Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Sailor Moon R Movie: Promise of the Rose
As a child, Mamoru Chiba was the only survivor of a car accident that claimed the lives of his parents. While recovering in the hospital, he met a little boy named Fiore, and the two became friends. Years later, Fiore, who was actually an alien, returns to Mamoru, ready to fulfill a promise all but forgotten. Fiore is determined that only he can truly love and support Mamoru, and he threatens to destroy the earth so that he can be Mamoru's one and only. Now it's up to Usagi and the rest of the Sailor Guardians to stop his plan, save the world, and prove that love isn't nearly as selfish as Fiore imagines.
Originally released in 1993 and later appearing on both VHS and DVD from Geneon between 1999 and 2004, Sailor Moon R Movie: Promise of the Rose is both the first of three Sailor Moon theatrical releases and the best. The story only tangentially involves the Sailor Guardians and their powers – at its heart, it is about the nature of love and acceptance, themes which are present in the TV series and manga, but which here receive a deeper treatment. The film's plot also allows Mamoru to become more of a grounded character – we know that he's an orphan, but coming to understand exactly what happened to him as a child and the affect it had on him fills him out, and if nothing else makes his obsession with red roses make sense.
The story is centered on Mamoru's experiences right after the car crash that killed his parents. While confused and suffering emotionally in the hospital, he encounters Fiore, a young alien boy who has been drifting through space looking for a place to belong. Since Mamoru is also uncertain of his place in the world following the loss of his parents, he takes Fiore under his wing, and the two become fast friends. Earth's atmosphere is not good for the alien boy, however, and he has to depart. Just before he leaves, Mamoru offers him a single red rose, and Fiore vows to return the favor one day.
As you can see, there is a fine line drawn between romantic love and its platonic counterpart in this relationship. Red roses signify love, with a single bright red rose specifically carrying that meaning. Fiore, whose name is the Italian word for flower, certainly has a different appreciation of the solitary bloom Mamoru offers him, and when he promises to return with a flower for Mamoru, he means it as a love token; the fact that Fiore comes back with multiple reddish flowers could be in tribute to the fact that a bouquet of fifty red roses means “unconditional love,” generally in the romantic sense. To Fiore, flowers are the ultimate sign of love, and he can't understand that Usagi's feelings for Mamoru are codified in her actions and words. Those aren't a physical symbol, and therefore Usagi's love can't be as “real” as his. Declaring that if he can't have Mamoru, no one can, Fiore, guided by the parasitic Xenian Flower that has fueled his actions, sets out to destroy Usagi and the world together.
The crux of this film is in comparing Usagi's selflessness to the actions of the rest of the world. Certainly we see her ready to give up everything to save her friends and Fiore, but in the Guardians' thoughts about her and the final childhood flashback we can understand that being caring is what truly makes her a princess. (Stephanie Sheh, the latest English voice of the character, has also remarked that this is the point where you can really see her as Princess Serenity.) Usagi is heedless of herself when it comes to others in need, and while almost all of the material shown during the “Moon Revenge” song sequence is from the TV show, her actions in the film allow us to see them in a new light. Usagi may not have meant anything special when she befriended each of the Sailor Guardians, but the fact that she looked beyond appearances and rumors to become their friends in the first place is what makes her special. For all of her faults, Usagi genuinely cares, and that is why she can risk everything over and over again. She isn't a perfect person or an academically smart one, but her emotional IQ is through the roof. Her true strength isn't tied up with her Moon Rod; it's in her ability to care.
That's the lesson that Fiore must learn. Chibi-Usa, who only plays a brief role in the film, tells Luna and Artemis that Sailor Moon is like a mother to everyone, and that is a fair way to classify her capacity to love and care for everyone, albeit in a 1950s stereotypical kind of way. (Children of the 1980s may also see a distinct resemblance to the Care Bears.) When put that way, it does highlight some of the franchise's more outdated aspects of femininity, such as the way Makoto is described in the accompanying short “Make Up! Sailor Guardians” as “the master of cooking and cleaning.” That short, which is about fifteen minutes long, serves the purpose of re-introducing us to all of the Guardians before the film starts, laying out the basics of who they are framed by Usagi and Chibi-Usa eavesdropping on a couple of girls gossiping in front of the movie poster. If you're up-to-date on the franchise, it can be a bit dull, but for those unfamiliar with the gang, it provides a handy guide before the action.
“Action” here isn't just a way to describe the plot. Although the story is primarily emotional, there are impressive fight scenes that show off the film's animation, which is several cuts above what we typically see in the TV series. Each Guardian's attacks are gorgeously animated and the ways they can use them are expanded; both Mars and Jupiter are able to use focused beams of fire and lightening to simply laser away enemies and Mercury's water and ice appear to be much more effective in general. Physical attacks, specifically on the girls, look very painful, with bodies showing the effects of being slammed into a steel door or a phone booth. All of this, it should be mentioned, pertains to the traditional animation; what CG there is definitely suffers from 1993 in its chatter and general quality.
Perhaps more interesting is the way that fanservice is present in the film. While we see no more leg or underwear than we usually do in the TV series, the way in which we see them is different here; angles and slow pans, to say nothing of positioning, make everything much more sexual. The first Xenian Flower the Guardians meet takes it a bit further – her gaping maw capitalizes on the Georgia O'Keefe theory of flowers by appearing a bit like the mythological vagina dentata, and later her multiple spider legs make it look as if she's always standing or sitting with her legs wide open. A scene towards the end of the film has Fiore draining Sailor Moon of her energy before dropping her to the ground, where she lies sprawled, blank-eyed, and panting, very much like a victim of sexual assault. (Interestingly enough, when Tuxedo Mask saves her, her legs are quickly closed.)
The new Viz dub is as strong as ever. Although Ben Diskin, playing Fiore, doesn't quite hit the silky tones of Hikaru Midorikawa's original performance, he still does a very good job and gives Fiore just the right amount of romantic love gone wrong in his voice to make the character effective and a threat to Usagi. Sandy Fox's Chibi-Usa continues to feel toned-down from earlier English versions of the character, and that works especially well given the girl's few but important lines in both film and short. Songs remain in Japanese for both features, with character songs playing in the background of each person's introduction during the short and “Moon Revenge” remaining one of the best of the franchise's insert songs. None of the songs are subtitled, which may be an annoyance for some viewers. The background music is particularly epic for the film, and it says something about the action that the music doesn't feel overblown; in a less engaging story, it would run that risk.
Whether you've seen this movie before or not, Sailor Moon R Movie: Promise of the Rose is a particularly good piece of the franchise. It distills many of the series' themes down to a highly effective point, making it clear why the series is so beloved: Usagi may not get everything right or always do things the best way, but in the end what truly motivates her is the fact that she honestly and genuinely cares.
Overall (dub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Distills the franchise to its basic themes effectively, dub is strong. Some good music and interesting use of imagery.
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