Saturday, July 12, 2014

18 - Shingo's Love: The Grieving Doll

Okay, I'm back to nitpicking titles. ADV translated this one as "Shingo's Innocent Love! A Sorrowful French Doll". The "love/innocent love" term here is junjou (純情) which good old JDIC defines as "pure heart; naivete; self-sacrificing devotion". So... honestly, neither is super close, but I think ADV edges a bit closer. "Sorrowful/grieving" are both valid translations of kanashimi (哀しみ); in the context of the episode, ADV might be a touch closer, but either could make sense. Finally, why did Viz drop the "French" part? Well, there may be some logic to this. The term "French doll" doesn't really have any meaning in English beyond the obvious one of a doll from France. In Japanese it actually refers to a style of dolls, in particular the western porcelain/bisque style seen in this episode. So dropping "French" is actually a valid decision, and arguably more accurate, but maybe replacing it with porcelain or bisque would have been the most accurate. My thanks again to Crayola, who advised me on matters of doll etymology.

If anyone's still reading after that, it's time to start the episode. Nephrite has finally deigned to appear before Queen Beryl to explain why he's been so rubbish recently. Our pal Zoisite appears, and proposes they work together on this next mission. Queen Beryl likes the idea, but Nephrite refuses, saying he works for himself, and buggers off. Telling Queen Beryl you don't recognize her authority might not be the best long-term survival strategy, you know. Meanwhile, Zoisite is drawn to resemble the love interest in a seventies anime about manly giant robot pilots or something.
The art director for this episode is Ikuko Ito. She's responsible for some of the best art in the series, but also some really weird art. She's basically the Ikuhara of art.

For once, Usagi woke up early enough to interact with her family before going to school. Her dad reads in the paper that Shingo's friend Mika, who you may recall from episode five, won a prize in a doll-making contest. Usagi teases Shingo about having a famous girlfriend, but Shingo points out that girls are icky, and heads off to school. Usagi notices what time it is, runs out of the house in a panic... and is still late for school.

On the way back home, Usagi and Naru run into some girls from Shingo's school, who have a problem.
Don't ask Usagi, she's been wondering the same thing for years. Still, she's keen to know the exact kind of asshole behavior Shingo's been responsible for this time. Cue a flashback where Shingo congratulates Mika for winning the contest, and she thanks him for supporting her, and gives him the prizewinning doll as thanks. Then a group of boys gathers to taunt Shingo for having an interaction with a girl more complex than pulling hair and running away. He buckles under peer pressure and tries to quickly give the doll back to Mika, but in the panic it gets dropped and breaks. Mika is devastated, and Shingo is evidently too shaken by the experience to say anything.

I have a confession to make: I find this scene genuinely difficult to watch. There's something innately distressing to me about seeing toys, especially toys with anthropomorphic qualities, getting destroyed. And for some reason, vinyl records too. So anyway, yeah, parts of this episode probably have more emotional impact on me than they do on its intended little kid audience. I am super mature that way.

Usagi tells the girls she'll talk to Shingo about the incident, though her demeanor suggests less talking and more pummeling. Next up is an enormously sad scene with Mika, who's working on another doll, and is unable to tell her mom what happened to the prizewinning one, instead saying she let someone borrow it. Her mom observes that the new doll looks like it's on the verge of tears, but fails to notice that the same is true of Mika.

Over in the cathedral of solitude, Nephrite does his astrology act, and Mika is identified as his next target. And you thought her day couldn't get any worse.

Shingo is in his room, repeatedly trying and failing to write a letter to apologize to Mika. He hides his efforts as soon as Usagi comes in, and then Usagi proceeds to explain the problem to Shingo as only a sister can.
Usagi demands Shingo apologize to Mika immediately. He gets defensive, telling her it's none of her business, but when she threatens to rat him out to their parents, he agrees to go right over to Mika's house and apologize.

Shingo honestly hasn't displayed many redeeming features in the show so far, but this episode does demonstrate he feels genuinely bad about what happened. He's practicing his apology outside Mika's house, when a maniac driver in a sports car suddenly pulls up outside. Why, it's Masato Sanjoin, millionaire playboy and doll enthusiast! He's set up a meeting with Mika and her mom to discuss their dollmaking talent. As he piles on the praise, Mika's mother is enraptured, while Mika is just uninterested and depressed. He asks to see the prizewinning doll - because Mika really needed to be reminded of that whole issue again - but with it unavailable, Mika shows him the new doll instead. Oh dear, the doll just became a Youma vessel, and it temporarily gains a new, deranged expression. Sanjoin says he'd like to commission Mika for ten dolls, and her mom, who has an exhibition coming up, agrees. Later that night, Mika finishes the first doll and starts work on the second. When her mother suggests she take a break and go to bed, Mika refuses, becoming violent. Oh right, now her mom notices that something might be wrong.

Shingo is outside Mika's house the following morning - I guess he chickened out of the apology the first time, or was scared off by Nephrite's bad driving - and her mom explains to him that Mika has been up making dolls all night, refusing to come out of her room. Shingo goes inside to try to talk to her, but Mika isn't interested. Back in his room, he mopes, assuming all of this is a result of what he did. Usagi comes in to see how the apology went.
"Are you going to hit me again?" He explains what happened to Usagi, who tells him to cheer up and maybe bring her a gift next time. When alone with Luna, though, Usagi expresses her suspicion that this might be the work of the Dark Kingdom. Usagi can be perceptive sometimes, and besides, what could be cooler to investigate than cursed dolls? Usagi's admittedly keen to hand off the actual investigating parts to Rei and Ami, but she's still more enthusiastic about the mission than Luna, who has a pronounced (albeit rarely referenced) fear of ghosts.

Usagi, Ami and Luna go to Mika's house to investigate, but with Mika still locked in her room with the curtains closed, the only thing they have to go on is the upcoming exhibition. Meanwhile, Shingo gets inspiration for what to give Mika: they're both fans of Sailor Moon, after all.

However, since Sailor Moon doesn't have the same weight of merchandising behind her as Sailor V does, Shingo will have to get creative. His artistic skills leave something to be desired, though, and Usagi tries not to be too offended when presented with his unique interpretation of Sailor Moon.
The exhibition begins, and Mika's mom explains to Nephrite/Sanjoin that Mika is still finishing the last doll, and worked like crazy to get them finished. Mika is in the back room working, and looks increasingly weird: someone else pointed out that as the episode progresses she's drawn more and more to look like one of her dolls, with a pale complexion and painted-on makeup. And the possessed doll is moving again, yay.

Ami is checking out the exhibition with Luna, and... oh dear, Ami, what are you wearing?
Coincidentally, Rei has come to the exhibition, dragging an uninterested Mamoru along on a date. Mamoru passes Nephrite/Sanjoin, and there's a mutual moment of confusion where they feel like maybe they know each other.

Usagi and Shingo check in with Mika's mom, and are directed to the back room. Shingo's having second thoughts on the apology, but Usagi marches him over there... just as Mika finishes her last doll, and some weird stuff starts to happen. Her energy peaks, and the Youma emerges from the doll from earlier, and drains her. I hope you wanted more creepy doll monsters!
This Youma is called Jumou, a reference to French dollmaker Jumeau, in case you didn't know. Shingo dives to save Mika, but Jumou blasts him away, and his vaguely Sailor Moon-like model is crushed. Seeing that doll get broken... distresses me less. Well, now that all of the civilians are safely unconscious, Usagi can transform into Sailor Moon.

Sailor Moon gives the Youma a comprehensive telling off, but runs when she sends possessed dolls after her. She's joined outside by Mercury and Mars, and Mercury casts Bubble Spray, but that just means Sailor Moon doesn't see the evil possessed dolls flying towards her. Sailor Mars neutralizes them with her ofuda, and they fall to the ground, not breaking even though they fell quite a bit further than the one at the start of the episode. That's a tip for all you dollmakers out there: for sturdy dolls, make them with evil.

This turns out to have been a distraction, though, because Jumou is now choking Sailor Moon. Mars sends an attack at the Youma, who just moves out of the way, but detaches from her hands, leaving them around Sailor Moon's neck. She then launches her forearms at Mars and Mercury, and they're "as sharp as knives" despite that not really making any sense.

Speaking of not making any sense, Sailor Mercury detects that the Youma's right leg is the source of her power, so Sailor Moon should aim her attack there. Great, if Sailor Moon wasn't still being choked. Well, Tuxedo Mask distracts Jumou long enough for her to drop Sailor Moon, who can now confidently send her tiara at the monster...'s leg.

Well, with the Youma beaten, Mika wakes up, sans-evil makeup. Shingo apologizes that his present for her was destroyed, but she's grateful that he came to help her. Sailor Moon then appears, silhouetted in the window, telling Shingo and Mika to value their friendship. Later, Mika makes a scarily accurate model of Sailor Moon for Shingo, but then gets annoyed when he acts a little too attached to it.

Monster of the day: Jumou. Jumou has a cool design, resembling a doll base, with detachable limbs. Her weakness is her right leg for some reason. I dunno, if I'm being generous then we could say that maybe this is a reference to Achilles' heel.

Most valuable person: Shingo actually comes close, which is a surprise given how awful he's been so far, but the winner is Usagi, who shows concern for her awful brother and takes most of the initiative on this mission.

Least valuable person: Mika's mother really rubbed me up the wrong way with how oblivious she seemed to Mika's problems during the first segment of this episode.

This is definitely a memorable episode, and there are some good character bits. It's a particularly strong episode for Usagi, as we get to see her take her brother to task for something he did wrong, then support him when he tries to do the right thing. I think my main problem was how derivative it seems of earlier episodes, especially of episode five. Both episodes have the same writer and art director, feature Shingo and Mika heavily, and have a monster that can be beaten by aiming attacks at a specific part of its body for no obvious reason. And episode five itself was derivative of episode two, so this is like a copy of a copy.

On the other hand, there's enough fresh material here to make it mostly work. It's not a classic episode, but the parts that annoy me are balanced by the good, giving this episode three stars out of five overall.

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