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!
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.
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...
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.
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).