I’m happy to say that this week’s episodes are significantly better than last week’s, not just in animation but in writing. Hooray for characterization! Also, sorry the post is late this week, I got slowed down by needing to finish another post.
Fighter’s Secret Identity: The Shocking Super Transformation (S5E11/176)
Wow, that’s a pretty dramatic title for this episode. You might think they’re gonna drop the secret identity ball super early, but then you realize this is the 90's Sailor Moon anime and they definitely aren’t doing that already. Then you read the second part and go, “Oh, an episode entirely devoted to unveiling a segment of reused animation we’ll get to watch at least a dozen times afterwards.” But as I said above, not so fast - this episode has way more substance than that.
The episode begins with the Three Lights dressed in HILARIOUS 90's workout clothes, feverishly practicing to equally stereotypical 90's dance music, for an upcoming musical play they’re starring in. The routine ends and the trio strikes a pose, but their director calls out Seiya and demands he do it over - only him. Seiya demands to know what he did wrong this time, but she says it was “everything.”
Meanwhile, at Juuban High, Usagi’s class is in the middle of taking a test. As she’s sweating and snarling over her blank exam, she hears a familiar voice behind her: Seiya, struggling with it as hard as she is. It’s understandable, really - I doubt teenage pop megastars get to enjoy a particularly effective education - but Seiya’s actually just distracted by his spat with their director the night before. The director berated him, saying that he doesn’t have what it takes to be the lead in their upcoming musical if that was all the talent he had. He suddenly erupts into a frustrated outburst in the middle of class, drawing the eyes of everyone around them.
After school, Usagi and Minako mourn their test scores together. At least they’ll get to study for and take the make-up exam together! What kindred souls. Seriously, I love them. Makoto tries to console them by saying that they’ll get to take it easy for a year if they get held back, but that’s probably not that soothing.
The girls overhear the Three Lights leaving school, and Seiya is scolding his two bandmates for not supporting him through his difficulties with their director at rehearsal. Usagi doesn’t know what a “myu-ji-ka-ru” is of course, so Minako exuberantly explains that it’s something where people have to sing, dance and act all at once (and naturally imagines herself in the lead role). Seiya’s about to explain the situation to the girls, but they get distracted by Seiya’s miserably bad test score instead (16%...) and Rei, punctual as ever, shows up to propose that they have study sessions at the Shrine like they did when they were studying for entrance exams. Eventually, the three groupies end up inviting themselves to their rehearsal, and they chase after them, leaving Ami and Rei behind an awkward note. Rei’s not so excited about studying if there aren’t cute boys involved.
At the rehearsal, the girls watch the Three Lights dance and oogle over how “cool” they look (WHAT ARE YOU WEARING LMAO). But, as soon as the routine is over, the Director demands that Seiya and only Seiya redo it from the beginning. Once again, she refuses to tell Seiya what was wrong, instead insisting that “everything” was bad.
Showing himself to be quite the hothead and beginning to lose his temper, he demands to know why she can’t tell him what’s wrong. This only gets him a more crushing version of the same response - his dancing, his singing, his acting, all of it was bad, and since he apparently doesn’t understand what she means by that, there’s no point in trying to say anything more. She even strikes below the belt: “You call yourself a pro?” Considering that was the entire theme of the previous episode - that these guys are professionals and are willing to endure a lot for the sake of their jobs - it’s a pretty harsh thing to say. Dang, lady.
They decide to take a break, and the group heads outside into the lobby. The girls ask who that woman is, and Taiki tells them it’s “Akane,” their director. Little shit Yaten teases Seiya, pointing out that Akane has taken a “liking” to him, but Seiya has absolutely no patience for sarcasm. On the verge of a tantrum, he accuses their director of having it out for him and bitching about everything she can think of. The girls start to run with this idea and joke around, but seriously, guys... stop with the jokes. Seiya is pissed.
Speak of the devil, the director herself emerges from the dance room’s open door. She demands the girls leave because they’re too big of a distraction and tells the Three Lights to get back to practicing. But when she removes her glasses to glare at Seiya, Rei realizes she recognizes her - it’s none other than a nun who works at her high school (a private Catholic school), Sister Angela.
Elsewhere, a disguised Sailor Iron Mouse is flipping through a magazine looking for a new target. She happens upon an article about the Three Lights’ upcoming musical and how the director is a mysterious individual known only as “Akane,” whose real identity is unknown. A phone begins to ring and she pulls an old rotary phone out of her bag (alarming the people around her). After a quick conversation, she tucks her huge phone back into her bag and downs the rest of her tea.
At T.A. Girls’ Academy, Rei’s school, Akane - or rather, Sister Angela - is dressed in her habit and goes to the chapel to prey. Seiya has tracked her down in the meantime and confronts her, accusing her of “doing things halfway” by splitting her time between two lives. She basically brushes it off and reminds Seiya that he’s the only not giving his all, not her. Alright, let’s go, NUN AND CHILD STAR BITCH FIGHT! No? Aww.
Instead, they sit and have a chat. Angela explains that she went to see the Three Lights in concert and was impressed by how passionately they performed, especially Seiya. She felt that they had “something to say” and were crying out from deep in their hearts. Ah, if only you knew how completely on the nose you were, lady. Seiya thinks to himself that she’s right, because they’re singing in the hope of getting the attention of someone out there in the galaxy, and thinking of her makes him begin to smile to himself.
Oh, who could that be?!?! Hm.
But the internal monologue is eventually cut short as Angela gets to the point: Seiya’s acting isn’t nearly as passionate as his remarkable singing, and she’s thusfar disappointed in how he’s performed at rehearsals for that reason. As they depart, Seiya says with a softer expression that he still thinks he doesn’t like her. She says that’s fine - it’ll make it easier to work him harder.
Usagi has been lurking outside the chapel (?!) and hides off to the side as Angela leaves. She and Seiya decide to head home, and as they walk, Usagi asks how he can continue to go to practice after Angela has been so unforgiving and confrontational. Seiya answers that he can’t back down after all that, and besides, she wouldn’t understand. The conversation ends with Seiya asking if Usagi has a boyfriend and declaring that he “still has a chance” since he’s away in another country. Back the fuck off Seiya, we all know Usagi’s heart belongs to MAMO ONLY.
Seiya blows off studying for the make-up test and goes back to the dance room to rehearse more. Or rather, he appears in the doorway and strikes a pose with his hands on his hips, pelvis thrust out, while wearing his ridiculous work-out clothes (it is truly amazing). Angela is there waiting for him. Seiya’s efforts now are much more impressive.
Usagi ended up following Seiya, and she’s happy to see that things have apparently worked out between the two, but no sooner than she gets there does Rei show up to scold her for not spending the evening studying, and she drags Usagi off by the ear.
Angela decides to take a break and grab something from the vending machine. But Sailor Iron Mouse shows up, and after going through a pointless self-introduction where she continues to fake being a TV producer, she pulls her disguise off and attacks Angela with her bracelets - just in time for Seiya to witness the entire thing.
Part of the reason this episode works so well is not just because it takes advantage of the dynamic among all the main characters, but because for once we actually feel like the character-of-the-day has a real connection to the reoccurring character that the episode focuses on. When Seiya sees the director get her Star Seed stolen and transformed into a Phage, he isn’t shocked in a confused way, like the Sailor Senshi usually are, but in a truly horrified and angry way. He trembles and grits his teeth and grasps at the staircase railing. Seiya is someone who knows exactly what’s going on here, in a way the Earth’s Sailor Senshi don’t appreciate yet; he’s already seen this happen many times before. He has no choice but to transform into Sailor Star Fighter and face the fact that he probably has to destroy the woman he was just starting to respect and understand.
So yeah, this is the first episode we see any of the Starlight’s transformation sequences. It’s really not that long, and most of it is devoted to very blatantly conveying the fact that his male body gets turned into a female one.
Star Fighter looks painfully down at the monster and tries to convince herself that killing it is the right and only thing she can do, until she finds “that person.” She attacks it and is about to deal the final blow when Sailor Moon and Sailor Mars show up, perhaps attracted back to the studio by all the noise.
To them, it looks like Star Fighter was about to kill an innocent person, but she quickly tells them to shut the hell up - they really don’t know what they’re talking about or the kind of shit the Starlights have been through, the sadness of surviving and leaving behind their home world, and in her frustration she prepares again to strike down the monster. But Mars aims an arrow at her and forces her to stop, giving Sailor Moon the chance to turn the director back to normal. With some apparent conflicting feelings, Seiya wonders if it’s the kind of radiance that Sailor Moon has that they’re missing. With emotions calmed back down, Star Fighter leaves Sailor Moon and Mars, muttering that she hopes they aren’t enemies.
Oh come on, when has that statement ever been said in Sailor Moon and turned out for the worst? Tuxedo Mask didn’t turn out to be an enemy, Sailor V didn’t turn out to be an enemy, Chibiusa didn’t, Sailor Uranus and Neptune didn’t, Sailor Saturn didn’t, Helios didn’t. Wondering if someone is your enemy in Sailor Moon is like a basic requirement for becoming an ally.
This is really a fantastic episode as mentioned above - it’s cute, funny and dramatic all at once. A little microcosm of what’s great about Sailor Moon. Not only do we get to see the girls bein’ their old selves that we know and love, but we finally get to learn a little bit about the Three Lights and what their deal is. Sailor Stars is definitely a slow burn, much like S, with its plot using episodes like this to start leaving breadcrumbs.
A Star of Dreams and Wishes: Taiki’s Transformation (S5E12/177)
As you might guess from the title, this episode is focused on Taiki and is also the premier of his Star Maker transformation. Fortunately, it’s also a pretty strong episode, and a great Mercury-focused episode as well.
This episode opens with a scene that’s cliche even within Sailor Moon itself: test results are in, and someone tied with Ami for top score. I promise you this is at least the third time this has happened in the series. At any rate, it’s none other that Taiki Kou, the calmest, tallest and biggest foreheaded of the Three Lights. Usagi and Minako immediately run straight back to their classroom to beg Taiki to tutor them, leading to a tug of war over who gets to copy of his notes first and said notes getting torn in half. Whoops.
Elsewhere, Ami finds one of her teachers in the stairwell - a scruffy-looking man with glasses and a lab coat and pants that aren’t long enough for his legs. It turns out this teacher discovered a comet about fifteen years earlier when he was still in (graduate?) school, and the comet is coming back to Earth for the first time since he discovered it. Ami is charmed by the way her teacher talks about the comet, almost like a long lost lover he hasn’t seen in years. And the teacher gets all blushy about it. Ok, I officially like this throw-away character, he’s pretty darn cute.
Ami says she calculated the exact time the comet can be seen the next night, but she’s interrupted by genius forehead Taiki as he comes up the stairs. He’s aware of the comet too, and also came to the same calculation. And actually, he’s heard of Mr. Teacher before, from back when he turned down a bunch of prestigious jobs at astronomical societies so he could be a high school teacher instead. Taiki asks him why he made such a decision, and the teacher reveals him to be a romantic when it comes to the stars - what he really loves is to look at them and think about where the universe has been and where it’s going.
Ami finds this charming, but Taiki immediately points out how unscientific and unprofessional such a fairytale-like attitude is. The tone fo the conversation immediately becomes confrontational, but Ami keeps a smile on and reminds Taiki that it isn’t wrong to be a dreamer while pursuing science - after all, it’s Mr. Teacher’s romanticism that lead him to discover the comet in the first place. Cold-ass Taiki uses her outlook as an excuse to attack Ami’s character as one of the top-ranking students, but the teacher quickly steps in to alleviate the tension by inviting them both to his house to watch the comment tomorrow night.
And thus, we’ve set up the central conflict of this episode: Taiki’s sterile, logical approach to the world (and science/studies), versus Ami’s gentler and more empathic approach. While Ami is brilliantly smart and can appreciate the technical objectivity of the sciences, she’s right in that it doesn’t mean it has to be emotionless and uninspired. Let’s not forget that for hundreds of years it was religious devotion and a desire to better understand “God’s creation” that fueled the sciences. But as we might see, Taiki is somewhat right too, although of course the episode will side with Ami ultimately.
Atfer school, the girls are hanging out at Crown and talking about the teacher (his name is Amanogawa). Minako points out that Amanogawa and Taiki are supposed to appear on TV together on a children’s astronomy show and plan on trying to sit in on the filming, with the excuse that they’re his students. Meanwhile, at Ginga TV, Sailor Iron Mouse is scouring the newspaper for a new target and happens upon an article about the comet and TV show - and the photograph of Amanogawa in the article is clearly from when he was in college 15 years earlier. Poor Iron Mouse is being set up for disappointment here.
At the show’s filming, Taiki asks the audience of preschoolers if they have any questions for the teacher. The kids explode into an exuberant mass of raised hands, and Taiki picks a boy out as Usagi and the girls watch from behind the cameras.
The boy tells the pair that his grandfather told him that when people die, they become stars in the sky, and asks if it’s true. The other children laugh at him, but without hesitation, Amanogawa nods and says it’s possible, earning him a glare from Taiki. A glare that’s just... a little too intense.
Amanogawa explains to the boy that there are many myths and legends about the dead becoming stars to guide the living. Usagi observes that it was a very kind thing to say to the little kid, but Taiki butts in to bluntly disagree. “Dead people can’t become stars. The power of living people creates stars.” This might may Taiki come off as extremely cold - he’s just a little kid for fuck’s sake, and the point of the show is to introduce some astronomy to small children, it’s not like you can explain gravitational physics or any other substantive astronomical science to him - but it also hints at what Seiya alluded to in the previous episode. Dead people can’t be stars. Stars are living people. And there’s a reason he is apparently so offended by what the teacher said.
The girls note how douchey it was for Taiki to say this during the broadcast, but they gleefully greet him after it’s over anyway. Ami tries to invite Taiki to Amanogawa’s house again to view the comet, but Taiki, now in a bad mood, informs Ami that nobody’s going to be seeing that comet no matter how romantic and dreamy they get about it - the forecast is 100% chance of rain. Ami insists they’ll (somehow) be able to see it, but Taiki leaves them behind, unconvinced that being touchy-feeling is going to stop the damned weather from happening, and says that he’ll join if the rain happens to clear. Hmm, who wants to bet Ami will be proven correct even though there’s nothing unreasonable about what Taiki is saying here, even if he’s being a jerk about it?
It pours the entire next day at school. Ami is clearly worried, but the girls try to cheer her up and promise that the rain will clear. Meanwhile, the Three Lights are continuing to practice for the musical. Taiki stares out the window during a break and is reminded of Ami’s passion.
That night, Ami goes to the teacher’s house anyway, waiting for the time the comet will pass despite the storm. Sailor Iron Mouse has found his home too, and rings the doorbell repeatedly until he comes outside. Iron Mouse is QUITE horrified to see that this dork is Amanogawa instead of the hunky old picture from the article, but decides to screw it and steal his Star Seed anyway. Amanogawa’s screams alert Ami to touble and she rushes outside in time to meet Iron Mouse and see her teacher become a Phage.
Meanwhile, Taiki has taken a taxi to Amanogawa’s place. Ami’s words keep echoing in his head and he can’t focus on practice. But he hears Ami yelling as she tries to talk down the monster, and thus we get to see Star Maker’s transformation for the first time. Just like Star Fighter’s, it focuses on the weird thing about the transformation (the sex change).
Star Maker wastes no time and immediately attacks the teacher-turned-monster. Ami saves him by tackling him to the ground, and as she’s begging Star Maker not to hurt him, Maker deftly kicks away the Page’s weapon before he can hurt Ami.
The two briefly argue - Star Maker insists the human being is gone once they’re turned into a Phage, but Ami insists he’ll turn back to her beloved dreamer teacher. Star Maker still can’t grasp why she’s so attached to this touchy-feely stuff, but she seems to get it when Ami explains that all the touchy-feely stuff is the driving force behind most of the world - after all, like she said before, the teacher’s romanticism motivated him to discover the comet in the first place.
In an AMAZING coincidence that definitely isn’t the norm for this series, Usagi just HAPPENS to be walking p to Amanogawa’s house as all this is happening and gets a chance to transform into Sailor Moon. Unlike Star Fighter, Star Maker has enough sense to remember that Sailor Moon is capable of healing the Phages and doesn’t attempt to pick a fight with her. Sailor Moon turns him back into the teacher, and her and Ami get to part with Maker on friendly terms.
And what do you know - the rain cleared, too. The girls have congregated at Amanogawa’s house to watch the comet pass Earth. Taiki shows up, just as he’d promised he would if the rain stopped, and he left his asshole attitude behind too.
This episode was not quite as dramatic as the last one, but it was just as interesting and gave us a well-needed look into the foreheadiest of the Star Lights. As always, Sailor Moon is best when it utilizes its large cast of diverse characters and uses its filler time to help us learn more about them. If I remember right, this is one of the only Mercury-focused episodes in this season (if not the only one), so if you’re a Mercury fan, I hope you enjoyed this episode!
Next week we’ll get Yaten’s first characterization episode and the first glimpse of other Sailor Animamates aside from Iron Mouse, along with the return of Uranus and Neptune since the end of the Nehelenia arc. Should be a good week! See you then!