Thursday, July 3, 2014

16 - A Girl's Dream: Usagi Becomes a Bride

I know I spent half of the last review complaining about a translation error, but what's up with this episode's title? "Junpaku Dress no Yume" literally translates to "Dream of a Pure White Dress", and yet here it somehow became "A Girl's Dream". I... I just don't get it.

We start the episode with home economics. Excited yet? Neither are the girls in Usagi's class.
This group would probably welcome a Youma attack just to liven things up a bit. Their teacher, Ms Akiyama, seems a bit out of it, and after half-heartedly mumbling some instructions, wanders over to the window and starts daydreaming.

Later, Naru wonders what's wrong with their teacher, since Ms Akiyama is usually passionate about sewing. Umino, our very own exposition machine, knows the answer. It turns out Ms Akiyama recently got engaged, and getting married in a dress she made herself has always been her dream. Oh, and it's also pointed out that she's 34 and not married yet, which is, like, super old, right? Yeah, I know, it's a show from nineties Japan, but that whole "get married before you're thirty or you'll die alone" thing bugs me every time it comes up. So anyway, Ms Akiyama is now engaged to a short businessman who apparently has extremely low self esteem.
Romantic? Yes, but Usagi sees no reason to settle for an average man like that, and says she intends to be married to a handsome guy by 25. Umino's pretty dismayed at this: it means he's out of the running, unless the tail end of puberty is phenomenally kind to him.

Ms Akiyama is shopping for dress materials at a store with a curiously misspelled English sign, but though she has a design worked out, she hasn't been able to find material that she likes. But as she discusses the wedding plans with Haruna, who's that spying on her? It's Nephrite, aka Masato Sanjoin, millionaire playboy and stalker.

Later, at Nephrite's cathedral of solitude... I don't know why it's funny to see a bright red sports car parked outside his creepy evil church, it just is... Anyway, as you might just have predicted, he consults the stars and Ms Akiyama is chosen as the next victim.

Usagi is passing by the local community center, and sees a wedding taking place. As she daydreams, a sign is put up nearby advertising a contest for homemade wedding dresses, with a free wedding and lavish reception as the prize. Usagi then drifts into a fantasy of marrying Tuxedo Mask. And Motoki. Hey, it's a fantasy, why not both? Alas, Usagi's dreams of a polyandrous wedding are punctured when she realizes that it's a contest for homemade dresses, and she can't sew.

Rei also sees the sign, and has some questions for the community center's representative... who, by the way, looks like the least trustworthy man in existence.
Rei's very curious to know what happens if you win and you don't have a boyfr... I mean, don't have a date picked out. It turns out that the wedding offer is redeemable at any time in the future. This is awesome news! Except... Rei can't sew either. She and Usagi notice each other, and Rei hatches a plan. Usagi's mom is a housewife, right? She'll be able to help! As Rei drags Usagi off, Ms Akiyama sees the sign for the contest as well.

Rei has invited herself over to Usagi's house, and is now charming her mom while Usagi sits there and fumes. Usagi's mom is impressed her daughter has made a sophisticated friend like Rei, while Rei piles on the compliments. She manages a fairly admirable segue into how great Usagi's mom must be at sewing, since she's so good at everything else, and how it would be so wonderful to learn sewing from someone like her. Maybe they could start with something small, like a wedding dress? Usagi's mom laughs nervously, while Usagi's laughter is more of the hysterical variety. A short while later, Rei storms out of the house, having finally been informed that Usagi's mom can't sew worth crap either. Hahaha, Usagi calls Rei "You wench".
Luna, as is her role as resident buzzkill, tells the girls that they shouldn't be concerned with such frivolities, and should be training to fight their enemies instead. But nobody's actually there to hear it, as Rei has gone off to sulk, and Usagi's gone to look for help from someone who might actually be able to sew.

Usagi tells Ami about the contest and how Rei's totally being a jerk. Ami doesn't really get the appeal, since she has no plans to get married anytime soon, but Usagi pleads for help with sewing, so Ami agrees... and gives Usagi a pile of books. Once she's studied those, they can move onto the practical stuff. You rather get the impression that Ami's sick and tired of people coming up to her and saying "Teach me this!" when they're not remotely interested in doing any work.

Back to the only person we've met so far who has any hope of actually making a dress, Ms Akiyama is in a fabric store, watching in despair as a riot unfolds. Apparently a lot of people really want to enter that contest, including Haruna, who appears to be fighting with a student. Somehow, I wouldn't rate Haruna's chances of winning any higher than Usagi's. Anyway, a piece of silk that's been tossed aside catches Ms Akiyama's eye. As she picks it up, along comes our friend Masato Sanjoin. Did he mention he's also a... connoisseur of fabric? He implants a Youma essence in the fabric (which doesn't really look big enough to make a dress out of, just saying), then wraps it around her and leaves.

Usagi has one last resort to learn sewing. It's painful, but she's going to have to ask... a teacher. She drags Naru along with her to visit Ms Akiyama at home. As they get there, they see a dorky-looking guy, who they don't realize is Akiyama's fiancé, carrying flowers up to her apartment, and spend a bit of time laughing at him.
Let's keep doing it, though! So, the guy goes up to her apartment and knocks on the door, concerned because she hasn't been answering any of his calls. Holy crap, here's an example of how much better the sound is in this version: I just now noticed that you can hear a sewing machine running quietly in the background. Ms Akiyama answers the door, and she's, uh, different. Nephrite's power has been working its magic, and now she's incredibly surly, and apparently also answering the door in her underwear. She chases her fiancé away, telling him not to come back until the contest is over, and then has some weird spasms, seemingly going into withdrawal due to being away from the dress. Nephrite's powers are pretty damn scary.

Usagi and Naru saw the whole thing, and are horrified: Naru because something has evidently happened to Ms Akiyama, and Usagi because she totally said she was entering the contest, nobody else will have a chance! Luna saw everything as well, and concludes that a Youma must be involved.

Luna tells Ami of her suspicions as they make their way to the Hikawa shrine, where Rei is being reprimanded by her grandpa for trying to sneak off with the shrine's sacred wedding robes. At first he thought she was trying to elope, but when he realizes she's trying to take part in a contest that's just a tacky ad for one of their rivals, he's even more annoyed. Usagi's having no more luck with her own attempts at thievery: her mom is not prepared to part with those curtains. Plus, when she points out that the contest is only a few days away, it starts to dawn on Usagi that there just isn't enough time to make a dress, let alone that whole learning-to-sew business.

Ms Akiyama, however, successfully finishes her dress. Does this mean she can go back to being sane now? Nope, looks like she gets to go even crazier.

Now it's the day of the contest, and sure enough, Usagi didn't make any further progress beyond repeatedly stabbing her fingers with needles. However, someone needs to go undercover as a contestant, and Usagi does have the disguise pen. So she disguises herself as a bride with an awesome dress, which could totally win the contest. Which she won't be trying to do. Because that would be unethical.

Usagi lines up with the other contestants, while Rei and Ami frantically search for Ms Akiyama. The host (who is the amazingly dodgy-looking guy from earlier in the episode) is suddenly interrupted as he goes to start the contest. The lights go out, and a spotlight focuses on Ms Akiyama, who walks down the steps in her wedding dress. The dress... is kind of nuts, though I actually like it.
More wedding ensembles should include war paint, don't you think? The host tries to stop her, but after a hypnotic flash from her eyes, he's immediately smitten with her, and asks her to marry him. She's not interested, though, and says that all of the world's men should bow down to her, and just for good measure, all of the women should kneel before her beauty. Ms Akiyama, you're my kind of crazy villain. Her energy peaks while she knocks out most of the audience and contestants with her hypnotic eye-beams. Usagi manages to hang on thanks to the intervention of Luna, who was strategically hidden under her dress the whole time.

Nephrite's Youma emerges from Akiyama's wedding dress, draining her energy. This Youma is an orange spider woman called Widow. Usagi goes to confront it, but is cut off by Ami and Rei, who apparently noticed that things have been a bit too heterosexual around here recently, and that needs fixing.
Yeah, they descend from the ceiling aboard a suspended flying... gondola... thing labelled "Happy Couple." Just for the sake of anyone who's not been keeping up with all the lesbian subtext. They lecture the Youma, and Usagi joins in, saying it's her fault she won't be winning that wedding reception. Uh... not sure how that makes any sense, but whatever, Usagi and the others transform and get down to business.

Widow attacks, and while Mars and Mercury dodge, Sailor Moon gets tangled up in a stream of silk. Mercury casts Bubble Spray to disorient the Youma, then Mars frees Sailor Moon with Fire Soul. As the Youma rushes them blindly, Sailor Moon uses the tiara, and Widow is beaten. Kind of a short fight, but oh well.

So, Ms Akiyama recovers and gets married as planned, though sadly in a less crazy dress than the last one. Despite her husband being a weird short guy, Usagi points out he must be a good man if he stayed with her despite her bout of insanity. Which is a good thing, certainly, though as I pointed out when we first saw him, this man has no self esteem, which clouds the issue a bit. Ami makes the mistake of mentioning the tradition that whoever catches the bouquet will be the next to get married.
I've seen enough TV weddings to know where this is going. Usagi, Rei and Haruna fight over the bouquet, but it of course, it ends up being caught by Ami, the one character who expressed no interest in getting married. That's comedy.

Monster of the day: Widow. She has a cool design and all, but she doesn't really get to do much, which is what you get when you wait until two minutes before the end of the episode to show up.

Most valuable person: Though she played little part in the episode as a whole, Ami gets it for her indifference to the wedding craze and her subtle trolling of Usagi. Also, she looked so damn serious while riding the Happy Couple boat.

Least valuable person: On the other hand, Luna took things too far with her usual buzzkill act. "Stop acting like teenage girls, you teenage girls!"

This episode feels a lot like filler, though would you believe it's loosely based on a story from the manga? In the manga, though, this story introduced both Sailor Jupiter and Naoko Takeuchi's obsession with crossdressing women. Here, it's pure fluff, but is it good fluff?

Well... parts of it are good. The story is cute enough, and it's not often you see an episode where your main characters want to participate in a competition, and then none of them get even close to being able to enter. On the other hand, the final battle seems like an afterthought, the ending is a huge cliche, and then there's the art. I'm a defender of Ando, in that I think he's only the second worst animation director in the show's history, and sometimes his style fits the episode. This time, though... yeah, it's a mostly whimsical story, but this has got to be some of his worst work. A lot of the art looked really, really sketchy and rushed. I can usually ignore the style fluctuations inherent to this show, but there are some times it really eats into my enjoyment of an episode.

This episode gets another three stars out five. It's fluff, and at times quite charming fluff, but here and there, there's evidence of a lack of effort.

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