Monday, June 2, 2014

7 - Usagi Learns Her Lesson: Becoming a Star is Hard Work

Usagi is on her way to school, running late, when she notices a poster for an energy drink featuring a local celebrity, Mikan Shiratori. While she's looking at the poster, Naru runs past her and smacks her in the head with her bag. At school, Naru tells Usagi she ought to thank her, because the smack in the head prevented her from being late. Yeah... one of the themes of this episode is Naru being a terrible person, so brace yourself for more of that. Umino has a copy of the poster Usagi saw, which he obtained through the internet. It's kind of interesting to see a reference to the internet in a show from 1992, and though it makes sense that Umino was an early adopter, in this show he seems to be using it in school, with a laptop and no modem. The text on the laptop display is huge, so at least that's authentic.

Umino uses the early nineties internet to reel off a lot of biographical data on Mikan Shiratori: she went to their school, she's 17 years old and she's currently making a fortune. She was also supposedly discovered right there in town. Some of the girls wonder how the talent scouts have missed them, and say they must be blind. Umino replies that, no, they can evidently see very well. It's a mean thing to say, sure, but if there's one thing we know about Umino, it's that he tends to offend people without even trying. In fact, he's trying to pay a compliment to Usagi, who he says is the school's next undiscovered star. The other girls look pretty unimpressed at this announcement, and even Usagi, bless her, seems surprised.
Still, she ultimately seems kind of taken with the idea. Meanwhile, Jadeite is spying on Mikan Shiratori, who's signing autographs at the launch of her new TV show, called Rock! Paper! Scissors! Seriously, that's the name. I'd say it's the least interesting premise for a show imaginable, but we already have an international hit show that consists entirely of people guessing what's in a box, so I guess I just don't understand what sells.

At Usagi's place, Usagi and Naru have decided they'll become celebrities, and they start work on their singing act. So they put on a song to practice singing. Now, the show does sometimes have these moments where someone will start singing something from the soundtrack, but at this early point in the show's existence, there wasn't a soundtrack, so they try to sing Moonlight Densetsu, which is the theme song. I guess it isn't actually that unusual for characters in a show to acknowledge the theme tune in some knowing, wink-to-the-audience moment, but I've always found it to be a bit tiresome.

Anyway, Usagi and Naru suck. Their singing is awful, but their dancing seems to somehow be worse, and they seem unable to move around without hitting each other. Shingo comes in at one point to complain about the terrible noise. The girls blame each other for how bad they are, and then decide to split their act up, declaring that they will be rivals from now on.

Later, Usagi and her family are watching TV. Now, I don't know whether it's due to the cleanup job on this episode, but there's something in this scene that I managed to miss every time I've watched it before, and it kind of makes what follows make more sense. So, there's a guy on TV and he has this trained monkey wearing clothes that does stuff when he gives it commands. But you don't see the screen for very long, and when I first saw this episode, I totally thought that monkey was a little old man.
In my defense, I first saw this scene in a Real Media fansub, which is sort of like watching a show via animated forum avatars, such was the low resolution. I just always assumed that this was some impenetrable Japanese comedy show which makes fun of short people because being short=comedy gold or something. The scene is so short that I guess I never really looked at it after that first time.

The show is actually about performing animals, I guess, and the trained monkey (which doesn't even look that much like an old man, what was I thinking) gives Usagi an idea. Her singing career ended before it got off the ground, but she totally has access to a super-intelligent animal! So she takes Luna to her room, and... has her do the same super-basic trick the monkey did. Have some originality, Usagi. This cat is probably smarter than you...

Umino shows up at Naru's place and... oh right, this part. Well, I might have been too harsh on the show earlier when I just assumed it was using short people as a punchline. But hey, you know what's always funny? Men in dresses!

Okay, okay. This show is from 1992, and even in 2014, we're still at a point where "lol, man in a dress" is an oft-used punchline. Early-nineties Japan was pretty piss-poor on LGBT rights, and Sailor Moon was amazingly progressive for its time. But it's like watching old episodes of Star Trek: we can appreciate it for being ahead of its time on social issues, but there are plenty of bits that are just blatantly sexist by today's standards. And that doesn't make it a bad show, it's fine to like it, but it's important to acknowledge those dodgy parts for what they are, and not make excuses.

So yeah, the whole Umino-in-a-dress part is borderline offensive, but it's also just weird. Usually when a show puts a guy in a dress for comedy purposes, they'll go with something outrageous. But with Umino...
Naru dresses him like a Sunday School teacher or something. And then proceeds to be awful to him throughout the scene, reassuring Umino that this will make Usagi like him, while commenting to herself that he looks hilariously bad in the dress she made him wear.

Meanwhile, Mikan Shiratori is attacked in the shower by a genuinely freaky Youma that sprays her with... I think it's supposed to be a sort of liquid glass. It imprisons her in a cocoon of this stuff, then takes on her appearance, and we cut to...

Jadeite and Evil Mikan. Jadeite is barely disguised as some announcer, and they're on a mobile outdoor stage encouraging kids to join the Cinderella Caravan and become celebrities. Then the satellite dish on top of the truck starts emitting waves that make everyone present want to be famous. Question: if this plan is supposed to be feeding off the desire to be famous, why is it necessary to hypnotize people into wanting to be famous? I dunno, it's a minor complaint, I suppose.

At school, the girls are talking about the Cinderella Caravan, which Usagi hasn't heard of, so hey, it's another opportunity for Naru to be insulting. Usagi gets the idea of taking her "act" with Luna there in the hopes of being discovered. Then Umino walks past and acts effeminate because, you know, he wore a dress recently. Comedy gold!

The Cinderella Caravan is almost busted when the cops show up, and... wait, Tokyo has cops? Could have fooled me these past six and a half episodes. Okay, so it's just one cop, and he wants to know why all these kids aren't in school. Also, Mikan's manager shows up, wanting to know why she's cancelled all her bookings. But they're hit with the fame-ray like the others and become wannabe celebrities, forming some sort of entry-level gymnastics act.

Usagi tries to get Luna to go to the Cinderella Caravan with her, but Luna refuses, explaining that she humored Usagi with her act because she thought the change of pace would be good for her, but actually trying to become a celebrity would get in the way of their mission. It's a bit harsh, but I can't hate Luna too much for this, given that she's an intelligent being who's been made to perform one dumb trick repeatedly. Usagi is devastated, and runs off crying, but sees Mamoru. I guess he was away last time getting his jerk license renewed. He's also not wearing the jerk-shades he typically wears up until this point, and is, uh, smiling. This might be an attempt to soften him and make him more likeable, but most of his behavior is unchanged. He asks if Usagi is going to the Cinderella Caravan and then mocks the idea, rather than, I don't know, asking the clearly upset girl what's wrong. Usagi leaves in a huff, and Mamoru watches her go with a smile that isn't inherently creepy, except it's completely static and lingers on the screen for way too long.
So, back at the Cinderella Caravan, two of the girls from Usagi's class, Kuri and Yumiko, are doing a stand-up routine, and... okay, translation, you just impressed me with how you handled that untranslatable bread/pants pun. I mean, yeah, the joke is awful, but I think that was the point. Kuri's also speaking in a Kansai accent, which is Japan's comedy accent apparently. Evil Mikan stamps their hands and they advance to the next round, despite being terrible. The same goes for Naru and Umino, Umino having replaced Usagi in Naru's singing duo. The qualifying acts - which appears to be all of them - are told they'll be performing live on Sunday.

Usagi gets to school the next day, and finds her classmates completely preoccupied with their forthcoming fame. Kuri and Yumiko are telling more terrible jokes, Naru is practicing signing autographs, and Umino is distributing streamers because the rules of comedy dictate he has to be hit in the face by one later in the scene. Usagi wonders why everyone isn't getting ready for class, and you know things are bad when it's Usagi complaining that people are neglecting their studies. But the other students are too caught up in their fantasies to listen. Also, Umino gets hit in the face with a streamer.

While the students perform and then argue about who's the real star, Usagi and Luna discuss the strange behavior going on all over town, with people neglecting their jobs in an effort to become famous, and they speculate that a Youma might be involved. Hmm, you think? (Okay, I'm being a bit cruel - at least they figure it out beforehand rather than blindly stumbling into the trap...)

Usagi and Luna show up at the venue, and notice that there's no audience. Backstage, Evil Mikan tells the would-be celebrities that the audience is waiting, and sure enough, the seats are suddenly filled with creepy two-dimensional shadow people.The curtains raise, the hand-stamps the competitors received at the tryouts begin to glow... and the performances start. That is, all of them, at the same time. Evil Mikan starts collecting their energy via her microphone, and Jadeite supervises the process in the shadows.

Usagi and Luna, standing at the back, watch the performers and wonder what the hell's going on. Then Evil Mikan notices them, and rotates her head 180 degrees, because if you've got that skill, you might as well put it to good use.
Okay, that's pretty scary. Scary enough to make Usagi run off and hide in the bathroom, but after a few moments to compose herself, she transforms into Sailor Moon and returns to the auditorium.

All of the competitors are now drained of their energy and unconscious, but someone else is on the stage. It's Sailor Moon, who tells the Youma off. Unfortunately, the Youma still has the weird glass-blowing power it used to trap Mikan, and encases Sailor Moon in glass. Tuxedo Mask appears for his usual assist-and-distraction routine (actually, we haven't seen him outside of a dream sequence since episode three) and shatters the glass trapping Sailor Moon. Sailor Moon hits the Youma in the back with her tiara, and the whole auditorium gets a lovely shower of broken glass. The competitors all wake up, mostly back to normal, though Kuri hasn't quite managed to shake the Kansai accent. The real Mikan wakes up in her bath, looking confused. Then, back at home, Luna gets a bit of symbolic payback for her indignities earlier in the episode.

This is the last of the solo-Usagi episodes, and while it isn't the worst of the bunch, it's probably the least interesting. The plot doesn't do anything unexpected, the jokes are lazy, and while it does benefit from a scary Youma, even the fight scene plays out almost exactly as you'd expect. And what's with the title? Usagi Learns Her Lesson: Becoming a Star is Hard Work? Usagi doesn't even compete in the contest.

Monster of the day: Derella, who I don't think is named anywhere in the episode, and spends most of her screentime pretending to be Mikan. A good, scary Youma with a glass theme. I think the dress and wig make her way scarier, actually.

Most valuable person: Kind of a tough one, given that this episode was so generic, with everyone behaving pretty much as expected. I'm gonna go with Usagi, for taking things seriously and not holding it against Luna when she refused to compete. Also, that was a scary Youma.

Least valuable person: Naru, for jerkish behavior throughout the episode but especially her treatment of Umino.

The score for this episode is two stars out of five. Even leaving out the "Look! It's a man in a dress! Comedy!" stuff with Umino, this is an episode that just never seems to try that hard. It's not terrible, just ordinary and predictable. While the solo-Usagi episodes had some real highlights, maybe this was a sign she desperately needed some of those costars the opening had been promising for weeks now.

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