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.
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...
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...
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.
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 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.
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.
But hang on, the portal's still up in the sky. How are they supposed to...
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.
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.