Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
BD+DVD - Season 1 Part 2
Usagi Tsukino is a pretty average fourteen-year-old. She's in her second year of middle school, clumsy and emotional, and perhaps not the most with it of girls. But she also has the power to defend the earth by transforming into Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon! Usagi's still feeling freaked out by her new responsibilities, but with her steadfast allies Sailor Mercury and Sailor Mars and new guardians Sailor Jupiter and Sailor Venus Usagi continues her fight against the Dark Kingdom. Queen Beryl's generals Kunzite and Zoicite are more difficult to fight than the previous two, and their plan to use the seven Rainbow Crystals to find the Silver Crystal and the moon princess meant the guardians have to fight harder than ever to make any headway in their battle. With Tuxedo Mask out of the picture and the truth about their pasts revealed, Sailor Moon and the Pretty Guardians are in for the fight of their lives – but Usagi is learning just how strong she really is, and that might make all the difference.
Well, they tried. It is apparent that the video quality has risen from the first disastrous release of Sailor Moon put out by Viz, and the untrained eye will mostly notice that in the Blu-Ray images are a bit clearer and the ghosting is less noticeable with the exceptions of the second and third episodes on disc one. Experts, however, will be able to see that the improvement has its limits: the DVDs have a blurred quality to the outlines and a slightly muddy one to the color, and on both sets of discs there is an inconsistency with the strength of the lines. Some episodes also suffer from so-called “mosquito noise,” basically a sort of swarming effect on some of the blocks of color. For fans of this original Sailor Moon anime, this is a dilemma, because while it does include episodes which were butchered or simply omitted from the first English release of the series, making for a show that flows organically even in its filler episodes and has a vicious finale, it is still not the flawless release that the show deserves. It is better, yes, but given the quality issues with set one, that isn't necessarily high praise.
Unlike other shows primarily enjoyed when we were younger, Sailor Moon does hold up. The story follows fourteen-year-old Usagi Tsukino, a kind of flaky second year in middle school who enjoys eating and playing video games more than studying. She's perpetually late, not hugely mature, and in short seems to be the world's least likely candidate for superhero. She's therefore shocked when the cat she rescued from a group of little kids starts talking to her, telling her that she has the power to transform into the Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon. As such, her job is to fight the minions of the Dark Kingdom, a mysterious group led by Queen Beryl who are stealing human energy for their Great Leader. Luna (the cat) also wants Sailor Moon to help her look for a princess, but she's a little fuzzy on the details. So literally kicking and screaming, Usagi becomes a superhero who fights for love and justice. As the story goes on, she finds that she is not alone in the fight: her classmate Ami Mizuno turns out to be Sailor Mercury and local Shinto shrine maiden Rei Hino is Sailor Mars, while a mysterious hot guy in a tuxedo, cape, and mask calling himself Tuxedo Mask also keeps appearing on the scene. This set of episodes also brings us Makoto Kino, a tough transfer student with a heart of gold, as Sailor Jupiter, and finally the mysterious heroine Sailor V joins the fight as Sailor Venus, together with her talking cat Artemis. With Nephrite eliminated at the start of this set of episodes, the fight is mostly against Zoicite and Kunzite, who have been returned to both being men in the new dub. Zoicite and Kunzite are better strategists than Nephrite or Jadeite, and Zoicite's decision to find the seven Rainbow Crystals as a means to revealing the location of the much-sought after Silver Crystal launches us into the major storyline of the second half. Ultimately, however, this is about the girls' past as denizens of the Moon Kingdom, and whether or not the mistakes of the past can be rectified in the future. To this end Usagi must become a stronger person, one who can see past her foolish actions of the past and find strength in herself as well as in those around her. This is primarily dealt with in the final two episodes, which are by no means an easy watch. Luckily for us this show comes from the time when telegraphing the events of the episode was done by title, so you pretty much know what's coming before you start watching. It is a testament to the show that it still manages to be emotionally effective.
The new dub script generally does a good job of adapting the subtitle track, though there are some interesting changes. Perhaps the most noticeable is that in the Japanese version the subtitles read that some people call Usagi a “crybaby,” while in the dub she says that she can be “a little emotional.” Other lines feel added in for humor value, such as Usagi's jabs at Mamoru's stunning green sport coat and purple pants combo, with a personal favorite being when she calls him a “walking fashion disaster.” It is funny, but it smacks a bit of ADV's old Ghost Stories dub as well. More bizarre, however, is the fact that the song subtitles are in a combination of romanji and translated English, with the first line reading “gomen-ne, it's hard for me to say” and one line simply reading “shinjiteiru-no.” This does not appear to make any sense, unless I am grossly wrong in my understanding of what these words mean in Japanese and they are, in fact, untranslatable. For those who experienced the bad old days of the Dic dub, Viz's new English-language track is both a treat and a somewhat bizarre experience. Somewhere in the back of your mind is the thought that Naru really ought to be called Molly and the memory of her tortured accent. There seems to be some tribute to that in some of the background characters, whose performances tend towards the campy. Ben Diskin as bespectacled dweeb Umino takes this to its limit, making his one of the more entertaining performances, as well as making the character stand out more than he does in the Japanese language version. Stephanie Sheh does an excellent job as Usagi, making her significantly less annoying than in any other version, while Robbie Daymond's Mamoru is a lot more fun than Darien ever was. Michelle Ruff gets Luna's exasperation to a T, and Lucien Dodge's Zoisite is convincingly androgynous, sounding more masculine when the character is angry, which works well. His Zoicite is much more understated than his predecessor, but quiet bursts of “zoi” when he unleashes his power does work and makes the character seem much less mentally unbalanced. Cherami Leigh and Amanda C. Miller are both terrific as Sailors Venus and Jupiter, with their transformation phrases sounding very similar to the original Japanese in terms of pacing.
What is the real draw to these episodes, apart from formerly missing content (and that hot springs episode really could have stayed lost), is the growth of the characters. With Tuxedo Mask out of play for much of the second half, Sailor Moon has to find strength within herself, and the revelation about her past makes it that much harder for her to figure herself out. She suffers from nightmares and fits of uncertainty, all very well shown in the final two episodes when she truly has to go it alone. She eventually realizes that she has to do what she, Usagi Tsukino, thinks is right, not what Sailor Moon or Princess Serenity would have wanted. Her inner strength comes from her present rather than her past, which is something that sets her apart from the other pretty guardians. As Usagi, she has a pretty great life. That's something worth remembering for her, and a source of power she didn't know she had. It also sends a good message to viewers, reminding us that it is not who we were, but who we are that helps to keep us grounded.
While there is still a monster-of-the-week feel to a lot of the filler (or rather, not in the manga) episodes, and poor Naru really ought to wear a T-shirt that proclaims “Official Victim of the Dark Kingdom,” a real effort is made to develop Rei, Ami, and Makoto as characters; Minako really comes in a bit too late for that this season. Ami and Rei, having been in the series longer, become fuller characters than Mako, and having that sense of character helps to make the finale stronger, particularly with Rei. Mamoru still lacks in the personality department, but even that has a bit of explanation, and we at least come to understand why he transforms into that particular outfit. Some of the imagery is more sexualized than you might have expected, with one sea-themed monster shooting...stuff...from her breasts; more interesting is the fact that non-manga episodes or sillier ones have a distinct increase in panty shots. (Plus one weird one where Mercury falls over and Jupiter makes an odd face while looking up her skirt.) We do see Sailor Moon herself consistently getting stronger, however, no matter how filler-y the episode; in a couple she even saves Tuxedo Mask instead of the other way around.
With some interesting foreshadowing of the fifth season, Sailor Stars, and one episode that feels a bit of a tribute to Naoko Takeuchi's figure skating manga The Cherry Project, there's always something happening on-screen in this second half of Sailor Moon's first season to keep you watching. The inclusion of previously cut material makes this a release worthy of the series' fame, as well as helping viewers to understand Sailor Moon Crystal's lukewarm reception. This is the story of a girl finding her own power. It isn't perfect and it still doesn't look as good as it ought to, but it is a series whose story ultimately holds up, even after twenty years.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : A-
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B
+ Usagi grows as a character, discovering her own strength; new dub makes her significantly less annoying. Strong English dub overall.
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