Act.19 – TIME WARP – SAILOR PLUTO
First Aired: 4th April 2015
Chibi-Usa reveals that she is from Crystal Tokyo in the 30th Century. After long thought, she decides to take Sailor Moon, Sailor Venus and Tuxedo Kamen to the future, using her Space Time Key. Guarding the gateway between times is a solitary Sailor Senshi standing guard, but she may not be an ally…
I’m getting that major ambivalence from Sailor Moon Crystal again.
This is an exciting episode. Some really great events take place that move the plot, and the overall lore, quite a ways a head. We get a new major character, an new major environment, and then another new major environment, and then another two major characters. That’s some pretty tasty stuff right there. Crystal Tokyo, which is one of my favourite fictional city concepts, gets its due, and it’s dark, moody and threatening.
On the other hand… I get the feeling that everything good about this episode is down to the source material. The manga hits these plot points, and Sailor Moon Crystal covers them faithfully. Everything else… the interpretation, the animation, the music, the performances even… it’s not up to the standard you would expect. I definitely feel as though the quality in the previous 2 episodes had me hopeful for a better story arc than the last. Here, they’ve slipped again into the old complaints. Which is a real shame, because I think this could have been amazing.
Usagi continues to display questionable characterisation. While her paranoia over Chibi-Usa might be justifiable as an attempt to make her a realistic character, the fact remains that she comes off as petty, bitter and jealous, over a defenceless girl clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. When Sailor Moon, and to that extent Venus and Artemis, sees Chibi-Usa breaking down in tears and begging for help, their first instinct isn’t to be supportive, isn’t to display compassion, but to remain accusatory.
If the attempt was to make these characters more realistic, then I feel they’ve failed. Their behaviour is perplexing to me. It seems almost on the verge of sociopathic. The only one who displays any empathy is Mamoru.
Speaking of which, there was one scene in particular which had me completely confused and a little repelled. Suffice it to say that there’s an uneasy exploration of the Electra Complex.
In this episode there’s also the introduction of strange comedic reaction shots. They feel entirely out of place, more so that they’ve bordered these shots in a rather dated style. They’re so out of kilter with the aesthetic style of the 18 episodes before this one that it jerked me completely out of the episode. They’re never appropriate in context, sometimes thrown in during remarkable serious and intense scenes. If they were to illicit a laugh, well they got a cocked eyebrow instead.
These shots definitely feel like an attempt to capture some kind of jovial humour from the 1990’s adaptation of the show… and I must say that not even the original adaptation would have used these shots, as random and cheap as they feel. The artwork in the rest of the episode is not fantastic either. As usual, the action is abysmal, there are some horrid moments of static shots with flashing backgrounds which made a previous episode of Sailor Moon Crystal one of the worst yet. The design of certain new sets is pretty nice, and there were some genuinely good shots, but it comes and goes.
And, finally, Sailor Pluto. She’s more severe, more violent than what we’ve seen from this character before. She also has a particularly ugly colour scheme that makes it hard to take her entirely seriously. She is also given one of the worst animations this anime has seen yet. As an introduction to a character I loved… well… I’ve seen it done better before I’m afraid.
The spoiler section begins here.
Don’t scroll down if you don’t want to get a blow-by-blow analysis!
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Before we start, I want to issue a minor trigger warning. I really didn’t think I’d have to, and I really didn’t want to discuss… whatever it is that I bring up, but it would be impossible for me to review this episode without talking about my own experience watching it, which was slightly icky.
So we’ve had the reveal that Chibi-Usa is from the future. The opening is of her completely breaking down, revealing an attack on 30th Century Tokyo. Keep in mind she’s a small crying child who has seen a city of people die all around her – because Venus and Artemis have zero sympathy, pushing her for information when she’s clearly having an emotional breakdown. It’s… unpleasant to watch, actually. All I wanted to do was to give her a hug.
Sailor Moon’s instinctual reaction is not one of pity or sympathy… it’s that really rather uncomfortable jealousy. If you think I’m being overly critical about this, I feel that an upcoming scene between these three really sum up my disquiet over this subplot.
Chibi-Usa announces that she’s going to stay at Mamoru’s place, which is when we get the first of several weird insert shots… as below. Looks like the back of a 1990s VHS tape.
Chibi-Usa is in Mamoru’s bed, wearing his shirt. So here begins my creep-out factor. Usagi is about to be insanely jealous of Chibi-Usa and accuse her boyfriend of being… attracted to an 8 year old girl. I feel like a need a shower just from writing that sentence. I feel as though the animators were looking to… I don’t know… give some level of credence to Usagi’s jealousy? The thing to do here would have been to play it down, have Usagi overcome them with kindness. Instead, they go the opposite way and throw in incredibly suggestive shots that make me want to die.
Do I think the animators were trying to suggest anything… untoward here? No of course not. But it was still a choice that someone made to include this, which I find baffling. I am not at all suggesting the animators included this actively thinking gross thoughts, and I really would rather avoid this whole topic altogether… but I find this to be a legitimately terrible scene.
This might have been innocent if it weren’t for the context of what’s about to happen: Usagi accusing Mamoru of being a paedophile.
Mamoru: “She’s in elementary school!”
Usagi: “But she’s still a woman!”
I mean, WOW. This is incredibly poorly handled. It was uncomfortable and weird in the manga. In this adaptation they’ve been able to make it even more awkward. I think, I think, they were hoping to play this off as comedic, hence why they use that stupid freeze-frame reaction shot, not once but twice in this scene, but the effect is pure absurdity. This is embarrassing.
Usagi at least realises she’s being an absolute lunatic. I like that she feels guilty about her insecurities. It doesn’t mitigate how messed up I think this all is, though. There’s this one really interesting shot here which not only looked good, but actually had me wondering what the meaning was… in a good way this time. Mamoru is looking at Usagi’s back and thinking that he’s going to lose her (because she’s insane), and we get this cool “digital interference” effect. Wasn’t sure exactly if there was something more to this shot, but that’s how I took it anyway.
Creative stuff like this, I would embrace. More please!
He gets around her insecurities physically. And I really do mean that. The first shot is atrocious, this freeze frame with a flashing background that looks like it’d been ripped from a Powerpoint presentation.
However, the scene ends rather beautifully. Usagi puts aside her paranoia (thank god) and realises that Mamoru is, in fact, in love with her (you’d think the whole reincarnation, lovers from a different life time would have done that), and there’s a really romantic shot.
Now, in this scene in the manga, Mamoru and Usagi rolled around on the floor, and then she stayed the night again. There was a suggestion that they had, in fact, had intimacies, although that may have been me reading into things again. They don’t shy away from this in this anime adaptation, and, yeah, there’s a suggestion that Mamoru and Usagi may have just elevated their relationship.
Don’t believe me? Again, the animators are throwing in shots here that are suggestive. Read into it what you will.
And the next morning…
I liked that Chibi-Usa had strengthened her resolve her. She asks Usagi and Mamoru to come to the future with her, and it appears as though Usagi is in a rather good mood. Now seemingly convinced that Mamoru isn’t spending undue attention on a young girl, she’s a lot nicer.
The journey to the future is actually rather cool. A bit more sci-fi than usual, with spinning clocks and genuinely cool animation effects as the gang get thrown forward in time.
I like how they’re portraying the Space Time Corridor. Very similar to the original adaptation, but that’s no bad thing when it looks this mysterious. Again, a couple of well-composed shots really took my by surprise. I also have a feeling I know what’s coming up…
Sailor Pluto’s appearance is pretty damn cool actually. The shot is… really cheesy, but she’s super fierce, not prepared to take any shit, and knowingly attacks Sailor Moon. I dug this. She’s such a consummate guardian that, even though she knows it’s Sailor Moon, she’ll still defend the gate. Her Death Scream attack was… completely utterly shite, but it’s brilliant that she’s at least demonstrating her difference from the other Senshi.
This marks the beginning to the expansion of the Senshi lore, and it’s pretty cool here.
Chibi-Usa arrives and convinces Pluto not to murder all of them. I didn’t really feel the level of connection that the manga ends up suggesting between them… one shot in particular looked incredibly weird. You “think” that Pluto “might” attack Chibi-Usa, and turns it into a hug. This doesn’t work, it looks very very strange. It may have worked in the manga, but this is an anime adaptation. This is why you cannot just lift shots from the page. Be creative. Think of a way this can work on screen.
The scene ends with Sailor Moon finding out that Chibi-Usa is, in fact, a Princess. Chibi-Usa is really sweet here, in a way that Sailor Moon has never been with her so far. She takes her hand, a little haughtily it seems, but there’s affection in there too. Just seems so strange to me that they wouldn’t have moments of Sailor Moon thawing out. She’s just remained… unlikeable as a protagonist in this arc. It’s a real shame.
Crystal Tokyo… I’ll admit that I prefer the original anime’s take on this (naturally) but this isn’t bad at al. They captured this post-apocalyptic disaster zone. It feels massively oppressive and deadened. The tone is precisely what I wanted… except for the music, which still kinda sucks. This could have been so much more emotional with a sweeping string score, and a few more lingering shots of just the empty city.
Oh, they’ve also kept the… dessicated dead bodies that Naoko Takeuchi loves to draw. They really are going dark here… and yet it just doesn’t feel as cold and haunted as the original anime. I think it’s the colour scheme. The browns and greens just aren’t as magical.
It’s pretty cool seeing the gang walking through Crystal Tokyo… I just wish they could have remained walking through this dead city. It was the most interesting part of the episode. Sadly, they’re attacked by the “Boule Brothers”, and things get pretty terrible.
I know this anime isn’t good at the action, but they also throw in inexplicable dialogue here. Everything these guys do is broken up with meaningless exposition about covalent bonds… what’s the point? It’s just so… unentertaining.
Here’s a bug bear of mine – people frozen in glass, or ice, or crystal, or goop, who are still able to blink and talk and cry. Either your’re in a solid or you’re not. There’s really nothing to talk about here, this feels so perfunctory.
It is interesting that Tuxedo Kamen and Sailor Venus are the ones who kill Chiral and Archiral. Sailor Moon’s Moon Princess Halation doesn’t seem to work, but they don’t dwell on it long enough for it to become an issue. Can’t recall Tuxedo Kamen ever defeating anything by his own hands. I like that he’s more involved here.
The way they break out of the crystal, incidentally, is a mysterious voice ordering Tuxedo Kamen to “pray”, which seems less of a useful instruction and more of a bitter epithet. This whole mystery is wrapped up in about 1 minute, so it’s not nearly as drawn out as the original anime.
So here she is… Neo Queen Serenity! Very cool. I love the detailing on the table-top itself. She’s just as mysterious in her crystal cage as you would want. It’s a great moment, once again let down by the lacklustre score. It’s obvious who she is by this point, of course, but the episode wraps up on the reveal of a couple of other characters…
Diana! She’s only a -little- creepy with those eyes. Great that she’s introduced here. Was always a bit of a shame that she got cut out of Sailor Moon R. Not that she’s particularly interesting of course… but she’s cute as heck.
And King Endymion. I… don’t really dig his design. He just looks like Mamoru in white clothes… there was something really ethereal about the King Endymion in the original anime. They made him look older, wiser, like an actual father and king. Crystal And Endymion looks like a guy going to his senior prom.
And there you have it. A problematic episode, not without moments that were *ok*, but gosh, I felt awkward reviewing this one. I don’t even know who the target audience is for this anymore! I really hope this picks up, but I already know from the manga that I don’t particularly like the Black Moon story. I’m just such a negative nelly…