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).