OK I know that I usually review new anime on Anifile, shows that haven’t had a first season or movie preceding it, but for this I am going to make an exception. This show was one of the most hotly anticipated shows of the year, if not the decade. I’ve had countless people tell me that they’d love to hear my thoughts on it and I shall therefore oblige; and with gusto. The tale of a girl who was on the ropes, educationally speaking, getting a new lease of life and a sense of duty in a world filled with pretty looking people and powerful crystals. A cornucopia of delights for any young girl to feast on; not to mention a gateway for anime fans throughout the world [at least in its original guise]. Yes, it’s the classic anime franchise in its 2014 suit Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal!
One of the first anime series I watched was the 1992 series of Sailor Moon. My family had recently got satellite TV and I came across this show at the same time as Samurai Pizza Cats; me being twelve years old and afraid/unfamiliar of girls at the time, I was left mesmerised and slightly captivated…before I got caught watching it by my dad; then you could throw embarrassment into the mix! Suffice to say, the story of Usagi Tsukino saving the day against the evil forces of Queen Beryl and her band of pretty men was one that slowly begun my journey into the world of Japanese animation. I can confidently say that thousands of people reading this article will agree that Sailor Moon played some part in their anime initiation. So what’s different with the Crystal version? Is it like the Pepsi Crystal of old; the same taste but prettier packaging? Well, for the most part yes! I’ll cover this more later but for those who aren’t familiar with the story, here’s a brief recap. Usagi Tsukino is a fourteen year old girl who is failing at school. She stumbles across a magical being called Luna who has the token form of a cat, who is looking for the Moon Princess, the powerful deity who can help retrieve the Legendary Silver Crystal [you’ll hear this phrase a lot when watching!] and keep it out of the hands of the evil Queen Beryl. Along the way she will acquire new allies in the form of fellow guardians who each have their own celestial powers related [albeit tenuously] to planets of the solar system as well as the suave and elusive enigma that is Tuxedo Mask. Together, they act as Earth’s defence against the Kingdom of Darkness. Oh yeah and they fight monsters every episode. That’s pretty much the gist of the narrative really. It’s a very simple story to get your head around but that’s not a bad thing, in fact it’s quite refreshing.
This new iteration of the tale is a more faithful adaptation of Naoko Takeuchi’s manga instead of being a simple touch-up job. It’s more of a Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood than a Dragonball Kai if you want comparisons. In fact, this is what the latter should’ve been, a complete refresh and re-animating process…but I digress. Sailor Moon Crystal is going to be twenty six episodes long at the time of writing this review with a possible chance of more of the story being adapted later on. Toei Animation has a year to make up their mind [Toei being the animators of both the original and new versions] as they are releasing episodes every two weeks instead of one bizarrely. So far three episodes have been released and the internet has feasted on them, what do I think? Well…
It’s not great. This image [above] is but one of the questionably dodgy frames that have surfaced during Crystal’s run thus far. Usagi’s eye is far too big! It could eat Mamoru’s head! Another has Jadeite [one of the four Kings of the Darkness Kingdom] looking like his face is either turning into a fox or imploding on itself. He is supposed to be attacking but instead this frame leapt out at me and couldn’t be unseen. This is the elephant in the room I have to address, the odd frames here and there may only be fractions of a second in a twenty four minute episode, but they make an impact nonetheless. You can find more examples online. I know the original show wasn’t the prettiest at times, but it was the more consistent. Perhaps the animators should’ve taken more care with such a sensitive IP; any imperfection will be called out. That’s all I’ll say on the matter; it’s been addressed many times before and shall be addressed many times after this post, I’ve added my two pennies and I shall move on.
I will congratulate the show for looking pretty when it chooses to not futz up the drawings. The show feels like it has a budget and a real budget at that. That’s what over twenty years of merchandising gets you! However, I couldn’t help shaking off an odd feeling I had when watching this. I assessed this show like I had never seen Sailor Moon before, the previous version never existed. I found myself unable to engage with the story. Sure the artwork was well composed and the pastel backdrops were fresh, but I felt a little cold and irritated with Usagi; she got on my nerves. I felt as if there was a mismatch in the performance and the visuals. Things didn’t seem as endearing as I had expected. True, the show has been brought into the twenty-first century, but it has lost some of its charm along the way. There are some touches which save the day though as regards to character introduction. I did get more of a feeling that Ami and Rei [Sailor Mercury and Sailor Mars] were real people and their lonely lives were treated more carefully than in the original; emotional sensitivity is superior in Crystal.
After watching, I thought back to the original version and felt more in touch with that one. I am fully aware that this new version is the more accurate interpretation of Takeuchi’s vision and that there is more to come over the next few months, but the whole ‘two weeks per episode’ gimmick is a little arrogant in my opinion. It feels like Toei and friends are making people wait and clamour for more; if they were fans of the show then, they won’t mind waiting…and therefore the hype train gathers momentum. The train is further fuelled by mothers around the world who grew up with Sailor Moon who now have daughters to share their excitement with; I will give it credit there for bringing families closer together in some way. In essence, this refresh is an exercise of money spinning, appeasing Naoko Takeuchi [the original creator] and keep her relevant in the modern age [she has done very little other work after Sailor Moon and Sailor V…not that she’d need to!].
It’s great that Takeuchi’s been given a second chance to retell her story, but it feels less charming than her original foray. The goofy facial expressions and early nineties charm have been replaced with more elegant and faithful visuals. Not to say that that’s terrible, it’s much more faithful to her work but it feels like something’s missing, at least in my eyes. The package as a whole is alright. It does look very good in places and the CG transformation sequences are nice to look at, albeit a little long [almost a minute!] and getting to see a high definition version of the iconic story is a pleasure to see, but it can’t help escape that this is a reboot of a nineties concept; it looks dated. That being said, it’s better they kept the original designs instead of trying to make it modern, that would have been sacrilegious! Instead, try to look at Sailor Moon Crystal as a thank you to the millions of fans around the world for sticking by their favourite magical girls. It may not have the cultural impact that its predecessor had, but it’s a decent and non-threatening addition to the compendium that is Sailor Moon. If you’re a fan, you’ll love it. For everyone else, it might take a while to grow on you; try read the manga too if you can.
Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal is available to stream on Crunchyroll, Hulu and Viz Media’s website.
RATING: CONTINUE [It may not be a redefining of an icon, but it’s harmless yet slightly flawed fun.]
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