Tuesday, June 3, 2014

8 - Is the Genius Girl a Demon?! The Brainwashing Cram School of Horror

It's time for Ami's introductory episode. And I can't help but feel the irony that the title, the pre-episode teaser and the preview from the last episode all conceal the fact that Ami's a Sailor Guardian... when that surprise is kind of spoiled by the opening. But whatever, the teaser kept in the Einstein and Hawking references, so it's fine.

(By the way, even though I've always used Sailor Senshi, I guess I'll be using Sailor Guardian from now on as that seems to be the official translation now. That doesn't necessarily mean I'll be using every Viz translation; for instance, I use Youma rather than Monster because the show has plenty of other monsters, and it cuts down on ambiguity)

We start in the Dark Kingdom, where Jadeite and Queen Beryl are discussing cram schools and might just possibly be voicing the opinions of the writers here. Competitive parents are likened to Youma, pushing their kids to be in the top schools, then top universities. Beryl asks what happens when they leave the top universities.
Yep, I'll drink to that. And while the writers' previous attempts at social commentary resulted in the muddled message of episode four, this one doesn't get in the way of the rest of the episode.

In the Tsukino house, Usagi's mom is very keen to know how Usagi did on the recent practice exams. The results are due the next day, and Usagi... isn't confident. She laments to Luna, who isn't too sympathetic when she sees that Usagi is only pretending to study, and is in fact reading comics. The discussion moves to the mission to find the princess, and the nature of their enemies. Usagi, quite justifiably, wants to know exactly what it is she's fighting, and Luna doesn't know.

That night, Luna sneaks into the Crown arcade and consults a mysterious contact via a communications system built into the Sailor V game. She expresses frustration with Sailor Moon, and mentions sensing a strange energy from a girl she's seen recently. Her contact doesn't really offer her any new information, but tells her to prioritize her investigation of this girl.

At school the next day, the exam results are out, and Ami Mizuno scored first place - not just in the school, but in the entire country. Naru, Umino and that nameless sort-of-chubby girl from episode four tell Usagi how Ami attends an expensive cram school, but doesn't have to pay since they gave her a scholarship (it's common for cram schools to let extremely high-achieving students attend for free, because it's good publicity and helps keep their average scores high). Popular opinion of Ami is pretty negative, it seems, and Usagi sees Ami nearby, looking lonely. They make eye contact, and Usagi panics because her group was just gossiping about her, and tries to act natural, and fails because Usagi is a terrible liar.

Oh, and for anyone who's never seen the show but is inexplicably finding out about it for the first time via these recaps, Ami is totally the girl that Luna was suspicious of. Shock!

Usagi's exam results sucked, and on the way home she laments that her mom is bound to be angry... though the details of her daydream are a little... uh...
Anyway, Usagi notices Ami, just in time to see Luna drop from above and land on top of her. Ami's response is to pet her, because kitty! This isn't quite what Luna expected. Usagi makes her presence known, and Ami starts being completely adorable.
Usagi agrees with me. She starts to hit it off with Ami, despite Luna's whispered warnings that there's something not quite right about her. Usagi has an ulterior motive, though: a genius like Ami might be able to help her with her awful grades.

They visit the arcade, Ami mentions that she hasn't played video games before, so Usagi says she'll be her tutor. Usagi kind of sucks at the Sailor V game. Then Ami takes her turn, and... well, she's good. In fact, she gets the arcade's all-time high score, and draws a crowd of astonished gamers. Then she realizes she's late for her cram school, and pushes through the crowd to get away. Usagi expresses surprise that Ami attends cram school every day, but she sadly says that studying is the only thing she's good at. After she leaves, Motoki hands Usagi a floppy disc that Ami dropped in her hasty departure. Meanwhile, there's something evil at Ami's cram school, but it ain't Ami...

Ami arrives at cram school and realizes she doesn't have her disc. Side note: I just noticed that the Japanese for floppy disc is furoppii. That's awesome. Anyway, Ami shrugs it off, since she doesn't use the disc much anyway. The cram school teacher, who looks downright freaky, shows up and reminds her that she should totally be using the disc all the time, by the way. Ami smiles and nods, but once she's gone she mentions that using the disc gives her headaches.

So, what's on the disc? Usagi and Luna are outside the cram school reading their publicity, which says that using their disc can make anyone a genius. Then Mamoru shows up, making fun of the very idea that Usagi might be interested in studying, because, I dunno, for every one hundred times he deflates a teenage girl's ego he gets a free hideous jacket or something. More to the point, he asks, was that cat just talking? The reaction to this is just priceless.
Well, in their haste to evade questioning, they didn't get the chance to return Ami's disc. But Luna's suspicious of it, and asks Usagi to return to the school and find a computer so that they can study it. Usagi's no good with computers that don't have joysticks attached, but fortunately Luna is. They load the disc and get a literal blue screen of death, which emits a piercing sound while Jadeite's voice commands them to surrender their energy. Luna decides this must mean that Ami is their enemy, since of course she's the only one who attends that cram school. Right? Luna jumps to a lot of conclusions in this episode.

They return to the cram school, and Usagi uses the Disguise Pen to change into a doctor. She rushes in, claiming she heard someone inside needed medical attention. From the look of the students, everyone in there needs medical attention. Except for Ami, who tells Usagi to quiet down because people are trying to study. She accuses Ami of being a Youma, and transforms into Sailor Moon. Ami is understandably stunned...
Which allows the teacher to grab her. In a twist I bet you didn't see coming, the teacher is a Youma! Sailor Moon, a little pissed off at Luna for jumping to the wrong conclusion, confronts the Youma. Unfortunately, this is Garoben, the Youma of knowledge, and there's going to be a quiz. Sailor Moon fails the physics part of the exam and has to dodge razor-sharp test papers as a result. Then the Youma sets the hordes of brainwashed zombie students on her, while she prepares to extract Ami's genius energy. Only... it doesn't work, and Ami is unharmed, because she didn't use the disc. A symbol lights up on Ami's head, and Luna seems to recognize it. Yep, she's one of the Sailor Guardians, explaining the weird energy Luna had sensed from her. Luna spawns a new item with her magical stock footage of item spawning, but right now, Ami is preoccupied with a Youma that wants the energy from her brain, and is prepared to go to extreme lengths to get it. These include turning her arm into an axe to cut off Ami's head.
Holy crap, that is far and away the scariest thing this show has done so far. Luna tosses Ami her new transformation pen and tells her what to do. To her credit, Ami doesn't even act surprised that a cat is talking to her, and instead repeats the transformation phrase and gets down to business.
Sailor Mercury has joined the fight!

Sailor Moon's having a bit of a zombie problem, and Mercury's still being pursued by a Youma intent on decapitation, so Luna advises Mercury to use her attack. So, yeah, the attack is translated as Bubble Spray, which isn't inaccurate, but might piss off some purists who preferred Sab√£o Spray. Personally I always liked Shabon Spray, the compromise version that pissed off everyone. In any case, given the hawk-like supervision this translation is getting from the creators, things as significant as attack names are undoubtedly subject to approval from on-high, so this one probably comes straight from the top.

But let's talk about the attack. In the first season, Mercury has the suckiest powers. Bubble Spray is a debuff; it doesn't generally inflict damage. Still, it can be situationally very useful, such as here, where Mercury reduces her opponent's ability to see her in a room full of reflective computer screens. Sure enough, the Youma ends up attacking the screens. Sailor Moon uses the opportunity to send a tiara her way, and the Youma is killed. As the cram school students come to their senses, Sailor Moon and Luna welcome their new recruit to the team.

Back at school, Usagi is happy to have Ami as an ally, since there'll be all that help with studying she's sure to get from it. Ami, for her part, seems to be taking this Sailor Guardian business very seriously indeed, and Usagi has a sudden feeling that she's going to be outclassed in this field as well.

Monster of the day: Garoben, the Youma of knowledge, has a distinctive design and a pretty weird fighting style (questions followed by telekinetic paper projectiles?). Also, her arm transforms into an axe for cutting off heads. Yeah, she's memorable.

Most valuable person: How could it be anyone other than Ami? She takes on her new role with a surprising amount of ease and enthusiasm.

Least valuable person: A triple award for Naru, Umino and the sort-of-chubby girl for badmouthing Ami apparently just out of jealousy.

The addition of Sailor Mercury adds some much-needed analytical expertise to the team. I know that was supposed to be Luna's thing up until now, but look at how much her info gathering skills suck in this episode. I have some issues with how Ami's character was handled later on in the show, but in this first episode, she's interesting and sympathetic. For some great character and comedy, this episode gets four stars out of five.


1 comment:

  1. Sailor Mercury's Shabon Spray isn't that sucky; it also can chill the enemies she fights besides blinding their vision.

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