Monday, June 9, 2014

9 - Usagi's Disaster: Beware of the Clock of Confusion

"I'll bet even the cuckoo in the cuckoo clock is angry!" Sailor Moon has the best fighting talk of anyone ever. What did those cuckoos ever do to you, Dark Kingdom?

Queen Beryl isn't impressed that there's now a second Sailor Guardian running around and ruining their energy-harvesting schemes. That's like the opposite of progress. Jadeite pacifies her with talk of a plan to make people panicked and impatient, then taking that heightened energy. Beryl likes it so much, she does her Captain Picard impression.
Jadeite had better hope he's Will Riker and not Tasha Yar.

By the way, the art in this episode is... not that great. Sailor Moon had a lot of different art directors over the years, and some of them were less good at keeping characters on model than others. Two in particular are notable for having a style that deviated quite a bit from the standard: Masahiro Ando, and Taichi Nakamura (credited during the first season as Akira Nakamura), who was responsible for this episode. Ando's style is probably the most recognizable; his characters are chubby-looking with rounder faces, and he probably gets the most flak from fans. Personally, I think Nakamura is worse: his characters have large chins and look extremely flat, and his attempts at perspective resulted in some of the worst art in the entire series. Art isn't something that's going to impact review scores much, but it is something worth pointing out.

We catch up with Usagi and Ami, our temporarily oddly-drawn protagonists, on a shopping trip. Ami's lived a very sheltered life... to the extent that she's never been shopping before? Well, not in a consumerist utopia like this, anyway. What follows is a shopping montage, and... well, even though I just decided not to dwell on the art too much, the fact that they decided not to fully animate this section, combined with the dodgy art, makes it... kind of... sucky.

Okay, no more complaining about the art, I promise. Usagi and Ami notice a clock store having a huge sale. The saleswoman is creepy, and we all know what that means, but Usagi and Ami don't notice. Usagi sees a clock that looks a bit like Luna, and goes to buy it in the hopes of one day getting to school on time, but can't because she's broke. I do like how irritated saleswoman-who-is-blatantly-a-Youma looks during this part.
Ami cheers Usagi up by promising to call for her on her way to school. But when Usagi returns home, it turns out her mom also visited the store and bought some clocks. She got the Luna-like clock for Usagi, though Luna is kind of offended that they see a resemblance.
Personally I see this as justified retribution for that offensive caricature Luna drew of Usagi in episode four. Who's giving who body image issues now?

Anyway, Luna's misgivings that the clock looks sinister are vindicated when it starts emitting a weird light in the middle of the night, along with other clocks in the house. In the morning, Ami arrives to pick Usagi up, but is surprised to hear that she already left for school. Shingo left even earlier, dad sprints past, and mom quickly excuses herself because she has so much to do.

At school, it's chaos. Usagi, Naru, Umino and a few other students have shown up early, as has Haruna, who's getting impatient waiting for the rest. Usagi's already eaten her lunch (though that could just be Usagi being Usagi). Naru wants to find the other students and drag them to class herself. Everyone's going crazy, though Haruna has at least found a way to benefit from the situation.
Haruna leaves for an early morning date, and her students leave too. Ami heads to school, confused by the chaos around her, but there's an even more confusing sight in store for her...
What the... Why... Okay, I get that Luna, being a cat, might not be dextrous enough to carry the clock, and I guess the plot demanded she get it to Ami somehow. But you know what's a lot harder for a cat than carrying a small clock? Securely tying a small clock to its own body. Just look at this picture. It's ridiculous and lazy. Yeah, how would Luna transport something she couldn't pick up? I don't know, it's a challenge for a writer. Be creative! Come up with something... better than this. Better than a cat with a clock strapped to its torso. She looks like a cat suicide bomber.

Luna wants Ami to analyze the clock, and once it's been removed she's able to do the item-summoning dance. She gives Ami a supercomputer to help with the analysis, saying it would be too much for Usagi. Um... the computer clearly isn't meant for Usagi, seeing as it has the symbol of Mercury all over it, so it comes off as Luna just taking another opportunity to call Usagi dumb.

On a positive note, though, I really like the supercomputer. It's a sci-fi-ish computer in a show from over twenty years ago, and it doesn't seem dated. In an era when actual supercomputers took up entire rooms and even cellphones were big enough to club someone to death with, they came up with this powerful palm-sized computer that seems like it would be a cool thing to own even today.

It turns out Ami doesn't really need the supercomputer to analyze the clock, though. She opens it up and a pulse of energy shoots out, but otherwise the clock is empty, with no mechanism. Luna theorizes that the clock store is to blame, and everyone who owns one of their clocks is being affected.

Meanwhile, the mass impatience is causing people to ignore traffic lights, leading to a huge pile-up, though apparently we're to believe that the worst injury was some guy cutting his finger. Also, this guy decides he's going to be late for his flight.
Okay, that's pretty funny. Jadeite oversees the harvesting of energy from the frenzied population. The energy is apparently being collected by a giant clock in the clock store. We also get to see the Youma's true form. What is it with characters from this show looking like musicians from the eighties? Meanwhile, with Usagi...
Things aren't going so well. Ami and Luna haven't been able to contact her and wonder if they should try dealing with this themselves, but Usagi soon emerges unscathed from a nearby bus crash. I swear, the damage caused in this one episode has to be greater than all of the previous episodes combined. Ami and Luna tell Usagi what's going on, and Usagi is keen to help... but is still being affected by the impatience-magic and so decides the best tactic is just to storm into the clock store from the front. At least she takes the time to transform first, and I do like that they recorded a different, faster version of her transformation phrase for this episode.

Sailor Moon and Sailor Mercury head through a smoking hole in the storefront left by Moon Tiara Action, but the hole seals itself up before Luna can get inside. They confront the Youma, and pose like they're a Conan the Barbarian cover.
Only with more clothes and fewer corpses. The Youma activates the giant clock, which creates a weird energy field that she escapes into. Sailor Moon and Sailor Mercury follow her in. By the way, when the clock starts up, it's... upside down. At first I wondered if it was like that deliberately, but nope, in all of the other shots, it's a regular clock. It's just an animation error. That's another thing that bugs me about Nakamura's art: a lack of attention to detail. Yeah, I lied when I said I wasn't going to complain about the art anymore. Most of the art screw-ups of this nature that I can think of are in his episodes.

Our heroes emerge in Salvador Dali's Persistence of Memory Experience, a weird dimension filled with clocks, because... time. The unseen Youma taunts them, Sailor Moon rushes off to find her, and Mercury switches on her visor and follows. They don't really explain it at this point but the visor comes with the supercomputer, and it's pretty cool. So they end up in another room made of screentone, and Mercury advises Sailor Moon to wait until she's analyzed her surroundings. She takes out her computer, so now she's looking at a screen through another screen, which might sound like overkill to you, but this is Mercury. Also, there are some Robocop references in the on-screen text. So while Mercury is investigating, Sailor Moon wanders off and gets de-aged, until Mercury pulls her back, reversing the process, and warns her than wandering around in a dimension created by a time monster isn't a good idea. Then we get to see Usagi's daydream of what else the dimension could do to her...
Which is disturbing, sure, but I'll still take it over the manga's obsession with showing people melting away into skeletons repeatedly.

Meanwhile! Tuxedo mask enters an empty building, and seems confused. Then it's back to our protagonists, and after an even more blatant Robocop reference, Sailor Mercury figures out where they need to go. They head off in that direction and do indeed find the Youma there, but there's a problem. Sailor Moon's still under the influence of her clock, and is suddenly weakened as her energy is drained away. The Youma then stops time around Sailor Mercury, except not really, because she's still aware and can move a bit, so it's more like she just paralyzed her. Like most of the 'time' effects in this episode, it doesn't actually make sense if you stop to think about it.

Tuxedo Mask is in the clock store, standing in front of the giant clock. Then he seems to notice something, and throws a rose at the giant clock, cracking its face (which is upside down for a second time, gah). This part just seems to come completely out of nowhere. How did he know what to do? What was he suddenly noticing? Having seen the whole show before, I'm pretty sure I know what they were intending with this scene, but the first time I saw it, it confused me. And not in a "they've set up a cool mystery here" way, but in a "huh?" way.

But however Tuxedo Mask knew what to do, it worked, as the stored energy is now released. Sailor Mercury can move again, and casts Bubble Spray. Sailor Moon, her energy now restored, aims her tiara at the gleaming Youma eyes visible through the mist, and kills the Youma. The entire store just disappears around them, leaving them standing in the street.

So, er, that's that, really. There's a tacked-on final scene where Naru runs up and tells Usagi that some cake store is having a competition for the fastest eater. Usagi runs after her and falls over, because the episode is just that lazy. I swear, Usagi falling over is this show's equivalent of "character makes a weak joke, everyone laughs, fade out." If you can't think of an ending for your episode, have Usagi fall over.

Monster of the day: Ramua. Her weapon is a spear shaped like a clock hand, she looks like an eighties pop star crossed with a member of a Kiss tribute band, and she has power over time... sort of.

Most valuable person: Ami again, who takes charge and assists Usagi (who was being affected by the clock and thus not at her most rational) through the maze.

Least valuable person: Luna is back to her unnecessarily bitchy ways. Knock it off, Luna.

This episode isn't terrible, but there's just such a lack of imagination when it comes to the evil plot. A Youma that can manipulate time? That should be terrifyingly powerful. There's all kinds of cool stuff you could do with it. Instead we get a nondescript pocket dimension decorated with clocks and a few tricks that don't even really count as time manipulation. Time wasn't actually running backwards for Sailor Moon when she de-aged, and time didn't stop for Sailor Mercury. Even the main scheme, collecting energy from impatient people, didn't rely on time manipulation so much as manipulating people's perception of time. Add in all of the other things that seem to have been done out of sheer laziness - tying the clock to Luna, the tuxedo ex machina resolution to the fight, and that ending, and this is an episode that just doesn't even want to try. There are a few good bits - a lot of the chaos resulting from the clocks is entertaining, and Ami is written well - but overall this episode gets a disappointing two stars out of five.

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