Act.21 – COMPLICATION – NEMESIS
First aired: 2nd May 2015
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.
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.
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.
The spoiler section begins here.
Don’t scroll down if you don’t want to get a blow-by-blow analysis!
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.
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.
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.
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…?
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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…
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.
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…
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.
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.
So yeah, in conclusion, icky moments galore but I actually liked this episode. It’s freaking me out.