Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Sailor Moon Sailor Stars
Limited Edition Part 1
A new threat looms over Earth and the solar system. A woman calling herself Sailor Galaxia is attempting to take over every planet, and she's just come to Earth to continue her plans. At first she tries to use Queen Nehelenia, who is floating in a sort of suspended space, to fulfill her goals, but when that doesn't work, she sends her Sailor Anima Mates to seek out pure star seeds she can use. The Sailor Guardians are going to have their hands full with this one, not to mention the mysterious Sailor Starlights, three women who have appeared to look for their missing princess. Now if only the girls would stop getting distracted by the Three Lights, a trio of cute boys who have just made an entry on the music scene…
You may have read Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon's final story arc before or seen it in fansubs of questionable quality at some point, but there's a good chance that you've never seen it on Blu-ray with an English dub before. That's because Viz's release marks the series' first time available in the legal English-language market, which if you've been waiting since 1996 feels long overdue. Known as “Sailor Stars,” the series marks not only the finale of the show as a whole, but also some of the darkest material covered. While it isn't nearly on the level of the manga, at least not in these seventeen episodes, it does still cover some difficult territory, especially for fans of Mamoru or of Mamoru and Usagi as a couple.
But before the show gets into that, the first few episodes bring back Queen Nehelenia for a final go-round. This segment is interesting not so much in that it features Mamoru getting brainwashed again but in how it uses mythology and the literary fairy tale “The Snow Queen” together while also forcing the Sailor Guardians to work in pairs they don't normally wind up in. Nehelenia, who rules the dark side of the moon, is cast as a modern misunderstanding of the Greek goddess Hecate, who in the maiden/mother/crone trinity takes the crone role and is the goddess of the new (dark) moon, magic, and crossroads. Today she's often seen as a Halloween witch, and so associating Nehelenia with that allows us to understand how she's been cast as one specific thing when she's really much more than that. The use of the mirror (and the actual crone version of herself in SuperS) both support this, while also allowing us to see her as Andersen's Snow Queen, particularly when shards of mirror fall into people's eyes, changing them.
Perhaps more important, however, is the fact that this mini-arc allows the show to bring back the Outer Guardians, who were taking an anime-only vacation last season. They immediately get the power-ups they need to match the Inner Guardians in strength (although no new attacks), and Hotaru, whom the anime sent off with her dad at the end of S, has a major growth spurt in order to live with Setsuna, Haruka, and Michiru and realign things with the manga for plot progression purposes. While they don't do a huge amount after the Nehelenia storyline ends, they are important backup in several cases, although largely they feel as if they're there to drop double-entendres and wait in the wings for the latter half of the series.
Both Haruka and Michiru are firm in their distrust of both the Three Lights and the somewhat infamous Sailor Starlights. From a narrative perspective, it's interesting to note that once Mamoru heads off to study abroad, the story begins to run almost like earlier seasons, with Seiya's interactions with Usagi mirroring those she had with Mamoru in season one and the Starlights in general acting very much like Uranus and Neptune did when they first came in in season three. Galaxia's initial henchwomen, Sailors Iron Mouse, Lead Crow, and Aluminum Siren, aren't quite as similar to Beryl's generals, but the way they pick their victims is still familiar, although that may be more to them following the standard operating procedure of all Sailor Moon villains – find the most famous or prettiest person and just assume they're who you want, rinse, repeat.
While Naoko Takeuchi's original manga is somewhat less definite about the Starlights, the anime thus far seems to go out of its way to show us that they are, at least on Earth, physically male until they transform. Despite this, all three are voiced by women in both forms, in both English and Japanese. While they do a decent enough job at sounding like teen boys, it still feels like an odd choice given how definitively male they are as Seiya, Taiki, and Yaten. But fans need not worry about Sailor Star Healer's attack – “Star Gentle Uterus,” one of the most bizarrely named attacks even for this show, remains intact in the English dub.
More at issue, however, is the way that the girls feel at least moderately out of character. While it's great to see Ami showing interest in something beyond her books, Rei's bitchiness seems to have been upped significantly, and Minako's personality has been all but eclipsed by her fangirling over the Three Lights, as has Luna's. Usagi at first seems to have matured somewhat, needing less direction as Eternal Sailor Moon and showing zero interest in boys who aren't Mamoru, but that backslides as the series progresses. While the lack of communication from Mamoru is certainly a valid factor, as is the desire to fit in with her friends, something about it just feels like backtracking on her character rather than developing it.
Sailor Iron Mouse, the villain for most of this set, is one of the more endearing (if that's the right words) antagonists in the show. Apart from the fact that she's clearly up to no good, her utter refusal to engage with Eternal Sailor Moon's speeches is a lot of fun (and makes you wonder why the other villains refused to be similarly rude), and her character design is adorable. English VA Katie Leigh also does a good job of making her sound cute but not obnoxiously so, something that also holds true of Stephanie Sheh's Chibi Chibi; both characters could easily have gone right into “irritating” if their voices were too syrupy.
As with other limited editions, this set comes in a sparkly chipboard box with space for part two and an illustrated booklet. The booklet is not without flaws, unfortunately, the most egregious in my eyes being that Haruka and Michiru are referred to as “partners” and “friends” when the show goes out of its way to let us know that they're lovers. Also included are three interviews, two with Stephanie Sheh (one as Usagi and one as Chibi Chibi) and one with Laura Post, the voice of Nehelenia. All are interesting, but clips of the show are slightly too long, which makes them drag a bit.
Sailor Stars has been a long time coming in a legal release, and it's nice to finally have one. The series is not without its issues (frequent off-model animation and waists that look like someone took a chomp out of the girls' mid-sections among them), but these episodes do a good job of setting up for the much darker finale to come. It isn't perfect, but it does feel like it was worth the wait.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : C+
Art : C+
Music : B-
+ Interesting parallels with other seasons, good Galaxia set up, cute characters who aren't annoying
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