This week the plot continued to zip forward as we meet and dispose of the first member of the Witches Five, while Sailor Moon’s commitment to seeking the truth ends in quite the surprise. The larger story here, though, is that Rei has gone to the mountains to purify herself in the lead up to her fifteenth birthday. However, with Mamoru working at a nearby resort, Usagi is happy to use Rei’s birthday as a reason to be near him. In a coincidence, Mugen High School’s got a lot of their students in the area as well. Makoto impulsively accepts a challenge to fight Haruka in judo and gets her rear end handed to her; one of the other girls angrily demands to know why “he” would use “his” full strength against a girl, and Haruka scornfully asks if they really think a woman could never defeat a man. Later on, when Eudial tries to steal the energy of the Mugen students, the Inners quickly arrive on the scene to defeat her, leaving the episode to end in a SHOCKING KISS.
…ok, it’s only shocking if you haven’t read the manga, which means that there’s probably only about 10% of the audience who was or will be surprised.
I found this episode less strong than the previous two, as it feels less tightly focused than they were, although there was a clear story point which was moved through here – they’ve got one of the Witches Five down and have four to go. Hmm, five Inners, five Witches… wonder if there’s a pattern there? HMM. But even with that, there was a fair bit of stuff introduced this week which got very fast introduction with nothing in the way of moving it toward resolution. This is chiefly related to Makoto and Rei’s sense of inadequacy, as neither is able to do much against Eudial, and Makoto finds herself unable to carry out her duty to protect Usagi as regards Haruka.
Speaking of Haruka, I’m struck again by just how much more ominous both she and Michiru are in their interactions with our core cast than they are as depicted in Sailor Moon S. It does match with the relative lack of humor here compared to S, but as I’m currently making my way through S again, it’s very jarring. Haruka in particular feels very hostile and threatening (I felt really uncomfortable with how she grabbed one of Usagi’s pigtails). Michiru doesn’t come across as as strongly negative as Haruka, likely as she doesn’t seem be physically intimidating, but she nevertheless induces a sense of unease, even as she’s doing something as seemingly banal as offering a pair of concert tickets to Mamoru. Of course, this action does link into a major piece of why one feels unsettled by them – they’re obviously both working toward breaking up our main couple by using themselves as the bait. That they’re equally clearly themselves a couple certainly adds to queasiness about it.
Although there’s not the same direct angst about video games and genetic engineering in this episode (Eudial does make a comment about raising her level by defeating Sailors Mars and Jupiter, but that’s it), the introduction of Souichi Tomoe continues the theme of concern about scientific advancement. We learn that not only is he Hotaru’s father, but that he was expelled from the scientific community for unethical experiments of some sort. Compared to the villains so far in the series (Dark Kingdom, Black Moon), the Death Busters are a pretty big shift, as we seem to have gone from motivations largely stemming from emotion (lust and vengefulness) to something colder.
I think it’s useful, by the way, at this point to mention that Naoko Takeuchi holds a degree in Chemistry and is licensed as a pharmacist, so she’s got a scientific background herself. She wanted to become a manga author, but when she was a teenager, her father said she had to go to college first to study something else so that if she didn’t succeed in manga, she’d have a stable fallback. Takeuchi’s interest in astronomy also pre-dates Sailor Moon, as she was in the astronomy club at her high school. (This seems a bit ironic considering how many people I’ve heard complain that they had friends whom they claimed became convinced that the Earth’s moon is a planet from watching Sailor Moon. Concluding from encountering this franchise that the Moon is a planet doesn’t seem like an obvious logic leap to me, though, so I think blaming Takeuchi for that is unfair.)
While I did say that I found this episode less good than the previous, it did have some good stuff for those eager for Haruka and Michiru romantic moments. Partially garbed embraces fit that bill, right? It is a tad disappointing (but not really unexpected since it was absent in the manga, too) that there aren’t any kisses to be had between the two here. This is one spot where we can notice that things have changed a bit since the early/mid-90’s, as the original anime lacked in this regard as well. Having gay heroines in just about the most mainstream property there was at that time was totally unprecedented, and we still haven’t had anything else like it, but it seems like while Toei was willing to let the envelope be pushed, a kiss would’ve been a bridge too far. However, we got a same-sex kiss in this episode, so I am hoping that they will deliver what was left out over twenty years ago. There’s certainly enough incentive for it! Fans have been collectively squealing their brains out over the current ED for the show, after all, and that Toei opted for it and also very much emphasized Haruka and Michiru’s relationship in the lead-up to SMC III also gives decent cause for optimism.