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.

No comments:

Post a Comment