Wednesday, July 9, 2014

17 - Usagi's a Model: The Flash of the Monster Camera

It's time for Usagi's favorite class - lunch. But while she's eating, the trio consisting of Naru, sort-of-chubby nameless girl and unremarkable nameless girl, last seen in episode four, has reassembled. They're admiring some photographs of trees and houses and so on. Remember when you were fourteen and you and all your friends were really into landscape photography? Of course you do! It turns out that the photographs are by Kijin Shinokawa, a young prodigy and the a student at a neighboring middle school. Now Usagi's interested, realizing there's a celebrity in their midst. She tries to rope Ami into finding the boy and getting his autograph, but Ami is studying, and altogether less inclined to fling herself into the latest passing fad.

Later, we see Kijin outside his school, getting pestered by reporters. Kijin's hair is... interesting.
That's not a lighting effect, by the way. His hair is actually two colors. I don't know why. Maybe because he's an artist, and you know what those artists are like, right? Eccentric. Anyway, being bugged by the press doesn't generally bode well for people in this show, but first he has to contend with autograph hunters. Usagi, Naru and sort-of-chubby girl come around the corner, hoping to meet their new celebrity idol, but their path is blocked by... Rei? Rei tells Usagi to stop being such a fangirl: she had no interest in photography up until now and can hardly claim to understand Kijin's work. A fight then breaks out between the two of them that Kijin himself has to intervene in.

That evening, Kijin is on a cliff edge, taking photographs of the bay. He slips and almost goes skidding down the rock face, but he's rescued by... Masato Sanjoin, millionaire playboy and rock climber! Sanjoin wishes Kijin good luck with his photography career, but not before making sure to implant a Youma essence in his camera. We then see Nephrite in his creepy cathedral of solitude, where the stars have chosen Kijin as the next target. Apparently he will be overcome with the urge to photograph girls! A fourteen year old boy with a sudden interest in looking at girls? Now I know something weird and creepy is going on.

Sure enough, Kijin goes all crazy and possessed, and decides what he really wants to do is photograph girls. A few days later, Usagi reads that Kijin is looking for models to photograph, and decides she should try out. Luna comes over with a new item for her.
It's ready? Up until now, Luna's just used the item creation dance every time the plot has required a new object. But this implies that this item took some time. Yes, I am imagining Luna in a miniature electronics lab with a tiny soldering iron, painstakingly manufacturing lunar technology. Don't judge me. It's a far nicer image than the other fan theory, that the cats poop out items when needed.

Anyway, the communicators. I forgot about these. While I think Mercury's little supercomputer still looks like it could be a stylish piece of technology today, the communicators... well, they have all the aesthetic appeal of a cheap knock-off Tiger Electronics LCD game from the eighties. They admittedly have full color graphics, albeit on a ridiculously tiny screen. Usagi uses hers to call Ami about her new-found ambition to become a model, but Ami tells her the communicators should be used for emergencies only. She considers calling Rei instead, but... well, if even Ami told her off, Rei's response doesn't bear thinking about. So instead, Usagi turns to the love and support of her family.
Only joking! Shingo mocks her ambitions and says she'd be rejected straight away. Usagi calls upon her mom for backup, which as usual turns out to be a mistake.
What is wrong with this family? Fortunately there's one person guaranteed to be nice to Usagi, and that's Motoki. He tells her that taking on new challenges is important. Mamoru is there too, however, to be the fly in the ointment, but he does at least have more to say on the matter than just insults. He thinks aiming to be a model is a fool's errand, as it's a kind heart and a desire to do what's right that make a girl beautiful. Which is, I have to admit, a genuinely good attitude, albeit one he must have acquired at some point after the time he ridiculed Usagi over her weight. Yeah, I haven't forgotten that, jerk.

After insinuating that Usagi lacks guts, Mamoru goes on to say that Kijin's sudden desire to photograph as many girls as possible suggests that he probably sucks as a photographer. Usagi leaves in a huff, and Motoki tells Mamoru he should stop treating her like a child. Mamoru says that whenever they meet he just can't resist the urge to argue.
Or maybe you're just a jerk?

Usagi certainly is up bright and early this fine morning. As Shingo correctly surmises, she's waiting for the mail. Once again, Shingo tells her she doesn't have a hope, but then the mailman comes, and Shingo has to eat his words, because Usagi got selected! Cue Usagi practicing her enunciation, balance, singing, and, er, hopping around her room like a rabbit. Models have been known to hop. She then remembers she has to bring a swimsuit, and fortunately she has one right... er...
Well, crap.

On the day of the shoot, a large number of girls have been invited, and Kijin is extra-crazy, barking orders at the girls and warning them not to look in on the other shoots. Because that would mess up his creative process or something, obviously. Not because anything evil will be happening. Usagi's here too, and Luna thinks something weird is happening... because Kijin's behavior has changed so drastically, and also because there's no way Usagi would be selected as a model. That's our Luna, supportive as ever. It does seem that Naru and Haruna have been selected as well, and well, maybe Usagi's teacher being selected as a model really is evidence that Kijin's criteria are a bit weird. In the dressing room, Naru wants to see Usagi's swimsuit. Yeah, how did that problem end up getting resolved, anyway?
Oh, Usagi, you... can be kind of a genius when the situation calls for it. Luna, meanwhile, has got bored and goes to check out the photo shoot, only to discover that Kijin's evil isn't just making him crazy: his camera now causes the models he photographs to disappear.

Luna returns to the dressing room and tells Usagi what she saw. Usagi, preparing for her modeling debut, really doesn't want to know, but she's persuaded to call Ami when Luna threatens to reveal the terrible secret of her swimsuit. In the meantime, she still has her photo shoot, but when she goes to follow Naru and Haruna, Luna grabs one of the emergency ribbons from her swimsuit and runs off with it, forcing her to give chase.

Usagi finally chases Luna to the photo shoot, where Haruna and Naru are posing along with some other girls. Sure enough, when Kijin photographs them, they disappear. By the way, this episode uses some really nice visual effects: when the models disappear there are momentary black and white spots and lines, like distortions in old film. It just works so well.

Usagi confronts Kijin, borrowing Mamoru's earlier criticism that this new-found obsession makes him a third-rate photographer, in contrast to the prodigy he used to be. Kijin pushes her away, and so she transforms. Sailor Moon tells Kijin - or rather, the Youma controlling him - that a girl's true beauty is in her bravery and desire to do the right thing. This doesn't deter him, and he starts trying to photograph her, forcing her to dodge the beams fired by his camera. She succeeds in kicking the camera away into the pool, but Kijin collapses, his energy level having reached its peak. Then, from the pool, the Youma emerges.
This is another wonderfully creepy Youma. She has a third eye embedded in the palm of her hand; you can't beat that. The subs call her Kyameran, which is an accurate transliteration of her name, though it's intended to be a pun on "camera". Anyway, it seems she retains the powers of Kijin's camera, and anything photographed by her hand-camera-eye-thing disappears and is trapped inside a polaroid. She first uses this power on Kijin, and when Sailor Moon tries to dodge her shots, Luna gets caught too. Sailor Moon's cornered, but Mars and Mercury arrive as backup.

Mercury casts Bubble Spray, and Mars tries to seal the Youma's powers with her ofuda, but Kyameran just deflects them, before trapping both Mars and Mercury in photographs. Sailor Moon's in a tough spot, but finding herself up against a mirror, she wonders what would happen if Kyameran took her own photograph. Let's find out!

And then she starts to melt. Next time this show starts to seem juvenile, remember the time Sailor Moon took someone's eye out. Sailor Moon throws the tiara at Kyameran, and wow, I actually feel a bit sorry for this Youma. She burns up in blue flames, and the people trapped by the both her and the camera pop back into existence.

Nephrite's been hanging out in the cathedral of solitude a lot recently, and that means there's been nobody to ridicule him when he fails. Zoisite seeks to remedy that, appearing via hologram and mocking his rival, though Nephrite counters that Zoisite should focus on his own duties, and besides, there are plenty of other people on Earth with energy to take.

That night, while Usagi sleeps, the rest of their family watch a report about Kijin, who has decided to take a sabbatical. He says a wonderful young woman taught him that a kind heart and a desire to do what's right are what make a woman beautiful. Naturally, Usagi's family say how they wish Usagi could be like that woman and not such an idiot, because they're assholes determined to spoil the ending of this episode.

Monster of the day: Kyameran, you're so cool. But you just had to die/melt/catch fire/lose an eye.

Most valuable person: Usagi tackles this one pretty much solo, and demonstrates some real initiative, both in battle and emergency swimsuit repairs.

Least valuable person: While Shingo is the bigger jerk, this award actually goes to Usagi's mom for just merrily going along with whatever insult Shingo hurls her way. It's natural for siblings to be jerks to each other sometimes. It's also generally expected that parents will step in when things go to far. At this point I'm wondering if there's anything Shingo could say that would provoke some kind of rebuke from his mother.

For the most part, this episode is very good. A cool monster with interesting powers, a strong solo Usagi story where she's being carefree but not completely stupid, and even a few stabs at the misogyny of the modeling industry. Kazuko Tadano, the character designer for the anime, was the art director for this one, and as a result the characters are very expressive, with the great visual effects I mentioned earlier. Really, the only major criticism is that Usagi's family are way too mean to her. This episode gets four out of five stars, and an invitation to my next evil photo shoot.
Bonus feature! This episode's monster was pretty horrifying, but remember how scary episode 11's monster was when transforming? My good friend Crayola would like you to have nightmares, and so has provided me with the entire sequence in gif form. I've updated the review with the animations.

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