagi and Mamoru's pink-haired future daughter from their reign as the nigh-immortal future King and Queen of Earth…something that might be a little overwhelming to learn when you're fourteen and seventeen. (The revelation of Chibi-Usa's identity also comes right after Usagi and Mamoru sleep together for the first time; the look on Mamoru's face when he finds out is pure, priceless panic.) Even without knowing who she is, we're reminded that Usagi is still only an eighth grader based on her reactions to suddenly being saddled with a little girl; while this is annoying in that she's getting jealous of a pre-pubescent child, it also speaks to how far she has to go before she becomes the woman she will be in the future. That's something we also see play out in Chibi-Usa's character: that no matter how hard you try to act older than you are, the real strength is in being yourself and accepting it.
In some ways, this is the theme for these episodes. Chibi-Usa's entire character revolves around the fact that she feel inferior to her mother because her body has yet to mature and she cannot harness the powers of the Silver Crystal. Her plotline is one of self-esteem and a near-constant feeling of being overwhelmed. She's a child doing her best to save her parents and her home, but she wishes that she could simply do it, rather than having to ask for help. This leads to her contentious relationship with Usagi, who she resents even as she needs her. It also allows source of the Black Moon's evil powers, Wiseman, to corrupt her by playing on the fact that Mamoru, as the more mature half of her teenage parents, is warm and supportive; Wiseman is able to manipulate those feelings alongside her wish to be a powerful adult into something very Freudian. When Chibi-Usa at last comes to understand that she may have been the one holding herself back all along, we see the culmination of the show's emotional plotline an episode before its actual finale.
Of course, all of this really only works for Chibi-Usa and Usagi, and to a degree for Sailor Pluto, who takes on the role of sacrificing herself for the greater good that Sailor Moon usually has. Most of the other characters are sadly underdeveloped, something that Minako seems to be aware of as she grouses about being left behind when Usagi and Mamoru go off to confront the Black Moon. There are a few moments for each of the other Guardians, such as Makoto's ongoing friendship with Mamoru's kohai Asanuma and Ami's increasing affinity for her element, as well as more information about her relationship with her parents, culminating in a very good episode sixteen. But we never really go beyond that, and with Rei's abduction in the first episode, we hear about her development (she's friendlier) via Usagi's inner monologue rather than seeing it firsthand. As for the Black Moon, Demande is the only one who ever shows a clear motive, but that's almost lost as the story goes on and focusses more on him being evil for evil's sake; we can assume that Saphir is in it for his brother, but Rubeus and Esmeraude don't ever get a motive for their allegiance to the Black Moon.
The rapidity with which Mars, Mercury, and Jupiter are picked off by the villains is also an issue, giving them virtually no air time for most of the show. (Venus doesn't do much, but at least she's there.) While each of them does advance the fight, most notably Jupiter when she gets an earring away from her opponent, which allows the group to analyze the evil stone it's made of, it also just feels like a convenient way to trim down the cast and put Sailor Moon ahead of the rest of the Guardians. Granted, the series does bear her name, but for a show that is hailed as having a tight unit of superheroines, tactics like this one seem to make a mockery of that praise. On the bright side, Tuxedo Mask is much more proactive in these episodes, gaining his own attack and doing more than making pretty speeches and flinging roses. It's also implied that he's been chatting with the spirits of his Four Generals, which suggests that he's making a real attempt to be more involved in the Guardians' fight.
What's more upsetting is that many of the artistic issues that were pointed to when the show originally aired online in 2015 have not been corrected for the blu ray. While the discs themselves look great, with a bright, sharp image, there's an unfortunately high number of noodle legs, enormous heads, and jagged ankles, as well as fluctuating hair lengths and heel heights. Occasionally this is balanced out by some lovely animation, such as Neo Queen Serenity's skirt in episode 21 or Usagi's butterfly dress, but it's not quite enough to hide the scars. Other artistic problems can be laid firmly at the feet of Naoko Takeuchi herself, such as Chibi-Usa's friend Momo's way-too-full-for-an-eight-year-old figure or questionable cat anatomy; remember, sticking closer to the source material can be a double-edged sword.
The extras for this set, apart from containing both blu ray and DVD versions of the show, are a set of art cards with the original Japanese cover art, a booklet with interviews, original art, and storyboards, and on-disc both art galleries and an interview from Anime Expo with Momoiro Clover Z, the girl group who performs the theme songs. While their outfits are the most fascinating part of the interview, the content is also interesting enough to merit watching, especially if you're already a fan. The book interviews with the dub voice actors for Sailor Pluto, Chibi-Usa, Luna, and Artemis may be more interesting for those who care less about the music. In terms of the English dub, assuming you aren't wedded to the 1990s original, it continues to be excellent, with Sandy Fox's Chibi-Usa/Black Lady being particularly impressive.
Sailor Moon Crystal's second season hasn't found the stride it will in season three, and it stumbles in the art department. But the story of Chibi-Usa finding her strength and Usagi's fight to save the future remains engrossing, even if the other Guardians are underused. Condensing the original anime's storyline to fit more with the manga works well here in terms of the plot if not the characters, and although it has its issues, Sailor Moon's story still holds up.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : C
Art : C
Music : B
+ Condensed story makes Chibi-Usa less irritating, Sailor Pluto is a good addition, small hints of relationships with outside characters (such as Asanuma) ground the story, Tuxedo Mask does more
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