Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Sailor Moon SuperS: The Movie
and Ami's First Love Special
Something strange is happening: all over the world, children are vanishing in the dead of night. It isn't long before Chibi-Usa is among the kids targeted, and oddly enough, it's right after she encounters a mysterious boy named Perle who looks as if he has wings. It turns out that Perle is one of several fairies in charge of the dreams of children, and the only one who hasn't fallen under the corrupting influence of Queen Badiane, an evil woman who wants to use the sugar energy of children's dreams to power her takeover of the Earth. Can Sailor Moon and the other Sailor Guardians put a stop to her plans? Then, in its first official English release, Ami discovers that a stranger named Mercurius is matching her scores on all of the practice exams. Is this Ami's first love, or is there something else going on?
This isn't the first time that the Sailor Moon SuperS movie has been released for English-speaking audiences, but the same can't be said about the SuperS special Ami's First Love. That makes seeing the theatrical release of the film even more exciting – of all of the Sailor Guardians, Mercury arguably gets the least time to be silly, and this short special feature not only allows that, but also really gives her a chance to shine rather than be overshadowed by her more rambunctious teammates. Ami's role is usually that of the brains of the group, the one Guardian who can be counted on to be serious when the situation warrants it and who considers all angles of an enemy before charging ahead. Ami's First Love, based on a short story written by original mangaka Naoko Takeuchi, takes her out of that particular pigeonhole, reminding us that she's a fifteen-year-old girl too and just as prone to being a kid as the rest of the group.
The basic plot of Ami's special is that she's suddenly not the absolute top student in Japan anymore – she finds herself sharing the honor with someone calling himself “Mercurius.” (Ami's been taking tests under the alias “Mercury.”) Used to being the top dog, Ami finds herself obsessing over who Mercurius might be, to the point where she's exhausting herself trying to hunt him down and beat him on at least one test. Her friends, not used to this hyper-competitive side of Ami (because after all, she hardly has to compete with them for the top scores), decide that perhaps this means that Ami's experiencing her first love. They're not the only ones – a youma named Bonnun also thinks that might be the case, and she decides to latch on to Ami and drain her romantic energy. The joke's of course on her, because Ami's not only allergic to love, but that's far from what she's feeling, and in her delirium she takes things in a very different direction.
Ami being competitive isn't out of the norm for the character, so what makes this special so good for her as a character is that we get to see her pushing herself to extremes in that name of that competitiveness. Normally gentle Ami is transformed into a driven fiend of academic achievement, not because she wants to go to medical school in the future, but because she can't quite stomach not being the absolute best. She becomes almost Usagi-like in her blind obsession, and that's such a departure for her as a character that it makes her feel much more like the teenage girl she is. Watching her friends be utterly flummoxed by her extreme reactions shows us that they're also surprised by her transformation, and you get the feeling that they're really seeing Ami for the first time.
Visually, both this and the SuperS film are gorgeous, and Ami's First Love comes with the added bonus of a new transformation, end pose, and attack animation for Sailor Mercury. Given that the film really skimps on the transformations, especially in comparison to the S movie, this is a major draw, especially if you're a fan of transformation scenes in general. In terms of Ami specifically, both the special and the film make her hair less helmet-like, achieving something much closer to how she'll be drawn in later episodes of Sailor Moon Crystal. This is generally true of everyone's hair and longer ribbons (per the second half of the SuperS TV series), and even poor Tuxedo Mask getting the crap beat out of him by the Bon Bon Baddies is more fluid than the Classic TV series in general.
As might be expected from a film based on “sugar energy,” the colors are also especially bright and cheerful here. In some cases that sadly just serves to highlight some of the more questionable fashion choices of 1995 Japan, like Mamoru's salmon-pink pants or Makoto's apparently inflatable skirt, but for the most part it makes the action more vibrant. The fairies are beautifully fantastic, and it's interesting to note the similarities between Perle and Helios from the main SuperS series, especially as it hearkens back to the visual similarities between the R movie and the villains of the Doom Tree cycle of its TV series. More telling, however, is the fact that Queen Badiane shares some iconography with Sailor Galaxia of the Stars season of the classic anime – from her vaguely sailor-suit-styled outfit to her facial features, she seems to foreshadow Sailor Moon's final villain and the overall theme of Stars.
The story of the film is not quite as well-developed as the previous movies, and as with the SuperS TV specials, it seems to simply shoehorn in the Outer Guardians as a way to remind viewers that they're still around. (Although Michiru's joke about adult pleasures and Haruka's accompanying blush are a humor highlight.) That said, we do see that Usagi understands that her jealousy of Chibi-Usa is ridiculous, at least on one level; when Badiane has trapped her in a dream, she recognizes that Mamoru's easy statement that he loves her more than their daughter isn't something he'd really say, with the mild implication that she wouldn't really want him to think that way at all. By positioning her as Chibi-Usa's mother in the way that she saves her and gives her her own energy to wake from Badiane's dream coffin Usagi breaks out of the shell she's been placed in during the SuperS TV series, allowing the progress she made as a character during S to shine back through.
It really is her and Chibi-Usa's movie in that sense. The other Guardians are there and are helping, but this is really about Sailor Moon's desire to save her daughter and other children from Badiane's clutches. While that doesn't always hold up well – at one point Usagi spanks Chibi-Usa to wake her up – it does really give her a chance to show us why she's the heroine of the series. She truly does care, and even though she relies on the other Guardians or Tuxedo Mask to tell her what to do and when, when the cards are all down, Usagi really can save everybody all by herself.
Although I didn't get to see either of these with the new dub, both the SuperS movie and Ami's First Love special hold up as classic pieces of the Sailor Moon story. Ami's special is perhaps more interesting in terms of character development and overall novelty, but the movie is enjoyable, if a bit lighter than either of its predecessors. Fans of the overall franchise should be happy with how these two pieces have aged, both visually and as classic Sailor Moon tales.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Ami's special gives her a chance to develop, SuperS film gives Usagi back some of her S advancements as a character. Special is quite funny, beautiful animation for both.
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