Now that’s more like it!
Well, I originally didn’t intend to do any posts about the new shows of spring until later this week, as my schedule isn’t conducive to watching the new shows, but I couldn’t resist the urging of my sheer excitement and happiness over this one, so here we are.
If you want to skip me explicating at length, skip to the last paragraph for the TL;DR version.
Sailor Moon Crystal III has started off very strongly, and out of the gate it is exactly what Sailor Moon fans wanted out of this reboot all along. Did we just want the super-cool gay magical girls all along? Well… yes, probably, although we don’t really get so much of that as yet in the episode content, although the ED certainly scratches that itch. But what I really mean is that SMC III is a good-looking production with solid directing that hews quite faithfully to the manga while dodging the lifeless, slavish feeling that sometimes plagued it’s similarly faithful predecessor seasons of Crystal. (Full disclosure: I didn’t finish the first season(s) of Crystal; it wasn’t quite that I disliked it so much as it didn’t do anything to really catch my attention.)
In terms of the animation, the route here was paved with a change in character designers (Akira Takahashi, who did the character designs for a couple of seasons of Pretty Cure, and who also was a producer for Sailor Moon Sailor Stars) and a ditching of clunky CG, as the transformation sequences are fully 2D again. Even before the PV emerged a few weeks ago, I was feeling optimistic about the character designs, which are more substantial than the ones for the first two story arcs – Takeuchi’s designs are great in a paper environment, but sticking too close to them was always a recipe for disaster. They’re so wispy that the original Crystal ones were totally unforgiving to animators on a deadline. Takahashi’s flat-out work better in this medium, while also being a hell of a lot closer to Takeuchi’s originals than the original anime had. (Mind you, I like the original anime’s designs. They’re not sexy in the way that Takeuchi’s are, but I do like them, too.)
The transformation sequences also deserve to be noted, as they’re all much, much better than the ones from the first two arcs. For the Inners except Sailor Moon, they’re also almost identical to the ones from the original anime in their final portions insofar as angles and positioning go – if you’re a longtime fan, you’re going to see this right away. But they’re not total carbon copies, and I really like how they’re a modern update on the transformations of old. Sailor Moon’s, on the other hand, takes nods from the original, but it felt VERY Pretty Cure, which I can only find fascinating given that Sailor Moon’s original anime birthed transformation sequences in magical girl shows as we know them.
I’ve been re-watching Sailor Moon S recently, and for me I liked having it as a backdrop to this. It’s interesting the ways in which S and this are different, and the ways in which they are the same. S actually starts off more ominously than this does, which was surprising as I remembered that this arc in the manga was the one which featured bodily transformations like those seen in horror anime such as Vampire Princess Miyu and Descendants of Darkness/Yami no Matsuei (damn, does anyone even watch that anymore? I remember when that thing was a hot property!). The ominous aura is still there, but it’s less sharp, and it’s grounded more in the uneasiness Haruka and Michiru inspires here, where in S they were presented in a much more positive manner. Minako and Makoto still gush about Haruka, but Usagi and Mamoru are clearly a bit unnerved about our new additions to the cast, although neither would be able to put their finger on exactly why.
Speaking of Haruka and Michiru, my one real bone of contention is the casting for Haruka. Junko Minagawa’s Haruka is too masculine. They were never going to be able to get someone as well-suited as Megumi Ogata was, as she was perfect at voicing a character who is mistaken for a boy despite not trying to pass as such, but I couldn’t settle into Minagawa’s effort at all.
You may notice that I haven’t touched at all on the content from the “what happens in this episode?” standpoint. And you know what? I can’t, really. Sailor Moon is such old hat for me (I’ve been a fan for over twenty years!), I find it impossible to really comment on it in this regard. The material plot-wise and character-wise in this episode is a story I’ve experienced so much already that I could’ve told you roughly what would happen in this episode before we even knew we were getting more Crystal. Other than the OP and ED, *none* of this is new. For Sailor Moon fans, I’m sure this won’t be a problem. I’m far less able to assess how it’ll stand up for those who are new to the property, either because they’re starting with SMC III with no prior experience at all, or if they’re coming off of the first twenty-six episodes of this re-boot but haven’t experienced this franchise otherwise. I would cautiously say that Sailor Moon remains a pretty solid superhero story that has a pretty strong dose of feminism in the mix (a feminism which, by the way, isn’t itself always unproblematic!), and that this season is adapting material from what is generally agreed upon to be the best arc. It’s also got gay magical girls who are in a committed relationship, and you aren’t going to find that elsewhere in this genre. (This should technically be a spoiler, surely, but, uh, Toei didn’t really get that memo if the ED is anything to go by!)
OP is odd, as I like the animation (except for the really awkward running Sailor Moon does), and I kind of like the song, but I don’t think they work together. It’s sung by Etsuko Yakushimaru… y’know, the one who did the Mawaru Penguindrum OPs? The ED is the one everyone cares about, though, since we’ve got a duet from Michiru and Haruka. I like it quite a bit, although I’m sure more for what it represents rather than it’s own worth as a piece of music and animation! Michiru is quite the babe at one point in it, for whatever that’s worth.
But, I think I’ve said enough. The TL;DR version is this – if you’re a Sailor Moon fan who wasn’t jazzed by the first two seasons of Crystal, SMC III is making a strong play to redeem this reboot effort. A change in character designer has done this one a lot of good, and the change in director (Chiaki Kon now helms) seems to have revitalized things on the whole. I’m genuinely bummed that it’ll be a whole two weeks before the next episode! This was a really strong start.