This week we’re finally wrapping up SuperS’s loose ends and jumping into the real meat of Stars, featuring the Starlights, the Sailor Animamates, and a heaping dose of lore. By the end of this post, we’ll meet most of the major players for the season.
So, while last week’s episode ended on a high note, with Saturn and Chibimoon cornering Nehelenia in her lair... well, things go south pretty quickly. Nehelenia gloats about how Mamoru can’t be saved; she couldn’t lift her curse from him even if she wanted to. Distressed, Chibimoon begins to fade away again.
At which point Nehelenia sees it fit to reveal that, hey, you actually didn’t creep up on her at all. Saturn and Chibimoon are her final pawns to sacrifice for the sake of making Sailor Moon miserable.
Saturn is at somewhat of a loss, not knowing how to help her friend, while Usagi is doing everything she can outside to get through those vines. Why hasn’t she transformed yet, anyway? It’s not like she lost her brooch or something. Well, just wait, my friends... just wait.
Anyway, the impasse with Nehelenia continues. She continues to brag from the darkness, Saturns stays on her guard, and Chibimoon begs Mamoru to come to his senses... until it seems to actually start working. Nehelenia attacks to stop it from happening, and Sailor Saturn uses Silence Wall to protect Chibimoon and Mamoru. We so rarely get to see Saturn do anything, it’s always so damn cool when she does - even if it’s something as basic as blocking an attack.
Then something kinda dumb happens. Saturn decides that Nehelenia has given her no choice, and she must use her power to “end everything” and defeat her. Uhh, you could have just done that from the beginning, right? She said earlier that she was reborn so she could help Usagi transform into Eternal Sailor Moon, and she’s already done that. If you’re so willy-nilly eager to sacrifice yourself to beat bad guys, you probably could’ve just opened up with a Silence Glaive Surprise and we’d all be getting to the rest of the season a lot faster. Oh well.
Nehelenia doesn’t believe that Saturn will kill herself to get rid of her, but then she realizes she’s completely serious and gets terrified. Once again, it goes on for way too long (all of this is very padded with dialogue) but just as Saturn is ready to wipe out herself and Nehelenia, Chibimoon uses her last few seconds to stop her, reminding her to have faith in Sailor Moon. Nehelenia uses this opportunity to knock away Saturn’s glaive and trap her in a mirror like the others.
As if on cue, an exhausted Usagi finally arrives. Nehelenia continues to brag about how she’s already won, and Usagi runs to Chibimoon, who is permanently transparent now and has collapsed on the floor.
Oh no... OHHHHH no, a death scene in Sailor Moon. My heartstrings, they can’t, they just can’t, they......
BAWWWWWWWWWW. I can’t believe I feel bad for the Pink Rat. It’s really all about Kotono Mitsuishi’s performance.
Very quickly, though, Usagi gets angry. She demands to know what Chibiusa ever did to deserve this, but Nehelenia is happy that Usagi is pissed. The lady is very obsessed with how people look at her (she got mad at Saturn earlier for how she was looking at her), which makes sense, considering her backstory. Speaking of which, how about we pad this episode out with another rewrite/review of Nehelenia’s motivations?!
Back when Nehelenia was ruling the “Dead Moon” - a separate planet in the anime, but the dark side of the Moon in the manga - she was a lonely little princess with no friends. It didn’t matter that she had subjects that worshipped her, because she still felt so alone. The evil mirror that drove her mad alleviated her loneliness by making her selfish; she wasn’t lonely after she learned to stop wanting others’ company and only care about herself.
...But wait, I thought Nehelenia was obsessed with staying young and beautiful because the mirror showed her an image of herself as a old woman (Zirconia)? This is kinda contradicting everything from SuperS?? Oh, whatever. It’s not like the canon of SuperS is holy and untouchable and couldn’t use some rewriting anyway.
Recalling the part where Queen Serenity (Usagi’s mother in the old SIlver Millennium) sealed her away without her PRECIOUS MIRROR, Nehelenia attacks Usagi, batting her around her lair with magic before stalking over to strangle her to death. BUT.... MORE DREADED EYES! That’s right, Usagi has discovered her weakeness: being looked at funny. She rages at the pity that Usagi shows her and demands that she hate her for everything she’s done, but nope. This is a sweet-hearted mahou shoujo heroine. Not gonna happen.
You know, I’m making fun of it, but this is honestly what I love about Sailor Moon (and a lot of Japanese media in general). Usagi doesn’t beat her by blasting powerful energy beams or whatever - she wins because of her principles, her devotion to empathy and protecting the dignity of every single person, even someone who murdered her daughter and turned her future husband into a vegetable. Nehelenia really has no response to Usagi’s kindness and it completely disarms her. I know we don’t live in a world where that idealism can always prevail, but damn it... watching Sailor Moon makes me feel good about the world, even if it’s silly and meant primarily for ten year olds.
Overwhelmed, Nehelenia agrees to take her revenge out on Usagi instead of her friends, and suddenly all of her curses begin to break - the shard of glass leaves Mamoru’s eye, the mirrors trapping the Senshi are shattered, Chibimoon reappears, and despite Nehelenia’s last attempt to attack them all, Usagi’s brooch transforms into a new form, permanently allowing her to turn into Eternal Sailor Moon.
The Senshi’s collective power heals the wounds in Nehelenia’s heart, and she travels back in time to her childhood, with the entire Dead Moon Circus and curses thing turning into nothing more than a bad dream.
The girls are happy for Nehelenia’s second chance, Usagi gives Jupiter back her rose earring, and everyone gets a happy ending.
But wait...... Totally Not Sailor Galaxia is laughing to herself in the background! That’s right, there’s an entire season left to watch. On to the next one!
Alright, since this is the first real episode of Stars, I’ve got a lot of commentary to get through. I apologize if this gets a bit lengthy...
The episode begins in a darkly lit room. Three individuals with tacky suits and bad haircuts are talking about trying to find someone. “Will we find her?” “Of course.” “That’s what we came here for.” They walk down the hallway to double doors, the room filling with light and the sound of cheering fans after they open. This is the 1996 tour for the “Three Lights,” a popular idol group/boy band, who is apparently throwing a concert for losers in the middle of the day since it’s broad daylight outside.
Of course, the girls love these guys. Luna asks who they are, and the others can’t believe that she’s never heard of them. There’s Seiya, with a “wild dangerous air about him” that naturally appeals to boy-crazy Minako and Makoto. Rei prefers the snooty elegance of Yaten, the white-haired and most feminine of the three. And even studious Ami-chan gets into it, as she prefers Forehead Guy (his name is “Taiki” I guess) for his intellectualism.
Usagi doesn’t really care about the Three Lights, ‘cause she already has the love of her life, her dear Mamo-chan. And she’s distracted anyway, because there’s been some difficult news: Mamoru is going to study abroad in the United States for a year or even longer. While she tried to be supportive and knows they’ll always love one another, Usagi is obviously unhappy that he’ll be gone for so long. The girls are worried about her as they part ways for the evening, knowing this must be hard so soon after Chibiusa’s departure. Oh yeah, Chibiusa, we don’t even get to see you leave after the last episode. GOOD.
Back at Usagi’s home, she’s moping in her bedroom. Luna tries to comfort her, but she admits that what she really wants to do is selfishly beg Mamoru not to leave her. Luna reminds her that, compared to when they first met, Usagi has become a more responsible and mature person, and they should send Mamoru off with a smile.
The next day, Mamoru is shocked to see Usagi come to the airport on a school day to see him off. He worries that he won’t be able to keep in contact with her at first because he’ll be so busy, but Usagi reassures him and starts crying anyway. That’s when Mamoru presents a ring box, and....... wait, if you weren’t expecting her to see you off at the airport, what are you doing with that at a time like this? Were you going to hold onto an engagement ring for 1+ year?? Shouldn’t this have been done before mere minutes prior to your flight taking off? Bad planning, Mamo-chan. You totally bought that ring five minutes ago in the airport duty-free jewelry shop, didn’t you.
The whole scene is super cute, with Mamoru sliding the ring on her engagement finger and the two of them sharing an embrace and kiss. As they’re leaving to go to Mamoru’s gate, they hear a big ruckus coming from the nearby escalators. Mamoru speculates that it’s an actor or singer, and sure enough, it’s those three pretty boys Usagi’s friends were talking about earlier. But the two of them don’t really care about the Three Lights, so they start walking off.
Seiya cuts through the crowd and happens to walk by the couple, but he senses something as he passes by Usagi, making him pause and watch her leave over his shoulder. HMMM! What could that mean.
We cut to TNSG’s disembodied voice. She’s back and here to deliver some important plot exposition! She senses “the energy of stars that shine for all eternity,” a “true star seed,” and she instructs an unseen person or persons to search through Earth’s “dormant” star seeds. Glowing lights fly through space down to Earth, and as Mamoru sits in his airplane on his way to New York, one of them collides with the plane, sending ominous light out through the aircraft’s windows.
Two things here: first, I FUCKING LOVE SAILOR GALAXIA, mostly because her design is just so damn cool.
Second, the method of Mamoru’s demise here is the first major departure from the manga. Here, he’s attacked after he’s already left Japan, with Usagi none the wiser that something has gone wrong. But in the manga, Mamoru is literally killed right in front of her when Sailor Galaxia appears out of nowhere, steals his star seed, disappears without a trace, with Mamoru nowhere to be seen afterwards - his soul basically got stolen. In the manga Usagi is so confused and traumatized by what she’s seen that she blocks it out of her memory entirely and convinces herself that Mamoru got on his plane and is busy in America. The way the anime handles it is a little more believable than a selective memory angle, but its approach lacks the same intense tragedy and drama, and basically robs Galaxia of an awesome first appearance in the show.
Now’s as good a time as any to say it: many, many people think Sailor Stars is bad. Some even say it’s worse than SuperS, although I will personally disagree with this until I’m blue in the face. And one of the reasons for people’s dislike is that there are just so many missed opportunities and bad creative decisions. Like it or not, the 90’s anime was always shackled to Toei’s target audience, young children, for the sake of merchandising. This motivation infects the entire season (and series) as a result, from plot complexity and intensity to putting pressure on Naoko Takeuchi’s creative decisions. (We’ll be getting more into that last part below.) Although I really like Sailor Stars, the change to Mamoru’s death is the first of many big changes meant to tone down the severity of the manga’s story, and it isn’t going to be the only change for the worse that we’ll see.
Meanwhile, Yaten of the Three Lights senses that “another star has gone out.” Was it “them?” Seiya asks Yes, Yaten confirms (although I don’t know how Yaten could answer that or who else it could have possibly been going around murdering people with star seeds). Taiki wishes that person could have been nearby so they could’ve done something. They don’t “have time,” although it isn’t clear what for, of course.
Elsewhere, Usagi and the girls are hanging out at Crown. The girls have noticed Usagi’s new ring and speculate correctly on the significance of the gift, considering he put it on her left ring finger. But Usagi apparently, didn’t seem to understand what the ring meant at all (to much hilarity), but Minako barges in during the conversation to tell everyone that the Three Lights are filming their J-drama nearby and they HAVE TO GO!
The girls jump up to try to see what’s going on over the heads of the crowd, giving us one of the cutest and most memorable sequences of animation from Stars. Even Ami-chan gets into it! But it quickly becomes clear that they won’t be seeing anything from way at the back. They gotta squeeze closer! FOR THE SAKE OF FANDOM!
And wrut roh, there’s a spooky person watching what’s going on from a tree behind the crowd. It reminds me of the beginning of season 3, when Neptune and Uranus watched the girls barely survive from a tree in the first episode.
Usagi, separated from the others, wanders off and finds an employees-only area that she immediately decides to sneak into. But a familiar-looking guy with a hideous 90's rat tail reclining on a park bench (outside the restricted area, where he could be accosted by any number of annoying fans??) warns her that she isn’t allowed to go in. And thus, we have our initial meeting between Usagi and Seiya, which is also in a very different and more lighthearted context from the manga.
Seiya immediately recognizes her as the girl he got a weird feeling from at the airport, but Usagi doesn’t remember or recognize him at all. They begin to bicker - capturing some of the original Usagi/Mamoru chemistry from season 1 - and Seiya even calls her “odango,” which annoys Usagi for its daring informality. Yeah... they’re going there. They’re gonna tease us with a potential romance, except we already know it’s gonna go nowhere ‘cause the entire show is based around Usagi and Mamoru’s relationship and the two of them just got engaged.
Seiya wanders back to the set, and Usagi decides to continue to sneak into the employees-only area anyway. The show’s main actress (introduced earlier) and Victim of the Day wanders out of one of the trailers, only to be immediately confronted by the suspicious-looking person in the tree earlier. She announces that she’s there for the actress’s “crystal of life,” her “star seed,” and proceeds to attack her with bracelets on both wrists.
And here we have this season’s filler contrivance: the villains are looking for a special, brilliant “star seed.” Something like a flower bud emerges from the actress’s head and opens up, revealing a white crystal, but the crystal almost immediately tarnishes and fades away.
The commotion grabs Usagi’s attention and she watches the entire thing go down before deciding that, er, should probably transform and help out. Here’s the first time we see her full new Eternal transformation! As usual, you’ll be seeing it plenty of times, so don’t worry if you miss all the tiny details.
The strange person immediately asks Sailor Moon if she’s a senshi, and scoffs that she could never be a “star” like her. That’s right - this adversary is a Sailor Senshi herself, by the name of Sailor Iron Mouse. This arc of Sailor Moon is sometimes referred to as the “Sailor Wars,” with a song in one of the musicals having the same name. Generally speaking, part of the reason I love Stars so much is what a fantastic premise it has for the final season, even if you argue that it could’ve been executed better in some ways. Inner conflict among the Sailor Senshi has always been fascinating, and here we get to see Senshi that aren’t aligned with our solar system’s team at all and who could have wildly different motivations or responsibilities.
The actress victim turns into a monster-of-the-day; in this season they’ll look like a cross between season 3’s ridiculous object-based monsters and some vague Sailor Senshi costume motifs. Sailor Moon immediately starts getting her butt kicked, but instead of a lame person dressed in black showing up to save her, we get three lame people dressed in black showing up to save her!
Ugh, jeez. The Starlights. I like them, and at the same time, they are just so tacky. People have been making fun of the bondage stripper outfits for the past twenty years, and I can guarantee you they are the reason we never got Sailor Stars in English. (Aside from, y’know... the sex changes. more on that below.)
They’re also another point of contention when it comes to the Stars anime sucking majorly in comparison to the manga. Before we even get into that, their existence from the beginning was the result of pressure on Naoko Takeuchi from Toei, who wanted new characters they could sell as toys. Hate their ridiculous and stupid-looking rat tail hair? Well, they are, in fact, only like that for the sake of selling merchandise.
From the fifth Sailor Moon artbook:
“While I was thinking about season 5, the first image I drew of the Three Lights was this one. At first the three had short hair like in this drawing. But when Bandai saw them they cried, and asked if I couldn’t make their hair longer for the dolls that were coming out (short was not suitable, it seems). Naoko having a soft spot for dolls, I attached tails onto the three of them.”
- Naoko Takeuchi (source: mangastyle.net)
On top of that, you can see from this first episode that Toei made a major series-altering change from Takeuchi’s manga: the Starlights are male in their civilian forms, but have very noticeable boobs, tiny waists and entirely different, female voices when transformed. In the manga, they’re simply women disguising themselves as men while on Earth, not unlike the way Haruka prefers to present herself as male sometimes. Not only is this is a pointless change from their manga versions - what exactly does making them go through a physical sex change add to the story? - but it actually serves to completely reject the lore set up in the manga, where only women can be Sailor Senshi.
It’s interesting that, unlike her other Sailor Moon artbooks, Takeuchi doesn’t hesitate to complain about Toei in the season 5 artbook. She also wondered why the anime staff chose to feature the Starlights as main characters when, again, they are supposed to be minor. (When Crystal gets to Stars I’m sure the casual fans who aren’t familiar with the manga will bitch, yet again, that they have “no characterization.”) Rumor has it that Takeuchi was particularly upset with Toei for making the Starlights switch genders when they transform (writing that she was “shocked” to see this change in the same artbook linked above), and it likely contributed to the huge falling out that she would have with the company a few years after Sailor Moon was finished.
Anyway. Star Fighter attacks the monster and threatens to put it out of its misery with a final blow, but Sailor Moon begs them to stop, because it used to be the actress who got attacked by Sailor Iron Mouse. Star Fighter says that nothing can be done, because only one person (who??? hmmm) can save someone who’s been turned into a Phage. But oh, Star Fighter, never say “never” around Usagi. Because she’ll turn that negativity upside down with another heaping dose of shoujo protagonist determination.
After a new attack, Starlight Honeymoon Therapy Kiss (what a name), the Phage is turned back into its original human. But the Starlights have disappeared in the meantime, leaving both sides to wonder what the deal is with the other.
As the first real episode of Sailor Stars, this episode has a number of important things to introduce and start setting up - and yet we waste so much time on the filler formula that we’ll see in plenty of episodes following this. Overall, it really isn’t particularly well-written or entertaining, but it does get the job done and we’re ready to pretty much plunge into the ocean of filler now. Whether the next few episodes are actually going to be filler or not, I don’t know, although I know this series too well and my hopes aren’t very high. Well, they could still be fun either way!
Next week, we’ll see what’s next! Thanks for reading!