Last week, the internet celebrated the return of Sailor Moon Crystal - yes, celebrated - thanks to a number of changes and creative decisions meant to address fan complaints from the first two seasons. The episode this week made me wonder: how much changed, really?
I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s still pretty different, and the reaction to the episode was still very positive, just like last week. But unlike last week, I was starting to see much more clearly how different the designs actually were, how not-that-subtle some of the subtle changes/additions are, and how the animation has its own hiccups and shortcuts.
The episode opens with Usagi returning home in the evening, on the same day of the last episode’s events. Chibiusa is hanging up the phone just as she walks in, and the little pink nightmare informs her future mom that she’s going to an amusement park with her future dad that weekend. As much as Usagi got over her weird jealousy with Mamoru in the last season, she still can’t handle the idea of the two of them having fun without her, and comedy ensues. I’m so happy this scene from the manga is adapted and animated so well!! PLUS........ adapting this scene also means we get THIS!
fuckin’ TUXEDO MASK COMMUNICATOR WITH THE GOGGLES ON IT!!!!! Just look at that thing, is that not AMAZING? Does that not make you want to laugh? I remembered this from the manga but I never would have thought it’d make me as happy as it did. Yeah, one of Crystal’s biggest strengths is making sure this character is, like, an actual character, who contributes and is involved in what’s going on.
Luna and Artemis are still researching the Mugen District down in the headquarters below the arcade. The three sections of it line up to form a triangle, and the area is complete with residential buildings, schools, offices and businesses. The amusement park that Chibiusa and Mamoru are going to is also located within the triangle, and right next to Mugen Academy - which is located directly in the center.
Meanwhile, villains are being villainous in their misty, dark stone lair. Kaolinite, the red-haired woman from the last episode, scolds her underlings for letting some “failures” get out - she’s referring to the two Daimon seen in the last episode. But at least they’ve discovered some “anolomies” in their plan, the Sailor Senshi who protect the Earth. Kaolinite orders her underlings, the Witches 5, to eliminate the Senshi. If they do, she’ll let them receive the blessings of the Taioron Crystal, which was also mentioned in the last episode.
This scene is expanded ever so slightly, in a way you wouldn’t be able to notice without comparing it directly to the manga version, but I like what was done. Specifically, we get to see more of the Witches 5 themselves, including their reactions to what Kaolinite is telling them. By acting shocked and eager at her offer, we get a better idea of how awesome the Taioron Crystal must be and how much they want what she’s promising them if they succeed. Plus, they look cool, and are drawn wonderfully, so I wanna see ‘em as much as I can!
The next day, Usagi and the girls have arrived at Mugen. Like in the last episode, everyone gets a few seconds to shine - Rei senses a strong aura in the area; Ami can tell that the space is distorted, Makoto feels that the strong wind blowing through isn’t created by the tall buildings, and Minako again senses that they’re being watched. All pulled from the manga pages.
In the amusement park, Chibiusa is riding the roller coasters while Mamoru chats with his underclassman buddy (Asanuma, who was in last season). Haha, Chibiusa was totally lying about riding the coaster with Mamoru. Anyway, her hat flies off during the ride, and when her and her friends get off she tells them she saw where it went and will be right back. Also, the scene between Mamoru and Asanuma is great - Mamo’s totally being the cool senpai. I AM ALL ABOUT CRYSTAL’S MAMORU!
Unfortunately he realizes he dun goofed when he’s informed that Chibiusa ran off by herself. Welcome to fatherhood.
As Chibiusa looks for her hat, the girls are still staring down the Mugen Academy building, which is pumped with cameras and security. Usagi whips out her Disguise Pen and transforms into a Mugen student, complete with red anime glasses and cute little bows around her hair buns. The girls have a hilarious “oh, you” moment, with each of them reacting to this half-baked plan differently, before she rushes inside. It’s a perfect, faithful rendition of the original manga version. MORE POINTS TO CRYSTAL!
But as Usagi wanders the school building, she’s not finding anything suspicious about it. Until she begins to hear violin music coming from somewhere - music that, somehow, Chibiusa, Mamoru and the girls outside can also hear. Jeez, how loud is that violin?
Usagi follows the sound and comes face to face with Michiru. She abruptly stops playing and stares Usagi down, and at the same time, Haruka appears in front of the Inner Senshi. Both Michiru and Haruka warn them not to come back to Mugen Academy, vaguely referring to it as “dangerous.” The meeting between Usagi and Michiru is interrupted when someone shows up and demands Usagi to state her name and class number, but the message has already been sent. The two of them, whoever they are, have chosen to approach the Senshi with mistrust.
Eventually, Usagi somehow wanders her way into a “Do Not Enter” area. At the same time, Chibiusa has traced her hat to a mysterious building labelled the “Tomoe Research Laboratory”... the beginning of her fateful meeting with a sickly girl outside, gasping for air, who refuses any help. They did a great job casting Hotaru’s voice actor; she sounds identical to the original.
Anyway, Usagi meets up with Chibiusa, Eudial (the Witches 5's “red one”) throws a Daimon onto a nearby cat, and we have our action of the week. See? Isn’t incorporating the daily monster into the overall plot a hundred times better? We don’t have to waste our time on some one-shot character that doesn’t matter and who nobody cares about.
Usagi and Chibiusa run off to lure the monster away from Hotaru, run into the Inner Senshi, and the group transforms. And here’s where I side-eyed this show for the first time. While this is our first chance to see Chibiusa’s transformation (which is great), they....... replay all of the other ones. Again. In their entirety. AND they append onto the end of the montage their extended self-introduction scenes. In total, it goes on for FOUR AND A HALF MINUTES.
Let’s do the math. The episode is about 24:30 long. Approximately 3 of those minutes are devoted to the OP and ED, so that makes for about 21:30 of actual episode. 4:30 out of 21:30 is about 20%. One fifth of this episode is reused animation, and I’m not even counting the attack animations used later that will probably also be reused as the series goes on.
Say what you want about the animation in S1/S2, but this? It did this only sparingly, and usually when it did, it spared us by giving us an abbreviated version. Minus five points from Crystal S3 for this nonsense. I didn’t even remember what was going on by the time it finally ended!
Anyway. The Senshi fight the monster, treating us to some cool new animations for Mercury Aqua Mist, Burning Mandala, Sparkling Wide Pressure and Venus Love-Me Chain, all of which were directly inspired by the 90's anime’s versions of each attack. To the point that they’re virtually remakes - which is a fun visual nod to the old series. (Venus’ is the best one, just like in the last episode. :D) Hotaru watches the whole thing, and the Witches 5 show up too. There’s some fun slapstick, some cool shots of Uranus and Neptune lurking over what’s going on, and Sailor Moon kills the Daimon.
Mamoru finally catches up with the group, and Hotaru very awkwardly asks them who the hell they are. There’s an utterly pointless and frankly annoying inserted line by Usagi about how Hotaru “saw our true identities,” even though this concept of secret identities does not exist in the manga, was not an issue in S1/S2 (notice how the villains have always been able to easily track them down?) and THEY TRANSFORMED IN FRONT OF AN ENTIRE STREET FULL OF PEOPLE IN THE PREVIOUS EPISODE.
If S3 is gonna start paying lip service to the 90's anime fans in ways that are more than just visual, it should stop while it’s ahead. That sure as hell isn’t what I want, and I have to seriously ask if even 90's fans want that if it’s gonna be as lazy as this moment was. The point of Crystal is to be the manga plot. You can’t just insert lines about “secret identities” and other non-existent concepts into this story if it doesn’t make sense.
I mean, I know people can differ on this. Some people love the 90's anime and think the manga is terrible. But if we want to watch the 90's anime, we can go watch the damn 90's anime. It will always be there. It’s never going away. But an animated adaption of the manga, that doesn’t exist yet.
Let us have this one thing, please. No dumb 90's plot points in the new anime. Yell it from the mountain tops.
Anyway, Hotaru sees a scrape on Chibiusa’s arm. She reaches out, and a glowing light emerges and heals the wound. At the same time, they finally notice Uranus and Neptune creeping on them, but they’re as stunned as I am by how smooth and awesome they are as they flee the scene. Notably, Uranus has her mock Tuxedo Mask visor and cape on. Love it.
So, that’s the episode. All in all, it’s very very good and continues the positive vibes from the last episode! There’s humor, good characterization for the entire cast, and with the exception of that “secret identities” crap that should not have been added in, the changes/additions to the manga are all big bonuses.
For the most part, the changes are nothing more than an added line of dialogue here or there, although one of the bigger changes in this episode was including the Inner Senshi in the Daimon battle. In the manga, it’s just Sailor Moon and Chibimoon for that battle, which might work on paper - but on screen, we want a more involved and exciting battle, and including the Inner Senshi is a good move, even if it’s all set up very conveniently from a story perspective. Last episode I said that the action was the best in the entire series so far, but already this episode easily trumps it!
I have to say, however, that there were a few moments of shoddy animation. For example, Sailor Jupiter does this super awkward, stiff backflip/cartwheel thing right before she uses Sparkling Wide Pressure that was very glaring to me. There were a handful of moments like that in this episode that are disappointing to see. But, I can forgive it considering that virtually every anime is like that nowadays. As long as S3 never commits the kind of unholy sins S1/S2 did, people will probably forgive it for whatever periodic laziness it may display.
So, what did you think of the this episode, AniTAY? Love it, hate it? Special observations? Discuss!
Also, an announcement: my final Sailor Stars post will be going up Saturday at 6 pm instead of Friday. Heads up!
And sorry that this post went up 15 minutes late, I forgot to schedule it. :|
You can follow the author on Twitter at @sub_judice.