Sailor Moon, on TV Asahi
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This show probably served to introduce a lot of American kids to anime, back in the mid 1990s and early 2000s. The show's Japanese title is "Bishojo Senshi Sailor Moon," which is translated as "Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon" (or "Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon"). Hence the main characters are all called Pretty Guardians, though in the English dub they're called Sailor Scouts. (As is usually the case with anime, it's based on manga I haven't read, and I'm sure there are numerous differences between the anime and the manga.) The series consisted of 200 episodes, shown over five seasons. In Japan the seasons were each separate series, with their own titles, but in North America it was a single series, just called "Sailor Moon." And the fifth season never aired in the U.S. The series originally aired in Japan in 1992-97. In North America, it was licensed by DiC (seasons 1-2) in 1995, and by Cloverway (seasons 3-4) in 1999. The first two seasons were broadcast in 1995 in the U.S. (in syndication) and Canada (on YTV and I think also in syndication) as a single season of 65 episodes, which excluded several episodes that had aired in Japan. On top of those omissions, the series ceased being shown before the second season was concluded. But the series reran on USA Network in 1997, at which time the final 17 episodes of season two aired. (But I'm not sure if the earlier episodes that had been excluded ever aired in the U.S. or Canada.) The series later reran again, from 1998-2001, on Cartoon Network's Toonami block (in the U.S.) and on YTV (in Canada). It was then that seasons three and four first aired in those countries.
I think I saw it in syndication starting around 1995 (probably on a Canadian channel), though looking back, I can't help but feel I must have seen it even earlier than 1995. I mean, I feel like I would have first seen it while I was still in high school. But that's impossible (I graduated in 1993), so it's just one of countless examples of my memory playing tricks on me. I also may have seen a bit of the series on USA Network, in 1997. But mostly I remember it from Toonami. I know I watched some of it at that time, but I'm not sure how much. But in May 2014, the series began airing from the beginning on Viz Media's Neon Alley digital channel, as well as Hulu. (I'm watching subtitled episodes on Hulu, but when it gets released on DVD, there'll also be a new English dub by Viz. But note that unless stated otherwise, anytime I mention "the dub" in this review, I'll be referring to the old 1990s/2000s dub.) I'm looking forward not only to finally seeing the whole series (with no omitted episodes), but also to seeing it uncut. Because there were just so many changes to the English version, and so much censorship. Of course, it will probably take about two years to get through the whole series. A sixth series (or second, depending on how you look at it), the original net animation "Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal," began streaming in both Japan and the U.S. in July 2014, though I don't plan on watching it at least until I've seen all of the old series.
The opening theme for the first four seasons is "Moonlight Densetsu" (Moonlight Legend). In the first two seasons, it's performed by DALI, but in seasons 3 and 4 it's performed by Moon Lips. The opening theme for season 5 is "Sailor Star Song," by Kae Hanazawa. And every season, the visuals that go along with the opening theme change (sometimes they even change within a season). Each season also has one or two different closing themes (by different artists), and I must say I enjoyed all the music in the series. (The English dub of the series just used an English version of "Moonlight Densetsu" as both opening and closing themes for all four seasons.) Every season also has different eyecatches for commercial breaks.
And, before I get into the review proper, I guess the only other thing I can think to mention is that I've always enjoyed the show getting a shout out in the Barenaked Ladies song "One Week." ("Anime babes that make me think the wrong thing," indeed. ...Of course, it's not just the heroines who are easy on the eyes, but also many of the villains, and even some of the monsters.)
Dark Kingdom arc
At the start of the series, a 14-year-old girl named Usagi Tsukino (Serena, in the English dub) meets a talking cat named Luna, who gives her a magical brooch that she can use to transform into a superheroine called Sailor Moon. (Her special attack is "Moon Tiara Action," or Moon Tiara Magic, in the dub.) Luna also gives her a magical pen she can use to transform herself into any disguise she can think of. There will be plenty of enemies for her to fight, which is a bit of a problem, because Usagi is a major crybaby, and basically lazy, easily frightened, not very bright, and easily dis- ooh, shiny! Ahem... But most of the time, Usagi is basically just a normal teenage girl. She has a best friend named Naru Osaka (Molly, in the dub). And an annoying little brother named Shingo (Sammy, in the dub). Incidentally, one of the things I remember about this series (though I'm not sure from which season) from the first time I watched it- at least I think it was when I watched it in syndication, years before Toonami or even USA Network, though I could be mistaken- is a scene in one episode where Sammy said something about finding Sailor Moon attractive, which I thought was gross, because he didn't realize he was talking about his sister. So I waited throughout the first four seasons, when I watched them years later on Hulu, for him to say that. But if he ever did, I missed it. So either it was a mistranslation in the old dub- probably intentional, for comic effect- or else I completely imagined it, somehow. Either way, I feel both relieved and sort of disappointed that it didn't happen in the current run of the series. (The disappointment is, I suppose, just based on the fact that I can't trust my memory, but that's nothing new.)
And there's a nerd at school named Gurio Umino (Melvin, in the dub), who initially has an unrequited crush on Usagi, but later develops an unrequited crush on Naru. (In spite of these crushes, he's basically friends with both girls, but that seems more obvious to me watching it now in Japanese. As far as I recall from watching the show in the 90s, they seemed to be a lot more genuinely annoyed by Umino in the dub.) Also in the first episode, before Usagi ever becomes Sailor Moon, Naru and Umino tell her about a mysterious crimefighter called Sailor V. A bit later in the episode, Usagi finds out Sailor V has been made into a video game. And Usagi meets an older boy named Mamoru Chiba (Darien, in the dub). Though we don't actually learn his name for several episodes, and when they first meet, Usagi doesn't like him at all. In fact, they continue disliking each other for quite a few episodes. Usagi has a crush on a guy named Motoki Furuhata (Andrew, in the dub), who works at the Game Center Crown (where Sailor V is a popular video game). He's quite friendly toward Usagi, and the things he says often encourage her crush, though I think that's unwitting, on his part; he thinks of her more as a little sister. (I don't remember him at all from when I watched the show years ago.)
Anyway, there's an evil queen named Beryl, who has various minions causing trouble on Earth. Her group is called the Dark Kingdom, though in the dub it was called the "Negaverse." Queen Beryl wants her minions to find the "Legendary Silver Crystal," which I guess she can use to revive the ruler of the Dark Kingdom. (I don't remember any ruler but Beryl, from when I used to watch the series.) I should say, her "minions" are actually called the Four Kings of Heaven, who have their own minions (monsters) to do their dirty work on Earth. This mainly means stealing some kind of life energy from humans. The first of the Four Kings to serve as the show's main antagonist is Jadeite. During Sailor Moon's first battle, she's assisted by a stranger named Tuxedo Mask (who she thinks is cute, though of course she doesn't recognize the obvious fact that he's actually Mamoru). We eventually learn that Tuxedo Mask doesn't know his own true identity, nor does Mamoru know that he's Tuxedo Mask. But he does have some repressed memories that slowly begin to return to him, throughout the season. Also, in the first episode Luna mentioned a mission beyond just protecting Earth from its enemies: Usagi is also supposed to find the Moon Princess.
Throughout the season, Usagi will be joined by more Pretty Guardians, though rewatching the series, I'm surprised at how long it took her to meet all of them. In episode 8, she meets a lonely genius girl named Ami Mizuno (Amy, in the dub, conveniently enough). She becomes Sailor Mercury (whose special attack is "Bubble Spray," or Mercury Bubbles Blast in the dub). And I must say, Amy was always my favorite character on the show, so it's nice to see her show up. In episode 10, Usagi meets a miko named Rei Hino (Raye, in the dub). She works at Hikawa shrine, which is run by her pervy old grandfather. Rei becomes Sailor Mars (whose special power is "Fire Soul," or Mars Fire Ignite in the dub). She also has some very useful onmyodo skills, even when not transformed. And she doesn't get along well with Usagi. (In episode 30, a young man named Yuichiro Kumada starts working at the shrine. He has a major crush on Rei, and while she doesn't reciprocate his feelings, she does grow to care about him.) In ep 15, Usagi and the others finally learn Mamoru's name, and that he's a friend of Motoki (they go to the same college). Usagi still can't stand him, but Rei likes him, and ever since she first saw him, she suspected he was Tuxedo Mask, which Usagi thinks is ridiculous. Rei and Mamoru start dating, though he doesn't seem very comfortable with that (probably because college guys shouldn't be dating middle school girls), but he goes along with it as if he has no choice in the matter. (I did not remember them dating, from the first time I watched the show.) Meanwhile, Usagi continues to be torn between her crushes on Motoki and Tuxedo Mask. It isn't until episode 25 that Usagi meets a tall and very strong girl named Makoto Kino (Lita, in the dub), who becomes the fourth Pretty Guardian, Sailor Jupiter (whose special power is "Supreme Thunder," or Jupiter Thunder Crash in the dub). In episode 33, they all finally meet Sailor V... who is actually Sailor Venus (her special power is "Crescent Beam"). In ep 34, they learn that her real name is Minako Aino (Mina, in the dub). And all this time Sailor Venus has been working with a cat named Artemis, who is a friend and colleague of Luna. It's also in episode 34 that Usagi and Mamoru learn each other's secret identities. And the identity of the Moon Princess is finally revealed.
But now I must backtrack, to introduce more of the antagonists. In episode 13, Jadeite makes his last ditch effort to eliminate the sailor guardians, but he fails, so... Queen Beryl gets rid of him, and he'll be replaced in episode 14 by a more powerful adversary for the guardians, named Nephrite (the second of the Four Kings). His strategy for absorbing energy from humans is somewhat different from Jadeite's, and though he uses monsters, he seems more hands-on than Jadeite was. He spends a lot of time on Earth, assuming the false identity Masato Sanjouin. Naru develops a serious crush on Sanjouin, which he uses to his advantage on multiple occasions (which is creepy on a couple of levels). The third of the Four Kings is Zoisite, whose job is to search for the Silver Crystal. But he also spends a lot of time antagonizing Nephrite. (Wikipedia tells me that in the dub, Zoisite was referred to as female, which I don't specifically remember, but it doesn't surprise me in the least.) The fourth and most powerful of the Four Kings is Kunzite, though it will be awhile before we see him do anything other than advise Zoisite (who is apparently his lover). In episode 24, we see the end of Nephrite, which happens in a way that totally surprised me.
In episode 25, Queen Beryl uses the energy her minions had gathered thus far, to revive their leader, Metaria. (I don't think it was until sometime later that we heard the name "Queen Metaria," and in fact at this point I still thought the "ruler" was male. And I still assumed the ruler was a humanoid we just weren't seeing, but in fact I guess she was amorphous, and I'm not sure gender really applies at all.) Anyway, Metaria still requires the Silver Crystal before she can wake up permanently. Meanwhile, she advises Beryl that there are Seven Great Monsters who had been reborn as humans. They each have a fragment of the Silver Crystal within them; the fragments are called Rainbow Crystals. Beryl sends Zoisite to extract these crystals from the humans, who will then revert to monsters. And ultimately, the Rainbow Crystals will reform into the Silver Crystal. Luna gives Sailor Moon yet another toy, the "Moon Stick," which allows her to turn the monsters back into humans. (She says "Moon Healing Escalation" when she does this... and then the monster says "Refresh!" just before turning human, which seems pretty silly, to me.) Luna also reveals that Sailor Moon is to be the leader of the Guardians. And now there are three sides each trying to obtain Rainbow Crystals: the Dark Kingdom, the Pretty Guardians, and Tuxedo Mask. Mamoru has finally realized he's Tuxedo Mask, but he still doesn't remember much about his past, and he believes the Silver Crystal would help him learn the whole story. So, while he continues to help the Pretty Guardians against the Dark Kingdom, he's also in competition with them, and often makes the point that he could turn out to be an enemy. And in episode 35, he's kidnapped by the Dark Kingdom, and brainwashed. As Prince Endymion, he really does become the Sailor Guardians' enemy, though he seems reluctant to actually hurt them. Also in ep 35, Beryl kills Zoisite for having attempted to kill Endymion (whom she loves). (I would expect Kunzite to hate Beryl for that, but instead he just blames the Guardians.)
It all gets rather complicated, as we learn more about the show's backstory, and I really don't want to spoil any of that, at this point. I'll probably explain it in the second season (or you could just read one of the sites I linked to above). Anyway, for the rest of the season, Kunzite turns normal people into monsters, even if they didn't have Rainbow Crystals. But Sailor Moon can still heal them, after defeating them. In episode 44, Kunzite is finally defeated. Then, in the season's final two episodes, the Sailor Guardians make their way to the Dark Kingdom, to rescue Mamoru/Endymion and restore his memory, as well as to face Queen Beryl in their final battle. Along the way, most of the good guys get killed, but since I've already mentioned that there are other seasons, I don't think it's a spoiler to tell you that, or to tell you that the season ends with them all being brought back to life. Except, they have no memories of being Sailor Guardians or even of having ever met each other. But the Dark Kingdom has been defeated, and Luna and Artemis still have their memories. And the cats know that the girls (and Mamoru) could still meet each other and become friends again.
Anyway, the show is (mostly) kind of silly, but it does have some moments or even whole episodes that are sillier than usual, which is fun. (And there are some very dramatic bits, but those are much more rare.) I must say I'm finding the uncut subtitled version preferable to the old dubbed version, in general, though there are also things I preferred about the dub, and differences about which I feel neutral. There were definitely lots of little changes in the dialog. And in addition to the fact that some episodes didn't air in the U.S., even some scenes (or snippets of scenes) in episodes that did air here were cut or altered. And in the sub, Mamoru calls Usagi "Odango-atama" (later shortened to "Odango"), which translates as "Dumpling-head" or "Bun-head" (referring to her hairstyle), though in the dub he calls her "Meatball-head" (because presumably American audiences wouldn't get the dango reference). I'd known about this difference from the internet for years before I ever saw it subbed, though. I do rather miss the English theme song, but the Japanese version is good, too. And at least it's basically the same tune. Also in the dub, Sailor Moon's little pre-battle catch phrase speech always ended with "And that means you!" which is an addendum that's absent in the sub, and I miss it. (Though the way her speech ends with "oshioki yo" [which means "I'll punish you!"] has grown on me.) What's especially strange is that there are several phrases that, even in the Japanese version, characters say in English, so I hardly see the point in changing them for the dub... but they did. Also, the phrase Usagi uses to transform into Sailor Moon is in English: "Moon Prism Power, Make Up," of which "Make Up" isn't in the dub (at least not that I recall; I could be wrong about that).
I also wanted to mention the fact that Usagi is very stereotypically "girly," and I'm finding myself amazed that she seems even more so in the sub than she did in the dub. (I wouldn't have thought it mathematically possible.) She can also be a really annoying character, but I find myself liking the Japanese voice acting for Usagi probably more than I ever did the English voice acting. Because her seiyuu just seems so committed to the role, I totally believe even the most unbelievable aspects of Usagi's personality. She's just so... intense, whatever her mood. Whether she's happy, sad, scared, angry, excited, fantasizing about romance, or whatever, it's like she feels that emotion 120%... but her mood can change in an instant. All of which makes the character a strange (and strangely charming) mix of annoying, funny, cute, moe, and occasionally even serious or tragic.
Continued in Sailor Moon R