In preparation for the upcoming third season (the writers labeled it as the third season) I checked out the previous two seasons of what I consider an…interesting reboot to say the least. Let’s take a look at “Pretty Guardian – Sailor Moon Crystal”.
Note: This review is by someone who had not grown up watching the original Sailor Moon, thus having no nostalgic attachment to it. I was at least aware of some the major events in the franchise before picking this show up. Crystal was my first complete experience with the franchise. Comparisons made to the original will be used mainly for differentiation purposes and not to determine which is superior.
Genres: Action, Drama, Magic, Romance.
Themes: Magical Girl, Aliens, Monsters, Sentai.
Number of episodes: 26 (Split between two cours).
Plot Summary: Usagi Tsukino was a normal second-year middle school girl whose own life changes one day when she encounters a black cat. The cat’s name is Luna who can talk and bears a crescent moon on her forehead. Luna tells Usagi that she is the chosen guardian of justice with the power to transform into Sailor Moon. Usagi now has a new responsibility which is a mission to find the Legendary Silver Crystal as well as the other chosen guardians to protect the Moon Princess. During her mission, she must deal with various enemies sent by Queen Beryl who is also after the Legendary Silver Crystal.
First of all let us talk about the animation. Personally I had little problem with it. The CGI henshin sequences did not bother me either. Compared to the likes of say, Dragonball Super’s poorly animated episodes, this is art. Regarding which one has the superior character art, that is subjective. My favorite Sailor Guardian is Sailor Mars and she is beautiful in both versions. She looks better in the original but her Crystal counterpart is no slouch in the beauty department. The soundtrack was pretty good. I liked the tunes for the most part. Maybe because I am a sucker for choir chanting though the henshin chants were a big grating. Just a bit. I also dug the OP and ED.
As far as magical girl shows go Sailor Moon, being one of the most iconic, is pretty standard. This reboot is no different. Cute girls doing their thing when suddenly an encounter with a magical creature changed their lives forever and now they fight monsters and aliens to protect the Earth (and in SM’s case, the universe) from devastation. There is also a henshin sequence in nearly every episode. Again, basic magical girl fare. The action scenes can be best described as “special moves fests”. Think a fighting game where both sides spam their special moves and finish big fights with a super special. That is one of Crystal’s three main differences from the original. In Crystal there are hardly any punches, kicks or throws during fights whereas Usagi could perform a dive kick in the original. Nothing game breaking as the effects are still cool.
Now that the basics are out of the way let us talk about the show as a whole. I can best describe it as a “straight to the point” narrative. I liked this approach to an extent. It meant that I would not have to sit through an episode revolving around Usagi having to deal with weight issues for example. There were very few “monster of the week” scenarios. The top lieutenants, generals and eventually big baddies wasted little time before deciding to get their own hands dirty on the battlefield. The show focused on two arcs, the Dark Kingdom and Black Moon arcs. The show, in a sense was on fast forward, meaning that it primarily focused on the major events of each arc, thus getting to the point quicker than the original. However, this is also the show’s greatest flaw.
The problem is not the approach but how it was handled. It focused solely on the arcs’ important events and barely gave the viewers and the show’s cast breathing room. What I mean is that there was little to no focus on character development or engagement. Apart from Sailor Moon (Because she is the titular character) and Tuxedo Mask, the other Sailor Guardians got the bare minimum of development. Other than their introductory issues and minor moments in the second arc, I only knew the other four Sailor Guardians as Usagi’s friends and partners in battle. Another issue because of Crystal’s fast forward pacing was that the element of surprise was gone. Now longtime fans and other animeniacs who have heard of Sailor Moon stories know what to expect but what about newcomers? The element of surprise can play a big role in consumers’ enjoyment. Just because the show’s surprises are not game changing does not mean the hints need to be super obvious. Crystal barely hides anything and lessens whatever impact the twists could have had. Also there were times during important events that felt like scenes were missing. There were several times, especially during the Black Moon arc where I asked myself “How did that happen?”.
Because of the above mentioned reasons among many others that I am sure diehards could bring up, fans of the original accused Crystal of being a rushed cash cow taking advantage of the franchise’s popularity and I do not blame them. Sailor Moon got upgrades up the wazoo with little to no setup. It felt like she got most of her upgrades by sheer coincidence. Very few of the foes our heroines faced warranted the need for upgrades at that particular moment. In short: Way too rushed and “Hurray for Merch Power BABEH!”
I get what the writers were going for besides unleash the power of the merch. Dragon Ball (Z) Kai did something similar and better in my opinion. Kai also took away most of the filler stuff (No Goku and Piccolo getting driver’s ed episode for example) and focused entirely on the more important events of the four major Sagas (No Garlic Jr mini-arc). However, what made it work was that it kept the important character moments outside of battles. This allowed viewers to connect with the characters and get more invested during battles. Crystal has some of that but nowhere near enough. It cut out far too much, thus making it feel rushed even if it covered most of the important parts. The reason I am making a big deal about this is because Sailor Moon is a series that NEEDS character development. Crystal is a show that despite being easy to enjoy it obviously felt like it could have been so much more.
Now yuri fans would be wondering why did I review the first two seasons of Sailor Moon Crystal here and not on Anime Island? Simple. Despite Crystal not making this clear to newcomers, Sailor Moon is an iconic franchise in the yuri nation. It can be said that this franchise pioneered the concept of ” yuri ship sport” in the mainstream…the original Japanese version anyway. For example, did you know that the Ami X Makoto (Sailor Mercury X Sailor Jupiter) ship exists and has material in both the original anime and manga to back this up? Fans watching Crystal would notice it at all. Anyway with two legendary ladies (technically) making their triumphant return soon it was worth talking about the show here.
I could go on but I think readers got the gist of it.
Overall Sailor Moon Crystal is ultimately okay. It is super rushed, missing many vital character developing moments, scenes that explain important events and feels like a two-person show (Usagi and Tuxedo Mask) most of the time. Having said that, I cannot bring myself to say the show sucked or I regretted watching it. I liked the other four Sailor Guardians a lot, Usagi was decent for the most part and did not annoy me (though she did upset me a bit during the Black Moon arc). Also it looked good enough visually. I did not regret watching the first and second seasons and may pick them up again sometime. What we did get was enough for me to enjoy the show and I am looking forward to the new season in spite of my dreading the writers not giving the legendary duo the respect they deserve. I would say interested viewers can give it a try. Just know what to expect when delving into this one.