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Act.21 – COMPLICATION – NEMESIS

First aired: 2nd May 2015

Sailor Moon Crystal - Usagi super angry

Usagi is now in the clutches of the overbearing Prince Dimande. Unable to transform while in such close proximity to the Evil Black Crystal, she isn’t around to help when Chibi-Usa wanders off into the Space-Time Corridor, as she too is ensnared, this time by the mysterious and malevolent Wiseman…

First things first: trigger warning for sexual assault.

You may have gotten used to my cynical and woeful reactions to these episode reviews of Sailor Moon Crystal, but I’m sorry to say that I’ll have to disappoint you: this was, by some way, one of the better episodes of Sailor Moon Crystal. I rather enjoyed it, and was actually left wanting more for once.

That’s not to say that there aren’t problems, there are always going to be problems, but I was enjoying the characterisation and plot and, yes, artwork, enough for many of those problems not to draw me out of the viewing.

Sailor Moon Crystal - Neo Queen Serenity

The episode plummed along without the usual devolution into half-hearted and uncomfortable action scenes, and thank god, because this gave time to the true star of this episode, the character development. Usagi is in a precarious situation, one that I find repugnant, but I actually found the handling of it sensitive. Whether or not a show of this calibre really has the right to delve into such difficult subject matters as sexual assault is another question – the answer is no, in case you were wondering – but if they had to do it, I at least found it framed in a manner that didn’t feel inappropriate.

Usagi’s character actually develops here in a positive way that goes a little way to mend how disturbing she has been in the last 8 episodes or so. She seems to come to term with many of her flaws, recognising them and, we can presume, will attempt to overcome them.

Sailor Moon Crystal - Usagi captured by Dimande

Chibi-Usa also reveals much of her motivation and backstory here, too, and while not as interestingly controversial or nuanced as Usagi’s character development, is at least fascinating to watch. There are clumsy moments here that feel like a first draft adaptation of the manga content, and a it can be a little vague on what is flashback and when, but it’s not bad at all.

The artwork in many places actually surprised me with how decent they were. I’m used to horrid unartistic expression. Here, there are one or two quiet lingering shots that went some way to reminding me how fantastic the art and screenplay was of the original adaptation. They have finally added a couple of new tunes to the background music, which is something I’ve wanted for a long time… only to be disappointed, since they’re formless and forgettable.

If there is a criticism to be had with this slower character-driven story-telling, it is that by the end of the episode not a whole lot has actually happened. There’s no attack, no new players are added or removed, there’s no transformation sequence. The cliffhanger might feel to some especially vexing since interesting events have finally taken hold before a 2 week absence. This is all for the best. The show is at its best as a drama, not a superhero adventure. Sadly, the source material won’t allow for a great deal more of this in the remaining episodes of the Black Moon arc.

Sailor Moon Crystal - Usagi alone


 

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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Still here? Glad you could join me.

The episode opens inside Usagi’s paranoid dreams. Sucky place to be frankly, as we see that old suggestive Electra complex brought to the fore again thanks to an adult Chibi-Usa (let’s call her, ohhhh I dunno, Black Lady for a random selection) grabbing Mamoru’s arm suggestively and running off. Not sure I get this… is this prophetic? Black Lady isn’t actually in existence just yet… so is Usagi that paranoid that she thinks her daughter is going to grow up and try to… uh… love her own father…? WHATEVER I FEEL ICKY. Black Lady’s design is pretty rad though, I give it a thumbs up.

Felt iffy just watching this overtly affectionate touching between Chibi-Usa and Mamoru. Just you WAIT. There won't be enough soap in the universe

Felt iffy just watching this overtly affectionate touching between Chibi-Usa and Mamoru. Just you WAIT. There won’t be enough soap in the universe

Usagi wakes up, and my feeling of ickyness does not abate in the slightest. It’s Prince Dimande’s bed. He’s changed her clothes. She wakes up, has a headache. This is really rather disturbing imagery. I never liked this scene, in either the manga or the original adaptation. Just the thought of all this… ugh.

Why people like Dimande is beyond me. Creep.

I think I'll leave it to eminently more qualified bloggers to discuss the mire of this topic...

I think I’ll leave it to eminently more qualified bloggers to discuss the mire of this topic…

Imagine you wake up in a stranger’s bed, a stranger who is down-right hostile, and you find he’s been staring at a hologram of you… and shit is yet to hit the maximum-creep fan.

At the very least he got kind of a goofy shot of her

At the very least he got kind of a goofy shot of her. Ahh the old “HRMMM I have a spot on my chin and it feels good when I flick it” face

Usagi has some pretty reasonably angry faces here, and it’s actually the best she’s been animated for a while. I think it’s this which gives this whole skeevy scene more legitimacy, since you can feel how genuinely furious and horrified she is at Dimande. You get the humiliation, the indignation, which are hella-uncomfortable to view, but I can appreciate that the show is trying to be challenging without being exploitative. I think they achieved it…?

sdfsd

Great job artists. It feels alien to say that…

Dimande’s whole villain speech about his motivations is stupid. We’ve seen all this before really. It just makes the Black Moon look like a few teenagers being pissed off and lured away by an old man in a filthy cloak rather than the threatening bad buys. This shot in particular makes them just seem kinda dumb.

"So... you guys wanna hang out at Crystal McDonalds  and throw trash at passers-by?"

“So… you guys wanna hang out at Crystal McDonalds and throw trash at passers-by?”

We also see that Dimande was about to murder a child that looked like Chibi-Usa before Neo Queen Serenity bamfed up. This was inelegant. The whole “mistaken child” thing meant nothing and went nowhere, just felt clunky. Dimande going on about her eyes was suuuper creepy, and effective for it. This shows here that there’s no hope for redemption with Dimande, as opposed to the original adaptation which ultimately made him as much a victim of Wiseman as anyone else.

This actually makes him more one dimensional and less interesting. As much as I appreciate the flat-out bad guys, Dimande is far less interesting without any sympathetic angle to him. Not that I really ever sympathised with him, of course.

"Dammit, I run into the most beautiful person on the planet, a god no less, and here I am wearing a goddamn vagina on my forehead."

“Dammit, I run into the most beautiful person on the planet, a god no less, and here I am wearing a goddamn vagina on my forehead.”

Usagi’s look after Dimande tells her all this is pretty amazing. Almost chilling. It’s at this point that she realises that there’s no hope for redemption for the Black Moon, and as we’ve see with Crystal Usagi, she has no room in her heart for anything but murder.

This is the "rubber band" and "rusty scissors" look

This is the “rubber band” and “rusty scissors” look

And then…

NO.

NO.

And…

NO NO NO.

NO NO NO.

And…

...

So yeah, Dimande sexually assaulted our main character. Yes I hate it. I hated it in the manga, I hate it here. I even hated it in the original anime, and they at least knew that they had to pull back from him actually forcing a kiss on her.

At the very least, I can say that this felt less exploitative than the manga, it lasts for a fraction of a second and she actively pushes him away. They’re doing as much as they can not to make this seem ok in the slightest. At the same time, this is still a show about magical girls transforming. I think it’s important to communicate with young women from an early age this topic, establishing boundaries and making it clear that it’s never you fault, it’s never justifiable. But this isn’t a PSA. I would prefer it not to have happened in Sailor Moon Crystal, but it wasn’t the train-wreck I feared

The creepiest bit isn’t even the kiss for me. It’s what follows, Usagi trying to transform and being unable to so close to the Evil Black Crystal. It’s the powerlessness, the fragility. It feels a little too real. Usagi is a complete victim here, and it makes me feel uncomfortable.

But dammit, it’s interesting to watch, far more interesting than the show treading water or giving us rubbish action shots…

Sailor Moon Crystal - Usagi can't transform

We get a discussion of the Black Moon’s motivations with King Endymion, as well as a talk about the cult leader who was banished to Nemesis hundreds of years before. Well this is a let down. Didn’t need to remove the element of mystery over this. Also Phantom looks rubbish. Not scary at all when he’s out there looking like an 80 year old man who spends all his free time at the gym now that he’s retired.

He's also referred to as Phantom for the first time. They don't explain his 14 inch waist though

“He has an 8 pack and a 12 inch waist thanks to this one weird trick, trainers HATE him, please click this link or my family won’t eat tonight.”

Here’s the most heartbreaking couple of scenes…. Usagi is on the verge of blaming herself for Dimande’s attack on her, apologising to Mamoru and just looking so, so helpless. This is what the trigger warning is for. This is terrible. And also done incredibly sensitively. They spend a bit of time establishing that Usagi is not ok with what just happened. This is why I find all this acceptable. They don’t just throw in the horror of sexual assault for a cheap thrill, they actually try to frame it around her character. It’s brief, really, but at least she’s processing this.

I won’t for a second pretend that this is how to broach this topic, but I can understand why someone might identify fully with Usagi here. It’s sad to say but I imagine most people reading this will be able to empathise with her all too easily in this scene.

Sailor Moon Crystal - Usagi crying

Sailor Moon Crystal - Usagi crying

Usagi goes through an interesting change here. She thinks that the reason the Silver Crystal won’t work is because it’s dependent on her feelings of trust and love, something she’s had little of recently. She reassesses her horrid paranoia, her hostility towards Chibi-Usa, and seems to realise that it’s time to move on. We don’t actually see this of course, I hope this threat will continue next episode, but this is the start of her redemption.

I still think it’s been too long in the making, I’ve spent the majority of the series resenting her, but this is the low point before the character turn of the arc.

Also when she thinks of her friends they’re all wearing clothes, but when she thinks of Mamoru for strength he’s…

"Hey babe, could you imagine me some underwear? It's kinda cold."

“Hey babe, could you imagine me some underwear? It’s kinda cold.”

Sooooooo yeeeeah is this a memory you think? After the last episode where Usagi and Mamoru almost definitely did something in the middle of the night on the floor, I wonder if this is a hint as to exactly what that was. I can’t put anything beyond Takeuchi, and I’ve always suspected that by this point in the story Usagi has started to be “sexual active”, whatever the hell that entails.

Also, YAAAY THE OTHER SENSHI! it’s been waaaaaay too long. I know that’s how the manga was paced, but the absence of these guys has been sorely felt. They do -nothing- but regain conciousness here, but it’s a small crumb. Hopefully the rest of the sandwich next episode will have been worth the wait.

"Shouldn't have had that third bottle of Belgian beer last night."

“Shouldn’t have had that third bottle of Belgian beer last night.”

We then get Chibi-Usa’s backstory. It’s not nearly as interesting, of course, but it’s entertaining, even if the plot points are squiffy. The bullying stuff seems absurd and unbelievable, the fact that she’s 900 years old makes no sense (I’ve always hated that. So glad they removed it for the original anime). But, I get her feelings of inadequacy, why she stole the Silver Crystal, her obsession with being like her mother and her resentment that he father only had eyes for the woman he loved.

Yes, it’s creepy and Electra as heck, but I understand it.

Chibi-Usa finding a surrogate mother in Pluto makes more sense in the manga, where they play up Neo Queen Serenity being downright neglectful of her daughter… for 900 years.. as it is, this is still a rather touching scene. It further cements the fact that Chibi-Usa is utterly innocent and undeserving of Usagi’s previous scorn, especially when we see Chibi-Usa so happy that her mother used to be as clumsy as she is, and feeling connected to her for the first time…

…in 900 years. Neglected by her mother… for 900 years…

That's going to be one hefty bill from the psychiatrist, Serenity.

That’s going to be one hefty bill from the psychiatrist, Serenity.

As continually creepy as the whole Electra stuff is, it continues to make sense as she sees Sailor Pluto actually smiling happily around King Endymion in a way she’s never seen before. This is a clear indication of Pluto’s feelings towards Endymion (I believe Takeuchi at one point considered having these two have an affair but backed away from it), but it also explains why Chibi-Usa is so heartbroken again – another mother figure who only has eyes for her father.

Yuck. Time for a shower.

Ahh the old "BUT I WANT MY FATHER TO MYSELF" pose that made Jung such a success.

Ahh the old “BUT I WANT MY FATHER TO MYSELF” pose that made Jung such a success.

Wiseman actually capturing Chibi-Usa is a let down. He’s just not very well done in Crystal… he doesn’t have the same threat, nor the same weird charisma. She pretty much gets caught by a series of stupid decisions on her part, wandering off into danger and dropping her key. It’s all unwieldy.

The moment looks great, but I think I wanted something a little more than what I got here. No matter, the rest of the episode is so solid that I think I’ll let this one slide.

"...got any spare change?"

“…got any spare change?”


 

 

So yeah, in conclusion, icky moments galore but I actually liked this episode. It’s freaking me out.

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5 Comments »

  1. Far and away the mot emotional episode they’ve produced, for me.

    It’s no Season 1, Episode 45 of the original anime, but then few things can be and what it IS exceeded my expectations for this show remarkably. Usagi’s loneliness, helplessness, guilt and pain during the scene after Dimande’s forced kiss felt so real it hurt, and her self-analysis and resolve afterwards felt like the first step on the road to recovery.

    Chibi-Usa’s capture made more sense when I realized that she’s never really grown up mentally. 900 years as a child, with childish experiences, emotions, and perceptions, is going to take its toll on anyone. And the only person who seems to give a damn about her — namely, Pluto — having eyes for Endymion just like, well, every other female in Chibs’ life, herself included — is going to be an even bigger weight on her mind. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she dropped the key on purpose, out of hurt and spite.

    I still wish we knew more about Chibs’ true backstory, the full extent of what happened to her and why Serenity, portrayed as a loving, protective, maternal figure in all the memories we’ve seen, also managed to be completely neglectful of her own daughter for such an outrageous length of time. And where were the other Senshi during this? Did they do anything or just stand guard around Serenity’s door for centuries? Why is Pluto, the Senshi who technically does not exist, the only one allowed to see, talk to, and comfort her? Even the Electra complex stuff makes sense after that long a time alone with only one friend and her father being kind to her.

    • This is why the 900 year old part is problematic – it opens up such a huge avenue of plot holes. This all could have been avoid by simply skipping that one line from the manga. They really are sticking to the source for better or worse.

      The original anime also got around the problem of Serenity being cold and distant, not only by having Chibi-Usa be just a regular 8 year old (one can presume), thus making her perceptions more recent and not, you know, last an entire aeon, but also introducing the idea that Usagi wanted her child to grow up strong and independent.

      …which isn’t much of an excuse, frankly, but it’s more than the manga gave us, which had no justification for their strained relationship. This might be more realistic, but it makes for less interesting storytelling.

  2. I loved this episode, I just didn’t like the whole “Pluto is happy, I can’t stand it!” thing.
    I mean, is Chibi-Usa in Crystal so much of a neglected and selfish 900 years old girl she needs someone to be completely miserable and unhappy around everyone, except for her the entire time? I mean, REALLY?

    • That moment is completely irrational, and totally Jungian – she seems to have gotten on so well with Pluto because she was so far removed from her own life. Mirror the creepy Electra-complex jealousy of her mother in Pluto and it converges all those anti-maternal feelings.

      I understood her in this moment, despite it being petty and selfish. Poor Pluto can’t even smile without this kid losing her mind.

      That whole moment was super clumsy, wandering off somewhere she knew was pretty much certain death, dropping her key juuust before she was attacked by Wiseman. I’ll give it a pass this one time for being such a decent episode up to this point though.

  3. Yay for Usagi actually defending herself and not needing to be rescued by Tuxedo Mask! Also since i don’t remember the manga that well everything is a surprise at this point. Interested to see what the captured senshi are going to do. And i liked seeing this little hint of Pluto’s personality, even if it’s unrequited love. ^-^

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