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Act.25 – SHOWDOWN – DEATH PHANTOM

First Aired: 4th July 2015

Sailor Moon Crystal - Pluto freezing time

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.

Sailor Moon Crystal - Senshi beaten

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.

Sailor Moon Crystal - Black Lady

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.

Sailor Moon Crystal - Usgai pissed off


 

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 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…

"Oh my god PECAN PIE ON THE CLEARANCE SHELF!? Also that dude is playing with gems and making them kiss or something."

“Oh my god PECAN PIE ON THE CLEARANCE SHELF!? Also that grown-ass dude is playing with gems and making them kiss or something.”

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.

Doesn't hold a candle to Sailor Moon S, where she froze time in the middle of an explosion. Remember THAT?

Doesn’t hold a candle to Sailor Moon S, where she froze time in the middle of an explosion. Remember THAT?

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.

"Now little girl I'm going to leave you standing by yourself at this door for the next 3000 years. Here's a used copy of Dan Brown's  Angels and Demons to keep you occupied."

“Now little girl I’m going to leave you standing by yourself at this door for the next 3000 years. Here’s a used copy of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons to keep you occupied.”

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.

"Heeheehee I'm so devilishly evil that nothing I do makes any fucking sense!"

“Heeheehee I’m so devilishly evil that nothing I do makes any fucking sense!”

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.

What a brilliant shot... were all the shots this nice I would overlook the shoddy story

What a brilliant shot… were all the shots this nice I would overlook the shoddy story. Shame it had to be SO SAD TO LOOK AT

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?

I guarantee this won't exist on the blu-ray. Hey guys, about you just get it right the first time?

I guarantee this won’t exist on the blu-ray. Hey guys, about you just get it right the first time?

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.

asds

Camera perspective! That’s all they needed to make an interesting shot! Nice.

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.

"It's really more of a faded salmon than lilac."

“It’s really more of a faded salmon than lilac.”

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.

Damn, I hope my hair and make-up stylists are on hand when I die

Damn, I hope my hair and make-up stylists are on hand when I die

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.

It's a bit goofy, but I actually love this shot. Straight from the manga.

It’s a bit goofy, but I actually love this shot. Straight from the manga.

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!

Theeeere it issss got my fix

Theeeere it issss got my fix

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.

I'm pretty sure this animator can only make horrifyingly sad scenes so beautiful. Oh well, PLENTY MORE NEXT SEASON

I’m pretty sure this animator can only make horrifyingly sad scenes so beautiful. Oh well, PLENTY MORE NEXT SEASON

Usagi’s next face is a great one, the one where she looks up at Death Phantom (remember that douche?).

"You killed my goddamn babysitter, WHO'S GONNA WATCH THE KID NOW!?"

“You killed my goddamn babysitter, WHO’S GONNA WATCH THE KID NOW!?”

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.

"Oh hey I'm alright now." "That's great. Please... don't touch me ever again."

“Oh hey I’m alright now.”
“That’s great. Please… don’t touch me.”

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.

Death Phantom, here looking like a crazy old lady with a straw sucking up Dimande

Death Phantom, here looking like a crazy old lady with a straw sucking up Dimande

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.

I think the distended head is meant to reference the alien designs from the 50s, the Little Green Men. There was a bunch of paranormal references near the start of the series

I think the distended head is meant to reference the alien designs from the 50s, the Little Green Men. There was a bunch of paranormal references near the start of the series


 

 

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?

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8 Comments »

  1. Great review. There were also three things about this episode that bothers me in particular:
    1- Sailor Pluto says she always admired Sailor Moon, wanted to fight alongside her, and she knew from the start she was Neo Queen Serenity. So, she’s able to distinguish Usagi, both transformed and de-transformed. WHY DID SHE TRY TO BEAT THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF HER A FEW EPISODES AGO?! This makes even less sense when we consideer that she knew she was her future queen and Chibi-Usa would cease to exist the moment she dies.

    2- Black Lady, all of her as a character. Her little speech of “I have no friends” made zero impact on me, because they have never, not even once, built on this event. She just showed up out of nowhere one episode and said “Wiseman made me grow up, prepare to die! >:D” How am I supposed to know her motivations are being oh-so-alone when she spends her time brainwashing her still-not-father and flirting with her own father?

    3- The relationship between Usagi and Chibi-Usa. So, Black Lady is gone and Chibi-Usa is back because Pluto died. That’s it, does that mean Chibi-Usa will go on hating Usagi for the rest of her life then? Great, problem solved. Let’s hope she doesn’t spend more time being neglected and someone else tries to brainwash her into hating her mother again. (I didn’t read the manga, IDK what happens next act and I don’t want to read it because I’m trying to enjoy Crystal at its best. So maybe I’ll be wronged on this one next time… Or not?)

    • 1- In that episode Pluto says she’s bound by duty to kill anyone who breaks the laws of time, but a scene later is totally cool with, like, half a dozen people crossing forwards and backwards through the Door multiple times. It doesn’t make sense. She had a cool moment and was immediately de-fanged.

      2- Yeeeeeeep. Salient points, one and all. Handled so much better in the original anime… I should just get that tattooed on my forehead.

      3- The hate that Black Lady had for Usagi and NQS is all Wiseman’s dark energy, so when the Silver Crystal breaks that, it’s all gone. Including all the complex resentment and awkwardness between mother and daughter. Usagi and Chibi-Usa never have “that moment” where they reconnect (could happen next episode, but don’t hold your breath), you’re meant to assume that Chibi-Usa got over her bullshit as soon as her surrogate mother died and she was able to grow into pubesence after 900 years waiting. Yes it’s rubbish :)

  2. I think it’s extremely cruel that it gets this good on the penultimate episode.

    Sailor Moon Crystal trolling hard.

    Nout else to say, I loved it and enjoyed the review :)

    Afterthough – Also can someone verify is it just me or did Chibi-Usa age slightly as a result of her awakening/henshin?

    • Yes she did – her awakening is the breaking of the 900 year old adolescence. She actually subtly grows older in the manga too. Reflective of the worry of development and the, uh, blossoming into womanhood or whatever :)

  3. I find it amusing how Mamoru apologized for getting brainwashed again like “Sorry about that…” and Usagi just is like “Nahh its okay.” as if she’s used to it by now. xD

  4. Unfortunately, there is one aspect of “Sailor Moon Crystal” that is unlikely to get better. I don’t know how about her manga now, but during “Sailor Moon”‘s run, Naoko Takeuchi just wasn’t good at characterization of villains. You pointed out that you disliked Black Lady’s blandly evil smile. But that is pretty much the default expression of every “Sailor Moon” villain going forward. They cackle diabolically, then Sailor Moon walks into the room and they die.

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