I really, really wanted to like this show. I’m a Sailor Moon fan, as I’ve noted before, and I was excited about seeing this reboot of the series using the manga as a basis (which I have not read). But having finished the series, well, I don’t think I like this. The storytelling choices for this show just baffle me. Honestly, I’m not sure I would have liked it that much had I not been a fan of the original animated series. The series still has some significant flaws [SPOILER ALERT].
The Good –
The smoother animation is lovely, and the lines for the characters and objects are not black but a color near the inside of the lines (like a lighter blue next to the dark blue skirt. The style is even more, well, stylized, to the point that the characters’ faces are about 70% eyes and their bodies are about 70% legs. I’m not sure I like the extreme style for the men’s faces, but it doesn’t bother me.
I love that electric guitar theme and the more modern background music.
The voice acting is still spot-on. I’m not surprised since the actress who originally voiced Usagi reprised the role.
4) Storytelling Choices:
a) Incorporating Chibiusa’s age – this element of the manga actually works well in this context. Chibiusa was very bratty in the original and not much explanation was ever given. Here, her strange and bratty behavior is explained by the fact that she has been approximately six years old for over 900 years! Even King Endymion doesn’t know why she stopped aging and hasn’t grown up. So she’s got over 900 years of feeling like a failure and trying to deal with that with all the maturity of a six-year-old’s feelings.
b) Mamoru/Endymion’s powers – again, in the manga, Mamoru had some power of his own, although nothing like the senshi. He is the Prince of Earth, after all, and that actually means something here. In the original, he had psychic visions, but in this version he actually can do some healing and has a named attack of his own (that isn’t just chucking a rose).
c) Sailor Pluto’s arc – Sailor Pluto barely showed up in the original, although she was a friend to Chibiusa. In this, her relationship with Chibiusa is really highlighted. There’s an underlying subtext she was kind of love with King Endymion, but I’ll overlook that. You get to see her origin story in which she’s about eight and is appointed the Guardian of Time by the original Queen Serenity. She’s lonely guarding the door of time, and Chibiusa goes to her because Pluto doesn’t make Chibiusa feel bad about not growing up and not being as awesome as her mother. Her sacrifice is well done and is what really saves Chibiusa.
The Not-so-Good – Storytelling Choices
Pretty much everything I dislike is due to the storytelling choices, which I will break down here. Is this a storytelling failure? Not quite, but I am disappointed.
a) At first, I thought it was going to just cover the Dark Kingdom story arc of the original animated series (“Sailor Moon“) but be more true to the original manga. Then I realized that the series is covering the Dark Kingdom arc and the Dark Moon arc (“Sailor Moon R“). I realize that the original series had a lot of filler (based on how short, relatively speaking, the summaries are), but twenty-six episodes for two major story arcs is really compressed, and it really shows. Major villains are introduced and killed off in the same episode. There’s no time to learn to fear these characters before they’re gone. There’s also not a lot of time for development of the main characters, especially the guardian senshi. Their friendship with Usagi is a key point in the original and how she derives a lot of her power and will. Sure, they’re all friends, but there’s almost no time devoted to how that develops.
b) I felt this was even more jarring when the series switched arcs from the Dark Kingdom to the Dark Moon. In the Dark Kingdom arc, the four henchmen of Queen Beryl were revealed to be the brainwashed former four generals of Earth. Basically they were the spear counterparts of the guardian senshi to Prince Endymion. The generals and the guardian senshi had fallen in love and right when they got their memories back, the generals were destroyed. The guardian senshi didn’t have a lot of time to deal with their grief what with the world ending and all. But their love for the doomed generals was never mentioned again. That thread of character developed just disappeared because it was time to move to the next story arc. The ghosts of the generals appeared to Mamoru just once and the guardian senshi never mention them again.
This might be related to the manga elements, which I have read was a pretty compressed story with characters being introduced and killed off in practically the same chapter. In which case, I think this manga element did not work well in this medium.
2) Power Balance:
I get that Sailor Moon, at the end of the day, has all the power. When I first saw the original series, that fact struck me as entirely unique because on the surface Usagi seems like the last person to entrust the fate of the world (American cartoons are a lot less subtle about who has the power). The shows got a bit formulaic in that in nearly every battle the guardian senshi would only soften up the monster while Sailor Moon finished off the monster. However, I never got the impression (except in a few instances that made sense) that Sailor Moon could beat the monster without it being weakened first.
But in this series? I’m so confused. The guardian senshi are just that – guardians of the Moon Princess. But they’re nigh useless! For example, right after the guardian senshi get a power-up (Sailor Mercury even says, “I’ve never felt so energetic”), Sailor Mars goes up against one of the four Spectre (Phantom) Sisters. She powers up and wastes the minions with Burning Mandala, and then gets her ass kicked by Koan like a chump. Sailor Mercury’s new water power isn’t enough to free Sailor Mars from the fire prison Koan put her in. Then Sailor Moon gets a new weapon and wastes Koan in one shot! Sailor Mars, Mercury, and Jupiter got captured at one point, are summoned to consciousness by Usagi, stand up to transform and escape, and then…fall unconscious again, uselessly. They try to rally themselves to protect Sailor Moon from Black Lady, and again are tossed aside like chumps. How I am supposed to take the guardian senshi seriously when they can’t do anything at all without Sailor Moon?
3) Mixed Messages/Themes:
a) When the senshi first start to remember their past lives, Usagi gets very upset and angry because she likes her life and doesn’t understand why everything went so wrong in the past. She doesn’t want to repeat the tragedy of the past and Rei tells her, “You are not that tragic princess.” I actually liked that part. Except…well, she repeats the past and almost ends up that tragic princess. What? The lessons she was supposed to learn from the past are not articulated well. Was she supposed to learn Earth was awesome (since she abandons the moon as her home)? What’s the point of that? What does that really mean to the story? The characters’ motivations are muddled and I’m sure a lot of that stems from the compressed storytelling.
b) The opening song tells us that girls don’t need men. Now, of course Usagi and Mamoru’s love story is one of the anchors. But for all that Tuxedo Kamen saved Sailor Moon in the original, I always felt that was because Sailor Moon is really terrible at being a senshi in general. Also, as much as she loved Mamoru, she was equally close to the senshi. But there’s a meta-point in this series when Usagi is pining for Mamoru (after her friends have very nearly been killed) and they gently scold her for treating them like they don’t matter. As for Mamoru, the impression in this series is more that she needs his power to do her thing. In fact, near the end, she tells him the only reason she can use the past Silver Crystal in the future is because he is with her. So she literally cannot save the future without him.
c) Kind of related to the above point, although not to the extent above, the four guardian senshi apparently fell in love with Endymion’s generals. This does sort of play into the story in that the generals eventually remember and refuse to kill the guardians. But then the generals are just murdered by Queen Metalia. The guardian senshi just stand their and cry until the ghosts remind them their job is to protect Sailor Moon. And then run after her. Sheesh. They have one job. One job! Sailor Pluto was ten thousand times more useful and effective as a guardian of Sailor Moon, that’s not her job!
d) Electra Complex – this was bad enough in the original, and this series just pushed it that much further. Squicky and unnecessary, I think.
4) Deus ex Machina:
Okay, I understand that as a magical girl series that deus ex machinas are kind of standard. Heck, Sailor Moon is a shining example of the trope, “Strong as s/he needs to be.” Fine, I get that. But this goes above and beyond what I would expect. I’d like to point out that when Neo-Queen Serenity puts everything right with a wave of her magic wand, I don’t consider that a deus ex machina, exactly. Neo-Queen Serenity is a goddess with nearly unlimited power. But Sailor Moon isn’t.
a) I mentioned above that Sailor Moon pretty much repeats the mistakes of her past. The only reason this doesn’t result in the same tragedy is because of two deus ex machinas. When she tries to kill Endymion, the remains of his four generals, which are four crystals, literally jump out of his jacket and block the sword. When she turns the sword on herself, the watch she accidentally got from Endymion blocks the sword.
b) Praying – When she has to face Queen Metalia, she literally prays to the moon to give her the strength to win. Luna prays to Queen Serenity for Sailor Moon to win. Sailor Moon tells Sailor Chibi Moon to pray so they can defeat Death Phantom. I’m all for faith, but this doesn’t seem like the right context.
c) When she’s about to be killed by Saphir, she manages to channel her future self to use the power of the Silver Crystal even though it has been established the crystal of the past does not work in the future. However, apparently Neo-Queen Serenity can channel her future Crystal power through the past Sailor Moon, because of reasons…
d) Trapped on Nemesis and drained of power, with the help of her future self, she rescues her friends, helps them transform, and just teleports back to Crystal Tokyo like it ain’t no thing.
Listen, a single chariot from the sky is kind of awesome. When the sky is nothing but chariots, that’s annoying.
5) Overall – even separated from the original (as much as I can), this just isn’t very good. I’m sorry. Some individual episodes are pretty good, but the series falls flat. The story arcs are extremely rushed, the characters are underdeveloped, the messages/themes are confused, Sailor Moon spends most of the Dark Kingdom arc being dragged through the story by her past instead of acting with any agency, and the guardian senshi contribute almost nothing to the Dark Moon arc.
And, of course, the end has a potential lead-in to another series. Usagi has the weapon she used in “Sailor Moon S.” While seeing a cyborg Sailor Saturn might be kind of cool, I’d really rather not see my favorite story arc subjected to the kind of treatment “Sailor Moon” and “Sailor Moon R” were given.
Yes, I’m that disappointed.