Like many magical girl fans, I have sometimes daydreamed about what a live-action Sailor Moon movie might look like. My imaginary version would probably piss off most of the fans, because it’s a gritty Kung fu film directed by the same guy who did The Raid. No, I’m serious.
For some fans, daydreaming is not enough. They take it to the next level and actually make the movie. There have been several such projects, and even though they’re not-for-profit, they have a habit of disappearing because of copyright claims. In fact, when I stumbled across Sailor Moon: The Movie on YouTube, I mistakenly believed it was the 2011 short film starring Avery Danielle, but I was wrong. That one, sadly, is gone from the interwebs. No, this is the 2015 loooong film starring MaryBeth Schroeder, and it clocks in at a whopping two hours and twenty-two minutes. That’s the size of an epic-length feature film.
This is the brainchild of one David Paritsky, a college film student with lots of energy and no money, who taught himself to use some off-the-shelf special effects software before he grabbed a camera, grabbed some friends, and went to town. Face it: that’s more than you did today.
And the final result is … actually not too bad. The cinematography and editing are decent. The special effects are cheesy, but passable. The set design is whatever they could get, but it works, and the costuming varies considerably but is acceptable for a fan movie. Tuxedo Mask needs to wear white tie, or at least an actual damn tuxedo instead of a vest with a dress shirt, and the girls’ sailor outfits need to be ironed, but aside from that, they look great. In fact, the costumes here are less corny than those in some bigger-budget Sailor Moon productions. Christine De La Rosa, who also plays Sailor Mars, designed some of the costumes. Her dress for Princess Serenity is quite impressive.
My only major complaint is that I wish they could have miked the actors better. In some scenes, the dialogue has been redubbed in post, but in others they went with the audio they got when they filmed, with the result that some lines are hard to hear.
The opening of the film looks exactly as it should. Music from Sailor Moon Crystal plays and the credits appear in front of images of planets in space before the camera zooms in on Earth, at last alighting on New York City.
Yes, New York. Being an American production, they had to move the location from Tokyo. I’m not crazy about the idea, either, but they actually make it work, even though it means changing Sailor Mars from a Shinto shrine maiden to a clerk in a New Age bookstore, which is a serious downgrade. Anyway, a montage of the city at night, lit with pink and green and blue lights, delivers an appropriate fairy tale feel. Shortly after the montage completes, things get silly: the first scene is of a jewelry store, through which Tuxedo Mask (Max Flanagan) stealthily stalks, apparently in preparation to rob. But then legendary crime fighter Sailor V (MaryBeth Schroeder) appears, and the two of them have a Kung fu fight … well, actually, it’s more like a slapfight, but hey, fan film, right? This is a smartly made scene that quickly establishes the roles of two major characters.
The script could be tightened up in spots, but overall it’s quite clever. The story is based on Sailor Moon‘s first story arc, and though Paritsky insists elsewhere that he drew on multiple canonical sources, it’s obvious that the anime series is what he primarily had in mind. This film successfully condenses a mammoth 23 hours of television into a mere two and a half hours, and the result is mostly intelligible.
Mind you, “Sailor Moon” and “mostly intelligible” are not words that normally go together, yet Paritsky brought them together. He’s actually that good. He (or someone; the credits name Jordan Burbank for script “revisions,” but don’t say who wrote) pares down the series by trimming it of its most extraneous subplots and then saves time by depicting the villains running their nefarious schemes concurrently instead of sequentially. The story is, of course, basically a MacGuffin hunt: the evil minions of the Dark Kingdom are seeking the seven Rainbow Crystals, which they wish to combine to recreate the Legendary Silver … oh, heck, I don’t want to summarize all this again. Just watch it. Needless to say, the Rainbow Crystals, which look suspiciously like Ring Pops, are scattered around New York. The villains and heroines are in a race to find them to determine the fate of the world or somesuch.
The acting, of course, is variable, as the film stars a large group of eager college students and a small handful of bewildered-looking older adults. Probably the best performance comes from Daevid Mendivil, who plays that flamboyant gay dude … Zoisite? I think it’s Zoisite, but I wouldn’t swear to it. I can never keep my Sailor Moon villains straight.
MaryBeth Schroeder plays both Sailor Moon and Sailor Venus, though I’m not really sure why. Her Venus has a small part that she plays with a fake British accent (that’s an Easter egg for anyone who knows the anime), but her Sailor Moon is spot-on. She’s not a great actress by any means, but she’s funny, she’s cute, she’s clearly enthusiastic, she hams it up when she needs to, and she wears a bikini near the end, so bonus.
In this, as in all versions, Sailor Jupiter is best girl. Here she’s played by Therese Panetta, and she gets the most developed backstory of any of the characters. In both the manga and the anime, the story is that Sailor Jupiter’s parents died when she was a small child, so she has, ever since, been living by herself in a nice apartment with no visible source of income. That, like Sailor Moon generally, doesn’t make a lick of sense, so Paritsky alters her story: we see her go home to a stack of bills piling up on the counter, and the power gets cut while she’s eating dinner. We soon learn that her parents didn’t die, but recently ran out on her and left her to fend for herself. It’s a lot grimmer, but more believable. I’m assuming this is Paritsky’s invention, though he may have taken it from the live-action Sailor Moon television series, which still hasn’t seen a US release.
Certain elements could have been done better. A few subplots needed to be either fleshed out or, since the movie’s already epic-sized, cut out. This goes especially for Sailor Mars’s relationship with some guy named Chad, a detail that doesn’t get mentioned until the last twenty minutes of film. The antagonists’ motives are not well explained, either: they apparently forgot to tell the audience that the Dark Kingdom wants to suck people dry of their “human energy,” so the villains’ habit of zapping or kidnapping people in creative ways doesn’t have a clear purpose. Also not clear is how the Legendary Silver Crystal got split up into the Rainbow Crystals. The anime series, which created the Rainbow Crystals to pad out the story, has an episode to explain that, but here, you simply have to roll with it.
… Though it’s still better than what happens in the manga, where the Legendary Silver Crystal forms spontaneously from a teardrop. That’s some serious bullhonkey right there.
Also arguably a bad choice is the attempt to set the story in the 1990s, or at least I think that’s what they’re doing. I agree with this in theory, as Sailor Moon is as much a product of the Nineties as it is a product of Japan, but they don’t have the resources to pull it off. They know better than to pretend that New York is Tokyo, so why pretend that New York in the 2000s is New York in the 1990s? They throw in awkward references (Sailor Moon is a Spice Girls fan, apparently), but they can’t prevent various Twenty-First Century artifacts from showing up.
Anyway, watch it. It’s fun, it’s funny, and it’s remarkably entertaining for a home video. And MaryBeth Schroeder is cute. Did I mention that?