Slightly smug gay girls are my kind of gay girls.
The action picks up right where it left off, with Sailor Neptune and Uranus seemingly as saviors for the Inners. But any visions of teamwork are blown out of the water when the two in turn attack Sailor Moon and the others. Later, when Usagi re-awakens from having been knocked out by the attack, she still is reluctant to assume that the pair are their enemies. Chibiusa, too, doesn’t want to believe it, as she realizes that Michiru is Sailor Neptune since both carry the same mirror. The next day, Usagi and Mamoru’s problems worsen when Mamoru catches Usagi in a compromising position with Haruka. Sensing that there are issues, Chibiusa later enlists both in her art project – she wants to make the Holy Grail, something she saw a picture of in her mother’s room. Meanwhile, Ami decides to enroll in a trial enrollment at Mugen Academy. Once there, she ultimately tangles with Villuy, the third member of the Witches 5, and the rest of the Inners arrive on the scene to help her out. Also entering the scene are Haruka and Michiru, who willingly transform in front of everyone, giving away their identities. Sailor Uranus proves too much for Villuy, but she flees with Sailor Neptune immediately post-battle.
Another fairly strong outing from Sailor Moon Crystal’s “third” season, although I’ll admit that aspects like Ami jumping out of a skyscraper window to transform we could probably have done without. And while it’s not so much an issue with this episode itself, but subs for it were fairly rough around the edges, especially in the first half of the episode. There was some very clunky phrasing, and moments of outright grammatical errors, as well as a couple of obviously omitted words. It did improve as the episode went on, and it never was so bad as to render it unwatchable (then again, I used to watch tons of Hong Kong bootlegs, so my judgement may be a bit off), but it grated a fair bit.
Actually, as long as I’m talking problems, ughhhhh, I was gritting my teeth hardcore over Setsuna’s appearance. I didn’t watch enough of Sailor Moon Crystal’s first season to meet Sailor Pluto, so I didn’t realize how much they lightened her skin… or, well, that was my gut reaction, before I remembered that it isn’t quite that straightforward. The fact is, Setsuna/Sailor Pluto’s skintone was fairly variable in the original anime, and was a little bit, too, with the manga. Even so, it’s disappointing that the one we get here is lily-white. Setsuna was a rare character in a very mainstream property who appeared to be something other than anime!Japanese, so having her go for the palest incarnation is a letdown.
To get back to the guts of the episode, this thing was pretty jam-packed. We’ve got the concept of the Holy Grail introduced, another member of the Witches 5 brought on stage only to be shoved off of it just as quickly, confirmation that Michiru and Haruka are who we all thought they were, and the identification of the second of the Talismans. We also get a resolution of Usagi and Mamoru’s miscommunication and… well, I’m hesitant to term it “jealousy”, as it never seems intense enough to qualify as such, but Usagi does describe it as that. Well, however we term it, the two manage to clear the air after some initial trouble with doing so. Mamoru even gets to be a bit upset over catching Usagi seemingly about to share a kiss with Haruka! I may like manga!Mamoru as a fairly unrealistic seventeen year old (Naoko Takeuchi herself has stated that she made him in the image of her own ideal man), but if he was unruffled by his girlfriend potentially kissing another man, it’d be a bridge too far. It’s one thing to be trusting of a romantic partner – it’s another to not feel even the tiniest twinge of doubt when presented with apparent cheating.
Speaking of Mamoru as a not particularly convincing portrait of a teenaged boy, I will say that the whole past-life thing does make it feel a little more believable (this also applies to Haruka and Michiru, and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the reincarnated cast). This is his second time living as a teenager. And the last time it ended with rocks falling and everyone dying!
I continue to be struck by just how malevolent Haruka and Michiru feel in this telling of the story. It’s a very sharp contrast to Sailor Moon S, where they’re presented as very cool but also as relatively approachable. And, honestly, it’s even a bit different than the manga, where their sexiness and their allure is played up more, as they inspire a stronger feeling of unease here. In the manga, they’re very mysterious, quite sexy, and a little bit threatening – and the mystery and the relatively mild sense of danger enhances their sexiness. In Crystal, they’re very mysterious, quite threatening, and a little bit sexy. The scene in this episode between Usagi and Haruka is a good demonstration of the difference, as Usagi’s confused attraction is clearer in the manga, which results in Haruka coming off less maliciously. It’s still a very fraught scene, but in a slightly different way, as the tension doesn’t solely come from it feeling like Usagi’s potentially in danger.
Anyway, shifting gears a fair bit: Mugen Academy as a critique of the achievement-oriented approach to adolescence. A school of geniuses and the highly-accomplished, it’s also stocked with students who will do whatever it takes to improve their own standing, regardless of what sorts of consequences their actions have for others. The focus on level among the members of the Witches 5 is a reflection of the obsession with exam rankings, something made explicit in this episode by the attention paid to Villuy’s placement as number one in repeated nation-wide practice exams. I’ve talked before about the levels as an expression of angst over the potential effect of video games on teenagers and children, but this also fits within this frame. While academic results have clear real-world benefits (at least within the bounds of modern societies), there are nevertheless concerns that a slavish devotion to achievement leads to stunting emotionally, socially, and even morally. In academics, goals get reduced to golden rings simply to be grasped for the sake of the grasping as opposed to serving as developmental steps; video games, then, only differ in that society views their internal goals as meaningless. In both cases, everything gets reduced to the accrual of trophies and ribbons, and all that matters is that accrual, everything else be damned.
Thus, we get a pack of amoral, super smart teenagers who are willing to burn the world if that’s what it takes to reach their next goal! Sounds like the perfect material for the Death Busters! If I’m recalling correctly, the manga never explained who the Witches 5 really were, whether they hail from the same corner of the universe as Kaolinite and Pharaoh 90 do, or if they were humans who were granted powers in exchange for aiding Pharaoh 90. I am hoping that Crystal may decide to shed some light on their origin (although I am not expecting it to).
I’ve never read the Sailor Moon manga, but I adore the original 1990s anime, which despite the somewhat heavy message it conveyed, was always lighthearted and funny, and frequently visually inspired in any number of ways.
While I agree that this latest “Season III” of Sailor Moon Crystal is a huge improvement over the absolute abominable dreck that was its Season I/II version, I still find it pretty darned bad. It’s largely humorless, always pompous, and repellently self-serious. Moreover, it takes considerable liberties in its storytelling such that I can’t imagine someone who hasn’t either watched the earlier anime or read the manga being able to fully parse what’s going on.
But maybe I’m just too stodgy and old in feeling this way? Is it heretical to think that guys like Ikuhara turned what was kind of a killjoy manga into something close to a masterpiece? (I say this based only on the inference that this dreadful new adaptation is much more faithful to its source.)
Am I wrong to see this whole Crystal franchise as just a disgusting cash grab sullying the reputation of a truly landmark work?
I ask this in all earnestness, because when I see people praising this show it makes me nauseous!
Yes, the manga absolutely is serious where the TV series tends much more towards goofiness. I think its important to keep in mind that the manga was aimed at a slightly older audience than the TV series – which is to say, girls between about ten and fifteen, while the TV series was more like eight to twelve. So, Sailor Moon the manga was meant to feel more “mature”, but the sort of mature and serious that feels as such for a teenager. I myself don’t think this is bad, and I think it does a good job of it, in that it doesn’t come off as condescending. I think it also does a good job of it as it treats things like teen love and budding sexuality in an unpatronizing fashion.
Calling Crystal a cash grab doesn’t quite get it right, although it’d be wrong to think that it isn’t meant at all to continue milking the cash cow. However, if it were solely about making money, well, the first two story arcs sold fairly underwhelmingly when they were released, so I don’t think they would’ve gone out for a third arc if it was just for that. Crystal is also an effort by the original author, Naoko Takeuchi, to finally get her story adapted faithfully into anime and thereby exert her own creative control over the franchise; she had very, very little input in the original anime and was in fact pretty upset with some of the changes (see: the change to Rei’s personality, the whole odd gambit with the Starlights physically changing sexes when they transform).
As for liberties with storytelling, it is worth keeping in mind that the original manga was a scant fifty-two chapters long. Sailor Moon is, really, a comic book superhero story like you think of there having been in the “old days” – its not a hugely deep story, and the characters are truly more archetype than fully fleshed-out beings.
All that being said, though, if seeing people praising this show makes you feel nauseous, you should probably steer clear of people talking about it… You loved the original show, and this existing doesn’t have to have any affect on that. You can be a Sailor Moon fan and not like some parts of the franchise! There are things that I hate about the manga, and there are things I also hate about the original anime; likewise, there are things I love about both. Embrace what you love.
“[Sailor Moon Crystal is] largely humorless, always pompous, and repellently self-serious.” I’ve watched all of the original anime and the first few episodes of Crystal season 3. (I haven’t read the manga.) I don’t know if I’d add the “repellently” part, but there’s no question Crystal often seems to take itself Very Seriously Indeed. One thing that’s great about the original anime, particularly in Sailor Moon S, is how there’ll be a touching and poignant scene, like those between Hotaru and Chibusa, and then it’ll switch to something completely ridiculous like the villains interrupting their labors for a game of Twister. That tragicomic mix was I think one of the key things Ikuhara took from Sailor Moon and applied to Revolutionary Girl Utena (not to mention an appreciation for the uses to which stock footage might be put).
As I said above, I think it is important to remember that SMC is a very faithful adaptation of the manga, and the manga was targeted at a slightly older audience than the original anime (basically, junior high girls versus elementary school girls). So, it is quite serious because it was meant as a “mature” story for young teens. Does this mean that it can seem a bit silly to an adult? Absolutely! But I really do appreciate that it takes its subject very seriously and isn’t talking down to that teen audience.
You make a valid point–and actually pique my interest in reading at least part of the manga. But even without reading the manga I agree with your characterization of Crystal: I wouldn’t call it a “cash grab” either. It seems to be first and foremost a very straightforward adaptation that doesn’t seek to “color outside the lines”, and I think there’s definitely an audience for that if it’s done well. (I myself am planning to continue watching season 3, though I have no plans to go back and watch the first two.)
I tried to go back to watch the rest of the first two arcs of SMC, and I gave up again. It wasn’t a total waste of time, as I found it interesting to see some of the differences between what it was like then, and how SMC III is approaching it, but it was pretty uninspiring viewing.