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.

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