Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal: Season III
Limited Edition BD+DVD
With the Dark Moon defeated and Chibi-Usa living in the 21st century for training, the Sailor Guardians are looking forward to a little more down time, especially as the girls head into entrance exam period. That all changes when Rei and Mamoru begin having troubling dreams, and two new Sailor Guardians appear who aren't interested in being friends. Meanwhile, more supernatural troubles seem to be coming from Mugen Academy. Are they tied to their new enemies, the Death Busters? If Sailor Moon can't rise to the occasion, what will happen to Earth?
The third season of Sailor Moon Crystal brings a few changes to the table even as it embarks on the difficult task of retelling a fan-favorite storyline from the classic series. Among the most noticeable shifts is the art – falling somewhere between the simplified designs from the classic Sailor Moon series and the slightly too ornate (but more manga-faithful) art of the first two seasons, the new look is one that overall works much better. It's attractive and retains Naoko Takeuchi's love of art nouveau touches and the original manga's ever-present wind, but it also has a sleeker, more modern look that makes things simply flow better. (The addition of a thigh gap for the girls is an unfortunate side effect.) It also ages all of the characters down a little in terms of how they appear – with the notable exception of Chibi-Usa's school friend Momo, who still has a bit too much of a figure for a second grader, all of the characters now look more their ages, with the adjustment being most noticeable in Mamoru. Again, it's a nice shift, and together with the switch to traditional animation for the transformation scenes, this is the best looking of what Sailor Moon Crystal has done so far.
The major question, however, is how well the new series adapts the Death Busters arc from the manga, which enjoys a lot of popularity in the form of the Sailor Moon S TV series. If we acknowledge the fact that Crystal is working with many fewer episodes than S was (thirteen in total), the answer is that it does a pretty good job. What suffers is the added character development for the Sailor Guardians, which admittedly isn't a great sacrifice to have to make. Only Usagi and Chibi-Usa really get a lot of development, although everyone does have their small moments. The theme of the season, is learning to see the light in the darkness, and then coming to understand that sometimes we have to be that light when there's no other source; this really is a central concept to Usagi's role as both Sailor Moon and Neo Queen Serenity and to Chibi-Usa's understanding of her own worth and power. That said, it feels unfair that the most that the Inner Guardians do much of the time is simply donate their powers to Sailor Moon to help her become Super Sailor Moon. Perhaps the intended takeaway is that everyone has to work together to help banish the darkness, but it at times simply makes Sailor Moon look like less of a heroine on her own. Also troubling is Haruka's more aggressive attitude towards Usagi, including the semi-infamous forced kiss scene. While Haruka/Uranus seems to maintain that keeping the princess at a distance is the best way to protect her, she also contradicts herself through some of her more predatory actions.
The actual Death Busters portion of the story, on the other hand, is well done. While it does include some slightly bizarre plot twists, like that fun time Mamoru and the Guardians steal Chibi-Usa's corpse from the hospital or everyone's sudden inexplicable ability to fly, the Witches 5 and Mistress 9 plotlines are well carried out. Like the Guardians, the Witches do get considerably less character development (at least in terms of Eudial and Mimete), but they also become much more alarming villains as a result. Making them less sympathetic ramps up the sense of danger surrounding Hotaru as well, which is arguably a major issue for Chibi-Usa's development: Hotaru is her first true friend and one of the first people to see Chibi-Usa as more than just an annoyance, and Chibi-Usa's wholehearted acceptance of Hotaru despite her quirks pushes her closer to becoming a true Sailor Guardian. As for Hotaru herself, her friendship with Chibi-Usa also benefits from the increased danger, pushing her to realize what she needs to do in order to take charge of her own life. As I said before, the overall theme of the season is finding the light in the dark; Hotaru's very name, which means “firefly,” indicates that that is part of her mission, as both a person and as a Sailor Guardian.
This ties in with the overall Sleeping Beauty motif used for the Mistress 9 segment of the story. Not only is Chibi-Usa in a form of enchanted sleep, but Hotaru is wrapped in thorny vines, both reminiscent of the French variant of the tale, The Sleeping Beauty in the Woods. This is further carried out when Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto try to hack their way in to the Death Busters' lair – the vines keep growing back, refusing to let them through. Tale-wise, this indicates that they are not the ones who will save either princess, and ultimately it is those two princesses (plus a neo queen) who will rescue themselves and each other. Interestingly enough, this can also be seen as tying in with the idea of Sailor Saturn, whose role is not just bringing death, but also rebirth, something the characters all seem unaware of. Like the sleeper wakes, one end brings another start, which is another ongoing theme of the overall five-story arc of the entire Sailor Moon series.
The music for this season is entirely new, eschewing the previous “Moon Pride” for a new opening theme with three different versions. (The third, performed by Momoiro Clover Z, is definitely the most tuneful.) There are also three new ending themes, of which the first, “Eternal Eternity,” performed by the Japanese voice actors for Neptune and Uranus, is the best. The second, sung by what sounds like Chibi-Usa and a barbershop quartet, is cute, while Mamoru's rounds out the group with a vaguely disco feel. Extras with the limited edition are as usual – a very nice booklet with episode summaries, art, and interviews with the entire cast, art cards of the original Japanese box art, and on-disc art galleries, cast interviews, and AX features. All of the interviews are perhaps the most interesting of the extras, from Keith Silverstein (Professor Tomoe)'s planned course schedule at Mugen Academy to more serious questions of how the English actors have changed their characters between classic and crystal and how they feel about performing the same roles as well-known Japanese seiyu.
Sailor Moon Crystal's third season isn't just a rehash of Sailor Moon S, and while that has its issues with character development, it also still makes for a tight, interesting storyline. With the tweaked artwork and increased cast of Guardians, plus a just generally less campy take on the Death Busters characters, it's the best of the three seasons of Crystal thus far.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Good vocal casts, themes are worked through smoothly, new art style works, more menacing villains
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