Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon: Crystal, Episode 28: “Infinity, 1: Premonition, Second Part.” Toei Animation, April 11, 2016. 24 minutes. Available on Crunchyroll.
In spite of myself, I’m impressed by what I’m seeing in this third season of Sailor Moon: Crystal. Somebody must have thrown money at it.
Oddly, it’s almost as if someone working on the project read my last post between that episode and this one. That didn’t happen, obviously, but it feels as if it did, because I see a lot of changes addressing my criticisms. All of a sudden, Sailor Moon makes the kind of cartoonish faces she used to make in the old days:
The humor still plods, but there is an obvious attempt to make it snappier. It’s not sharp, but it’s certainly within the range of acceptable. The episode also shows evidence that the English translator looked up the Kodansha Comics release of Sailor Moon since the last episode, since “reversion” (the name for the monsters) has been changed to “atavism.” The word “Hoste,” which the comic uses for what the villains are trying to steal from people (souls, basically), also shows up. That too is from the comic, where the translator goes to some length in an endnote to justify it.
This episode finishes off the first chapter from the “Infinity” arc of the manga. The episode focuses, as much of the series will from this point forward, on Chibi-Usa, also known as Sailor Chibi Moon, the little pink-haired girl. The excuse for her existence is that she’s Sailor Moon’s daughter who traveled back in time from the future, but in practical terms she is, as her name implies, Sailor Moon’s Mini-Me. She’s also Sailor Moon’s Minmay, a divisive character on whom many fans have a hate-crush. I don’t find her particularly obnoxious myself, but she does have a tendency to take over everything even though she’s better suited to a role as sidekick or mascot. In fact, the next arc after “Infinity” will be all about her … her and her magical pony boyfriend.
The villainous organizations whom the sailor guardians battle tend to be similarly structured. At the top is the final boss, usually some sort of chthonic monstrosity from beyond space and time, and under the final boss is a lieutenant, and under the lieutenant is a group of level bosses. Under them is an army of faceless mooks. The villains this time are called the Death Busters. Their master is some sort of formless monster called Pharaoh 90, whose lieutenant is Mistress 9. The level bosses are the Witches 5. Don’t ask me to explain the numbers because I can’t. They come from another star system and have apparently arrived on Earth to snack on human souls, or something like that (I admit I couldn’t quite get a handle on their motives when I read the comic). Complicating matters are a mad scientist, his sickly daughter, a couple of teenage celebrities with ambiguous motives, and mysterious dreams prophesying three talismans that will lead to destruction.
Also, there are the “atavisms,” which are black globs that latch onto people or animals and turn them into rampaging monsters. Those are the faceless mooks.
In this episode, Sailor Moon uses her transformation pen to go undercover to investigate the Mugen Academy, a ridiculously posh private school where the atavisms appear to be coming from.
Meanwhile, Mamoru (alter ego of gentleman thief-turned-superhero Tuxedo Mask and Sailor Moon’s heartthrob) has to take Chibi-Usa and her school friends to an amusement park, which brings Chibi-Usa into contact with Hotaru Tomoe, a mysterious girl with a mysterious disease, and probably the most interesting character in the arc. The old Sailor Moon S anime altered the details of Hotaru considerably, so I’m looking forward to Crystal’s visual interpretations of some revelations about her later on, as well as the reactions of fans who only know the franchise from the previous animated version.
While this is going on, the other sailor guardians are just sort of hanging out. In the manga, an atavism attacks while Usagi and Chibi-Usa are meeting Hotaru, so they transform and dispatch the monster. Crystal, however, finds an excuse to have the other guardians arrive as well, and then it presents an impressive battle sequence.
It first treats us to the same transformations and hammy catch-phrases we got in the last episode, which is a lot of transforming to get twice in a row, but they are, at least, really good transformations. Crystal here pays homage to the previous anime; when she’s done transforming, Sailor Moon does her “in the name of the moon” speech, complete with all the hand gestures. The other girls also get in their cheesy lines.
The battle proceeds with further well-animated homages. Sailors Moon and Chibi Moon comically run from the monster just like in the old days while the more competent guardians fire off their called attacks. Of particular note is the new animation for Sailor Mars’s fire mandala, in which she machine-guns fireballs out of her fists.
Sailor Moon finishes the monster off with the Moon Spiral Heart Attack. Compare these two videos, and you’ll see how the new animation was designed to be a souped-up version of the old:
Finally, the episode gives us more of these two:
I’m not sure what to say about these characters at this point. In the comic, these two are, at this time, completely mysterious. In the comic, they appear in the background so you can’t make out details, and the reason one is wearing a mask and cape is so the reader can mistake her for a man. But Sailor Moon: Crystal works on the assumption, probably correct, that everyone watching knows who these characters are anyway. So heck with it (spoiler warning), that’s Sailors Uranus and Neptune. And if you can’t tell already that they’re the same people as teenage racecar driver Haruka and prodigal violinist Michiru, then you probably also couldn’t tell that Darth Sidious was the same as Palpatine.
The animators are so unconcerned with protecting these characters’ identities until the reveal, they’ve dedicated the end credit sequence to the two of them wallowing, Revolutionary Girl Utena-style, in rose petals and ambiguous lesbianism:
Sailor Uranus is an interesting albeit not very likeable character. She’s inspired by otokoyaku, the women who play male roles in the all-female Takarazuka theater. This brand of theater has inspired a lot of manga and anime, the most notable and influential being the historical drama Rose of Versailles, which has itself been adapted into a Takarazuka show, in which a girl raised as a boy implausibly grows up to become the captain of Marie Antoinette’s royal guard. Rose of Versailles was big in the Seventies and shaped the direction of shoujo manga and anime after it. Uranus can be understood as a spiritual descendant of Oscar de Jarjayes, Rose of Versailles’ crossdressing heroine, as she pretends to be male in her alter ego, and even packs a sword that looks vaguely like a rapier.
Sailor Moon is the Lord of the Rings of magical girls; every magical girl story after it, even the most original, falls under its shadow one way or another. Particularly of note, Sailor Moon directly inspired the aforementioned Revolutionary Girl Utena, a dense, ambitious, and influential series I’ll roll up my sleeves and try to unpack in a later post. The still frame above looks to me like Crystal’s acknowledgement of that influence.
To my mind, the one thing really missing from Crystal is the feel of the manga. Its attempts to be more like the original anime are probably wise at this point, but the 90s anime and the manga on which it was based had very different feels to them. Reading the manga, with its undisciplined artwork, crazy plots, abrupt scene transitions, migraine-inducing layouts, and general lack of internal logic, is like reading the chronicle of a dream, or maybe an acid trip. Crystal is a deliberately paced and often flat-footed attempt to replicate the imagery of the manga frame-by-frame, correctly capturing the design elements but missing the manic inventiveness that was probably largely responsible for its popularity. That being said, I appreciate the improvements Crystal has made this season. It is worth watching for the transformations, the called attacks, and some of the new designs, at least.