Twenty Years of Love and Justice: Sailor Moon Then & Now

When Sailor Moon Crystal was first announced, I wasn’t sure how to feel. It was the reboot I never knew I wanted, though I remained concerned about the quality of the series. After all, we live in the Age of Reboots and it’s typically a heck of a coin toss whether or not they will be any good; I’m looking at you, Spider-Man, Total Recall, and Star Trek: Into Darkness. If Sailor Moon Crystal was a dismal wreck of a revival, I just wasn’t sure my heart could take it.

Fortunately, my concern was short-lived. Debuting in July of 2014, the first opening scene, consisting of gorgeous images of planets and stars, made me feel optimistic about the show. This new opening was graceful and sophisticated, especially when compared to the original series. The elegance of the opening welcomed me into the new series, which promised, and succeeded, to distinguish itself from the original.  

While the series does have significant flaws, I have found that it, as a whole, is a rather spectacular reboot. The original series was great; it was fun, it did not take itself too seriously, and it had a fun and well-developed cast of characters (in the Guardians, at least). However, the original was also quite dated: e.g., an episode focused entirely on calling Usagi, a slim young girl, fat, and having characters bully her into not eating. That sort of obvious support for poor body image reinforcement would not be tolerated today.

The fight scenes are so much better than those in the original series. The movements of the characters are dynamic, as opposed to the rather stale stances and attack scenes from the original. The Guardians of Crystal are able to effectively use their powers, causing their battles to look more like actual fights than the stilted repetitive sequences of the original series.

For example, here’s a quick gif of Sailor Venus attacking in the original show:

All of the attack sequences from the original series are like this—the Scout shouts her attack, followed by a pretty little power-up sequence, and then they shoot, seemingly, at the viewer, then the camera then cuts to the reaction of the Scout’s opposition. This style of battle leaves the viewer without the back-and-forth of a true battle.

Now, check out this short gif of Sailor Venus from Crystal:

While Crystal still suffers the problem of recycling the same sequences for transformation and power attacks, these battles are clearly more dynamic. While the gif above is brief, we can see Venus’ attack is actually impacting her enemies. We don’t have to experience the anti-climactic shots or cuts, of the original series, where the monsters fade away in the glow of an attack we never saw actually hit the target.

The Sailor Guardians of Crystal are more effective soldiers than the Guardians of the original series. They take more initiative in battle, including parrying the attacks of their enemies. In one episode, we see Sailor Mars kicking some major Dark Kingdom butt with fists made of fire; action and powers we never saw in the original series.

The reboot has another serious advantage over the original: the pacing. For a point of reference, let’s look at how slowly the original series progressed in comparison to Crystal. The original series had 47 episodes in the first season that Crystal covers effectively and efficiently in just 13 episodes. The pacing of the original series was quite frustrating at times because story arcs would begin with the introduction of new enemies, but viewers tended to receive no real back story about these enemies until the last two or three episodes of an enemy’s story arc.

Sailor Moon Crystal keeps the conflict moving due to its accelerated pace. Each episode provides the viewer with a little more information about a particular enemy, and usually ends on a compelling cliffhanger (Spoilers: when Usagi stabbed herself with the Magic Love Sword (not the canon name), I may have actually screamed at the T.V.). The improved pacing of the rebooted series gives the viewers enough information to feel invested in the progression of the story without dragging storylines out longer than necessary. It’s a relief to have a crisp and refreshing Sailor Moon on my screen after all of this time.

While the exposition, pacing, and art style of Sailor Moon Crystal are generally superior to the original 1995 series, the reboot is not without faults. One pet peeve of mine is the occasional sloppiness of the animation. While the art is lovely, there are still shots that appear rushed and half-hearted.  However, the studio is aware of these issues and animation mistakes have been corrected in the Blu-Ray/DVD editions of the series.

The row on the left is the original animation, the right is the corrected Blu-Ray version.

The row on the left is the original animation, the right is the corrected Blu-Ray version.

But the fact that the studio is correcting theses issues after release seems like poor planning to me. It has been two decades since the first series and, as far as I know, there was never a cause to rush the series through production. Arguably, errors such as these should have been caught before the show went on the air.

But the biggest issue I have with Sailor Moon Crystal is far from minor. While the show did a great job with their overhaul of the battle sequences, it still leaves much to be desired in terms of encouraging the empowerment of young female viewers.

The lyrics to Crystal’s theme song, Moon Pride, state: “Ah, even girls have a kind of pride they cannot give up / It’s to not give up their fates to their princes, / But to fight with their own volition.” This line implies that the characters of the show will be more autonomous in their struggles than in the original series, where the primary male protagonist, Tuxedo Mask, saves the Scouts the majority of the time. When I first read that line in the subtitles during the premiere of Crystal, I thought that the Guardians would be more in control of their fates.

Alas, that was not the case. The Sailor Guardians are certainly more functional and efficient in Crystal than they were in the original show—their meetings together are productive, Usagi is more mature than her ’95 counterpart, and the Guardians take the initiative to find their enemies and battle them on their own terms. However, Tuxedo Mask still pops in too often to save the Guardians.

Tuxedo Mask’s over-involvement became most apparent to me in episode four, ‘Masquerade Dance Party.” As you may recall from the original, this episode features Usagi pretending to be a princess at a masquerade ball. Eventually, the Dark Kingdom attacks and Tuxedo Mask saves Usagi from evil once again. Usagi later falls asleep on a bench after the rush of the evening’s events. Before vanishing into the night, Tuxedo Mask kisses her while she sleeps. While. She. Sleeps.

Didn’t anyone on the studio staff see something wrong with that? Did not one person on the production or creative teams say that maybe this scene perpetuates the notion that consent is a suggestion, and thus should be changed? This was a great opportunity for the studio to demonstrate just how committed they were to revitalizing and modernizing the series, and to do a small part in empowering the “princess genre,” in an effort to show young girls that they can want to be both a princess and a warrior. Unfortunately, the creators completely missed the chance to do this.

Making matters worse, the Guardians occasionally allow past emotions to prevent them from fighting effectively: The Sailor Guardians are confronted by the Four Kings of the Dark Kingdom at the start of a battle for the fate of the Earth. Sailor Venus suddenly remembers that the Kings were once Knights for Endymion and the lovers of the Sailor Guardians in a past life. Venus tells the other Guardians about her memory, and the rest of the Sailors remember, too, causing them all to stop fighting. They don’t even defend themselves, pleading with their adversaries to remember the love they once shared.

What. Even.

The show’s creators essentially undid the progress they made giving the Guardians cool fight scenes by making these scenes almost worthless in the long run of the narrative; those early battles don’t matter if the Guardians won’t fight later on. I know the theme of the series is that “love conquers all,” but Crystal is going about conveying this message in a manner just as shallow and outdated as the original series.

Overall, Sailor Moon Crystal is a major improvement over the original 1995 series. The art is beautiful, if occasionally rushed, but is flawless if you purchase the Blu-Ray/DVD. The streamlined story-telling makes each episode seamless, and leaves the viewer wanting more. There are negatives for each positive change, namely the show’s mixed-messages about female empowerment, but they took a step in the right direction by at least addressing the problematic battle sequences of the original. Hopefully, the next Sailor Moon series will address my concerns about strong female representation, but keep the great aesthetics.