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Toon Takeaway: Sailor Moon Crystal Part 1

Title: Sailor Moon Crystal

Studio: Toei Animation

Rating: B-


I’m not going to provide a summary of this show. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the story. Magical school girls fight bad guys with makeup. As we probably all know, Sailor Moon was one of, if not the biggest, animes in the 90s. It completely changed the magical girl anime, so much that the show became the template for the whole genre. It, in tandem with Dragonball Z, Pokemon, and Digimon, sparked otaku culture here in the US. Of all anime fandoms, Moonies had and still retain the position of most loyal, most dedicated, and most obsessed anime fandom EVER. Part of what made this particular anime so special was its celebration of the variety of forms of femininity without ever compromising the innate power of each character. You don’t have to be a tomboy to be a strong girl, a common archetype in the more progressive 90s toons. Girls all over the world found themselves captivated by the beauty, color, and power of Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon. You can go shopping for cute things while talking about boys and still kick major ass. You want girl power? This is your one-stop shop. For a show this big, I’ll start with an overall review, then do the individual seasons.

In addition to becoming a kind of shrine to femininity, this fandom was also a haven for us queers. We not only had coded gay characters, villains Kunzite and Zoisite and anti-heroes Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune, but they were more than just queer stereotypes (see Jafar from Aladdin). They were complicated, delicate individuals. Even for gay villains, the tenderness between Kunzite and Zoisite was pure enough to touch the hearts of many. The Sailor Scouts shaped a significant portion of my life, giving me the courage to date my first love; a girl in my piano class (more on this later). So when in 2014 the first episode of Sailor Moon Crystal, the anime reboot, premiered at Anime Expo, I geeked right out of my socks. So how does Crystal stand up to the legacy of Sailor Moon R and Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon, such important cultural artifacts?

The Good:

The way that Crystal handles the Sailor Soldier legacy is by sticking closer to the source material, the manga written by Naoko Takeuchi. The 90s anime was a retelling of the story, changing many story elements from the original. For instance, aliens Ail and Ann were created for a filler arc that would let the manga get far ahead enough of the anime. Crystal sticks with the manga’s storyline.

The Moon rod is created by Usagi and Tuxedo Mask’s love instead of just being given to her, people die, and Mini Moon lacks power instead of holding too much. Also sex. By sticking to the original story, we are given a fresh look at a story we love. We’re allowed to see the reasons behind each character’s personalities and add a layer of depth to Sailor Moon R. It’s incredibly satisfying to see the power of love in action since it was such an essential element of the manga that disappointingly was left out.

The pace of Crystal is just right. It knows you know the characters and doesn’t spend too much time setting up. The first two story arcs are compacted into 12 and 14 episode seasons, each episode a summary of the manga’s books. So efficient! And it’s so great not to have the awkward Sailor Moon Says segments that were ham-fistedly shoved into the 90s dubs. Ugh.

The Bad:

I hate the combination of 2d and 3d animation in anime. The fact they use this only for the transformation sequences feels quite cheap. I get it conceptually, but it’s still just not working for me. Also, all of the art in episode 3 is just horrid.


The Art:

Speaking of art, Crystal’s animation style is divisive amongst Moonies, particularly season 1. Some feel the animation is cheap, some hate the 3d pieces, while others feel it is a bridge between the anime and manga. It alternates between the loose watercolor feel of the manga, the 2d animation of the 90s, and the all-its-own 3d animation.I personally feel it doesn’t work together. It’s just too eclectic for my tastes. Again, I get it conceptually, but for an anime this important, I feel the animation should have been on the levels of Kill la Kill (see my previous Toon Takeaway). The art was so divisive that Toei Animation had to step up their art game between seasons because the fandom was in such a mess. Moonies have since calmed the frick down. See manga, Sailor Moon R, and Sailor Moon Crystal comparison below.

In addition to the incongruity of styles, the animation can sometimes fall into wtf anime. Eyes look awkward, proportions get bizarre, and weird expressions can destroy moods. There’s even a tumblr dedicated to the weird art; well, that and fangirl complaining. Just take a look at some of these screenshots.

But it’s not all bad. Ignoring the stylistic approaches, the transformation and combat choreography is on point. All great. Fantastic backgrounds! Motions developed for each Sailor Guardian’s personality and element. And so kawaii! Take a look at these transformations! Paired with the excellent soundtrack, these magical girls give me life!

To be continued:

When I return, I’ll write about the first arc, Dark Kingdom. That’s where you’ll start to understand how this anime landed in the B range, despite the art. But until then, what do you think about Crystal, or Sailor Moon in general. Which Sailor Soldier/Scout/Guardian has the best transformation sequence? Let us know in the comments.

Links and other opinions: