Hello everyone. We’ve got a bit of a special review today. That’s right, it’s number 200, although those of you reading this on WordPress haven’t gotten access to all of them yet, but it’s only a matter of time until the last review of yesteryear gets uploaded so please be patient. We’ve been through a lot in that time and not just in terms of anime covered. The format has changed quite a bit and I think all those changes have been for the better. When I hit my hundredth review I looked at the first series of Sailor Moon, both the English and Japanese versions. One of which was an abomination whereas the other was really good. Now, at that time I said I would never look at an English dub again and I’m not going to go back on that. That being said, it is appropriate for the 200th review to hearken back to that moment with a look at the second anime series, Sailor Moon R. Now, like Dragonball, I’m not going to worry about spoilers with this one. Keep that in mind. So grab your transforming pens, put on your planetary makeup and let’s take a look at where the series goes from there.
Sailor Moon R has two story arcs. The first picks up where the previous series ended, with the sailor soldiers having lost their memories and gone back to their normal lives. The peace is interrupted when something otherworldy crashes into the Juban area in the dead of night. Two aliens named Ail and Ann, I know it’s a cheesy pun but I love it, have come to Earth to take the energy from living things to feed their Doom tree. Usagi regains her powers when Naru is attacked by a monster that comes out of a card, it’s nice to see her back in her usual role, and all without a duel disk system or expensive holograms. Usagi sorrowfully bids farewell to her normal life and gets to work. With Usagi on the case, it naturally doesn’t take long before the rest of the soldiers have to have their powers and memories returned as well. So we have the five inner senshi fighting to stop Ail, Ann and their Cardians.
The second arc starts with a young pink-haired girl dropping from the sky and interrupting Usagi and Mamoru’s date. She demands that Usagi hand over the silver crystal and hypnotises her family, making them think she’s Usagi’s cousin who is also called Usagi. While the sailor soldiers are planning what to do about her, I suggest lots of duct tape, an actual threat materialises. They call themselves the Black Moon clan and they want to capture Chibi-Usa and manipulate areas they refer to as future crystal points. The sailor soldiers have to protect Chibi-Usa, learn her purpose and stop the Black Moon clan. To save both the present and the future.
There are really only two story issues. The first is the ongoing problem of a change of clothes being enough to conceal someone’s identity. Because Usagi, Ami, Rei, Makoto and Minako all look very different when they put on their sailor soldier uniforms versus when they’re dressed normally. Who knows, maybe there’s supposed to be some component of their transformation that hides their identities, but the art does nothing to illustrate that nor is anything of the sort ever mentioned. It’s not like the Precure franchise where their hair changes in an obvious way. The other issue is the relationship between Usagi and Mamoru. Yes, I know that the age difference between the two is meant to provide some wish fulfillment for the target audience since many girls that age are interested in men, or women, who are much older. It’s still really creepy when you have a college guy getting romantically involved with a middle school girl. This dude needs to be on a watch-list. Even putting that aside, the way they show relationship growth between them is just lazy. We’re expected to believe they have a great relationship, not because of any actual substantial interaction between them, but because they’re “destined lovers” reincarnated and because they’re shown as being together in the future.
Putting that aside, there are significant improvements from the first anime. The gratuitous love interests for Ami, Rei, Minako and Makoto barely show up or get mentioned, if they are at all. In the case of Rei they even eliminate him as a love interest, explicitly stating that he’s not her boyfriend nor does she love him. The story itself is also paced a bit better since the first series was padded out a bit with episodes that didn’t really advance anything. Although, in all fairness, those episodes did almost always have good character moments to make up for it. The stories themselves are fun, optimistic and uplifting. I like that most Sailor Moon villains aren’t actually evil but just being manipulated or lacking a good understanding of love and, therefore, not only can they find redemption but you want to see them redeemed. The series also has some good sources of tension, particularly if you look at it from the perspective of the target audience.
Sailor Moon R takes strong characters and develops them into even better characters. Ami, Rei, Makoto, Minako and Usagi all have episodes that focus on their characters and develop them. They all get their own story arcs as well, which gives them all their own chances to shine and heroic moments. Their relationships with each other also develop and improve over the course of the series. Even several of the side characters get some really strong moments. The antagonists have developed and sympathetic motivations, excluding Death Phantom. Most of them aren’t even bad people just misguided. Which is an aspect I really liked. I also like that it portrays all manner of love, romantic, familial and friendly, as important and beautiful. It also makes the rare move of portraying one-sided love without demonising either of the parties involved. Which is sadly rare in media, especially media aimed at young girls.
If there’s one weakness to the characters in this it’s Chibi-Usa. I don’t absolutely detest her in the way that so many fans do, I don’t even know if I’d go so far as to say I dislike her, but she is a pretty annoying character. She whines a lot and makes really dumb mistakes due to selfishness or just a lack of basic thinking skills. Although I will give the anime credit, she is vastly improved in it when compared to the manga and there are two things that contribute to that. The first is her age. In the anime she’s a small child and, as annoying as she can be, she acts like one. It’s hard to hate a little kid for making the kinds of mistakes she makes. Even if the kid is a bit annoying. In the manga she’s supposed to be over 900 and yet she still acts like a small child which is just inexcusable at that age. In the manga she also has a creepy incestuous thing going with her father, even snogging him while he’s mind-controlled. In the anime she comes across as possessive of him certainly, but possessive in a pretty normal way for a little kid to act towards their parent and she most certainly doesn’t do anything like that. So, in the anime she is kind of annoying but I wouldn’t call her a bad character. She has some good emotional scenes and even the ways in which she’s kind of obnoxious are understandable given her age.
The art is pretty dated with some choppy animation and, like the first series, it over-uses stock footage for attacks. While it certainly doesn’t hold up to today’s standards, it was really good for its time and it still has a nostalgic charm to it. A lot of the monsters have really interesting designs. The character designs themselves are well done and it manages to have some nice, intense action sequences in spite of the stock attacks. I actually really like that the soldiers’ outfits are designed as school uniforms with personalised touches based on what girls actually like to wear when left to their own devices with the modifications being based on the characters’ personalities. It’s an interesting idea and well executed. I do have to give Takeuchi Naoko kudos for it.
Fukami Rica, Tomizawa Michie, Shinohara Emi, Hisakawa Aya & Mitsuishi Kotono reprise their roles as the sailor soldiers and they all do a fantastic job. They put a lot of nuance into their performances, sometimes exaggerating for comedic effect and others being very subtle and down-played. The acting always suits the scene. Our not quite newcomer, Araki Kae, does a really good job as Chibi-Usa. The reason I call her a not quite newcomer is that she filled in for the voice of Usagi for a couple episodes in the first series, and did such a good job that you probably won’t notice the difference even if you’re listening for it. When Chibi-Usa is whining she doesn’t make it exaggerated or ridiculous. Rather, she gives a performance that shows degrees. You can tell when Chibi-Usa is about to cry and when she’s trying not to. So, as annoying as the character can be, I have to give the actress credit for voicing her really well.
The music is upbeat and a lot of fun to listen to. Both the music that they play during the episodes and the music from the opening and ending themes. It complements the tone of the series perfectly and is just a joy. I’m particularly fond of Otome no Policy, both the lyrics and Ishida Yoko’s performance.
The les-yay is a bit toned down from the first series. There’s still an under-current of homo-eroticism amongst the girls, but nowhere near the extent that it was in the first series. Maybe they figured that without the male love interests around they didn’t need as much to compensate or maybe they were saving up all the yuri moments for Sailor Moon S when Haruka and Michiru show up & when Chibi Usa meets Hotaru. Someone really should have told them that there isn’t a limited amount of yuri subtext, or even yuri text, that you can have in a franchise. In any case, the ho-yay factor for Sailor Moon R is going to be a 3/10.
Sailor Moon R is a thoroughly enjoyable series with a lot of great moments and some really strong characters. It has some faults, but it’s easy to see why the franchise as a whole had such a massive impact on the magical girl genre and why this season in particular contributed to that influence. But as fun and entertaining as it is, it isn’t perfect. Several problems persist and they do affect the series adversely. Still, they are relatively minor issues when you consider how much it does right. As such my final rating is an 8.5/10. If you don’t like magical girl anime you won’t like it, but for quite literally anyone else I do recommend it.
Thanks to everyone who reads these every week and puts up with my various idiosyncrasies. It’s because of all of you that I can keep doing this as a hobby in spite of how closely it resembles my actual job. Thanks for the comments, requests and all of that. You guys and gals are the best. Next week I’ll go back to requests with Stand Alone Complex. I hope you’ll look forward to it.