Act.22 – HIDDEN AGENDA – NEMESIS
First aired: 16th May 2015
Usagi remains trapped on Nemesis, with the Black Moon’s headquarters. Increasingly terrified of her psychotic hosts, she searches for the location of her kidnapped comrades, but while Dimande seems content to keep her as a trophy, his brother Saphir has other plans…
Solid, solid episode. That the series has become more interesting and coherent is impressive after such a shaky start to the Black Moon arc. Amongst a couple of unforgivable artistic shortcuts is a rather fantastic character turn for Usagi that I’ve been waiting for all season.
The entire episode is spent nearly entire with Usagi, and she’s thankfully past the morose jealousy that has plagued my ability to connect with her previously. The situation she has found herself in is, in fact, dire. The patriarchal domination continues here, and while there’s nothing as reprehensible as the previous episode, there’s a real feeling of vulnerability here.
There seems to be a discussion of victim-blaming, femininity and misogyny. It’s rather subtle, they don’t go so far into the topic, but one moment in particular where Usagi questions whether it’s her fault when she is, in fact, entirely the victim here, has echoes of real-world tragedy.
This is the first time that I’ve really felt from Crystal that they’re delving into an issue. Rather than merely setting up characters with problems, they’re going some way to make a commentary on how women are so perennially blamed for their assailants’ crimes.
I freely accept that I might looking too hard for a meaning behind the scene in question, but what’s more interesting is that there’s content enough for me to look deeper, of which there’s been a paucity in Crystal.
There are problems with the plot, of course, but these are the same that existed in the source material. The Black Moon clan have -zero- humanity to them. While this is entertaining enough, there’s nothing like a bad guy with nothing good within them, there might be an abundance of it, especially when you consider that Wiseman is becoming increasingly central to the plot.
The art also drops -drastically- in a couple of scenes, with static images being shuffled across the screen. I realise that the budge is obviously tight, but these moments threw me completely out.
There also seems to be an attempt to remind everyone who exactly Sailor Mars, Jupiter and Mercury are in an extremely clumsy fashion. It’s a tad embarrassing considering everything that came before it was so enjoyable.
The best part of the episode is where Usagi, having spent the last 2 months worried, powerless and distant, roars back to life in one awe-inspiring moment. Yes there’s a decent amount of Deus Ex Machina involved, but I’m willing to let it go when the outcome is triumphant.
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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We open with the aftermath of Chibi-Usa running like an idiot into a plot contrivance. Now captured by Wiseman, the Space-Time Corridor is experiencing… what Pluto and Endymion refer to as a “Space-Time Storm”. That’s… that’s just… you know what, I’m not going to even touch how stupid that is.
And, of course, Sailor Venus gets left behind to do absolutely shit all for the entire episode. Them hanging a flag on this doesn’t make it any better – Venus is the only Inner Senshi left standing and gets nothing to do. The joke is also a return to that weird cut-away that so grates on the style of the anime. It says something that they don’t have enough confidence in their style to be able to blend humour into the narrative without making it absurd and disconnected. Shame.
We get a really uncomfortable exposition moment with some backstory on Wiseman, too… the obvious talk about the “Death Phantom” and the skeletal figure on screen is handled so clumsily. At least the story is sort of interesting… a cult leader who inspired people to revolt against Neo Queen Serenity. We never see the other side, of course. We’re told he committed the ultimate crime, and is the ultimate evil… but, of course, history is written by the victors.
Usagi still trapped, wandering around the Black Moon keep, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when you stop and think about it. So don’t. Just put it down to Dimande’s weird combination of lust, hubris and laziness. The atmosphere is creepy as she walks around, but they don’t do a great job framing this scene. The animators resort to hackneyed and elbow-nudging reminders of what it is Usagi is looking for.
While it’s a bit soap-opera-esque, I liked Usagi snooping on Saphir and Rubeus discussing how Nemesis and Wiseman are obviously fucking them over. They’re smart enough to realise it, but not motivated enough to do anything about it. Bravo, boys.
Dimande just knocking her out and carrying her off was reminiscent of Dracula. Also of a date-rapist. No offence to Dracula.
When Dimande tries to… touch Usagi in her sleep, I’m gratified that he gets a shock for it. What this power is, who knows, but I’ll take any resistance from Usagi I can get. I still feel uncomfortable Crystal tackling these issues… I’m not sure they have the nuance or understanding to really get to grips with this, but at the very least I’m beginning to understand that this isn’t exploitative, it’s prescriptive. I feel like they’re -trying- to say something about the horrid shit men do to women, but that they’re not really sure what they want to say.
Again, Usagi continuing to wander around this palace is a bit odd, but I don’t mind when she bumps into Saphir again, this time muttering about the Evil Black Crystal (Jakokuzuishou – I love the Japanese for it). If you’ve ever seen the original anime without having read the manga, it might shock you to see what happens here. Saphir is, in Crystal, wholly irredeemable. In a way that’s a problem, in that an antagonist you have nothing but contempt for is a little less complex, but I can at least appreciate his dickishness.
Old Colonel Murder Balls may not be that complex in his desire to murder Usagi – he loves his brother and thinks the Black Moon have gone down the wrong path – but the complexity comes with the fact that he blames Usagi. I feel that it’s an allegory for victim blaming. Usagi didn’t ask to be the focus of Dimande’s obsession. His abduction of her and his subsequent sexual assault and emotional torture is, like all such men in the real world, entirely his fault. However, it’s telling that another man finds the victim, wholly innocent, should be punished.
Usagi’s reaction binds this interpretation together for me. Her plaintive thought of “It’s… my fault? All this because of me?” is so unfortunately reminiscent of the guilt assault-survivors feel. That this is the motivation for Usagi to finally summon her powers to finally fight back is also telling.
I’m not sure how much intent went into making this reflective of real-life experiences, but artists create meaning they never intended to. Here I see something that might be powerful.
Sailor Moon suddenly getting her powers back in indignant fury is, I freely admit, a total Deus Ex Machina, but damn if I haven’t been waiting for this for weeks. And yes, it’s kick-ass. Seeing her fury focussed on Saphir is brilliant, as is his powerlessness. The only thing that sucks is the music. Remember the driving pop-rock tunes of the 90s? Now they got you pumped.
Yes it makes no sense for Sailor Moon to suddenly have the ability to smash through several floors to summon her unconscious friends back to battle, but, again, I’m past the point where I’m looking for continuity, gimme Dragon Ball Z. You have to admit, she looks fucking awesome here.
I thought they were going to gloss over this next bit, but yes, the Room of Darkness is in fact filled with dead corpses, and that’s where the Senshi have been for the past few months. In a death pit. Jesus. Yeah it’s corny, but seeing the Senshi up and about again after so long is great. Not that they get to do anything, buuut…
One of those terrible art directions is here, where the three Senshi are just static images, sliding upwards. Looks like a budget Transformers cartoon from the 80s. Really laughable stuff. Disappointing.
This is especially vexing because the immediate shot afterwards is so awesome.
We see that Sailor Moon’s powers are being amplified by Neo Queen Serenity, who actively takes over Sailor Moon here to talk trash to the Black Moon. For some reason, this was great in the finale of Sailor Moon R, but here I think it detracts a little. It implies that Sailor Moon’s powers didn’t come from within herself, rather she had to be helped by her future self, which for all intents and purposes is a separate person. As such, that kick ass moment feels like it was handed to her rather than her earning it.
Splitting hairs though, this is still a great moment. Kotono Mitsuishi’s performance changes brilliantly into a voice you could see leading the Earth.
OHHHH ‘OOS THIS!? Well it’s obviously Black Lady. Quite a cool reveal here, she’s just a malevolent shadow who talks trash to Rubeus. I’m really liking her thus far.
The resulting fight between Wiseman, Dimande and the Senshi is brieff, and mixed. The Senshi’s new attacks still look like ass, but the effect of their attacks on Dimande’s defence is rather cool. I’ve always hated these stupid named attacks that they’ve given Wiseman and his chronies. “Beast Hand.” “Evil Eye.” “Demon Toe.” Ok that last one I made up, the point is that they’re stupid, and thrown around as though they’re meant to mean something.
Either way, Dimande has the power to lock the Senshi in place… briefly, before, CLANG! Moon Tiara Action! Or whatever they called it in Crystal…
I love that moment. Sailor Moon has been very cool in this episode. For once. Oh I should mention that Rubeus gets strangled to death by Wiseman here, but it’s so -whatever- that I almost forgot about it. I remember when he died screaming and on fire in space. Ahhhh memories…
As for Tuxedo Kamen, he’s getting drawn into a Freudian nightmare as a mysterious shadow abducts him. Much like Dimande did to Usagi… hrmmm never really put that mirror image together before. Their motivations aren’t as different as one would have liked, to be honest… I like this scene. It’s not animated brilliantly, but I get Tux’s confusion, I get that sense of threat and dread from Black Lady. Effective, if not polished.
Absolutely shit artwork volume 2: the revenge. The girls warp back to the gate with a convenient Space-Time Key that Sailor Moon had apparently forgot he even had (I know I did). Sailor Why Am I Even In This Anime welcomes them back, with a stupid focus on each of their faces, as if to say remember these guys, viewers? It just looked dumb.
And to top that off, this mortifying shot of the Senshi, static images again, gliding towards one another, frozen in these stupid poses. It might just have been a bad decision if they hadn’t animated their mouths, but, alas they did. So what would have been poorly-animated slow-motion turns into “we’re wearing roller-skates and inching towards one-another while pretending to be statues, also let’s have a conversation while we do so” kind of thing.
I realise that wasn’t witty in the slightest but I didn’t have time to think of anything sharp between all the vomit.
Of course we can’t end on a happy note, can we? NOPE, gotta keep those cliff-hangers up or Crystal Tokyo would explode, guys. There’s never any closure between episodes until the season is over. It’s a real problem, actually. Cliff-hangers are good, but over use them and they lose their impact, as they have here.
SO YEAH I LIKED IT. And it feels weird. I really hope they don’t screw this up before the end of the show, but nothing is more likely. That being said, I have something I haven’t had in a long time, and that’s hope. It feels strange. With Usagi’s emotional turmoil mostly resolved, the Senshi reunited, and Tuxedo Kamen making out with his evil future daughter, I think we’ve hit the arc’s second wind, and I’m looking forward to Dimande getting his ass kicked 7 ways to Sunday.
That’s a saying, right?