Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal
Blu-ray/DVD - Set 1 [Limited Edition]
Usagi Tsukino is an ordinary fourteen-year-old girl, maybe more of a crybaby than most, but generally living a comfortably life with her mom, dad, and younger brother. Then one day, while she's running to school, she stumbles upon a black cat with band-aids on her forehead. She removes them to reveal that the cat has a crescent mark, and before Usagi knows what's happening, she's suddenly got the power to transform into the Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon! Now she must find the other Sailor Guardians and the Princess of the Lost Moon Kingdom in order to save the world from the Dark Kingdom, which is bent on Earth's destruction.
Sailor Moon Crystal has received more than its fair share of criticism, much of it initially aimed at this first arc, the Dark Kingdom storyline. This Blu-ray/DVD release of the first fourteen episodes does a lot to alleviate some of the artistic issues, specifically off-model characters and lackluster animation moments (with the notable exceptions of episodes seven and fourteen), while the storyline fares better for a binge watch than it did on a bi-weekly basis. If you've written this reboot off, it's still worth checking it out in this physical release, even if it isn't the perfect version of Naoko Takeuchi's seminal manga that fans were hoping for.
One of Crystal's selling points was its renewed fidelity to the source material, Takeuchi's 90's manga, which turns out to be a double-edged sword. While the lack of goofy monsters-of-the-week promotes a faster-paced storyline, it also deprives the other Sailor Guardians of character development. That's not to say it isn't there at all – Crystal makes it clear that before Usagi befriended them, each of the other girls were outcasts, ignored or actively shunned by their peers. To closed-minded middle schoolers, they read as “different,” most often seen in the case of Rei, whose spiritual powers scare children and adults in her neighborhood. Ami and Makoto, on the other hand, are victims of more classic misperceptions, with Makoto's reputation as a dangerous thug backed by her Amazonian stature and Ami's shyness being misread as snootiness. Usagi is the only one who can see past all this, making her strength as a leader internal rather than external. While she can still be annoying, moreso in the Japanese dub than the English, we also get an understanding of what makes her special, which is important to her role as the primary heroine. While we could argue that the other girls' issues exist to make Usagi shine, there's still just enough to give everyone their own separate sense of character, even if it's never taken quite far enough.
More interesting is Crystal's treatment of Sailor Venus. Unlike the classic anime, Sailor Moon Crystal bases Minako's character on her prequel series, Codename: Sailor V, whose title is even said aloud at one point in the show. This gives Minako a more mature air, like she's seen some things that the other girls can't even imagine, along with a more a tragic flavor, since she knows more about the Sailors' previous lives than anyone else and that in some cases, history is doomed to repeat itself. This makes the series' different take on the Four Kings of Heaven, Jadeite, Nephrite, Zoicite, and Kunzite, more tragic as well as more frustrating; attempts are made to develop them more than either the classic series or the manga, but the end result feels like a waste of that effort. It also has a negative effect on the purported reason for the girls' reincarnations in the present, to right the wrongs of the past and let them be happy. Apparently that only applies to Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask.
Speaking of Tuxedo Mask, his role improves in this new series. No longer just a cheeseball with roses or a creepy college student hitting on a middle school girl, his human form, Mamoru Chiba, is a high-schooler with some actual powers of his own, such as reading auras and being tied to the Earth itself. While there are still some issues, like kissing an unconscious Usagi twice, he and Sailor Moon are more equal partners. He also feels more grounded in the Greek myth of Selene and Endymion, which makes his periods of forgetfulness or brainwashing seem equivalent to his mythological eternal sleep, during which he is visited by Selene, the goddess of the full moon who loves him. It's worth noting that with the interchangeable nature of the English letters r and l in Japanese, “Serenity” and “Selene” are not too far off in terms of pronunciation.
In terms of the presentation, the use of CG for transformations remains a major issue. Not only is it poorly rigged, particularly on the wrists and feet, but clothing fabric has a plastic-y sheen, as if costumes are made out of shower curtains. Sailor Venus's transformation is the best, but we only see it once over the course of these fourteen episodes. Sadly, these issues are all the more visible on the blu-ray, which looks nice, unlike Viz's releases of classic Sailor Moon. (This is doubtless due to the fact that the show was animated in 2014 with a blu-ray release in mind; regardless it's crisp, clear, and bright.) Most of the artistic problems from the broadcast have been fixed, but noodle-limbs and a host of problems with Luna remain, such as her ever-changing appearance and awkward movement. Ami also looks like she suffers from severe scoliosis post-transformation, although her movements are otherwise fine. We do get a good idea of how quickly the transformation process actually is in later episodes, and the new character designs are very pretty, even if the mouths look perpetually pursed.
Both vocal casts are strong, but Stephanie Sheh's performance as Usagi/Sailor Moon really helps bring the character out of her more annoying aspects, with the only complaint being that her giggling often sounds forced. Michelle Ruff's Luna is also particularly strong, showing great emotional range toward the end of the set. Viz's limited edition release, which comes in a pale pink box with gold designs reminiscent of the mid-twentieth century, includes a booklet with episode summaries, art, and interviews with the main cast, which are interesting to read. There's also a video interview with Sailors Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Venus, and Tuxedo Mask, which is fun to watch; Robbie Daymond even sports a Mamo-chan baseball cap. Other extras of note are seven art cards reproducing the original Japanese blu-ray covers and a small art gallery on the set's second disc.
Sailor Moon Crystal may not be the perfect reboot of Sailor Moon that some were hoping for, but it's still a good show in its own right. Binge-watching it really does make the story flow better than the original bi-weekly broadcast schedule, and while its attempts to “fix” some elements of Takeuchi's original story fall flat in the end, they're still interesting as elements that set this version of the story apart from others. Whether you're new to the franchise or have been a fan since 1992, its different take on Sailor Moon's material is worth checking out.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Attempts to build on the original manga, dub voices are strong and help make Usagi less irritating, Tuxedo Mask is stronger as a character, art is improved from the broadcast version
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