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Act.1 – USAGI – SAILOR MOON

First Aired: 5th July 2014

Sailor Moon Crystal logo

Tsukino Usagi is an ordinary 14 year old girl. She’s terrible at school, clumsy and a bit of a cry-baby, until the day she meets a talking cat who calls herself Luna. With the power of a mysterious broach, Usagi discovers that she can transform into Sailor Moon, a soldier of love and justice! When her friend Naru is attacked, Sailor Moon must spring into action, and between evil monsters and a strange man calling himself Tuxedo Kamen, she finds herself a little overwhelmed by a series of odd events.

The first part of this review is spoiler free.

Finally, 2 years after it was announced, the reboot of Sailor Moon has arrived! It’s available to stream right now over at NicoNico.

Sailor Moon Crystal has a tough fight ahead of it to make itself legitimate, but after the worldwide simulcast, you could hear distinct sighs of relief from everyone watching. It’s actually a rather brilliant achievement, and I’m glad to say that the first episode has not only managed to justify the existence of the reboot, but managed to generate a certain amount of excitement for where the series will head next.

Sailor Moon Crystal Usagi

The first episode has few plot surprises if you’ve watched the original anime, and even less if you’ve read the manga – Sailor Moon Crystal has had no qualms retreading the ground that we’ve seen before, but at the same time it successfully spins it so that it feels fresh again, for the most part.

Most of the familiarity comes from the steady hand of Usagi’s voice actress Kotono Mitsuishi, reprising her role after almost 20 years. She does a spectacular job – it’s unmistakably Usagi, but she performs the character differently to the original role. She sounds younger, less of a comedian, less confident. It works really well.

Sailor Moon Crystal - Usagi and her classmates

Most of the returning characters are delightfully similar-yet-not-so-similar. We see the return of Naru, Umino, Shingo, Haruda-Sensei and Luna, all looking like alternate-reality versions of themselves, and fitting perfectly with the new aesthetic.

Sailor Moon Crystal - Naru

I confessed myself worried about that aesthetic before the series started, based on the promotional material, but all my hesitancy evaporated as soon as the show starts. It looks great, swimming in pastel colours. The eyes are shiny, the lips glossy, it may not have the original flare that its predecessor had, but it’s a treat for the eyes.

I’m not overly fond of lips in my anime (which is a weird sentence when you stop and think about it), but it works for this style.

The regular sequences are somewhat of a let down. Momorio Clover Z’s music for the opening feels messy and generic, and the matching opening sequence is about the same. There are parts that I like, but on the whole it’s lacking in the imagination that is evident in during the actual programme, and the same can be said of the end credits.

I loved the mid-point eye catches though. Really cool!

I loved the mid-point eye catches though. Really cool!

The one sequence I really did not get one well with was Sailor Moon’s transformation sequence. Evidently the show makers wanted to create an iconic sequence that developed on from anything we saw in the original series, but the decision to go for a CGI model, with a cel-shaded Sailor Moon, is baffling. It looks like a clip from a computer game. It’s not ugly, but it’s so alien next to the art style of everything else that it sticks out like a sore thumb.

Sailor Moon Crystal - Transformation Sequence

It’s a small gripe when everything is so excellent, however. Usagi is just as adorably unfortunate as ever, and her fighting technique of being completely incompetent has remained as watchable as ever. Tuxedo Kamen looks fantastic, with a gravely (dare I say smoldering) new voice, and it seems from the get-go they are following the manga closely with him – he has no powers, no arrogant “farewell“, but seems to genuinely want to support Sailor Moon rather than to be her constant savior.

Sailor Moon Crystal - Tuxedo Kamen

All in all, this is exactly what I wanted out of a reboot of Sailor Moon. It accomplishes much, it grabs your attention, it still feels distinct from all the other anime out there, including the ones that ape the original Sailor Moon mercilessly. It doesn’t shy away from repeating scenes from the first anime, yet it makes them feel new and interesting. Best of all, it doesn’t just assume you’re a Sailor Moon fan – it’s trying to break free from that tremendous shadow cast over it. While other reboots have failed to do this, The Amazing Spider-Man films come immediately to mind, I’m glad to report that Sailor Moon Crystal is a unique entity that I very much look forward to seeing.

Shame we have to wait 2 weeks per episode! Roll on 19th July!

Sailor Moon Crystal - Usagi meets Mamoru

 


 

Spoiler Section

I’m about to discuss a couple of points from the episode, so look away if you don’t want to know!

 

 

 

 

 

…Still here?

 

 

 

 

 

Good.

I’ve covered most of what I wanted to say about the episode in the review above, but here are some interesting thoughts.

I love how the episode begins, in space, quiet and mood-building. It’s a good framing device, and makes the plot seem mystery-heavy. The first glimpse of Princess Serenity and that iconic dress was perfectly done.

This really ethereal, fantastical sequence really got my inner fanboy going

This really ethereal, fantastical sequence really got my inner fanboy going

I absolutely adore Luna. She’s really cute, and the voice actress did a great job filling  tough role. She has one particular long stare at Usagi that I really enjoyed.

That's the look my cat gives me when he wants food

That’s the look my cat gives me when he wants food

The show is trying to be less silly than the original – it’s taking itself more seriously. As such , a couple of the slapstick moments with Usagi felt a bit flat, like the moment she kicked the door after Shingo.

I was sort of hoping they killed him off this time, but no luck

I was sort of hoping they killed him off this time, but no luck

Some of the artwork really is fantastic – they’re using watercolour backgrounds in a couple of places that feel reminiscent of the style they used in the original anime. I’m glad to see there’s a strong art director.

Brilliant insert shot. Hope to see more of these

Brilliant insert shot. Hope to see more of these

I was worried about how thin the Sailor Senshi all looked int he promotional material, but this doesn’t seem to translate into the show. Usagi is, of course, ridiculously thin, but it’s not the alien-like levels suggested by the pre-show promotional material.

The introduction of Sailor Moon, "I'm the Soldier of Love and Justice!" was really, really cool and nostalgic

The introduction of Sailor Moon, “I’m the Soldier of Love and Justice!” was really, really cool and nostalgic

Umino. I love this guy. He sounds like an even bigger geek than he did before. Glad you’re back, bro.

I don't see these two getting together this time around...

I don’t see these two getting together this time around…

Morga, the monster that takes the place of Naru’s mother, isn’t nearly as creepy as she was in the original series, but she was still disturbing nevertheless.

Yeah that's still pretty freaky though

Yeah that’s still pretty freaky though

The Dark Kingdom looked great – much more like how it was in the manga, like a sunken temple. I love the greens and the falling snow. Jadeite looked ridiculously young, nor nearly as imposing as I hoped he would. The designs of the Great Four and Queen Beryl, which we glimpse in the opening sequence, are still fantastic though. Looking forward to seeing him in action.

This guy doesn't look like he could beat a wet tissue in a fight

This guy doesn’t look like he could beat a wet tissue in a fight

The ending was a good tease too. I loved seeing Ami running in from the rain, the angle avoiding her face was perfectly chosen. Looks like they’re not relying on filler episodes this time! There are some really good writers on staff who know how to build tension and set up ideas. It’s altogether a more polished production than the original, but that’s to be expected after 22 years.

I love that she wears a jumper. Gotta love those baggy sleeves!

I love that she wears a jumper. Gotta love those baggy sleeves!

All in all, I’m psyched! Looking forward to my Sailor Moon Saturdays. Watching new episodes as they come out is an experience I’ve never had before with this show.

Also, I would totally buy this game

Also, I would totally buy this game

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6 Comments »

  1. So…

    I enjoyed it. I agree that a lot of the artwork is absolutely lovely, especially the backgrounds. But I found the animation to be a litlte disappointing. I don’t know what frame rate they were using here, but there are some parts where the animation feels quite jittery, and others where they only bothered to animate certain features on the characters faces (mouths, for example, but not eyes), which emphasizes the already somewhat vacant look in the new designs.

    Usagi’s hair, in particular, bothered me. I’m bothered enough already by her giant skull, but her pigtails move very strangely here. They’re always floating and animating independently. I know a lot of manga fans like how “flowy” it is, and while that’s worked fine in Takeuchi’s still artwork, it looks a little stiff here. At least her hair adhered to the laws of physics in the old series

    Kotono also sounded a little off to me. Her henshin and intro speech sounded fine, but she seemed to be warbling/adding a trill to lot of her dialogue, which came off as overly shrill (even for Usagi).

    I also found a lot of the background music was rather… generic and unmemorable to me, but the sound mixing here made it impossible NOT to notice it. There were a few points where it was set far too loudly over the dialogue and seemed rather intrusive. In terms of the score itself, obviously Takanori Arisawa set an impossibly high standard on the original series and I doubt anyone will ever come close to matching it, so I’m willing to give this series some time to find its own footing with the music, but so far I’m unimpressed. Was there any leitmotif AT ALL? I actually missed Tuxedo Mask’s maracas.

    I agree with a lot of your other observations. Jadeite and Morga were less menacing, and it was fun to see the new takes on the secondary characters (I love that Naru and Umino are essentially unchanged), and I enjoyed some of the homages to the original series.

    Your point about the door-kicking scene highlights what will likely be my biggest gripe the the new series, tone-wise. I’ve always felt that where the anime improved on the manga was character development and its warmth and humor (the manga takes itself very… seriously). It’ll be nice to see some of the plot elements from the source material finally animated, but I do worry a bit that by relying so much on plot and drama, without the levity, might make it harder to connect with these versions of the characters.

    The Sailor V game was awesome. I’ve always wished it was real. Now even more so.

    • All your points are spot on and cogently argued. The music was really disappointing, I identified just the one leitmotif, the horns just as Sailor Moon uses Moon Tiara Boomerang.

      Everything is a bit floaty, but this didn’t annoy me nearly as much as I thought. I think the energy of the show made me forgiving in a lot of ways.

      I have a feeling the rest of the series will get increasingly serious.

  2. I really enjoyed the music. I thought the intro was as catchy as the Sailor Stars song and definitely something that will grow on me. The ending reminded me very much of Tuxedo Mirage.

    I was expecting a much more subtle, pared down score for SMC as it has been pitched as more mature than the old. I was pleasantly surprised with all the choir music. Really happy with what they did.

    • I dig like the choral music. It’s probably me being a bit crotchety, but I just couldn’t get on with the score. As the series continues I expect I’ll develop into a die-hare fan who sets it as his alarm in the morning.

      …in all seriousness, it’s currently set to Ai No Senshi.

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