Wednesday, June 25, 2014

14 - A New Enemy Appears: Nephrite's Evil Crest

It's the famous tennis episode! Tennis puns! Navratilova reference! Tennis Youma who traps her enemies in giant tennis balls! This is an episode I've been looking forward to.

Sailor Mercury and Sailor Mars have finally been added to the opening exposition, as this is the beginning of a new arc. But before we meet them: Dark Kingdom politics!
Nephrite cements his place as Jadeite's replacement by explaining to Queen Beryl what a loser Jadeite was, with his loser plans to collect energy indiscriminately. Instead, Nephrite will base his energy-harvesting plans on the proven science of astrology (which... I mean, okay, this show was created by an astrology fan, so it might as well be a science in this universe). He will use the stars to target individuals whose energy is predicted to peak. The Powerpoint presentation is all going very well until a heckler appears. It's Zoisite, another one of Beryl's generals. He's amused by Nephrite's overconfidence, and predicts he'll come crawling back in disgrace.
Can I just take a moment to mention how much I love Zoisite? He doesn't even really do much in this episode apart from needling Nephrite, but he's so much fun. I suppose I'll get to talk about exactly why he's such a great character in later episodes, but for now, his mocking "Oh, you're scaring me" is enough to signal what an interesting addition to the cast he'll be. He's played by Keiichi Nanba, who also plays Umino, and really, what a versatile actor to be able to play both the subtlety-free comic relief nerd and a cunning, powerful, effeminate villain.

Veteran fans may recall that Zoisite was made into a woman for the original North American dub, because... well, look, it was the nineties, okay? Zoisite's one of the characters I'm most interested to hear in the new dub, partly because so much of his character is in the voice.

Anyway, sorry, I got sidetracked talking about Zoisite when this is Nephrite's big debut. Having mocked Nephrite, Zoisite disappears in a cloud of rose petals and scorn, and Beryl tells Nephrite to put his plan into action.

Back in Juban, a girl is being mobbed by reporters and cameramen. While she tries to evade them, a... thing happens. A huge forest appears in the distance, and in the forest is a creepy old... church, I guess, which is now Nephrite's base of operations. Nephrite does his astrology thing, calling on the power of the stars to aid him. The target he chooses is a young tennis player called Rui Saionji.

Rui (who is also the girl the reporters were bothering earlier) is playing a match, and Usagi and Naru are watching. Naru calls Rui "sis", which leads to some confusion, but as it turns out, Naru and Rui aren't related, but grew up together, with Rui acting as an older sister figure.

Nephrite... is clearly showing off now.
Not only does he have his own private evil forest for astrology and brooding, he's crafted a human identity as a super-rich playboy with a sports car. He somersaults over the fence and onto the tennis court and proceeds to bark advice at Rui, before returning her serve with supernatural power. He introduces himself as Masato Sanjoin, and returns her racket, but not before implanting the essence of a Youma inside it. He again advises her to put more of her weight into her serve, but as soon as Rui takes the racket back, her eyes glaze over. A fanboy comes over to act as her next opponent, and she's suddenly able to serve with such force that the boy is knocked flying, and the ball ends up embedded in the ground. Rui goes to thank the mysterious stranger, but he's gone. So she works her way through one opponent after the other, beating them all easily. Usagi is impressed, but Naru thinks something's wrong.
Hey, remember Luna's contact that she can communicate with through the Sailor V game at the arcade? Well, she speaks with them again, and they have new information... at least, new from the perspective of our characters. She's told that the enemy they face is called the Dark Kingdom, and they're collecting human energy for some reason. Nothing revolutionary there, I guess, but it's a start.

Luna passes this information on to the girls. Rei's plan is to rush in and kick all of their asses, but Ami points out they're not at a level where they'd be able to do that yet. Usagi wants to train by playing tennis, because of this hot new guy who's apparently a tennis coach. Rei and Luna express exasperation with Usagi, Rei going so far as to say that Usagi being a Sailor Guardian might be some sort of mistake. Ami sticks up for Usagi, a bit, but passes on the offer of tennis as well.

But you know, maybe they're right to avoid tennis right now, because back at the tennis court, Rui has gone full-on evil, crushing her terrified opponents with glee.

Naru calls Usagi over to her place and explains how weird and hyper-competitive Rui has become, to the point of rejecting Naru when she expressed concern. Usagi offers to help figure out what's wrong with Rui, and the two go to the tennis school where she practices in the evenings. Usagi privately wonders if a Youma could be responsible for this, and then realizes that dealing with it by herself would show Rei and Luna how valuable she is. She stays in this fantasy for a bit too long...
...before she's brought back to reality by the cry of another one of Rui's opponents/victims. Now even the local tennis pros are terrified of her. Usagi and Naru intervene, allowing the guys to flee, but Rui reacts with fury, sending a blast of energy from her tennis racket that sends both girls flying. Nephrite, hidden somewhere, feels Rui's energy peaking, and the Youma implanted in her racket drains her energy, taking on humanoid form in the process. This Youma's name is Tesuni, and she looks downright bizarre.
Since Naru was conveniently knocked out, Usagi takes the opportunity to transform. She confronts Tesuni, chastising her for using tennis for evil ends. And then there's this.
That's Martina Navratilova, winner of 18 Grand Slams, LGBT icon, and famously anti-turning-people-into-psychopaths-then-draining-their-life-energy. Navratilova must have had quite a following in the nineties in Japan; Slayers even had a character named after her. I mean, they genuinely had a major character called Martina Navratilova.

Well, Tesuni responds by summoning a tennis racket made of fire and evil, and hits Sailor Moon with a weird ball of energy that envelops her and, uh, causes this to happen.
That's... almost certainly somebody's fetish. But not Sailor Moon's, as Tesuni proceeds to telekinetically bounce her around, which just looks... so... painful.
Ouch. This goes on for some time, until the Youma is - you guessed it - distracted by a rose. Tuxedo Mask confronts her, and she aims an energy ball at him, but the rules dictate that Tuxedo Mask must remain dashing at all times, so he dodges it. We haven't seen much in the way of real combat from Tuxedo Mask so far, but that changes here, as it turns out his cane can extend a really, really long way. He knocks Tesuni over, and the giant ball trapping Sailor Moon disappears. Sailor Moon is delighted to be fighting alongside Tuxedo Mask, but Tesuni ruins the mood by firing huge fireballs from her racket. Sailor Moon is almost hit, but Tuxedo Mask scoops her away in time, and she has a nice little moment of being close to him.

Tuxedo Mask hurls another rose, which hits the Youma in the face. He tells Sailor Moon to finish her off, but is suddenly stricken with some kind of seizure. Sailor Moon runs to help him, but he tells her again to attack the Youma. She does, hitting her with the tiara, and Sailor Mars, Sailor Mercury and Luna arrive just in time to see Tesuni turning into a cloud of dust. In the meantime, Tuxedo Mask has vanished.

Rui recovers, but can't remember anything that happened over the past few days. She and Naru go off to play a friendly match, and Usagi enjoys the pleasant mood until Naru hits her in a face with a ball. The end.

Monster of the Day: Tesuni is another one of those iconic Youma that a lot of people remember. While we've had a few "themed" Youma before, she's the first one to be tied to something very specific, which would pretty much become the norm for monsters in the future.

Most valuable person: This is an episode where Usagi pretty much solves the case by herself... though she does get a longer-than-usual assist from Tuxedo Mask. I'm still giving it to Usagi because nobody deserves to land face-first that many times without a break.

Least valuable person: Both Luna and Rei didn't do much in this episode besides pick on Usagi. I'm giving the award to Luna, because we also discover that after thirteen episodes she still needs someone else to tell her that the bad guys are collecting energy, despite this actually being stated in our heroes' presence more than once.

This is a memorable episode, and fun too. Since it's the beginning of a new arc, there's a lot going on. It's the start of the Dark Kingdom actually becoming interesting adversaries, as opposed to the "Jadeite tells stock footage of Queen Beryl what this week's plan is, then leaves" act we've had so far. I'm admittedly not a big fan of Nephrite, but Zoisite gets all the love.

In terms of the protagonists, this actually feels a bit like one of the really early episodes, as Ami and Rei barely show up and don't participate in the battle. Tuxedo Mask's strange seizure at the end of the battle is the first time he's seemed anything other than invincible (even when he was supposedly dead last episode, we only had Jadeite's word for it). It's an interesting signal of things to come. This episode gets four stars out of five: Navratilova would be pleased (probably).

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

13 - Girls Unite: The End of Jadeite

Welcome to the last episode of Jadeite's arc! And while that might qualify as a spoiler, the title's already done that for me. This is a show that really loves to tell you what happens in the episode before you watch it.

Last time, you may recall that Jadeite, already earning Queen Beryl's wrath due to a string of failures, managed to get one of her Youma killed as well. This episode opens with Beryl explaining to Jadeite where he now stands. I mean, aside from in front of a furious evil queen, under spotlights designed for maximum intimidation.
She gives him an ultimatum: deal with the Sailor Guardians or face Eternal Sleep.

Eternal Sleep is one of those little early-show oddities. I think they weren't really sure if they could talk about killing people, let alone actually do it, so instead they came up with this thing that's basically the same as death, but with a different name. At least, that's the best explanation I can come up with. Having said that, Sailor Moon kills a lot of Youma, and it's pretty clear that Jadeite's being told to kill the Sailor Guardians, so... I dunno.

Usagi is at home stargazing. You know, as much as the show tries to make out that Usagi isn't good at anything, speaking as someone who was really into astronomy as a kid, she's pretty impressive when it comes to recognizing constellations. Even Libra, which doesn't look like crap. She then makes up two more constellations - Motoki and Tuxedo Mask - and starts to wonder if Motoki might actually be Tuxedo Mask.
Wow, that's a bizarre image. I mean, Motoki's nice and all, but he has all the heroic gravitas of Superman's pal Jimmy Olsen. Still, Motoki being Tuxedo Mask would be convenient for Usagi, since she's in love with them both.

Usagi is given a break from imagining hot blonde guys in the sky when an actual hot blonde guy appears in the sky. Jadeite has abandoned all subtlety and broadcasts a message to the entire city, accompanied by his pimp music, no less, stating that if Sailor Moon, Sailor Mercury and Sailor Mars don't meet him at Haneda Airport at 1 AM the following night, he'll burn the city. By the way, it's a minor thing, but the subs misspelled Haneda Airport. Like many of the locations in the show, it's a real place. They spell it right in the rest of the episode, so I imagine it's just a typo.

The next morning, Usagi, Rei and Ami discuss Jadeite's message, which is pretty obviously a trap. Rei says they have to go, Ami says they need a plan first, and Usagi is just plain scared (though thankfully not to the point of crying). Meanwhile, the appearance of a giant sky-pimp threatening to kill everyone means that even the perpetually oblivious authorities of Tokyo have sprung into action. They claim that the apparition was a prank, but that they'll be sending police to the airport just in case. At school, Naru, Umino and the sort-of-chubby girl debate the apparition. Amusingly, Umino thinks Jadeite must be an alien here to give mankind a stern warning to change its ways. They discuss going along to the airport to see what happens, and Haruna forbids it, saying that kids their age shouldn't be out that late. Usagi, not wanting regular people to get involved with this, agrees with her. Haruna is so surprised to hear Usagi talking responsibly that she wonders if she's sick.

Usagi doesn't appreciate the reaction, and later complains about it to Motoki. Motoki says he appreciates how Usagi has a unique perspective on things, which she interprets as incontrovertible evidence that he totally loves her. She's so happy after leaving the arcade that she kicks her shoe off, and naturally it lands on the head of Mamoru, who's famously shoe-intolerant. She gets the usual lecture from him about how terrible she is, but this time she's not bothered, because an awesome guy likes her. Mamoru says that any guy who likes her must be a loser, and this sets Usagi off crying. Which would usually annoy me, but it leads to this.
At long last, Mamoru suffers some consequences for his treatment of Usagi! He runs away, completely embarrassed.

It's night at the airport, which is full of cops. Jadeite shows up and uses some magic to make them fall asleep. Unfortunately, this is a Nakamura episode, so the cops look just plain bizarre when they fall over. I mean, look at this.
While Jadeite plays with his action figures, Usagi, Rei, Ami and Luna arrive at the station to take the monorail to the airport. The Haneda monorail is a real thing! It's always fun when the show includes real places. Our protagonists note that the last train has already left... but then a train car opens up, just for them. They get in, and Luna notes they're definitely moving right into the enemy's trap. For maybe the first time, she looks really worried, like she's wondering if she's got these girls into something they won't be able to get out of.

When they arrive in the airport, they find it's full of cops... evil cops! The police attack the girls, Rei fights a few of them off and they run, while Usagi wonders what the world's coming to.
That's nothing, Usagi, you should see the new head of the FCC. Oooh, that's topical!

The girls make it out onto the runway, pursued by cops, and transform. Sailor Mercury analyzes the police using her computer, and concludes that these are clay golems, not real people. There's no time for a second opinion as Mars incinerates them with Fire Soul. Then Jadeite appears and reveals he's been watching all along, and now knows their true identities. Sailor Moon and Sailor Mars get into an argument about who's prettier (I know it sounds absurd and out of place, but it's actually kind of fun, particularly their expressions which suggest they've both come to enjoy this kind of back and forth). It's Sailor Mercury who adopts the role of the badass and tells the other two to prepare to face Jadeite.

Jadeite is... pretty powerful. His opening move is to aim a plane at them. And when they seem to be successfully running away from that, two planes. Mars wants to blast them with Fire Soul, but Luna objects, saying the cost of the damage would be too great. That's kind of an odd thing for Luna, of all people, to be worried about, but they agree not to attack the planes, and keep running. Soon they're at the end of the runway, beyond which is the sea. Suddenly, Tuxedo Mask appears! He distracts Jadeite, stopping the planes, and the two do battle!

Well, um, the thing is, we haven't actually see Tuxedo Mask do very much other than show up at exactly the right moment to distract the bad guys. So how is he at one-on-one combat against a man powerful enough to move planes with his mind? Maybe... not so powerful? Tuxedo Mask and Jadeite tumble into the sea, and it's Jadeite who emerges, proclaiming that Tuxedo Mask is dead. Which might have been a serious blow to our heroes' morale, except Jadeite has to push it that little bit further...
Firstly: Wow. Secondly: Did you forget who your boss is? You know, the one who's got you terrified for your life right now? Just... just asking.

Anyway, this kind of talk only strengthens our heroes' resolve, and they stand united, ready to beat him.
Jadeite sends a plane after them again, but this time, Luna tells them not to fall for the distraction: Jadeite is the one they have to beat. And so, a plan forms, with Sailor Moon serving as the decoy. Sailor Mercury cast Bubble Spray, obscuring their location, and Sailor Moon makes a break for it. Jadeite sends the plane after her, but can't see the other two. He sees Sailor Mercury and aims an energy blast at her, but doesn't notice Sailor Mars behind him, charging up an ofuda. She pins it to his back, and suddenly, for reasons he can't fathom, the planes are chasing him. He runs away, and finds his escape blocked.
With his powers sealed, Jadeite is defenseless as Sailor Moon aims Moon Tiara Action at him. He dodges! Ha! Wait, wasn't there something he was running from?
Oh yeah. Plane.

Still, being run over by a plane apparently didn't quite kill Jadeite, as he manages to teleport back to the Dark Kingdom... where he's immediately face to face with Queen Beryl. He tries to tell her that he knows the identities of the Sailor Guardians, but Beryl isn't listening anymore. She Eternal Sleeps him on the spot, and there's a brief shot of his successor standing in the shadows.

The girls have won, though with the apparent loss of Tuxedo Mask. But wait! Tuxedo Mask is somehow fine! Mercury asks him who he is and why he helps them, but he says he can't reveal that right now, and tells the girls to treasure their friendship, before making a dashing exit. And that's the end of the episode! Exiting on a high note, rather than Usagi falling over. That's how it's done.

Monster of the Day: This episode didn't have any. Unless you count the clay golem cops. I am not counting the clay golem cops.

Most valuable person: Sailor Mars, for her awesome gambit that sealed Jadeite's fate.

Least valuable person: Well, both Jadeite and Mamoru were jerks in this episode, but that's sort of Jadeite's function in the story. Mamoru has no such excuse and gets this award again.

This episode is pretty unsubtle with its feminist message. But it's a kids' cartoon from the early nineties: the fact that there was a feminist message is impressive enough. I feel like this episode marks the point where the writers had finally worked out what kind of a show this was. It's been said that Junichi Satou had some trouble communicating his vision for the show early on, with some of the staff unsure of just how straight they were supposed to play the premise. This episode really seems to nail it.

By the way, in the ADV sets, the title of this episode was translated as Girl Power! The End of Jadeite. I'm... really not sure what they were thinking. "Girl Power" was kind of dated in 2003, tied as it was to the Spice Girls (who weren't the first to use it either, but that's another story). All I can assume is that someone at ADV really like the phrase, since the oddball one-off OAV Makasete Iruka was renamed Grrl Power by ADV. Incidentally, I really recommend that show if you can pick it up.

Back to the episode, I think the series' first big boss battle was done really well. Jadeite was a bit of a blank slate for most of his run, with a lot of his personality being established in these last two episodes of his. The season's other generals will be more developed, for better or worse. The girls' decision not to transform until they were in the airport always strikes me as a bit odd, but they're still new at this. Despite that tactical hiccup, we can already see how our characters have come a long way in just thirteen episodes, forming a formidable team. This episode gets four stars out of five.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

12 - I Want a Boyfriend: The Luxury Cruise Ship Trap

This episode's title doth protest too much. Naturally, the most lesbian-subtext-laden episode so far is the one with "I Want a Boyfriend" in the name. More on that later.

We open with Jadeite watching a replay of one of his defeats and looking frustrated. A woman appears from a sudden burst of water, and starts flirting with him. She's a Youma called... well, fandom has forever been split over whether her name should be Thetis or Tethys, and Viz gives us... Tetiz. Eh, fair enough. Anyway, Tetris here is a Youma who works directly under Queen Beryl, and her aim is to get into Jadeite's pants. Jadeite isn't interested... and, you know, maybe he has a point. I mean, she's in her human-like form now, but in their true forms, most of the Youma we've seen so far have been giant lizards or walking corpses or evil mechanical dolls. Hell, one of the more attractive Youma we've seen so far was a green bat woman with chest fur. It makes sense that Jadeite isn't looking to form romantic relationships with women whose main purpose is to scare the crap out of viewers, but this Youma has a proposition to make. She has an awesome plan to collect human energy that's guaranteed to get Jadeite back in Beryl's good books, or at the very least out of her "marked for death" books. She calls it... Operation Romantic Cruise.
Oh, there's just a little thing here that I find unintentionally hilarious. After Tetiz says the name of the operation, her eyes get all glowy and her powers flare up, then we hear a ship's horn. It's actually a transition to the next scene, where we see the ship making the noise, but for a split-second it's just Tetiz on screen, powering up, and the sound of a horn, and it's like... is she generating that sound somehow? Is she going to turn into a ship? Is that her true form? Anyway...

Usagi sees a romantic cruise in Tokyo Bay advertised on TV, and wants to go on it. At school, she and Naru look at a print ad for the cruise. Umino comes over and reads some copy from the ad, including that the ship can carry 666 passengers (which is in no way suspicious). Though he has a little fantasy of himself and Usagi on the cruise, it turns out he did actually have tickets... but he gave them away because, well, it's past his bedtime. He says that the local lottery is giving away tickets as prizes, though, and on hearing this, Usagi makes her way calmly to the exit.
Unfortunately, the problem with lotteries is that they suck. Usagi tries and tries, but all she has to show for her efforts is an increasingly large collection of tissues given as consolation prizes. Dejected, she sees Rei passing by and complains about her bad luck. Rei says they don't have the time to waste on things like this... then immediately walks up and tries the lottery herself. Then she proceeds to cheat with her psychic powers. By the way, the background characters in this episode look bizarre.
Rei wins the grand prize - two tickets for the cruise - because as unfair as lotteries are, they're not psychic-proof. Usagi, once she's recovered from hypocrisy-whiplash, proposes that Rei should take her along with her spare ticket. Rei says you're supposed to take a boyfriend... but, well, it's not like either of them have one of those. Then Ami shows up, and Rei quickly takes her aside.

Rei asks Ami to go on the cruise with her. I mean, practically begs her. Rei is so much fun in this episode, saying one thing and immediately doing the exact opposite. She says that she intends to find a boyfriend while on the cruise, sure, but don't recalibrate your yuri detectors just yet. Rei has tickets for a romantic cruise, and the plot hinges on which of her female friends she wants to take with her. You can take the talk of finding boyfriends at face value if you want, but this episode is just swimming in lesbian subtext. Even though the show introduces openly lesbian characters later on, this is the episode that a lot of people - including Erica Friedman, benevolent overlord of western yuri fandom - point to as the one where they first picked up on all that subtext.

So, back to the episode. Usagi overhears Rei and Ami agreeing to go on the cruise together, and resolves to get on that cruise no matter what. And how will she manage this without a ticket? Well, for times like this, she has the Disguise Pen! Over Luna's objections, she disguises herself as a photographer. Usagi with short hair is adorable.
Usagi stuffs Luna into her camera case and gets on the ship. Of course, Jadeite is disguised as the captain. Apparently he can change his hair and skin color, which does raise the question of why he never bothered in previous episodes and instead just wore a pair of sunglasses or something. Anyway, the ship is actually a rusted wreck that Tetiz transformed with her magic, and she tells Jadeite that that's not all her magic can do. Wink wink. If you know what I mean. Jadeite ignores her and instead looks forward to stealing the energy of all of the couples on board.

Speaking of couples, Rei and Ami notice they're the only girls who came without guys. Since everyone else here is part of a couple, it doesn't look like they'll be finding any single dudes here.

Usagi's having better luck, though. While poking around the suspiciously-quiet engine room, she meets a nice, single man: the captain! She says she got separated from her crew, and she's sure a hot guy like him would be able to help her out, right?

Luna immediately senses something evil about the captain, but she's in the box and can't communicate with Usagi. The contrast between Usagi and Jadeite's reactions in this scene is really telling.
Now, you could interpret this as a joke about Usagi's obliviousness in the face of evil, but the important thing here, I think, is Jadeite's reaction. Back when he first encountered Sailor Moon in episode three, he seemed so much more powerful than she was. Now, just being close to her freaks him out, while he isn't even a blip on her radar. One of the people in this scene is way more threatening than the other. Meanwhile, Rei wonders if she and Ami might be able to find guys if they just wait for some of the couples on the ship to fight and break up. Guys who'll hook up with you moments after being dumped by someone else are always top-tier, right?

Usagi is still hanging off Jadeite's arm and scaring the crap out of him for reasons he can't comprehend. He finally gets away from her when Tetiz shows up and needs him for important evil business. Luna finally gets the chance to tell Usagi that the ship is full of evil energy. They spy on Jadeite and Tetiz, who are discussing their plan, but can't hear what they're saying. Usagi has doubts that someone so attractive could be their enemy, but when Jadeite and Tetiz both disappear, she resolves to investigate.

In the dining room, Rei is channeling all of her frustrations into eating as much food as possible, embarrassing Ami. Who'd have thought that out of all our characters, Rei would be the most embarrassing date?
Then Tetiz makes an announcement about a show in the reception hall, and Ami is only too glad to get away. Rei and Ami join the crowds waiting for the show, and Jadeite and Tetiz appear on the stage. Tetiz welcomes them to the most romantic show in the world, and reveals her true form.
You know what, Jadeite? Maybe you should give her a chance. If you reject every woman you meet just because she's covered in blades or doesn't have a face, you'll be single forever.

Tetiz starts to drain the energy from the couples using the mirror ball on the ceiling: based on this and episode seven, I'm just going to assume those things are evil from now on. Everyone collapses except for Rei and Ami, because they didn't bring guys, and I guess the mirror ball was calibrated to hetero couples only?
How rude! Tetiz sends the crew - actually water monsters - after Rei and Ami, and though they fight some of them off, they can't transform in public view. Tetiz points out that these girls aside, they've succeeded in taking a large amount of human energy, and Queen Beryl is bound to be pleased, just as long as nobody comes in and ruins everything in the last few minutes. Outside the reception hall, Usagi transforms into Sailor Moon.

Sailor Moon bursts in and tells off Jadeite and Tetiz for being so inconsiderate as to not steal energy from everyone: what about those girls over there without boyfriends? Tetiz charges Sailor Moon and they end up on the deck of the ship, where Tetiz summons and controls torrents of seawater, aiming them at Sailor Moon. Inside, now that they've had a chance to transform, Sailor Mars and Sailor Mercury deal with the water monsters, and prepare for some sweet revenge.
I've seen the "Damn right!" mentioned in a few places, and yeah, it's not a direct translation, but it really captures the mood, which has been a persistent feature of these subs.

Mars and Mercury come to assist Sailor Moon, and together they're able to wipe out Tetiz. Jadeite confronts them, observing that they're much stronger than they used to be, and they prepare to battle. Jadeite summons a ball of dark energy and... is abruptly teleported away.

Oh boy, Queen Beryl is pissed. On top of his previous failures, Jadeite just let one of her Youma get killed. It's not looking good for him right now.

With Tetiz gone, her magic fades. The passengers wake up to find themselves adrift in Tokyo Bay in a rusty derelict, with rescue ships surrounding them. And then... well, once again, the ending is a bit weak, with all of the characters reverting to their archetypes: Usagi and Rei squabble, Luna gets exasperated and Ami talks about studying. But since Usagi doesn't cry or fall over, it's forgivable.

Monster of the day: Tetiz gets more development than any other monster I can think of, really. She's strong, smart, and really her only flaw is the persistent desire to bone Jadeite that ends up getting her killed.

Most valuable person: Everyone was on fine form, and it's hard to pick a winner. Let's give it to Usagi for freaking out Jadeite so badly, even when posing as a regular person.

Least valuable person: Again, tricky. Nobody really annoyed me here. Jadeite gets it by default for being a bit pathetic and acting kind of dickish towards Tetiz, while proving to be a lot less competent than her in everything other than not-getting-killed.

I like this episode a lot. The characters are funny, the plot is interesting, and we even get a monster of the day with some depth. The lesbian subtext has plenty of "but we really want boyfriends" plausible deniability, but it's there. It's all kind of Class S - an older genre of Japanese fiction where girls crush on girls as a rite of passage before getting on with the important business of being attracted to men. These days, some elements of Class S can seem pretty iffy, as it carries the implication that lesbian attractions are a phase to be grown out of, but in its day it was pretty subversive, as it served as a means to acknowledge and celebrate same-sex attraction without falling foul of censors (though the genre was banned by the Japanese government in the 1930s). Maria-sama ga Miteru is an example of a modern Class S series, and in keeping with more modern attitudes, it has at least one canon lesbian among the many schoolgirl crushes. Sailor Moon would go on to be groundbreaking in its portrayal of lesbian characters, and this feels like a first, nervous step in that direction.

All in all, this episode ranks amongst the most memorable of early Sailor Moon, and earns itself a solid four stars out of five.

Oh, and I don't usually comment on the next episode trailers, but thank you, Viz for doing a better job translating the next episode's title than ADV did.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

11 - Usagi vs. Rei: Nightmare in Dream Land

Last week's episodes weren't so great, eh? Never mind, because things start to improve for a bit starting with this latest episode.

The team are at Rei's shrine, where Luna is trying to conduct a meeting, but Usagi and Ami are more preoccupied with going through Rei's stuff. Ami's reading her encyclopedias while Usagi's reading her manga. By the way, this episode subtly kicks off the running theme that Rei is a bit of a closet nerd. It's never a huge thing, but it's always there, just another little element of her character.

Luna gets frustrated that nobody's listening to her lecture about how they need to find the moon princess. But as Usagi and Rei point out, they don't know how to find her, and Luna hasn't exactly been forthcoming with a description. Ami helps Luna save face by changing the subject and suggesting they focus on their other mission: dealing with these monsters that have been showing up recently. She points out a recent incident at the nearby amusement park, Dream Land, where fifty visitors apparently disappeared. Fortunately for us, there was no mention of flying buses in the vicinity.

This is the first episode with Masahiro Ando as art director. He has the infamous round-faced style, and a lot of fans aren't keen. For me, it really depends on the episode. The style is jarring in more serious episodes, but frankly, it sort of works in more whimsical episodes like this one.

But it's not all fun and games: in the Dark Kingdom, Jadeite is getting a right old bollocking for having screwed up another plan, and letting yet another Sailor Guardian show up. Beryl is now openly threatening him, and he nervously insists that he has another energy-gathering plan in place; a really, really good one this time.

The gang visit Dream Land, where Jadeite is posing as the park's PR guy and taking questions from reporters. Well, kind of: he insists the park has nothing to do with the disappearances, then ejects the press from the building. Literally ejects them.
Jadeite might have his failings as an evil general, but he's definitely someone you'd want on your side at a press conference.

Ami and Rei debate what could have happened to the visitors who disappeared, then realize they've lost Usagi somewhere. Usagi, of course, is trying out the rides. One scolding from Luna later, I'm reminded why I sometimes like Ando's art style: you get priceless scenes like this.
It's the combination of Rei's pose and Ami's expression that makes it perfect, I think. And it's quickly followed by this...
Which is Usagi's response to a friggin' lion showing up in front of them. Well, it turns out that the lion is animatronic, and is one of many animatronic animals operated by the park's mascot, Princess Dream. Because what amusement park experience isn't enhanced by realistic apex predators wandering the grounds? Princess Dream demonstrates how she can control the park's animals using a weird apple she carries around with her. Man, I knew those Disney princesses had to have a secret. I'm onto you, Snow White.

Rei is thoroughly creeped out by Princess Dream, and thinks something's up. Usagi is unconvinced. Come on, Usagi, listen to the psychic girl. Princess Dream further ingratiates herself with Usagi by inviting her to a show at the House of Sweets. The House of Sweets? That's like Usagi's heaven. The only way it could be better is if it was called the House of Sweets, Hot Guys and No Homework.

We get a closeup of the House of Sweets, but... hey, isn't that the Dark Kingdom music playing? Yep, Jadeite is inside, surrounded by unconscious bodies, talking about how he intends to lure the Sailor Guardians inside. Which does at least show that the Dark Kingdom have finally started gathering intel on their enemies. Their data for Sailor Moon probably consists of "likes sweets".

Our heroes search the park for suspicious activity, but aren't finding anything, so Luna decides they'll split up. She'll go with Ami, who's the least likely to call her out on having no idea what she's doing, which means Usagi and Rei are stuck with each other. They investigate Princess Dream again. Rei is still suspicious of her, and unnerved by the crowd of children forming around her and her fake animals. She tries to get a small boy away from her, but Usagi insists that it's fine, and this dispute can only escalate into one thing...
Childhood trauma. One day years from now this kid will be telling a therapist about the time two amazingly strong women tried to pull his legs off.

Usagi and Rei switch to patrolling the park... on a tiny train driven by a panda. The train stops suddenly, and Usagi collides with the guy in front, who is... Mamoru! Mamoru tells Usagi off as usual, and Rei, who's spent the last few hours being massively irritated by Usagi, hits it off with him. Well, after so many episodes being on the receiving end of Mamoru's inexplicable ire, Usagi tells him off, pointing out that a grown man riding the kiddie train isn't in a position to be judging others.
It's really great to see Usagi giving as good as she gets. This is probably my favorite scene in the episode. Rei thinks Mamoru looks like Tuxedo Mask, while Usagi is unimpressed with the comparison.
Usagi and Rei meet up with Luna outside the House of Sweets. Rei senses evil, and Ami has already gone in. Inside, Princess Dream shows up and breathes a strange hypnotic gas on the crowd, causing them to fall into a dream-like state. She then uses her apple to start absorbing their energy. Ami is aware of what's happening, but also starts to succumb to the energy draining.

Outside, Rei senses that something really bad has happened. The doors are locked, and Usagi starts to freak out that Ami's trapped. There's a little bit between her and Rei where Rei insists that just because she's acting calm, it doesn't mean she isn't concerned. They both transform, and Sailor Mars blows the doors off with Fire Soul. Jadeite senses them as they enter: he intended to lure them in here.

Sailor Moon, Sailor Mars and Luna encounter Princess Dream, who starts working her illusion magic on them. She hands Sailor Moon a garland of flowers, and as Sailor Mars tries to knock it away, it turns into a snake. Mars gets bitten and her arm starts turning to stone. Again, Mars doesn't freak out, but uses an ofuda to expel the evil influence, freeing her. Then she demands Princess Dream show her true form.

Rei, why did you have to ask her that?
Oh god oh god oh god

Thanks to my friend Crayola for providing these gifs; still images just don't do this scene justice. The spinning and the mechanical sound effects and the creepy, creepy music box music just makes this an amazingly scary sequence. Evil dolls are pretty much guaranteed to be scary, but they really nailed this scene. Brrrr.

So, the Youma's name is Moorido. That's a slightly different translation than I'd been expecting, but no matter. In Japanese, her name is an anagram of "dream", but that kind of thing just can't be reproduced in English. You'll be pleased to know that in addition to her freaky appearance, Moorido also speaks in a weird, faux-childlike falsetto.

She sprays more of the hallucinogenic gas their way. Sailor Moon resolves not to fall for another illusion, but the illusion this time is Tuxedo Mask. And both Sailor Moon and Sailor Mars fall for it. Completely.
In their defense, who wouldn't want a man with his own horse? While I'd usually be inclined to criticize the episode for having the characters act like idiots, I think this slightly balances out the running theme of Sailor Mars being way more competent than Sailor Moon: sometimes, Mars can be a huge dork too.

Fortunately, the real Tuxedo Mask shows up just long enough to knock Moorido's apple out of her grasp, disrupting the illusion. Sailor Moon and Sailor Mars look kind of embarrassed, then run for it when the Youma prepares to work the same magic on them again. They meet up with Ami, who's fared better than the room full of unconscious visitors, but is still weakened. She tells them that the source of the Youma's energy-draining power is the apple, and then transforms into Sailor Mercury.

Mercury casts Bubble Spray, leaving the Youma unable to see her surroundings. Mars descends on her with a frankly unnecessary panty shot, and attaches an ofuda to her head, freezing her in place. Then Sailor Moon and Sailor Mars deliver a combined Moon Tiara Action/Fire Soul, turning the Youma to dust. Jadeite watches his plan evaporate and swears revenge, but he's sweating a lot more now that he used to. And... did the whole building just turn to dust? Hmm.

I guess the rest of the park is non-evil, though, because the girls are walking through it afterwards and it looks fine. Then I guess nobody could think of an ending for this episode, because after squabbling with Rei a bit, Usagi falls over. Oh well.

Monster of the day: Moorido. Evil appearance, evil voice, evil transformation. She has some kind of dream-inducing illusion magic. She makes snakes that turn people to stone. She's bad news.

Most valuable person: As the title says, it's Usagi versus Rei! Rei wins, showing she's really on top of things, even if she was a bit mean to Usagi and capable of screwing up herself on occasion.

Least valuable person: It's tempting to go with Usagi, as the episode ramped up her stupidity and childishness, though not nearly as much as the last episode did. I'm going with Mamoru instead, though, because while did get called out on it, his sole purpose this episode was to do his usual being-a-jerk routine.

This episode is a mixed bag, though a bag containing mostly good things. A lot of the interplay between Usagi and Rei is fun, there's some good comedy, and the Youma is scary as balls. On the other hand... Usagi plays it a bit too dumb at times, and I really hate that lazy, lazy ending. This episode is a pretty solid three stars out of five: not amazing, but certainly entertaining.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

10 - The Cursed Bus: Enter Mars, the Guardian of Fire

This episode is a tale of wasted potential. It's Rei's debut episode. Everyone loves Rei! She's an awesome character. How could her debut not be just as awesome? Plus, the first half sets up some genuinely interesting stuff, and then... well, we'll get to it.

We start off with Beryl chewing out Jadeite. She's annoyed that the Silver Crystal hasn't been found yet, and says that if the Sailor Guardians get to it first, they'll all be in serious trouble. She tells Jadeite to get more human energy and deal with the Sailor Guardians properly this time.

Usagi and Luna are out walking, and are surprised to see police cars speeding past them. I'm surprised every time this show remembers that the cops exist. They see Ami at a bus stop, and Ami tells them she's on her way to cram school. Usagi's surprised that Ami's attending a cram school that she needs a bus to get to, but bear in mind her last cram school turned its students into zombies, so it makes sense that she'd look further afield. More cops go past, then Naru and Kuri show up. They tell Usagi and Ami about a strange incident on the bus route the previous day, when the 6 PM bus, full of passengers, disappeared. The police kept it quiet at first, but when no ransom demand was made, they made the investigation public. All of the girls are pretty freaked out by this, but Usagi remembers there's a famous shrine nearby, whose good luck amulets are said to be very effective. They decide to head there, except for Ami, who has cram school.

At the Hikawa shrine, some schoolgirls ring the shrine bell and pray for good luck in love. Sweeping up nearby is... Jadeite? Inside the shrine, a shrine maiden flanked by two crows consults the flames, and senses a dark energy approaching.

Back outside, the shrine's strange old head priest offers the girls a special blessing, offers them jobs at the shrine, tries to get them to buy more stuff and is maybe just a bit too friendly. They run off, laughing. The priest greets the next group, which is Usagi, Luna, Naru, and Kuri, and asks them if they'd like to work as shrine maidens. His granddaughter Rei, the shrine maiden, shows up and scolds him for flirting with visitors. Usagi blushes at how pretty Rei is, and we get this absolutely priceless line.
I'm not sure if this is supposed to be a double entendre in Japanese as well, but I do know that both Viz and ADV translated this line the exact same way. Given the other characters' reactions to Usagi saying this out loud, I think it's fair to say she was pretty obviously smitten in both languages.

As the previous group of girls leave the shrine, Jadeite casts some dark magic on them, causing their eyes to glaze over. Rei senses something evil, jumps straight into exorcism mode, and smacks Usagi right in the face with an ofuda. Oops...
Usagi is recovering inside the shrine. Naru and Kuri see Jadeite and want to know who the hot guy is. The mention of a hot guy brings Usagi round. Rei explains that her grandpa is overly friendly with everyone who visits the shrine, and offered this guy a job. Looks like everyone in this show appreciates a hot guy.

Rei apologizes for knocking Usagi out, and says that something weird has been happening, throwing off her psychic powers. Luna wonders if these powers could mean she's their princess. Then a woman storms in and says her daughter disappeared on the bus yesterday. She thinks the shrine has something to do with it. Rei chases her out, saying they've already spoken to the police and defending her grandpa against the accusations.

Outside the the shrine, Luna tells Usagi the enemy must be involved. They call Ami back, and notice the line of stunned-looking girls at the bus stop, all of them with love amulets from the Hikawa shrine. The bus pulls up, and the girls start to get on. Though Ami and Luna want to get on the bus and investigate, Usagi freaks out and refuses. A freakout of this magnitude feels a bit out of character given the scary stuff Usagi has willingly walked into by this point in the show, but oh well. Ami says they'll just have to come back tomorrow, but then the bus... uh... takes off. And flies into a weird black portal. Well, that would explain where the last bus went. The bus emerges into a weird dimension - the show loves its weird dimensions recently - and the driver contacts Jadeite, then drains the energy from the unconscious girls on board.

The next day, Usagi and Luna return to the shrine to talk to Rei. Usagi says she saw another bus disappear, and wants to know if Rei has any information, but Rei takes it as an accusation and shoos Usagi away. Luna has left her a little present, though, and not in the way cats usually do...
Okay, just leaving the transformation pen on the ground is a weird strategy. Even assuming Rei picks it up, she isn't going to know what to do with it. Well, the episode has been mostly quite good up until now, but this moment signals its descent into the depths of stupid.

Rei takes the item, and starts to wonder about Jadeite. They certainly have been selling a lot of amulets since he showed up. She consults her fire again, but Jadeite disturbs her. She tells him to bugger off, and starts to wonder if his presence is what's been messing up her divinations.

Usagi and Luna are in the line for the bus again. Usagi wants to know why Luna just left that pen there for Rei to find. Me too, Usagi. The bus arrives, and they'd been planning to get on it with Ami, but she isn't there yet. So Usagi and Luna will have to investigate themselves. And Usagi freaks out again.
Your hero, ladies and gentlemen. Look, I get it, show. You're introducing a cool new character and you want her to seem as awesome as possible. Fair enough. But I'm sure there are better ways to do it then making the main heroine look pathetic. It's fine that Usagi gets scared. It's part of her character. But this? It's embarrassing.

So, Usagi has an idea, and uses the disguise pen to turn into a flight attendant. Yes, a flight attendant. It is a flying bus, so I guess that makes some sense, kind of. She and Luna get on the bus and see that all of the girls who got on are now unconscious. Usagi challenges the bus driver, but the bus takes off like the previous one did, disappearing into a dimensional rift thingy. Ami arrives just in time to see them disappear.

Rei conducts another divination, and the flames indicate that Jadeite is to blame for everything that's happened. Don't ask me why her powers are suddenly working again now. She goes to confront him, accompanied by her crows. Unfortunately, Jadeite is a higher-tier evil than she'd been expecting, and he opens another black-hole-portal-thing (it's not like the show ever explains these damn things, so I've no idea what to call them) and she and the crows get sucked inside.

In the weird dimension, which has been repainted since the last episode's clock theme, we see the three buses floating in the air. Okay, so that would mean... there's no gravity here? Nope, there's gravity, as Usagi and Luna discover when they exit the bus and fall on the ground. The buses are just floating there because... because that's how the Dark Kingdom rolls, okay? The bus driver jumps out, and catches Rei as she falls out of another portal. The bus driver reveals her Youma form, and I have to say, she's one of the scariest-looking Youma the show has given us.

Usagi... cries again. I mean, why not go for the hat trick at this point? Then she transforms.She throws her tiara at the Youma, which dodges it. Then Rei's crows show up and attack the Youma. She drops Rei to fight them off, because... actually, I guess that's fair enough. Crows are scary, and this Youma has the additional problem of looking like a corpse, so for all she knows, they're looking for lunch. Then the tiara loops back and the Youma grabs it, and then... well... it somehow turns into a big glowing ring that wraps around her and traps her. No, the tiara has never done this before, and it will never do it again. They completely pulled this power out of their asses.

While the Youma's restrained, Luna tells Rei to use the transformation pen she picked up earlier to become Sailor Mars. Yeah, so it looks like leaving the pen there earlier served no purpose, since Luna could have just given it to her here. Anyway, the Youma breaks free and Rei transforms.
Sailor Mars has joined the fight! Sorry your debut episode sucks so bad...

Sailor Mars uses her Fire Soul attack against the Youma, and... instantly burs her to death. Pretty good for a first try, I'd say. But the attack also causes the portal to start to close. I don't know why, it just does. The crows start to make a break for it, but since the portal's way up in the air, our not-flying protagonists seem to be completely stuffed. More crying from Sailor Moon. Back at the bus stop, Ami sheds a tear onto her transformation pen, and... uh... a light starts shining through the portal.
Yeah... Um... yeah. Let's go with that. In any case, it's not like they didn't already know where the exit was; they just can't get to it because it's in the sky. So how are they supposed to get there? And what about all the unconscious victims in the buses?

There's been plenty of dumb stuff already, but it's at this point that the episode truly decides it just doesn't give a crap.
Tuxedo Mask! Hi! You're... on a bus. In a dimensional void.

But hang on, the portal's still up in the sky. How are they supposed to...
Right. Okay then. Tuxedo Mask was here all along, and he can drive magical flying buses.

You know, I complained a bit in the last episode about how Tuxedo Mask just sort of showed up out of nowhere and inexplicably knew exactly what to do. The tuxedo ex machina. This is the same thing, but times a hundred. I can't imagine a dumber resolution.

So they arrive back in reality, and conveniently don't show the process of landing three buses simultaneously on concrete. Tuxedo Mask disappears, there's a bit where Sailor Moon wonders if Sailor Mars is in love with Tuxedo Mask; Mars says she isn't but doesn't rate Sailor Moon's chances with a an ace bus pilot. Then Usagi cries again because God knows we haven't had enough of that already in this episode.
And Mars succinctly expresses her feelings about the quality of her debut episode.

Monster of the day: Kigaan. Kigaan looks cool! Kigaan has no cool powers at all. Seriously. Even the Nakayoshi Anime Album, a guidebook which often includes details that didn't make it into the episodes, lists her powers as "Drives a bus".

Most valuable person: Rei, I guess. Burning up that Youma was pretty badass.

Least valuable person: Usagi, who cries so much in this episode she's in danger of severe dehydration. Even episode one Usagi would find this kind of crying excessive.

Like I said at the beginning, this episode had the potential to be good. Now, I'm a fan of the Sailor Moon anime first and foremost. You won't hear me say "it was better in the manga" very often, but... it was better in the manga. And here's the thing: the manga version of this story was pretty dumb too, but it didn't revel in its own stupidity anywhere near as much as this episode does.

For instance, all the stuff with Usagi crying and refusing the get on the first bus was added, presumably because they needed to fill time: the story is based on a single manga chapter which would last maybe ten minutes in a straight adaptation. The way in which they escape from the dimensional void is different in the manga. It's still pretty stupid, but it's not Tuxedo-Mask-in-a-flying-bus stupid. Even the scene where Rei smacks Usagi with an ofuda... in the anime it just comes out of nowhere, but it the manga it's the first time they're meeting, so it makes sense that Rei might mistake this unexpected newcomer for her enemy. The anime has a lot of stuff happen without any explanation, and while the manga does too, it at least has the excuse of there being limited space to tell the story. The anime had so much additional time that it was inserting scenes of Usagi crying just to fill up the episode. Why not use some of that time to explain some of the crazy crap that's happening?

This episode gets one star out of five. That doesn't mean it didn't have some good stuff in there, it's just that said good stuff was completely outweighed by the nonsense that followed. This is probably one of the most-watched episodes of Sailor Moon. As Rei's debut episode it's on every "essential episodes" list (and don't get me started on how stupid that is; if you want to watch the show, just watch the damn show). This should have been a classic episode, but they blew it completely.

And I know there are people that like this episode. If you're one of them, more power to you. My opinions often don't match up with the rest of the fandom. There are two more episodes this season that I know will be getting one star, and both of them are popular episodes. It's all just my own opinions, and it's my opinion that Rei deserved something much, much better than this for her debut episode.