Sailor Moon Crystal Review Masterpost

The OTDT’s collective takes on the first season of Sailor Moon Crystal.

Chris: The most important thing you’ll need to know from this review: important does not equal good. When Hulu started streaming the original 1992 Sailor Moon, Sara and I started watching it. I could only get to episode four before having to tap out. Despite its wide influence, including helping to inspire me to take an interest in Japanese culture (though for not the reasons you may expect), this seminal anime was not that good. With all the hype built up around this 20th anniversary revamp, I hoped that something fun and memorable would be put forth by Toei. Instead, what I got was worse than the original.

I’m not the only one who thinks this. In addition to the much maligned QC issues that were prominent in the early episodes, the show is just bad. Your favorite characters are reduced to to a broad generalization, fights look about as dynamic as an 8-bit RPG, the plot is too melodramatic, nothing built up ever gets paid off, and there’s just a whole lack of fun. While the original Sailor Moon was flawed, it made up for those flaws with camp, liberally borrowing and lampshading tropes from tokusatsu and similar boy-centered anime like Saint Seiya. All of the extra padding and filler allowed for exotic situations (conventions, ice skating, flooding the Earth) and plenty of room for the Guardians’ character to grow, and to me, made the series fun. The world building stuff was boring and while arguably necessary, it was the least interesting part of the show.

Crystal dumps all the filler–airing only 2 episodes a month, it almost has to–and instead forces the Usagi x Mamoru OTP to the front, center, and even the margins. I could barely buy the pairing the first time around; now in 2014 when consent is sort of a big deal, Crystal doubles down on the non-consensual stalkerish behavior of Tuxedo Mask by having him initiate the relationship in a way that made me uncomfortable. Usagi makes things worse by thinking it’s Foreverlove. I understand she’s still a chuuni, and so there’s potentially a method to her madness, but let’s be honest, if I want to watch a girl lose her mind over a tool, I’ll watch The Bachelor.

Granted, I was never Naoko Takeuchi’s target demo, but all too often, I’ve wondered who Crystal‘s audience is.  Young girls can probably find something more vivacious and engaging in the Pretty Cure franchise; people who watched the original already know how the story goes and that series is just as easy to access as Crystal, possibly even easier.

One potential failing of mine is that I have not read the manga that this show is slavishly trying to replicate, so I don’t know if it’s doing a “good” job. What I do know is that over 14 episodes, Crystal is failing to tell a story that its 90’s counterpart told in 46. Now through episode 26, Crystal will try again with the Black Moon arc. On the bright side, only 30 episodes of Sailor Moon R were used for that (Doom Tree doesn’t really count, sorry) so there’s a chance for improvement . Honestly, I don’t think they can do much worse.

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Z:  I applaud Chris for being able to stomach endure watch the entire first arc of Crystal. I couldn’t get past the fifth episode. Even discounting the incredibly uncomfortable first kiss, the series seems incredibly lifeless and obnoxious compared to the original– or even the manga. What made both of those work was a strong sense of self-awareness and self-deprecation: even in the manga, there were moments of genuine levity that kept the “real” plot from sinking into melodrama. That cognizance is conspicuously absent from Crystal, which plays its every scene 100% straight and manages to make even what few gags they deigned to include feel like chores that were reluctantly added. The overall effect is that of a fan fiction writer graduating from gag tales into “serious” stories that end up cliched, maudlin, and just plain bad (ahem, not that I would know anything about that, ahem ahem).

Now granted, it’s extremely easy to think that pooh-poohing Crystal in favor of the 1992 series is an artifact of good old nostalgia glasses, and to some extent, it’s true. At the same time, though, the ’90s series added much to the “classic” characterizations of the cast that is utterly absent from this iteration. Probably a better benchmark would be the 2003-2004 live-action version of the series, which was just as expanded as the original anime’s first arc. The lack of time constraints involved in the 49-episode series, which didn’t overreach beyond the manga’s first arc and later branched off into deeper character portraiture, made viewers care about the Pretty Guardians in Sailor Suits much more than just giving them a dozen minutes of the spotlight before assimilating them into the cast. Even if the series didn’t perform as well as expected, it was still a fairer treatment than Crystal.

But even if we go back to the manga, the source material that Crystal is supposed to be more faithful to, it still manages to be a poor retelling because of one specific factor: Codename: Sailor V. The “prequel” manga that tells the story of Minako/Sailor Venus’ early career– and forms the basis for the majority of her characterization in Sailor Moon proper– is given the same amount of token acknowledgement in Crystal that it was in the first season of the 1992 series. Which is to say that Minako/Sailor V is used as a set piece until she’s revealed as Venus near the end of the “build-up”, and viewers don’t get to learn all that much about her before the battle against the Dark Kingdom kicks into its climax. In a sense, this matches up with the manga– readers were assumed to know about Minako already by the time she makes her debut in the main series. But whereas the 1992 anime took care to continue to flesh out her character throughout the following arcs– yes, even the filler– it’s highly unlikely that Crystal will take even a moment to let viewers get familiar with her and Artemis before thrusting a whole new arc’s worth of characters upon us.

If series like Naruto and Bleach are examples of how not to include filler arcs in an anime, then Sailor Moon is the one that shows how filler can salvage a breakneck-paced plot. The manga suffers from a lot of the problems that Crystal does, in that characters are introduced and then used as chess pieces– beautifully-drawn pawns that sometimes don’t even survive the chapter in which they were introduced. Half of the fun of the 1992 anime, filler and all, was the presentation of Usagi & co. as relatively normal girls with problems both mundane and supernatural. Jettisoning all of the filler renders the characters as little more than reskins of each other, making them bland and ultimately interchangeable. Toei chose to throw the baby out with the bathwater this time around, and the end result is a compressed adaptation that loses something essential in its miniaturization. I agree with Chris in that they “can’t do much worse”– Crystal is, as far as I’m concerned, as bad as it gets.

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Sara: Sailor Moon Crystal seems to be suffering from Fullmetal Alchemist (FMA) Brotherhood syndrome.

And I do mean suffering. Both series offer a retelling of the story in order to align more closely with the source manga. Now… FMA could get away with it, because they weren’t so far removed from the first run that a new potential (but not necessarily familiar) fan base could have grown up in its aftermath. They were basically shooting for the same demographic as they had been previously. It’s hard to tell exactly which group Sailor Moon Crystal was targeting, whether they meant to bring in a new audience, or bank on the nostalgia of the old guard. If you ask me, the story presented fails on both counts.

People who were first introduced to the original anime way back when will notice two things: first, the art is a lot crisper. That’s actually not a bad thing, because technology has come a long way in the intervening years. To be honest, I was actually looking forward to seeing the new style.

Second, when I say it follows more closely to the manga, I mean it. All of the campiness of the first anime is gone, along with a large chunk of the character development. The team is formed quickly, and then almost as quickly they’re up against the first major “boss”, with so little bonding time that it’s easy to wonder what else happened between them besides the clips shown during the mid-battle flashbacks. The reality is, most of what I know about these girls, I brought with me from reading the manga and watching the old anime, and this is probably where the biggest disconnect lies for new people trying to enter the fandom.

That all being said, the release schedule probably isn’t helping either. When most series are airing on television every week, this one is streaming online twice a month. Even though it was a series I was initially looking forward to, I find myself constantly trying to remember when new episodes are posted.

I hope the merchandise is selling well enough to make up for how big the animation team dropped the ball. Or maybe I don’t… because if it doesn’t do well, maybe they won’t try to resurrect other nostalgia-riddled classics. The reality is, they probably could have had all the merchandise and done really well selling it, without tacking on this project.

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