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).

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