A dark question has loomed over Sailor Moon Crystal Season 3 ever since it was announced. Three episodes in, it’s been answered.
Let’s back up. VICE recently did a mini documentary about what a safe haven Sailor Moon was for queer kids in the 90's. As a subject of that video says, if you ask a queer person if they like Sailor Moon, the answer is almost always “yes.” The 90's Sailor Moon anime was pretty ahead of its time as far as LGBT representation goes. There was Zoisite and Kunzite in season 1, Uranus and Neptune in Sailor Moon S, Fish Eye in SuperS, and the magical transexual Starlights in Stars. Of course, most of these characters were altered in the English release to ~protect the children~ and Stars was skipped over entirely. But that didn’t stop the Western audience from picking up on its queer themes or its inherently gender-related message - and every kid with the internet knew that Zoisite was really a man and that Uranus and Neptune weren’t actually cousins.
But you know what else the more hardcore Sailor Moon fans discovered? Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon manga is hella gay.
I wouldn’t say it’s “more” gay than the 90's anime (if you can really quantify such a thing) but what I can say is that instead of having a handful of prominent gay characters among a majority heterosexual cast, the manga kinda... spreads its gay around more. Everyone’s just kinda ambiguously bisexual. Characters and situations are more subtle. There’s official artwork with suspiciously placed hands and heavy-lidded bedroom eyes. Usagi fawns over cute girls and gets kissed by women.
For example... Act 28, the second chapter of the Infinity Arc. The chapter that this week’s Crystal episode is based on.
As soon as Crystal S3 was announced, I asked myself: are they going to keep it in? ALL of the gay? Not just Uranus and Neptune’s relationship - which I was totally confident would not get removed or altered - but Uranus’ notorious stolen kiss? The way Haruka continues to flirt with Usagi even when Usagi starts to suspect she isn’t really male? The infatuation that Chibiusa develops towards Hotaru?
I wasn’t sure if that other stuff would make it in. I doubted it would get cut, but I also wouldn’t have been surprised if this episode aired without the kiss. And I kinda feared what would happen if that is what actually occurred. EVERYBODY was hoping this moment would be in the episode. Would this be the point where we started to turn on Crystal? Hell, where even I started to turn on it?
Well... I could wait until my whole episode recap to answer this question, but I’ll just spoil it now.
They left it in. And the internet rejoiced. ALL HAIL OUR LORD AND SAVIOR CHIAKI KON.
So yeah, this episode is awesome. I mean, it’s a very good episode and we’re going to get to that, but this is the moment where I completely set aside whatever remaining reservations I may have had about the new designs and wondering if they were gonna over-pander to 90's fans. Because including this moment means that Crystal is still 100% committed to being an adaptation of the manga, even if it’s added other things in to keep it fun and keep the audience happy.
The episode picks up exactly where the last one left off, with Neptune and caped Uranus fleeing Mugen after watching the Senshi fight a Daimon. Hotaru introduces herself to the group before hurrying back inside the laboratory building. Chibiusa is completely smitten with how pretty she is. Her first crush!
Inside the lab, Hotaru collapses again, and the red-haired woman we’ve seen in a few villain cutscenes so far, Kaolinite, runs to help her. But Hotaru brushes the woman away, refusing any help, and her father Professor Tomoe intervenes to remind her that she should be kind to “Kaori-kun,” who has looked after Hotaru since her mother died. Hotaru is not interested in having any kind of conversation about this though, and she yells that Kaolinite should keep out of her family’s buisness before running off.
This is our very first look at both Professor Tomoe and Kaolinite’s civilian form, and they look great! This scene is taken directly from the manga and is adapted very faithfully, down to the dialogue. Professor Tomoe is appropriately cold and creepy and both Hotaru and Kaolinite come off as quite sympathetic, which paints a picture of a complicated, messy family dynamic between them. When Tomoe says in a deadpan voice that “Maybe I’ve spoiled her,” you... really don’t believe him.
In her bedroom, Hotaru tries to get some rest, but her face is covered in sweat. She’s awoken by her father, who gives her an amulet to wear to make the pain go away. (Observant viewers might notice that this amulet is shaped suspiciously similar to the Taioron Crystal seen in previous villain scenes!) After her father leaves, Hotaru is unnerved at how deathly cold his hands were, but the “amulet” actually does make her feel better. Physically, at least - she’s worrried about how she didn’t use to have such a weak body or get so insecure and irritable towards others.
The next day, the Sailor Team are in the control room under Crown Arcade. They don’t know what to make of the mysterious figures they saw at Mugen, and while they suspect they could be Sailor Senshi, they were way too far away to jump to such a conclusion. Usagi wonders aloud that they should come talk to them if they’re Sailor Senshi - and Mamoru suspects that they might be enemies since they haven’t. Then, in a display of sweet irony, they move on to two other suspicious people: Haruka Ten’oh and Michiru Kaioh, the two Mugen students that said a bunch of weird suspicious stuff to them while they were checking out the school. HMMM.
Chibiusa has been silent through the conversation, and when asked if something is wrong, she confesses that she’s thinking about Hotaru... specifically, how pure and white her skin is and how pretty she is. Usagi smiles, but she can’t help but wonder about the weird power Hotaru had used to heal Chibiusa’s arm.
Later, in Kaolinite’s stone lair, she’s pondering the Senshi and Sailor Moon’s power. She suspects that this power will bring about the destruction of the Death Busters and their master, so she holds an amulet (similar to the one Tomoe gave to Hotaru) over a pool of water for a divination. The water reveals that Three Talismans will bring about destruction, but her vision is interrupted by something.
At the same time, Mamoru awakes abruptly from a dream - it seems his psychic powers had picked up on what Kaolinite was doing and disrupted it. Disturbed by the reoccurring dream, Mamoru ponders what the “Three Talismans” and “destruction” could mean. Are they supposed to collect these “talismans” - or destroy them? Considering that Mamoru is prone to prophetic reoccurring dreams, he has good reason to be worried about this.
The next day, Michiru decides to do an early morning mirror divination herself (so many psychics in this club), but her mirror is misted by something. I guess they’re all interfering with each others’ powers. Haruka suddenly embraces her and says that maybe it’s “too late” for them to do anything. Michiru says she already knows that - the gears of fate have begun to turn.
These two scenes converge later that day. After school, Mamoru has stopped at a bookstore to look up Mugen Academy in a school guide. When he sees Professor Tomoe’s picture, he’s interrupted by Michiru standing behind him. She tells him that Tomoe was once a respected scientist, but he was abandoned by the academic community. Mamoru asks what she means, but Michiru’s only response is that some people think Mugen is a school for training “sorcerers.” The conversation doesn’t get much further before a schoolgirl runs up and asks for Michiru’s autograph (she is a famous violinist). This is now the second mysterious scene between these two - is Michiru seeking him out on purpose? Flirting with him even?
Outside, Michiru offers him two tickets to her next violin concert, telling him to bring someone special along. Usagi happens to be passing by at the exact time and sees the two of them talking. Before she can get too jealous, Usagi realizes something... doesn’t Michiru look A LOT like one of the mysterious Senshi-like people they saw at Mugen? (A friendly reminder, one of many in this episode, that my “secret identities” rant in my last article is 100% correct.)
Usagi rushes to Crown Arcade, but Haruka happens to be waiting for her there. As she looks at “him,” Usagi realizes that Haruka looks like one of those mysterious people too. And because manga Usagi is actually a reasonably smart, capable person, she gets right to the point - and straight-up asks Haruka if he’s a Sailor Senshi.
Aaaand Haruka laughs in her face. Silly Usagi, he’s a man! He can’t be a Senshi! (Nice bluff, Haruka.) The Inner Senshi interrupt and drive the suspicious guy away, but Usagi stares after him anxiously.
That’s the first half of the episode, bookended by the commercial break. I really like this first half and how it builds this uncomfortable, suspicious mood between the two sides, who are beginning to catch on to one another. There’s great use of music and unnerving camera angles.
The second half of the episode is more your standard, fun Sailor Moon fare. It’s probably good that it came after a commercial break, because otherwise the switch in tone could be a bit jarring. If you’re watching on Crunchyroll Premium or somewhere else without ads, you should probably pause it and take a break at the halfway mark!
Anyway, I’ll just briefly recap the rest of the episode since it’s largely plot-focused (and I already talked about the Big Moment at the end). The girls remember that Rei’s birthday is coming up (April 17th - great timing! this part is from the manga too, so GREAT timing actually) but she’s away in the mountains doing some spiritual training - or so she said. In reality, it looks like she’s trying to use her powers to find out more about their new enemy, and she manages to pick up on another of Eudial’s water divinations and learn about the Three Talismans.
But, before she can ponder it, the girls show up and crash her training. They’re there to celebrate her birthday, because how could they not? There’s a cute scene, pulled directly from the manga, where the girls each get her a gift (with Ami’s, hilariously, being a study book). However, Rei reveals to Makoto that the real reason she’s on this retreat is because Mugen Academy is throwing a camping event for its students that weekend on the same mountain. Rei reasons that if there’s something they can do to learn or fight against the enemy without having to expose Usagi to danger, they should do it. It makes sense for Rei and Makoto to agree to something like that - Ami would be unable to keep a secret from the others, and Minako would be totally against it.
There’s a great scene at this point where the girls go to watch the Mugen students at their judo practice - and find none other than Haruka there. Makoto challenges “him” to a match, but she’s swiftly thrown onto her ass. When the girls immediately object to Haruka using “his” full strength on a girl, he strikes with the perfect comeback: do they take it for granted, then, that women are weaker then men? That it’s acceptable to lose if it’s against a man? This would probably come off as a callous thing to say if Haruka actually were male (I mean...... women as a group ARE generally weaker than men. it probably WOULD have been an unfair fight), but the meaning is changed significantly by the audience’s knowledge that Haruka is female. She’s constantly competing in a man’s world - and winning.
Anyway, that night, Makoto is having difficulty sleeping. She realizes that Rei is awake and staring out the back door, watching Mugen students gathering around a big bonfire. And this ain’t no kumbaya scenario - Eudial is there, disguised as a student, to initiate them all into a big creepy cult. I mean, she literally asks them all to devote their souls and life force to the school. Rei and Makoto decide to investigate what’s going on, and when they see and hear all the weird shit Eudial is saying, they transform. We only have to sit through two transformations in this episode! Hooray!
Eudial, Mars and Jupiter go at it for a while (Mars uses one of her awesome manga-only attacks, Mars Snake Fire!!) but apparently they aren’t Pokemon fans, because otherwise they’d know that fire is not very effective against fire. Thankfully though, the other girls had woken up and realized they were gone, and rush in to save them just in time. Sailor Moon ices Eudial with her Heart Rod and the zoned-out Mugen Academy students slump to the floor, apparently no longer brainwashed.
The Senshi are pondering their new enemy - the “Death Busters” as Eudial called them - when they realize they’re being watched again by one of those mysterious figures from last time. Sailor Uranus darts away when she realizes she’s been spotted, but Sailor Moon rushes after her. When she finally catches up, Uranus is impressed by her ability to match her pace, and tells her to stop playing “fighting games,” alluding to something Haruka had said to her back in the arcade. And then that kiss happens.
Is it kinda creepy in a nonconsensual kind of way? Weeeeell.... Yes. It’s hard not to see it as Uranus seriously invading Sailor Moon’s personal space, to put it mildly, especially in our woke society of 2016. But if I can say anything in defense of it, just remember that this story was written in Japan in 1993 - and that there’s clearly some sexual tension going on between Usagi and Haruka. I’m not saying Usagi wanted it or something, but I am saying (assuming it sticks to the manga in the next episode) that Usagi doesn’t get upset about being kissed by a girl. Rather, she’s upset that someone other than Mamoru kissed her, which is exactly how she felt last season when Prince Demande kissed her. In a weird way, it’s... kinda progressive???
So anyway, that’s the episode. This has probably been the best one so far, with a good mix of character moments, plot progression, a tense creepy mood, action, and of course, the “yes homo” we were all hoping for. And again, it’s an incredibly close adaptation of the manga - I can’t stress enough how much it’s almost identical, with only a handful of small changes to dialogue or pacing. Why couldn’t seasons 1 and 2 have been like this? :(
However, I’ve gotta point out that the animation looked shoddy in several places during this episode. It looks pretty bad in shots that are zoomed out, showing the characters from more of a knees-up distance - however, again, this seems to be something that’s unfortunately fairly common in today’s anime. Also there was this weird shot of Rei and Makoto hiding in the bushes watching the Mugen students and Eudial, where even though they’re standing right next to each other, one looks covered in shadow and the other is lit up by the fire. It looks really weird.
But, again, I’m happy to forgive the episode of these animation faults. Not only was the episode great, but I’m sure a lot of this stuff will be fixed on the Blu-ray (as always).
Anyway, what did you think of this episode, Ani-TAY? Feel free to discuss in the comments below!
(And I apologize that this is going up an hour late, I got sidetracked when I got home from work today!)
You can follow the author on Twitter at @sub_judice.