The Death Busters like video game mechanics and genetic engineering? Clear signs of evil!
Heading into episode two, I was feeling pretty optimistic, so I’m happy to report that this second episode did not disappoint, as the visuals remained stable, and the directing and script were quite competent. Additionally, while this, too, was a very faithful adaptation of the corresponding manga material, it was able to flex a little within that space instead of unceremoniously dropping a panel-for-panel adaptation onto the screen.
In this episode, Mamoru chaperones Chibiusa and her school-friends to a new amusement park while Usagi and the other Inners go to investigate the mysterious Mugen Academy. Usagi is chagrined at missing out on spending time with Mamoru, and whines a bit about it, but she buckles down and accepts her responsibility fairly quickly. In fact, it is Usagi who goes the extra mile when she impulsively uses her disguise pen to go incognito as a Mugen student. Meanwhile, Kaolinite reads the marching orders out to the Witches 5, and Chibiusa, too, ends up on campus when her hat is carried off by the wind. Chibiusa finds her hat, but also discovers an apparently ill young woman; when Usagi runs into them both, a monster attacks. A battle ensues in which a pair of mysterious Sailor senshi are glimpsed looking on, and Sailor Moon frets about the fact that the ill young woman saw them all transform. Post-battle, Sailor Chibi Moon demonstrates a distinct lack of concern about the secrecy of their identities and happily introduces herself and explains who she and the others are to the other girl.
It turns out that writing a synopsis of what has happened in a SMC III episode is tough, as a lot of the “unknown” figures introduced in this episode are ones myself and other longtime fans of the franchise couldn’t possibly not know already. I end up feeling somewhat foolish in identifying them vaguely, then, but I also want to be cognizant that there are probably some viewers who don’t know all the answers already. I’m not sure how they could’ve managed to totally duck all the information freely flowing around out there, but I nevertheless don’t want to totally ruin it for them. That being said, if you are in the dark about the future story, I would advise you to avoid the rest of this post.
One of the things which really stuck out in this episode for me was the way that the Death Busters hierarchy and internal progression work. In the original anime, they left out the entire thing involving there being different levels and that the various Witches were trying to level up by defeating members of the senshi. This time, though, it’s completely intact, and I was struck by how contemporary it feels with the current trend of trapped-in-a-video-game (or not – Dungeon Pick-Up Artist wasn’t in a game, but they still had video game mechanics built into the world) shows. It brought to mind most strongly, though, K: Return of Kings (awful show, don’t watch it), wherein the antagonistic group JUNGLE has set up a leveling-up system for its members wherein tasks completed in real life raise their power level and give them access to greater powers and abilities (also in real life).
It’s worth recalling that in the 90’s there was a lot of fear and angst about video games and their impact on children and teenagers. This isn’t, by the way, to say that this hasn’t been the case since, as there are certainly groups who still are committed to vastly limiting access to these games, and there have been flare-ups about specific games from time to time. However, it’s a very, very different landscape than 1994, which is when this story arc was originally begun in the manga. This whole set-up, with villains applying a video game set-up to the real world, reflects fears of its era that children would become inured to violence through its fictional representation and start behaving in anti-social ways. It’s also a reflection of worry that children and teenagers would become unable to differentiate between games and reality and begin to do things in real life in order to level up in a game, regardless of whether those things were morally correct or not. (Of course, it’s also just an extension of a pretty old fear of newer generations being morally degraded in some fashion and therefore likely to cause harm and disruption to the community at large.)
In addition to video games, though, this arc also picks at concerns over genetic engineering. But it’s not something yet which we’ve had much information about, so I can leave that discussion for another time. I will note Usagi’s use of the term “atavism”, which is “the reappearance in an individual of characteristics of some remote ancestor that have been absent in intervening generations.” (I ended up deferring to dictionary.com as I couldn’t manage to put it clearly myself.) . I will also note that we’re shown a sign reading “Tomoe Research Laboratory”.
I want to comment on something I’ve noticed in a lot of discussion about this episode, and about SMC III in general, which is this idea that the more physical/visual comedy going on is evidence of the spirit of the original anime adaptation. To this, I’d say – eh, a teeny bit. But the Sailor Moon manga certainly features silly, caricatured faces and goofy Usagi-Chibiusa antics. What I’ve seen so far in this season doesn’t really go beyond that, so I’m skeptical of the original show’s influence in this regard.
There is one bone I have to pick with this episode. The transformation sequences! Maybe this is unfair of me, as this is a magical girl show, after all, and transformation sequences generally eat up a decent chunk of runtime in those. At the same time, going through everyone’s complete transformation and their declaration of their slogans felt like extreme overkill. But it may be they did this out of necessity… did you know that the Death Busters arc only consists of ten chapters? (The original anime puffed this up to thirty-eight episodes.) Talk about breakneck pacing.