Hello gentle reader! I’m taking a pause from Summer of Reruns for just a moment to talk about a television event of global significance this weekend; one that you all might have missed in the midst of celebrating certain holidays (and no, I’m not talking about CONvergence, though I’m sure there were plenty of people there celebrating this very event).
Over the weekend, Hulu dropped a nifty little bombshell on geekdom everywhere. While the news of this little bomb has been out for a while, its return caught everyone by surprise. And what has returned? Not only a touchstone for the 90s which happens to be part of one of the most successful entertainment franchises of all time, but one of the most groundbreaking television shows ever; a show that took a traditionally Eastern concept and captured the imagination of the world.
In short, dear friends, get ready to scream the title of this post (or if you prefer to say it in English “In The Name Of The Moon, I Will Punish You!” because Sailor Moon is back!
Based on the genre-re-defining manga by Naoko Takeuchi, the original anime series produced by Japan’s Toei Animation was a global phenomenon when it debuted in 1992. The premise (that a average everyday girl would become the greatest champion the universe had ever seen) struck a chord with people around the world. When the English-dubbed version aired in America in 1995 (bastardized as it was thanks to changes that DIC Entertainment and later Cloverway insisted on – ranging from slight edits to omitting deaths to excising a lesbian affair between two important characters), it still captured the world’s imagination and, in America in particular, became the gateway drug for both anime and manga in popular culture. In fact it was the broadcasts of the original non-dubbed version of Sailor Moon helped to anchor Cartoon Network’s fledgling Toonami programing block. More importantly, but both the manga and the anime (and their subsequent sequels) brought girls and girl-fandom from across the glove back to both art forms. (Rather than bore you with more details, click here and here for two great articles on the long and winding history of the franchise.)
Two years ago, in honor of the show’s 20th Anniversary, Toei and Takeuchi announced that a rebooted version of Sailor Moon was being developed; rather than making purely new episodes, Sailor Moon Crystal would retell the story but hew closer to the plots Takeuchi’s original mangas. After many delats, it is finally here as the new episodes are debuting on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of every month at Hulu, Neon Alley (which is owned by Viz Media, more on them in a minute) and Crunchyroll.
All right, enough preamble. Time for the big question. How is the reboot?
A few quibbles, but pretty darn good! Let’s break it down point by point.
* The New Theme Song – Sailor Moon had one to the catchiest theme songs ever for any animated show (even though the American version was clunky as hell), and while I do miss the iconic theme song “Moonlight Densetsu”, the new opening theme (“Moon Pride”) and closing theme (“Moon Rainbow”) are pretty snappy in and of themselves thanks to spirited performances by Japanese Idol winners Momoiro Clover Z.
(Side Note: Yes, Moonies, I know this is the opening of Sailor Moon R, but it’s the only one I could find that doesn’t spoil later developments.)
* The Animation Style – I’m going to be honest; I miss the super deformed (or SD) animation style. With the over-exaggerated faces, the cry and thought bubbles, and more, it made the original so much fun to watch (and kept the feel of looking at a manga, where SD is common, come chaotically to life). That said, the new animation is gorgeous and looks stunning. My only complaint is that there tends to be a bit too much CGI in places, particularly in Usagi’s transformation into Sailor Moon.
* The Plot – What I found bracing in this first episode is that it quickly established the world of 14 year old Usagi Tsukino and all of the major players; from her friends Naru and Umiro, to her family, to the arrival of Luna, to the first appearances of both Mamoru Chiba (including his first time calling her “bun-head”) and the hero Tuxedo Mask. Plus all of the little touches were dead on, including Naru’s eventual hero worship of Sailor Moon, the importance of Sailor V, and the return of the arcade, which is an essential part of this story. For good or ill, this first episode is almost a shot for shot remake of “The Crybaby: Usagi’s Beautiful Transformation;” a necessary evil since you really can’t really divert from the origin story.
* That Girl – That said there was one thing I didn’t care for. In the manga and the original series, Usagi is often portrayed as clumsy, lazy, and gluttonous; more concerned about when her next snack was than saving the world. And to me, that’s an important part of the Sailor Moon mix. What makes the Sailor Moon story so vital is that Usagi isn’t some random person who ends up defending the planet, she is the absolute last person you would ever consider or trust for such a thing. I realize that the creators of the new series are drawing directly from the manga and that there are only 26 episodes (as opposed to the first series’s run of 46) and so a lot of compressing has to happen (especially with the surprising cameo in the last seconds of the episode). In this new reboot, Usagi just felt to self assured and none of important character bits felt like they had time to land. If you compare the first episodes side by side, you’ll see what I mean. But one thing I can not quibble about is the return of the great Kotono Mitsuishi who once again returns as the voice of Usagi and makes it sing.
* Tuxedo Mask and The Art (?) Of Foreshadowing – Quite frankly my biggest complaint of this first episode was in the handling of both Mamoru and his alter ego. This isn’t a spoiler on my part; Crystal makes it very clear who is behind Tuxedo Mask’s mask. In fact Mamoru’s outfit in his first appearance is way too on the nose. Also, when Tuxedo Mask finally appears, there are two big problems; 1) his mask does not cover the eyes (yes, even in the original you secretly knew who that masked man was, but there was always a hint of doubt), and 2) more shockingly, he didn’t throw his signature rose at the enemy. Speaking of foreshadowing, I loved the use of Usagi’s dreams as a way into the story, but again there was no clear obstruction of who was in her dream, which is a big giveaway to what’s going to happen further into the story.
While there may be plenty of things to nitpick over the first episode, watching Sailor Moon Crystal is a fantastic experience as a whole thanks to everyone involved clearly showing love and care for a character that is so beloved by so many.
Side Note: If you’re watching Sailor Moon Crystal on Hulu, you get an added bonus; the first episode of the original Sailor Moon so you can compare and contrast the two debuts. Viz Media recently acquired the North American rights to the classic series and has been remastering them and releasing them online at the rate of one episode a week. The remastering is in conjunction with a new BluRay and DVD release of the entire show set for the fall, which will not only feature remastered art, but a brand new English dub track that will be closer to what was shown in Japan. Whether it’s your first time, or you are a converted Moonie, or just a fan of good anime, this is an essential watch and great news all around!
Image Credits: Toei Animation