Act.25 – SHOWDOWN – DEATH PHANTOM
First Aired: 4th July 2015
Dimande, poised to destroy all existence by merging the past and future Silver Crystals, is stopped when Sailor Pluto finally joins the battle. Using her powers over time itself, she breaks the ultimate taboo, saving the Senshi and Black Lady , but at what cost?
A marked improvement over last episode, this introduced heightened artwork, genuine performances and even a rather interesting plot. That being said I don’t think it’s going to break anyone’s idea of moving drama or pathos, but at the very least it’s definitely watchable.
The first most obvious thing about this episode is that they’ve evidently brought in a new animator, an actual competent one that not only echoes Naoko Takeuchi’s style but actively develops upon it. A number of shots use shadow to great effect. It brings the sense of drama, of loss, without being overly distracting or maudlin. It contrasts with a couple of other key frame where the art notably drops. I note that these shoddy moments are usually featuring the Inner Senshi.
Speaking of which… why are they here? Why are they in the promotional material? They’re so poorly under-served that the show keeps cutting to them, evidently to reassure the viewers that they are, in fact, still in the episode, and while they finally get to use an attack for once, narratively they contribute nothing.
Black Lady on the other hand regains her poise. While last episode she was an empty cackling husk, she undergoes a rather pronounced emotional growth. While it’s referencing a relationship I didn’t really feel connected to this season, her performance is great, and the lack of content in this episode allowed the writers to spend time on lingering shots that improve these moments of pathos. Compared to the original adaptation, her emotional arc isn’t as satisfying, revolving as it does not around Neo Queen Serenity or Usagi, but around Sailor Pluto. But that’s the manga for ya.
So in the moments of true pathos, I think all I got was sympathy, rather than empathy, but good job making a cynical, jaded ass like me feel anything.
New music is finally brought in here, but, alas, they’re even less apt to the mood and memorable than the worn score of Crystal. It’s a real shame, I believe we may have been able to buy into these scenes a whole lot more if the accompanying music were moving.
All in all, I liked this. It made me interested in the conclusion, even if I’m not sold by the story or characters as a whole. Sailor Moon herself continues to convince as a leading hero, and seeing others look up to her, I feel finally as though I’m seeing the character I admire once more. Even if she’s a bit tardy.
Let’s hope we see more of this interesting art coming through in the last episode of the season. We’ve got to have something to hold onto for an Infinity Arc adaptation after all.
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 opening bears the taint of the last episode, in that there are goofy reaction shots. You can always tell when an anime is made on the cheap because they’ll use suuuper close-up reaction shots that fill the entire screen. Faces are fairly simple and cheap to produce, more so than anything interesting that might be happening in the background. Of course the background of this battles has been a green fart cloud for about 3 months now, so…
The time-freezing moment is cool… but I think they could have really milked this more. Show me dust floating in the air, show me particle effects, show me something falling and frozen. Instead we get what I would expect, and not a whole lot more. Still, Pluto does look cool doing it.
So… they began to foreshadow what would happen next in the last episode, with Queen Serenity of the Silver Millennium telling Pluto she must never break the taboos. It was a 5 second scene. We get pretty much the same thing again, as Serenity tells Pluto not to freeze time lest she die. See, this isn’t how foreshadowing works, you’ve got to introduce the theme of sacrifice and taboo earlier. This feels just as it did in the manga, of course. A sudden insert to ramp up the pathos with hasty mechanics that aren’t ever explained.
Look at this dick-head. What’s he even doing here? He’s even less interesting than in Sailor Moon R. He has fans guys.
Aaaaand here it is, gorgeous animation one. I wish they had this from the start. It’s personal, it’s deep, it’s gorgeous, it’s well animated. It serves to make her look utterly weak and ramp up the tension. For a moment anyway, she’s completely fine in about 20 seconds. But for now let’s appreciate this lovely moment before it evaporates way.
And straight into a fucking bummer of a shot, as the Senshi’s animators get suuuper lazy. I guess this is what they’re worth at this point, huh?
And Pluto dies. It’s tragic, it’s moving, it’s powerful… or at least it would be if it weren’t drawn out so long. It’s just maybe 30 seconds too much footage of her slowly dying. Some of that footage is mighty fine, however, and the performance by Kotono Mitsuishi, Usagi’s voice actress, is in top form. When is it not?
I don’t feel so much for Pluto here. I know that makes me heartless. But it just doesn’t have the weight behind it, you know? In comparison to… that episode I never talk about… this feels competently done, but without much heart to it, and I’m not sure I can describe it better than that.
The best moments are with Black Lady, a ways a way, confused and trying to process grief with hatred. It’s really well done, another great performance, and once again the animation on her internal battle is fantastic too. Much more interesting a character than last time.
The bit of course that really adds a sense of tragedy to Pluto’s death is the overt revelation of her unrequited love for King Endymion. I read once that this was going to be more of a central plot point in Naoko Takeuchi’s manga, but I guess she backed off when all the creepy father-daughter stuff made this weird enough as it was. I think the thing lacking in this moment for me is any connection to Endymion himself.
He’s had… nothing in this anime. He hangs about like stale air, looking shocked at every development passively, as though he’s in the supermarket and he’s just seen a kid vomit but doesn’t want to bother telling the staff that there’s a slipping hazard in the cereal aisle. So I suppose Pluto’s love for him seems… a little empty. Her final reflection on him is touching though, and a little funny, commenting on his lilac cloak and overall questionable fashion sense.
What was genuinely sad was Pluto’s line “I always wanted to fight along side of you all.” A bit of tragedy there, but it comes on the end of a scene pulled out just a shade too long too feel dramatically comfortable. I’ve also never liked this side of Pluto in the manga. Pluto is at her best as a distant, unknowable and seemingly omniscient figure, her one connection being Chibi-Usa. I get that more human problems serve to make her more interesting, but her problems are pretty much the entirety of who she is at this point, she’s never much defined by anything else.
Still, gorgeous art from the same great animator as earlier here.
This, of course, is the trigger for Black Lady’s reversion back into Chibi-Usa. Love powers the Silver Crystal, and grief is a strong form of love. It’s a pretty cool scene, actually. I like it, mainly because the transformation sequence is, in fact, much better looking than anything we’ve seen before, mainly because the CG sequences in Crystal are butt-ugly and not in keeping with the aesthetic at all. This is all drawn animation, and my word is it noticeable.
I’ll say that I also never liked this storyline in the manga, nor here. Chibi-Usa’s motivations, her psychology, should all revolve around her mother. The Black Moon arc is seemingly about the relationship between a mother and daughter, fraught with complications across time and space. The resolution of Chibi-Usa’s worst moment, being Black Lady, is the death of another character who was seemingly a surrogate mother while her own real one seemed to flat-out ignore her for 900 years, or so it seems from the paucity of connection we get between Chibi-Usa and Neo Queen Serenity.
Hey, if you want a moving, believable, haunting and emotional exploration of the themes of motherhood, you know where to go.
Sailor Chibi-Moon! She’s been stuck as an untransforming kid for 900 years! This moment symbolises Chibi-Usa’s development both psychologically and physically. So what Crystal is saying is that emotional trauma and the death of a loved one is the trigger between adolescence and puberty? I love her design. It’s so absurdly pink and cutesy that, hey, I say go for it. I also don’t find Chibi-Moon nearly as annoying as many others do (still pretty fucking annoying though), so welcome her arrival.
…although that being said it;s an opportunity for even less time to be spent with the other Senshi…
Oh you know what we haven’t had in a couple of minutes? A bland close-up reaction shot!
Chibi-Moon running over to Pluto to tell her to look at her finally growing and turning into a Senshi is actually horribly sad, and rather well done. I may not entirely buy their relationship (their closeness is alluded to only), but what really sells it is Usagi’s devastation at seeing her daughter lose someone so close to her, once again beautifully animated by that same wonderful animator.
Usagi’s next face is a great one, the one where she looks up at Death Phantom (remember that douche?).
Usagi uses her own grief to use the Silver Crystal directly and transform. So that how de-transforming thing didn’t really do much, did it? And oh yeah Tuxedo Kamen is sane again. I guess you can only make out with your daughter so many times before you come to your goddamn senses.
The other Senshi all use their attacks (you know, the ones they all used just the once this season) and then it;s not clear whether or not Death Phantom has actually died or not. There’s a great 10 second pause of silence. The writers are actually realising that you can use negative space to enhance a moment! Like watching a toddler walk sometimes, with Sailor Moon Crystal.
When Death Phantom (call him DP, he hates that) retaliates, Dimande finally has his chance for redemption… sort of. After sacrificing all his people, enslaving them to the power of Wiseman, murdering millions in Crystal Tokyo, sexually assaulting a minor and almost destroying the Earth… he blocks an attack for a bit.
Out of the goodness of his heart? Nah, he just wants to be the one to murder Sailor Moon… or so he says. I get the impression he’s lying to save face, he wants to save the Queen he loves… to the point of abduction. I gave zero craps about this moment, and even less when he gets disintegrated, but at the very least we can say he was an uncompromising bastard.
so yeah. The Black Moon clan. All dead. Good riddance. Disappointing lot.
The episode ends with the Senshi all being sucked into the core of Nemesis and Death Phantom to see his true face. It’s gotten to that bit where you know it’s all going to be resolved with powering-up and shouting, but at least that’ll mean the end of this lukewarm arc. Death Phantom has none of the dark charisma you’d want out of an ultimate enemy, does he? I just want Sailor Moon to kick him in the skull and be done with it at this point.
And so that’s it! Almost there, just one more to go this season. It’s felt like Sailor Moon Crystal has been on for a goddamn age. Those fortnight breaks have really made this a slow, bloated series, especially when the story progresses so slow in these final episodes.
Saying that, liked this episode a lot. It’s strange to see them pulling impressive art and writing out of the bag in the 2nd to last episode of the season. Slow starters I guess?