Wednesday, May 28, 2014

6 - Protect the Melody of Love: Usagi Plays Cupid

Of the early solo-Usagi episodes, three didn't make it into the dubbed version: episode two, episode five, and this one. Other episodes later on were dropped as well, but the large number of early episodes that got the chop is pretty striking. Various suggestions have been put forward for why these episodes were cut, such as Umino's delinquent behavior in episode two, or the animal abuse in episode five, but DiC cut stuff out of episodes all the time, and they could have easily done so with these episodes. I suspect they simply wanted to get to the introduction of the other main characters quicker. Also, a standard 65 episodes would have finished just a short way into the main arc of Sailor Moon R, so they may have dropped some episodes in order to have a more logical stopping point.

In any case, it's a real shame this episode was cut, because it's easily the best of Usagi's solo run.

We start in the Dark Kingdom, and for the first time, that crystal ball thing that Beryl's always staring at is shown to have a purpose. It's a cassette player! Beryl sits on her throne, stone-faced, listening to the cassette suspended inside her crystal ball. Jadeite stands nearby, hoping she'll like his new mix tape. After a few moments, the music causes some flowers nearby to wilt. Jadeite explains that the music contains energy-sapping ultrasonic waves. Impressed, Beryl gives him the cassette back. He summons a Youma named Kyurene, who appears in a cloud of bats, gives her the tape, and tells her to insert it into the humans' music.

A quick note here: Kyurene's name should arguably be rendered as Cyrene, but a straight romanization is still preferable to an inaccurate one, so it's fine, I guess.

It's a rainy day in Juban, and Usagi, Naru and Luna are in Naru's room listening to a jazz CD. I bet Beryl wishes her crystal ball could play CDs as well. The music is by Yusuke Amade, who Naru decides must be a sophisticated older man, the kind she'd like to go out with. Hmm. Let us know how that obsession turns out for you, Naru.

Yusuke Amade himself is standing outside the record company offices, telling himself that today's the day he's going to tell the little red-haired girl how he feels, definitely. Inside, one of the recording studios is temporarily out of order due to being full of bats. Kyurene appears with the cassette, musing that it will infect all of the music recorded here like a virus. The analog kind, presumably. The Youma has just put the cassette into the tape deck when she hears someone coming, and hides. A female employee walks in and takes the cassette, thinking it belongs to Yusuke. The Youma extends her nails, ready to strike, and there's some nicely creepy animation for this.
But before Kyurene can strike, a second employee calls the first down to the lobby, where Yusuke is waiting.

Downstairs in the lobby, Yusuke is greeted by the employee, Akiko, on whom he has a fairly obvious crush. He has a bunch of flowers behind his back, and seems to be waiting for the perfect time to present them. Akiko returns his demo, praising it, and Yusuke points out that it's her birthday today. The perfect moment approaches... and is ruined, when an employee runs over in a panic because someone's screwed something up. Akiko rushes off to fix it, telling Yusuke to try to come up with a title for his piece. He observes to himself that it already has a title, A Waltz for Akiko, which Akiko failed to notice. But he has bigger problems now, as the pissed-off Youma glaring at him from across the lobby indicates.

Usagi and Luna head home from Naru's place in the rain, but Usagi is unexpectedly knocked to the ground by a panicked Yusuke. She's pretty annoyed that he got her new outfit wet, but his apology is unexpectedly forthright...
Yusuke explains that he was on his way to a performance, when he encountered a strange woman surrounded by bats, who changed into... something. He decides it must have been a hallucination, so he hurries off to the jazz club that's booked him, leaving Usagi his card so that he can pay for her dry cleaning. As he runs off, Usagi sees that the name on the card is Yusuke Amade, while Luna says that he's most likely being chased by a Youma. They decide to follow him and help him out, Usagi expressing excitement at the chance to have a peek into the adult world.

Meanwhile, Jadeite is angry with Kyurene for losing the tape, and says she's as good as dead if she doesn't retrieve it. This is a short scene, but a good one: Jadeite communicates with his Youma through a pile of abandoned televisions in a junkyard, and he comes off as genuinely intimidating.
This episode makes a lot of small but interesting choices like this, and it might not be a coincidence that this was the first episode directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara, who would eventually be the series director for two and a half seasons, and go on to create Utena.

Usagi and Luna arrive at the jazz club, but Luna points out they're unlikely to let a kid inside. So Usagi uses the Disguise Pen to turn herself into a "hot musician", which turns out to look like something out of Jem and the Holograms.
Did you know that Toei actually did most of the animation for the Jem cartoon? Anyway, Usagi turns Luna's previous statement back on her, saying the club is unlikely to let a cat inside...

So, they get into the club with Luna posing as a scarf, though while Usagi looks the part - well, kind of - she doesn't do the best job of fitting in, such as when she's asked what she'd like to drink.
At least Yuskue seems to be safe, up on stage playing the piano, with nobody suspicious in the audience. Unfortunately, his playing puts Usagi to sleep, and when she wakes up, he's just left the stage.

Yusuke heads down to the underground parking lot to wait for his ride, but... well... um...
Holy freaking crap. Usagi and Luna get down there, but Kyurene has already taken the tape from Yusuke. She prepares to kill him, but backs off when Usagi challenges her. She adopts her true Youma form, which is an awesome bat thing, and flies off. Usagi sees the discarded cassette case, with the A Waltz for Akiko label, along with a photo of Akiko.

Moments later, they're in a car pursuing the Youma. Yusuke is driving like a man possessed, determined to get his tape back. Usagi correctly guesses it's because he's got a crush on Akiko, and there's a cute conversation where Usagi insists that even old people have a right to fall in love, and that, by the way, she's a champion of justice, which is why she's helping him pursue the monster. Yusuke just goes with it; it's not like this night could get any weirder.

As the rain clears, they track the Youma to the record company offices where Akiko works. Sure enough, Kyurene is back in the recording studio, Akiko and the rest of the staff unconscious due to more bats. She prepares to return the cassette to the tape deck, which will let it infect all of the music recorded there from now on. But suddenly, our heroes come running into the studio, Luna tackling the Youma and knocking the tape away from her. Usagi grabs the tape, and the Youma takes on her true form...
...which is really cool. Yusuke finally notices that, hey, this isn't even his tape! Kyurene grabs Akiko, and tells Yusuke to hand over the tape, or she dies. Usagi flings the tape over the Youma's head, Yusuke dives in to grab Akiko, and Luna leaps up to grab the tape, snatching it out of the air before Kyurene can reach it. Luna smashes the tape by stamping on it (holy crap, Luna is stronger than she looks), and Kyurene flies away out of the window. Usagi transforms and gets ready to follow her.

Kyurene lands in an empty open-air stadium, but guess what? Sailor Moon and Luna are already here, complete with spotlights and a crescent moon backdrop. Now that's making an entrance. Then there's a great bit where Sailor Moon tells the Youma that Haydn, the father of music, would be mad with her, only for Luna to point out that the father of music is Bach.
I love how this episode completely nails the interplay between these two. So Sailor Moon and Kyurene square off, and it turns out Kyurene has sound powers. She sends ultrasonic waves at Sailor Moon, who dodges them, then grabs a microphone and throws it into the path of the waves. The microphone is destroyed, but not before creating the mother of all feedback, aimed right back at Kyurene. Sailor Moon whips out the tiara to deal with the dazed Youma, and victory is hers!

Back at the record company, Akiko chides Yusuke for being so reckless, saying that if he'd injured himself he might not have been able to play the piano again. He says that if anything had happened to her, he wouldn't have been able to play the piano again either. Some time later, at Naru's place, Naru laments that Yusuke Amade got married. While she's disappointed, Usagi seems happy for him, particularly since she seems to have inspired the cover of his latest CD.

Monster of the Day: Kyurene is the best Youma so far, and really the first to have a distinct theme with powers to match. This would become the norm in later episodes, but for now it makes for a much more interesting character than we've been getting so far.  

Most Valuable Person: It's Usagi! This is another episode that shows her at her best, in terms of bravery, her eagerness to help, and her quick thinking during the battle.

Least Valuable Person: This episode has a fairly small cast, and everyone's on their best behavior. So in the absence of a main character to gripe about, I'm going to choose the record company employee who messed up Yusuke and Akiko's perfect moment. You don't have to go running to the boss every time there's a tiny problem, dude. Learn some initiative.

It's probably become pretty obvious at this point that I really like this episode. But do I like it enough to give it five stars out of five? You bet I do. It's an unusual episode, certainly, and it doesn't sound like much from the synopsis. When you heard that the three cut episodes from the early days were "Umino becomes a delinquent", "Usagi tries to adopt Luna and Shingo goes crazy" and "Usagi goes to a jazz club to help some guy", which were you most interested in?

But this episode just does everything right. The script is funny, the monster of the day is cool, Jadeite is scarier than he's ever been, the one-shot characters are likeable, and the characterization is all spot-on. The episode's smaller cast works to its benefit, as we get to spend a lot of time with just Usagi, Luna and Yusuke, and watching them interact is a lot of fun. It's also a great showcase for how Usagi's grown as a hero over the past few weeks: though there's still acknowledgement that she gets scared, she's so much smarter and braver in battle than the character we met back in episode one. Back in that episode one review, I mentioned that one of Usagi's defining traits is a desire to help people. Well, she did a lot of helping people in the last few episodes, but in every case, someone she was close to was caught up in the plot. Here we have her helping a complete stranger, showing that her compassion doesn't just extend to friends, it extends to everyone. This is by far the best episode of early Sailor Moon, and I regret I have but five stars to give it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

5 - Scent of a Monster: Chanela Will Steal your Love

Watching the opening teaser of this episode, I think I have my first real complaint with the translation. In the original, Sailor Moon lists various animals that are angry because of the Dark Kingdom's plan to use pets against their owners. It's just the kind of quirky thing Sailor Moon likes to do in her speeches. This translation just... doesn't mention them. This isn't a case where it's an obscure reference or a joke that wouldn't translate well. They just left it out, and that sucks. If the Martina Navratilova line in Episode 14 gets cut, I'm not gonna be happy.

The episode begins with Usagi having a nightmare where she's chased by an evil dark cloud. Then Tuxedo Mask appears to vanquish the demon using rose petals. The dream is just getting good, then Usagi hears a scream and Tuxedo Mask disappears. She wakes to discover that it's Shingo screaming: he has a fear of cats and Luna was sleeping on his bed. So naturally, Usagi picks up Luna and starts dangling her in front of Shingo, demanding he bow to her as the Goddess Queen of Space. Yeah, it's cruel, but Shingo's been so awful to Usagi in his last few appearances that he really had this coming.

At breakfast, Usagi asks her parents if they can keep Luna, but Shingo is opposed. Their parents tell them they have to work it out between themselves, which doesn't bode well for progress. On the way to school. Luna says that she was so tired after looking for the Moon Princess that she didn't realize she'd fallen asleep in Shingo's room. Usagi suggests that Luna should try to make Shingo like her. So Luna goes to a pet shop and observes the animals, hoping to pick up some tips on how to be appealing.

We get a brief scene in the Dark Kingdom, where Beryl and Jadeite discuss Jadeite's newest plan in the vaguest possible terms, then it's back to Usagi, who's discussing the Luna situation with Naru. Apparently Shingo's fear of cats goes back to an incident when he was a baby, and a cat bit his nose. Umino mentions that this is a trauma he can identify with only too well, as when he was a baby, he was eaten by an alligator (handbag).
Yeah, it's a joke so weak it's barely a joke at all, but it's worth it just to see baby Umino.

Outside Shingo's school, Luna tries to win his affection by jumping on his shoulder and being cute, but just ends up traumatizing him. He explains his problem with cats to his friend Mika, who takes him to Pet Shop Perfume, a new pet store selling a new kind of pet called a Chanela.

As if by magic, a shopkeeper appears! The slightly sinister lady extols the virtues of the sweet-smelling Chanelas, which convinces Shingo, though not half as much as the weird hypnotic light one of the creatures uses to put him under its spell. Mika, similarly hypnotized, says that she wants one as well. The shopkeeper says they can just take the Chanelas now and pay whenever they want.

The pets have an immediate effect on Shingo and Mika: as they're walking home, they're unable to concentrate on anything other than their Chanelas. Meanwhile, Jadeite lurks in the dark, harvesting energy.

At home, Luna tells Usagi that her mission to make Shingo like her has failed. Usagi insists she shouldn't give up, and here comes Shingo now! Luna tries to be affectionate again, but this time gets kicked away!
Ouch. Shingo announces that the Chanela is now his pet, so Usagi must get rid of Luna. Usagi responds to this outrage by crying, which drives Shingo away. It really does seem at this early point that they were going for "people under evil influence are hurt by Usagi's crying", but as a superpower, it sucks, and pretty soon it was forgotten about.

Shingo informs the family of how great the Chanela is: for instance, the fact that it doesn't eat anything. Dad thinks this makes good economical sense for a pet, but I personally make a point never to trust any creature that violates the laws of thermodynamics. Or for that matter, any creature that causes your child to make this face.
Mom and Dad decide that keeping both the Chanela and Luna would be the perfect compromise, but Shingo deems it unacceptable, and leaves to stare lovingly at his Chanela for fifteen straight hours. Not an exaggeration: when Usagi's getting ready to leave for school the next morning, Shingo apparently hasn't moved all night. As she spies on him, she notices the Chanela is glowing.

At school, a large number of students have brought their Chanelas with them. They hide them when Haruna comes in, but are unable to resist looking at them for too long. When Haruna sees one of them and tries to chastise the student, she gets attacked and knocked over. That's pretty harsh: I mean, it was only last week that she was almost killed by an unlicensed weight loss procedure. And the week before that she spent a few days in a coma. And the week before that, she was attacked and sexually harassed by demonic students. Wow, Haruna's had a terrible month. She'd probably be safer teaching at Sunnydale High.

Usagi asks Naru if she thinks something might be suspicious about the Chanelas. Well, they turned your brother into a zombie, caused a student revolt and glow eerily when they think nobody is looking... so yeah, I think something's suspicious about the Chanelas. It's a pet peeve of mine when the characters take forever to notice the blatantly obvious bad thing that's happening, so this scene irked me a little.

Anyway, Usagi decides to go and check out the pet shop selling the Chanelas. Mamoru shows up there too, because apparently his day isn't complete without annoying Usagi, but on this occasion she just tells him to sod off and carries on with her day. Luna is in the pet shop as well, apparently having come to the same conclusion as Usagi. Unfortunately, Usagi looks into the eyes of one of the Chanelas, and falls under its spell.

Usagi starts acting like Shingo, completely focused on her Chanela, becoming hostile to Luna and ignoring a little girl who's fallen off her bike. So Luna takes action, jumping on Usagi's head, and pulling the Chanela away from her.

With the spell broken, Usagi apologizes for her dickish behavior, but the more immediate concern is Shingo, who's still in his room, staring at his Chanela. Usagi tries to grab the Chanela, but fails. She slaps him to snap him out of it, which doesn't work either, and he runs off with his pet. Luna suspects he'll return to the pet shop and instructs Usagi to transform into Sailor Moon.

At the pet shop, a crowd of Chanela owners has gathered. The shopkeeper releases the remaining Chanelas and instructs her new minions to distribute them throughout the city. Sailor Moon bursts in and confronts them, and the shopkeeper reveals her Youma form, before sending her minions - who now look like lizard people - after her.

Sailor Moon doesn't want to use her tiara against the minions in case she ends up hurting them. So Luna tells her to shout out "Moon Tiara Stardust" instead. This makes the tiara do a few little loops over their heads, and... okay, it's a crappy power the writers pulled out of their asses for this episode that would never get used or mentioned again. But it works, and Shingo and the others are returned to normal. Then there's just the matter of the huge lizard Youma. Sailor Moon leads her out into the parking lot, but gets grabbed by her tail. Then she and Luna notice her "weak spot", at the base of her tail. You can tell it's a weak spot because it flashes as if she's a video game boss on easy mode.
Subtle, eh? Yeah, this whole battle is one cop-out after another. So Sailor Moon throws her tiara at the target, and the Youma is no more.

Shingo rushes out into the parking lot, hoping to get Sailor V's autograph. Sailor Moon hides behind a car, explaining that Sailor V and Sailor Moon are totally different. Shingo says whatever, Sailor Moon's cute too. Well, that's awkward. Still, Sailor Moon uses the hero worship to her advantage, telling Shingo that he has to be nice to Luna. He agrees, and is true to his word, spoiling Luna rotten from that point on.

Monster of the Day: Iguara has a simple but neat design. Her powers are being huge and wrecking stuff. Can't argue with the classics. It's a shame her fight with Sailor Moon ended up being so pathetic, though.

Most Valuable Person: Luna is back to being a pleasant character from her awfulness in the last episode, and she puts up with a lot in this episode without any complaints.

Least Valuable Person: Since it's going to get boring if I just keep putting Mamoru here every episode, I'm instead going to go with Mika, whose sole function in this episode was to lead Shingo into an enemy trap.

There are some bright spots in this episode, but it quickly becomes apparent that this is basically episode two all over again, but with pets instead of tarot cards and not as good. Seriously, the plots are exactly the same. Dark Kingdom opens new business run by a Youma. Youma distributes object to customers, including someone close to Usagi, making them evil. Customers become hostile to those around them. Haruna gets knocked on her ass. Customers are driven away by Usagi's crying. Customers return to business and are issued further instructions by the Youma. Sailor Moon bursts in, customers are transformed and sent after her. Sailor Moon must deal with them and the Youma, which shows its true form. Yeah, I know this show had a lot of formulaic episodes, but not usually to this extent. And don't tell me they were stuck for ideas; it's episode five. And just in case you think there's a chance this was all a coincidence... guess what? This episode and episode two have the same writer.

This episode gets two stars out of five. There are good parts, and it's nice to have an episode that shows us how Luna became an official pet of the Tsukino family. Sadly though, the good is overshadowed by a highly derivative plot and a fight scene that just plain sucks.

Monday, May 26, 2014

4 - Learn How to Be Skinny from Usagi

Right, this episode. I have very conflicted feelings about this one. It's a very clear case of "I can see what you're trying to do, but what you're actually doing is... not that thing."

The first problem with this episode rears its head in the very first scene. Usagi's in the bathroom, and steps onto the scales. We hear a scream, and...
Okay, does everyone see the problem with this picture? Usagi declaring she's out of shape, while depicted with those arms? Yeah, while this episode is about Usagi gaining weight, she's drawn the same way as always, which is, well, extremely skinny. Luckily there are no possible negative consequences of having a character with fashion model proportions complain to your young female audience that she's too fat!

But wait, I hear you say. What if that's the whole point? What if the episode is about Usagi's perception of her body rather than the reality? Maybe the "too fat" thing is all in her head, explaining why she's as skinny as always. It's an interesting thought, and I like your italics, but to you I say: Lower your friggin' expectations. This episode is not anything like as smart as that.

So, Usagi's family at first try to comfort her by saying that it's fine to be a bit chubby when you're young. So at least they're being supportive. But wait! Shingo says she eats to much, then both her parents agree that yeah, she eats too much, maybe that's why she's so fat. This brings us to the second problem in this episode, which is that most of the people around Usagi are dicks to her this week.

Usagi's confidence-building session with her family didn't go so well, so she's in her room talking to Luna. Luna who, despite having tiny paws and no opposable thumbs, can hold a crayon and draw with it! That's amazing! What's that you're drawing, Luna?
What the... Luna, when did you become such a tremendous dick?

So, the next day at school, Usagi is responding to the love and concern of those closest to her by not bringing any lunch and starving herself. Yep. She discusses dieting with Naru and two unnamed girls, one of whom is clearly supposed to be chubby, but it seems like the artists aren't quite sure what that looks like, so in practice she's just shorter than the others, with a rounder face. Just to show that Usagi isn't the only target for dickishness in the episode, every time the sort-of-chubby girl mentions how she's tried various things and they haven't worked, the others reply with "Yeah, we know." She does then get to be patronizing right back at the other unnamed girl about how she's never had a boyfriend, but the whole sequence is really just the girls being subtly awful to each other. Again, you could choose to interpret this as an illustration of how a culture of body policing turns would-be allies against each other, but that would be giving this story way too much credit. They're awful to each other because the writer thought it would be funny, the end.

So while the two unnamed girls square off for deadly combat, Usagi and Naru discuss how slim Haruna has been looking recently. Umino agrees, and has photographic proof that Haruna lost a lot of weight in the space of a few days. The girls wonder how Umino got those pictures, Umino realizes he's said too much and flees. Usagi catches him, but only wants to know about the gym Haruna has been using.

By the way, I'd usually comment on how out-of-character Umino is in this sequence: he's weird, awkward and has an odd sense of what's appropriate, but I have a hard time seeing him as a stalker. But in this episode, with everyone behaving horribly, it's barely worth a mention.

The gym is a place called Shaperin, proudly endorsed by Some Actress, and they're running a free trial. As Usagi, Naru and the two friends-du-jour go inside, Jadeite watches from inside the building.

The girls are met by a barely-disguised Jadeite. This week, he's barely disguised as a fitness instructor. They all think he's super-handsome, to the extent that he appears to be standing against a backdrop of roses.
Quit using Zoisite's magic without asking, Jadeite. So, he shows them to the exercise room, which is supervised by a bunch of huge bodybuilder guys wearing tiaras. Soon they're all exhausted, and Usagi sneaks off, but Jadeite says he'll reward the remaining three for their hard work by letting them use the gym's Shape Ray. And if that name sounds a little ominous, wait until you see it.

Usagi is in the spa, relaxing. While I'm sure this is supposed to be a comment on how lazy she is, she made a smart decision, because the others are now getting a look at the Shape Ray.
How is this not suspicious? Well, to be fair, the girls do express some caution at the glowing alien electric plants and their coffin-like pods, but Jadeite dismisses those fears by telling them "Hey, you'll get skinny!" Which is good enough for them, and in they get.

Jadeite appears via hologram to Queen Beryl, and explains that his energy harvesting plan is going great this time. Some of the comments in this scene illustrate my main problem with this episode, which is how the well-intentioned message actually ends up coming across. Because while it's meant to be "Fad diets can be dangerous, don't put your health at risk because of a promise that you'll be skinny," it comes across more like "Girls are stupid and will do stupid things if they think they will make them skinnier." Yes, large media company that produced this show, why is it that girls are so obsessed with their weight? Where did they get this crazy idea that their worth as human beings is dependent on it? If there was at least one female character who wasn't either acting like an idiot or feeding Usagi's fears, this episode might have been salvageable. It really needed someone other than the villains to act as the voice of reason.

Naru and the other two get out of the pods, and they look like crap, but Jadeite tells them they look beautiful, and if a hot guy said it, who cares if you look like a famine survivor after an unsuccessful boxing match? They agree to come back for more treatments. Have I mentioned how stupid the girls are acting in this episode?

Later on, Usagi is annoyed that the other girls abandoned her at the gym. She's also starving, and after weirding out a small boy, she collides with Motoki and faints. She then has a dream sequence where Motoki promises to revitalize her with the energy of his love, but she wakes up again before the good part. Motoki asks why she hasn't been eating, and when she says she's dieting, he laughs and says she doesn't need to, that she'd be fine even if she put weight on, and that he prefers chubby girls. This is the nicest thing anyone says to Usagi over the course of this episode, and it's clear the writers wanted Motoki to serve as the voice of reason, but the problem with having a guy in that role is that it still comes down to "Here's what I think is attractive, judge yourself by those standards." Motoki wasn't wrong to say what he said, but I think the show is wrong for giving his opinion such weight.

Usagi is glad that she finally has permission to eat again, and gets some pork buns to eat on the way home. Well, Usagi's happy, and we know what that means. Time for Mamoru to show up and bully her! This week, everyone's being awful to Usagi, so Mamoru really has to step up his game. He says she eats too much, says she'll get fat, takes one of her pork buns and struts off. And of course, Luna says that he's right. What is it with this show and nobody standing up for Usagi when this dick insults her?

Usagi says that she doesn't care, and that Motoki likes her the way she is. Luna argues semantics and says that Motoki likes chubby girls, not fat girls... except that Motoki pretty much said that Usagi isn't either, so what's the problem? After crushing Usagi's self esteem and sending her into a panic, Luna adds that something suspicious is happening at the gym and they need to investigate. Only Usagi isn't listening, because someone just convinced her she's really fat. Usagi runs off to the gym, which is coincidentally the source of the evil, so Luna just goes with it.

In the gym, Usagi exercises like crazy trying to work off the pork buns she ate. Luna sees a dazed, emaciated Haruna heading into the gym's basement. She follows her and sees Haruna in one of the Shape Ray pods, with Jadeite musing that this treatment will likely kill her.

Luna runs back to Usagi, who's still exercising and won't listen. They end up having a bit of a brawl with Luna coming out on top and threatening her with her claws if she doesn't listen. I think we're supposed to be on Luna's side here, but Usagi's state of mind right now is her fault, so screw you, Luna.

So Usagi is ultimately persuaded to transform into Sailor Moon, and confronts Jadeite, who flees, but not before setting his trio of mind-controlled bodybuilders on her. Being about twice Sailor Moon's size, they're pretty intimidating, but Luna tells her that fighting them will be a good way to lose weight. So she knocks the crap out of them and uses her tiara to destroy... their tiaras, which turns them back to normal. The Shape Ray is destroyed and Haruna is rescued, but Queen Beryl still congratulates Jadeite on the large quantities of energy he successfully harvested before he was found out.

At home, Usagi takes a bath, and her mom comments on what a lucky escape Haruna had after almost being killed by that weird weight loss fad thing. The episode comes dangerously close to delivering a genuine message that it's better to be any size and healthy rather than dangerously thin... but oh, wait, Usagi's happy again and we can't end the episode like that. So... oops! Usagi somehow gained weight and now she's sad. Perfect!

Monster of the day: There wasn't one, unless you count Jadeite's three Manly Dudes in Tiaras.

Most Valuable Person: Jadeite, actually. In an almost unheard of moment for a Sailor Moon villain, he got congratulated by his boss at the end of the episode.

Least Valuable Person: There's so much competition in this episode. Mamoru is awful, Shingo is awful, Usagi's parents are mostly awful. But the absolute worst is Luna, who's supposed to be Usagi's friend and ally but takes extra pleasure in bullying her, then when she finally breaks her has to threaten her physically to pull her out of it. I'll say it again: Screw you, Luna.

This episode comes so close to getting one star. Really, really close. But as much as it sucks, it was at least trying to express a worthwhile message. Kids' TV these days can't be openly discriminatory without catching some serious heat over it... except you can still make fat people the punchline and nobody will care. I appreciate that this episode was trying to do something different in saying that being skinny isn't the be-all and end-all of life. It ended up being vaguely sexist and reinforcing some of the same notions that lead to fat people - fat girls in particular - being looked down upon, but enough of the intended message limped through that I'm inclined to be merciful just this once. This episode gets two starts out of five and a stern warning to try harder.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

3 - The Mysterious Sleeping Sickness, Protect the Girls in Love

One thing I've already noticed about these subs is how they won't always go to pains to directly translate a joke that can't be made in English. Last episode, there was a brief reference to a nineties sumo wrestling duo that I assume had some meaning to the Japanese audience in 1992, but they don't get mentioned by name in the translation (Now that I think about it, the ADV subs didn't include this reference either). This time around, some of Usagi's wordplay in the episode, also used in the preview, got changed. The original had her punning about the abominable snowman, and this version...

That's actually pretty funny, and exactly the kind of "Wait... what?" line you'd expect from a Sailor Moon speech. I mean, there's a debate to be had about whether you should stick as best you can to literal translations in the sub version, and if this is any indication of the path that future translations will be taking, some fans are going to be pissed off. Though my only real beef with the subtitles so far is that they left out a couple of question marks in episode one.

So, the episode proper starts in the Dark Kingdom, where Queen Beryl is asking Jadeite about his energy harvesting plans, and there's just the tiniest hint of impatience there. It's funny, you get the impression that their plans have been mostly going well up until this point, and now they've hit a few snags one after the other but are still thinking it was just a run of really bad luck.

Next we see Usagi and Naru, in their respective homes, listening to a late-night radio show where a guy is reading out a love letter from "Haruna the Dreamer" in Juban. And yep, there's Haruna, dancing around her bedroom in glee. Usagi wonders for a moment if it could really be that Haruna... but nah, there's no way it could be her teacher. She's old, probably almost thirty. The show's host says they're accepting submissions of love letters from listeners, with the prize of a flower brooch for those that are chosen. And as the host, who has the totally-not-suspicious name of J Daito, signs off, Usagi wishes she had someone to write a love letter to, while Luna chastises her for staying up so late. No wonder she always oversleeps!

The next morning... Usagi has overslept. That's three for three so far! Her dad is reading a newspaper article about an epidemic of people falling asleep, unable to be woken up, and says he wouldn't mind catching it if it meant he could have a break. Then he's lovey-dovey with Usagi's mom and says that of course, he'd miss her great cooking (which looks to be toast in this case, but hey, maybe she makes amazing toast). Usagi comes charging downstairs in a panic.
 It's Usagi's lucky day, though, because even though she's late for school, Haruna is even later. An exhausted Haruna eventually staggers in, her new flower brooch clearly sapping her energy, then falls asleep at her desk. I have to give the artists credit; some of the facial expressions during this section are great.

Luna is walking along, muttering to herself about how she doesn't get any respect. She runs into Motoki, and panics for a moment, thinking he heard her talk, but he doesn't seem suspicious of her, so she does her "I'm a regular cat" act. Motoki goes to get Luna some milk, and Luna goes starry-eyed, but then a passing ambulance draws her attention. Ambulances can't be that uncommon a sight in the area, but Luna is concerned anyway, because this ambulance is plot-relevant. At school, the still-sleeping Haruna is taken away on a stretcher. Naru speculates that this might be the sleeping sickness that's been spreading recently. Usagi says she wouldn't mind catching it and being able to stay in her dreams forever. Ah, Usagi,  you're really your father's daughter, aren't you?

At the local radio station, FM No. 10, the staff are perplexed by the large quantities of mail for some show called Midnight Zero, which they don't run. An employee wearing a flower brooch offers to take care of the letters. She makes an evil smile and her eyes flash red. I think this lady might be suspicious, guys.

On the way home, Naru tells Usagi how she's sent a lot of letters to Midnight Zero, and that you don't actually need to have someone in mind; she's just writing to "future boyfriends". Usagi ponders this for a moment and then collides with Mamoru. She gets up and then apologizes profusely, but in her haste she's actually bowing to the telephone pole. Mamoru takes the piss out of her for trying to be polite, calls her stupid and walks off. Naru, being the stalwart friend she is, immediately asks who the hot guy was, instead of saying anything like "Hey, that was rude." Friendship!

At home, Usagi tries to work on a love letter of her own, despite Luna's objection that love letters are meaningless unless they're actually given to someone. Inspiration fails to strike, and then there are some more great, or at least weird, facial expressions as Usagi wallows in her failure.
But then she has an idea: She'll go to the radio station and ask that nice Mr J Daito for advice on writing a love letter. This plan cannot fail!

The plan fails sooner than expected, when the station's security guard patiently explains that no, we don't have a show by that name, please stop bothering us, bye. But when Usagi returns home, sure enough, the show comes on as usual. Luna checks the newspaper listings and finds that a different show is scheduled to be on. Meanwhile, J Daito reads out a letter from someone called Naru...

At school the next day, Naru unwraps the flower brooch she received from Midnight Zero. As she puts it on, Usagi notices it's the same brooch Haruna was wearing yesterday. Naru falls asleep almost straight away, her energy drained by the brooch. Usagi, trying to revive her, gets close to the brooch and falls asleep as well.

It's Usagi's dream now, and she's flying past the moon in a vaguely Peter Pan pose with a trail of sparkles behind her. Floating above the clouds, she meets Tuxedo Mask, and asks if he's her future boyfriend. He says yes, albeit without moving his lips. Then she asks him to take off his mask. He does, revealing...
Luna! Usagi wakes with a start in the nurse's office, thanks to Luna's yelling. Naru still can't be woken, and they decide to investigate the radio station. Meanwhile, Jadeite is collecting the energy gathered by the flower brooches from their victims so far, accompanied by the mysterious employee from the radio station, actually a Youma called Furau.

That night, Usagi and Luna sneak up to FM No. 10. To get them past the security guard, Luna does her item-summoning somersault and gives Usagi the Disguise Pen. After being given instructions on how to use it, Usagi tells the pen to change her into "a gorgeous newscaster".
The Disguise Pen is Sailor Moon's most obvious throwback to older Magical Girl shows such as Creamy Mami, where one of the key themes was a young girl with the ability to transform into an older girl. All of Usagi's disguises are intended to make her look older, and indeed the animation for the Disguise Pen appears to show her aging. Now with an appearance quite similar in retrospect to a certain Sailor Moon S villain, Usagi is ready to take charge! Oh, wait... high heels. This disguise business might take some getting used to.

Usagi and Luna peer through the glass at J Daito as he starts the show. When they notice the unconscious staff members, that's as much evidence as they need that he's behind this. In probably my favorite part of the episode, Usagi marches right past Jadeite and the Youma, sits in front of a microphone and announces to the audience that the flower brooches are dangerous. I love how she just flat-out ignores the bad guys to get her message out, and they don't respond right away because they didn't expect any resistance, least of all from an angry newscaster in high heels who's somehow figured out their plan. Usagi tells the listeners that the whole concept of the show is silly, and that love letters are meaningless unless they're given to someone. Luna doesn't know whether to be glad that Usagi gets it now or annoyed that she stole her line.

The Youma finally springs into action, breaking through the studio glass and changing into her true form, which is a foot taller with lavender-colored skin. Oh, and she has atomic breath. She Godzillas the studio to pieces, Usagi and Luna barely escaping (some more great expressions in this part). Usagi transforms and confronts the villains, and there's that crosswalk line again...
Jadeite drops his disguise and introduces himself, then sends Furau after Sailor Moon. She and Luna escape through a newly-made hole in the ceiling, and the battle moves to the roof. Though Furau has an advantage over Sailor Moon thanks to her inhuman agility, Sailor Moon beats her by lulling her into complacency, deliberately missing with her tiara, then pulling it back to strike the unsuspecting Youma.

Jadeite, however... Sailor Moon soon discovers that the tiara doesn't work on him, as he's able to block it with his telekinetic powers. He advances on Sailor Moon, but the rose thrown into his path by a mystery assailant gives him pause. Rather than deal with this new variable, Jadeite summons a portal and withdraws. Tuxedo Mask bids Sailor Moon farewell, again without moving his lips...

With the curse broken, Naru, Haruna and the other victims wake up. The next day in school, Usagi has some new inspiration, and enthusiastically writes a love letter to Tuxedo Mask, though not without some interference from Naru and Haruna.

Monster of the Day: Furau is a bit bleh, not uncommon for early Youma. The Godzilla breath is cool, I guess, though I don't really see if/how it fits into her theme.

Most Valuable Person: I'm going with Luna, whose bouts of exasperation with Usagi throughout the episode are a lot of fun.

Least Valuable Person: Mamoru. Just... Mamoru. I don't know what the writers thought they were doing here, but he just comes across as petty and mean.

This episode isn't amazing, but it's actually better than I remembered. The facial expressions are often great, as I mentioned earlier, though the actual animation is sometimes lacking. What was it with Tuxedo Mask's lips not moving? At first I just thought it was because it was a dream, but then the same thing happened in real life. Anyway, in totality, this episode is a solid three out of five.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

2 - I Will Punish You! The House of Fortune is the Monster Mansion

I just noticed that the episode names on the title cards are slightly different translations than the names given on the Hulu page. I guess I'll be using the title card versions, then?

This episode is the first of several that got skipped over in DiC's dub. I recall watching this on the ADV sets and realizing one thing: the sound was terrible. I mean, the sound on every episode was terrible, but on this one, it was horrendously bad. Since the masters came from DiC, I assumed that maybe this one had been poorly maintained, since the company wasn't ever planning on using it. But watching this version of the episode... there is still definitely something weird with the sound. Not to anything like the extent of the ADV version, but something. Both the music and the effects seem off somehow, though I didn't notice any issues with the voices. So yeah, maybe the sound was always bad on this episode, and the neglect shown to the aging DiC masters just exacerbated the problem. In this version, it isn't super-distracting, but there are a few parts of the episode where it's noticeable.

Oh, and hey! The little pre-opening intro sequences are present, though shifted to after the opening. The result is a bit weird since these early episodes also have a post-opening but pre-episode title bit explaining the concept of the show, and now all of this expository stuff is crammed together.

This episode starts with Jadeite observing a long line of people waiting to get their fortune told. Hatching a plan, he consults with Queen Beryl, who's starting to warm to this notion of stealing energy from humans until they can find the Silver Crystal.

Usagi wakes up late again, despite Luna's efforts. She sneaks into class during roll call, and is doing a decent job of stealthily crawling to her seat before Umino says hi to her, and ruins her plan. So far, Umino has done nothing in this show except make Usagi's life worse, and if I didn't know better, I'd think it was some kind of vendetta. The truth, as Umino tells Naru, is that he really likes Usagi, and I guess he just keeps expressing it in ways that end up getting her in trouble. Naru is skeptical that Usagi will return Umino's feelings, and tries to lower his expectations gently... her own special way. She suggests he consult a fortune teller in the newly-opened House of Fortune, presumably because to stand any chance with Usagi, he's going to need the aid of supernatural forces. There's also a bit in this scene where Umino has apparently designed and programmed a handheld dating sim game in which he marries Usagi. No further explanation is given. So... yeah.

On her way home from school, Usagi visits the old fortune teller from earlier. The long line is no more, as all of his customers have been snatched up by the flashy House of Fortune across the street.  Usagi asks the old man for a fortune, and he tells her that a boy she regularly sees likes her. Usagi decides that this must be... Motoki, the cute guy who works at the arcade. She goes to the arcade to wait for him, and soon he appears, all soft focus and sparkles.

Usagi is soon in the arcade and playing the new Sailor V game. You know, I actually really like how the game bears almost no resemblance to what Sailor V's actually like, beyond including her likeness. It just has to be an intentional reference to the crappy licensed games of the era. Why is Sailor V fighting pink snakes and the dragons from Bubble Bobble? Why is she using a gun? She's never used a gun. Batman wouldn't put up with this shoddy treatment.
Usagi sucks at the game, but it does look pretty difficult. Motoki comes up to give her some tips on how to play, and suddenly she doesn't care about the game anymore because oh my god he's right next to me oh my god. She's awoken from fantasy dream time by Luna, who despite her super intelligence is still a cat, and thus demands attention now. Outside, Luna reminds Usagi that she should be on her way home, but not before Motoki bids her goodbye in a way that adds further fuel to the "He loves me!" fire. Instead of going home, though, she decides to return to the fortune teller so that she can be absolutely-double-sure that Motoki is the boy who likes her. Unfortunately, he's gone home for the evening. She considers trying out the House of Fortune, but then wonders if using a different fortune teller would produce ambiguous results. I have to say, it is nice to see the scientific method being applied to astrology.

Her strategy for choosing which path to take is that thing where you flip off your shoe and tell your fortune based on how it lands (also seen in Azumanga Daioh, where it was the basis of one of the best sight gags in the history of everything). She kicks off her shoe, and her fortune is... that guy.
Okay, so I guess a flimsy little shoe is heavier than a piece of paper, but for the second time in a row, the mysterious handsome guy is introduced to us by having Usagi accidentally hurt him with a small object. He berates her, and tells her she won't ever have a boyfriend if she doesn't act more ladylike. Because telling your fortune by kicking off your shoe is such a super-manly activity? He puts Usagi in a justifiably bad mood, and she stomps away from the House of Fortune. But inside, strange things are happening...

Yes, if you haven't guessed, the House of Fortune is evil. Inside, a group of customers including Umino and another boy from Usagi's class are mesmerized by the fortune teller's telekinetic control over the cards.
Okay, this episode just got awesome. The fortune teller plants a cursed Devil tarot card on Umino, and instructs him to do whatever he pleases.

Ad break! Dooooo-doo-dee-doooo-doooo-Sai! Lor! Moon!

Usagi bumps into her dad on the way home. He's helping out her mom by doing the grocery shopping. Usagi then starts to daydream, thinking that Motoki is probably a considerate guy like her dad... because what every girl wants in a partner is someone who reminds them of their parents? Dad also gets introduced to Luna, who Usagi claims is her friend. Dad says that Usagi has strange friends, and he's right, but Luna isn't the most glaring example...

Speaking of Umino, the next day at school Naru tips Usagi off about Umino's crush. Usagi is about as appalled as you'd expect, but Naru explains that Umino is just too shy to ever ask her himself. But that was the old Umino, and here comes the new Evil Umino. His first act of evil is... wearing a sharp suit to school. Hey, if you're gonna rebel against the dress code, why not do it with style? He then point-blank asks Usagi on a date, but she likes the new, arrogant Umino even less than the old one. Haruna demands to know why he isn't wearing his uniform, and Umino first taunts her by, uh, eating some bread, and then flipping up the back of her skirt so that her underwear is briefly visible. Later on in class, Umino is reading a comic and laughing noisily, and when Haruna goes to deal with him, she's tripped by another student who's also been turned evil.

Let's just stop for a moment and take a look at Evil Umino, and how his evil manifests. We've had breaching the dress code, eating lunch at the wrong time, being disruptive in class, and, uh, sexual harassment. Umino's someone who usually follows rules to the letter, so I do like the idea that, to him, breaking any rule is an expression of evil, and now that he's trying to be evil he's just being wildly inconsistent in his application of it.

While Umino and his fellow minions of evil start throwing stones at the school's windows, Naru reveals that a number of the boys who are acting weird visited the House of Fortune. Sure enough, the fortune teller and Jadeite start to slowly harvest energy from the possessed boys. Usagi and Naru try to stop Umino and his gang to stop their vandalism spree, and Umino comes onto Usagi again, demanding a kiss this time. Usagi starts crying, and drives Umino and the gang away. I do quite like how the instant they're gone, she's absolutely fine again.

Later, Luna tells Usagi that she felt some evil energy from Umino and the others. Usagi voices her suspicions about the House of Fortune, impressing Luna, but not quite enough to deserve a new item. Apparently Usagi's only going along with this destined protector of mankind thing because she thinks there might be some more jewelry in it for her.

They sneak up to the House of Fortune, and there's a slight snag when Usagi forgets how to transform, but once she's figured that out, she turns into Sailor Moon and busts in on the latest Evil Orientation Meeting, where the fortune teller is instructing Umino and the others to riot. The fortune teller tries to attack Sailor Moon with her tarot cards, then assumes her Youma form, causing the boys present to take on a simliar green-skinned complexion. She sends them after Sailor Moon, and... you know, Umino's voice artist, Keiichi Nanba, does a wonderfully deranged-sounding evil laugh. The minions march towards Sailor Moon (what's up with how they're walking? It looks bizarre) and have her cornered, but then the Youma gets a projectile rose to the face, causing the minions to freeze in place as her control over them is interrupted. Tuxedo Mask appears, and tells Sailor Moon that she should never give up. Then he leaves her to the pissed-off Youma. Hey, might that not be an example of... giving up?

It turns out that the Youma also has prehensile hair powers, but after dodging her attacks a few times, Sailor Moon deploys the tiara. The Youma is struck and turns to dust fairly graphically, and the minions are restored to normal just in time to see Sailor Moon bidding them farewell.

The next day, Umino responds with mounting horror as Naru lists all of the things he did while evil.
He's then especially freaked out to see Usagi after learning how he treated her, but she shrugs it off and tells him not to worry. So Umino tries to pay her a compliment and ends up insulting her instead. Yep, he's back to normal.

Monster of the Day: Baum spends most of the episode disguised as a fortune teller. In her real form she's green, with yellow eyes and long, prehensile hair that can form claws and cut through solid objects. Like Morga, her design falls into the "scary but a bit bland" category.

Most Valuable Person: Usagi! After last week's struggles, Sailor Moon gets to show some competence here, figuring out the location of the enemy base and keeping it together in battle a little more. It's still early days, but it was great to see her show some signs of the hero she'll become.

Least Valuable Person: Mamoru shows up, tells Usagi to be more ladylike, then buggers off. Whatever, Patriarchy Boy.

The score for this episode is four stars out of five. Most of the things I felt were wrong with the first episode are improved upon here. Having episode two center around a character's personality being altered is kind of risky, as we've not got to know them yet, but Umino is such an archetypal nerd, and the changes were so pronounced, that it ended up working well. This is an entertaining episode, certainly one of the strongest of the early, solo Sailor Moon stories.

Monday, May 19, 2014

1 - The Crybaby Usagi's Beautiful Transformation

I've seen this first episode a lot. I've never seen it look and sound so good, though. Up until now, the only legal means of owning this episode with English subtitles was via ADV's box sets of the first two seasons. These were only available briefly and were, to be frank, crap. The video was bad. The audio was worse. They were apparently using the masters given to DiC way back when they were making the English dub, and said masters had aged very noticeably. Still, we paid the absurd amounts ADV demanded for these sets, and we cherished them, because they were still better than what we had previously. I originally watched fansubs of Sailor Moon's first season in Real Media format. If you don't know what that is, consider yourself fortunate. Suffice to say that the resolution of those files was so low that it was sometimes a challenge just to read the damn subtitles.

Seeing this first episode look so good is downright surreal, given that I'm just so used to it looking faded and fuzzy, with music that sounds like it's being played from under a bucket in the next room. I can't confirm or deny Viz's claims that this version looks better than Japan's DVD releases, but it sure as hell looks better than any version I've ever seen.

All of this is beside the point of the review, I suppose, but it did add a little bit of freshness to an episode I'm already very, very familiar with.

So, we're introduced to the protagonist, Usagi, who's good-hearted but an underachiever, and generally kind of a mobile disaster. Opening the episode with the main character running out of the house because they're late for school is such a cliche at this point that even doing it ironically is becoming a cliche in itself. I suppose I can't say for sure that Sailor Moon wasn't the first, because I haven't seen very much anime that's older. But I'm going to assume it was a cliche even in 1992, and probably long before that. You know, I bet it's how the first episode of Astro Boy started.

It's played very well, though, and I had a pang of sympathy watching a still-tired Usagi running to school, lamenting the existence of mornings. That was a throwback to my own teenage years right there.

On her way to school, Usagi comes across some kids bothering a cat, and chases them off. This is one of the first things we learn about Usagi, and it's one of the most important: she will always help someone in need, even if it means putting herself out. She removes the band-aid the kids had stuck over the crescent mark on the cat's head, and suddenly the cat is observing her a little too keenly... but then she hears the school bell and sprints off to school, though not quickly enough to avoid being late.

Next we meet Haruna, Usagi's homeroom teacher, voiced by Chiyoko Kawashima, who is to Sailor Moon what Billy West is to Futurama - she voices a lot of recurring characters. Usagi gets chewed out for being late, eating lunch in the hallway, and getting 30% on her latest test. She commiserates with her friends Naru and Umino later on, though Umino doesn't do a great job comforting her.

Sometimes when you look back at the early episodes of an animated show, certain characters can appear off-model. While that isn't the case with any of the main characters, they... really hadn't decided how they were going to animate Umino. He's got a completely different look to the rest of the cast, and this is even more evident in the manga where he isn't rendered with nearly as much detail as the other characters, looking kind of like a quick sketch. This seems to have translated into him not being animated very much, and it doesn't really work that well. In any case, they discuss the mysterious heroine, Sailor V, who has been active in the city and recently foiled the plans of some jewel thieves.

Okay, that attitude is a little... worrying. You might expect the daughter of a jeweler to be less sympathetic towards jewel thieves, but there you go.

Now we get our first look at the Dark Kingdom, and wow, those backgrounds look nice. Probably for the best since they're going to get reused a lot. We're introduced to Queen Beryl, who's too busy staring into her crystal ball to actually look at anyone when she's speaking to them, and Jadeite, her general. Also, those oft-forgotten Dark Kingdom characters: the hordes of creepy, mostly unseen figures that seem to surround Beryl at all times. I mean, I guess they're probably Youma or something, but more often than not I just forget they're there. So anyway, Beryl wants the Silver Crystal, which nobody can find, as energy for their supreme leader. With no crystal, Jadeite has a plan to use human energy instead.

After school, Usagi and Naru arrive at the jewelry store run by Naru's mother, where they're having a big sale. The place is full of women buying things, and of course, this is the location of Jadeite's plan. Naru's mother has been replaced with a Youma called Morga, and the jewelery on sale is gradually extracting the energy of its owners. Then there's a scene with Jadeite in the dark, collecting that energy, and... oh my god, that music is just hilariously out of place. Is Jadeite a pimp?

Naru's Youma mother tries to tempt Usagi, but even these low, low prices aren't low enough for someone with no money and a test score that's not going to put her parents in the mood to buy her anything. She leaves the store in a bad mood, and tosses away her test, which gently bounces off some guy's head and prompts this response...

Which might be the most pitiful opening line by any dashing hero in the entire history of fiction. It was a balled-up piece of paper, mate. I'm hardly one to pass judgment, but you're gonna have to toughen up.

So, this is Mamoru. Not a bad character overall, quite likeable at later points in the series, but he's going to spend these opening episodes being an antagonistic dick for no reason. Also... hmm, "bun-head". It's probably the best translation for "odango atama" which doesn't actually involve the word "odango". The age of the meatball is well and truly over. Anyway, Mamoru does what any guy would do in the presence of a sad girl: mocks her for her poor academic performance. Miracle Romance, everyone! In that it's a miracle this ever turned into a romance...

Usagi notices the new Sailor V arcade game, and wishes she could have a life like Sailor V's. Not such a good idea, especially since the black cat from earlier is watching her, and probably takes this statement as some sort of binding agreement.

Ad break! Having ads in the middle of this show is... weird. Also, a point of trivia... the eyecatches for this season usually have a version with both male and female voices shouting "Sailor Moon!" but for this episode, they only use the male voice version. Oh, and I'm almost certain one of those male voices is Yasuhiro Takato (Artemis). I mean, it's undoubtedly various members of the cast, but that one voice really stands out.

Usagi gets home, and wow, her mother is mean. The 30% test score results in her getting kicked out of the house. Her mother isn't always this bad, but her cruelty in this episode is especially weird considering she's supposed to be based on creator Naoko Takeuchi's mother (and yep, this scene is in the manga too). Usagi is further humiliated by her brother Shingo, and her attempt to retaliate with a Sailor V-inspired kick ends with, well...
Ouch. Back at the jewelry store, the customers pass out as their energy is drained, and Morga reveals her evil nature to Naru.

Usagi eventually persuades her mother to let her back into the house, and while she's trying to sleep, the strange cat from earlier comes in through the window. What follows is undoubtedly the best scene in the episode. The cat introduces herself as Luna, and... yes, Usagi, the cat can talk. Usagi's immediate instinct, when faced with a talkative cat, is to try to go to sleep in the hopes that it will go away. Luna finally gets Usagi's attention by summoning a brooch into existence for her... and suddenly, Usagi couldn't give a crap that there's a talking cat in her room, because free jewelry. Luna tries to explain about the super-important mission Usagi's been chosen for, but Usagi's too busy admiring her new brooch, occasionally humoring Luna with "No, I'm definitely listening, that's great." Eventually Luna just tells her the damn transformation phrase. Usagi, thinking maybe if she humors the cat, she'll leave her alone with her awesome new brooch, repeats "Moon Prism Power, Make Up."

Her elaborate transformation into Sailor Moon is followed by this:

It's an immutable rule of this show that you always, always look super cool and competent when transforming. Once it's over, though, you can freak out like normal, and Usagi proceeds to do just that. Then she hears Naru's cries for help via her odango... things. Odango protectors? The red shiny things on her head. This is one of those oddities that popped up in episode one and was never really referenced again, but it's enough to prompt our hero into action.

Naru, meanwhile, is being strangled by Morga, who drops the disguise and reveals her true, corpse-like self. Like a lot of early Youma, Morga has a genuinely scary design, and the cracking noises as she moves are a nice touch. She reveals that Naru's real mother has been tied up in the basement all day, and now she plans to kill them both.

Sailor Moon makes a dramatic, cool entrance! Then she sees the corpse monster with the head that rotates 180 degrees, and wonders if maybe this assignment is out of her league. When the corpse monster summons her army of zombified jewelry store patrons, she knows she's out of her league. Sailor Moon dodges the surprisingly vicious minions as best she can (one of them comes at her with a broken bottle, like she's in some sort of backstreet bar-room brawl) but ends up cornered, and goes to pieces when she realizes just how terrifying this situation is.

Enter Tuxedo Mask, with the power of distraction! If Tuxedo Mask was an RPG character, he'd be a bard, no question about it. He's all about distracting and demoralizing the bad guys and inspiring the good guys, but isn't much of a damage-dealer himself. He distracts Morga temporarily, and tells Sailor Moon that crying won't solve anything. She cries anyway, and it solves everything. Her cries get amplified by the odango protectors... or something, it's not really clear what's supposed to be happening... and the noise knocks out the minions and also proves painful to Morga. Luna instructs her to remove her tiara and throw it at the Youma. She does, because... well, if I was facing a corpse monster with no weapons and armor that consisted of a leotard and miniskirt, I might well try throwing my tiara at it. The tiara, of course, turns into a cool frisbee of light, and Morga becomes dust, the energy-harvesting operation dying along with her. Tuxedo Mask congratulates Sailor Moon on a job adequately done, and leaves, dashingly.

The next day, Naru and friends discuss the strange experience, dismissing it as a dream, though Naru gives me further cause to wonder about her sanity as she recalls her near-death experience as a "wonderful dream". With an attitude like that, no wonder she's monster bait.

This first episode had a lot to fit in. It introduced a ton of characters, the bare bones of Sailor Moon's mission, and her first monster encounter. The limited time available meant that the last of these things suffered a bit. The only times Sailor Moon appears competent are during the stock footage: transformation, attacks and so on. The rest of the time, she's freaking out and crying. It's not a bad thing to watch the main character grow, and the show would be far less interesting if Sailor Moon was immediately super strong and brilliant at everything. It's okay that she's not that brave, too - her desire to help people conflicts with her initial cowardice, and her better nature will ultimately win out, forcing her to become braver. I suppose I just wish she'd been given something to do in the battle that wasn't fall over, cry, or use the insta-win tiara. The crying power thing was jarring, and I'm glad it was pretty much dropped straight away. Girl Who Defeats Monsters By Crying is, at best, a poor concept for a superhero. At worst, it risks seeming sexist, and even though the show ends up being mostly good in that area, it's kind of a bad first impression to make, don't you think?

I complain because I care, of course. There's a lot of good in this episode, and it ends up being less clunky and weird than a lot of debut episodes seem in retrospect. It just needed more time to tell its story, and some hint of Usagi's real potential as a hero.

Monster of the Day: Morga is one of the more iconic examples, thanks to being the first, and is also one of the few MotDs to appear in the manga. She's typical of early Youma: scary, but also sort of bland in appearance with no immediately obvious theme.

Most Valuable Person goes to Luna, who does an admirable job walking Usagi through things and mostly remaining patient as she does so.

Least Valuable Person is Usagi herself. I like you, Usagi, but you didn't really get the chance to impress here.

The score for this episode is three stars out of five. It has some odd moments, some supposedly likeable characters who aren't all that likeable, and the aforementioned issues with Sailor Moon's conduct during the battle. But it's also highly memorable with some great comedy, meaning it evens out at average quality for the show.

Wait for wax, wait for wane

Sailor Moon is an important show. It began as an effort to blend the magical girl genre of anime (mostly whimsical, cutesy stories about girls who could transform and perform magic, aimed squarely at girls) with the sentai genre (Power Rangers-style action focused shows about teams of heroes battling evil, aimed at boys). It was considered a bit of a weird idea, to say the least. Nowadays, Sailor Moon defines the magical girl genre.

It was important in the west, too. Many fans were first exposed to anime thanks to the American dub of Sailor Moon. Action-focused kids' shows with female protagonists were equally rare in the rest of the world, and for all of the original dub's flaws, Sailor Moon was clearly special.

It didn't stop there: as the show went on, Sailor Moon accumulated a significant number of LGBT characters, at a time when this was all but unheard of for a kids' show. It being the nineties, the North American localization team balked, and did their best to conceal the characters' true nature by either gender-flipping or rewriting them. It didn't matter: the audience found out the truth anyway, and Sailor Moon boasts a significant LGBT fandom to this day.

And the show is important to me. It's been over ten years since I was first intrigued by That Long-Running Anime Where The Girls Are Named After Planets. I've watched the anime countless times, and my affection for it has never waned. It's not perfect by any means. In terms of consistent quality it loses out to any number of other series I could think of, and yet it remains my favorite. The characters, the world that exists around them... it's somehow special.

And it's an exciting time to be a fan. Sailor Moon's licensing in North America has always been a nightmare, to the extent that many fans wondered if a comprehensive re-release was ever possible. Even with the new anime, Sailor Moon Crystal, set to start this summer, I half expected the old series would never again see the light of day.

A few days ago, Viz Media announced they'd pulled off the anime licensing coup of the decade, acquiring the rights to all of the Sailor Moon anime, new and old. In the near future we have a new dub and Blu-Ray releases to look forward to, but the first products of that deal are appearing today. Viz's subs of Sailor Moon are gradually being released on Hulu. I've seen the episodes before (though never, it has to be said, in such high quality) and I've already formed opinions. But this is an effort to rewatch the whole show as it's re-released, and present my thoughts on the episodes.

I love the show. But like any fan, I love some parts more than others. I have opinions. There are episodes that are brilliant, episodes that are forgettable, and episodes that are simply bad. I'll be making an effort to be as honest as possible in my reviews, which means I'll likely be unloading on someone's favorite episode at some point. It's all just my opinion, and I'm just some person on the internet. And the internet is full of people with wrong opinions.

I've settled on a five-star system for rating the episodes, and here's a quick guide to what those categories roughly mean.

Five stars: The best the show has to offer. These are the flawless or near-flawless episodes that just succeed on every level. Five star ratings will be a little rarer than average, as they're reserved for the best of the best. 

Four stars: Very good. These episodes stand out and are great fun, but aren't quite five star quality.

Three stars: Average. This isn't a bad thing, since in general I love the show: these are just the episodes of the usual quality, or perhaps episodes that would have ranked higher were it not for some jarring flaw.

Two stars: Below average. Mostly I suspect this category will be home to episodes in that dreaded category of "boring". Disappointing, but not as bad as...

One star: The worst. Simply being dull isn't enough to earn this category; the episode has to commit a multitude of sins to earn this score. Like five stars, these will likely be rarer, as I'll only be granting this score to those episodes that are really, really bad.

So, with all that said, I have four newly-posted episodes to rewatch. Reviews will follow shortly!