Friday, July 18, 2014

19 - Usagi's Joy: A Love Letter from Tuxedo Mask

Nephrite's starting his astrology routine early this episode. In the cathedral of solitude, he asks the stars to reveal the Sailor Guardians' greatest weakness... and the answer is Tuxedo Mask.

That, by itself, is an interesting statement of how this show is different from other shows of its era. I remember watching the original Ninja Turtles cartoon as a kid, and there was a line that stuck in my head. Formulating his latest plan, Shredder tells his underlings, "We'll strike at their weakest point: April O'Neil." Even as a kid who didn't know anything about anything, this line really bugged me. I mean, in the late eighties/early nineties it was hardly unusual for a cartoon to have a sole female character whose job it was to get rescued a lot. But it was also just a little bit embarrassing, the kind of thing you tried to ignore because you otherwise liked the show. For the show to just outright say that this was the case was downright jarring. So yeah, the Tuxedo Mask comment is somewhat cathartic for me.

Once Nephrite's done with his astrology session, Zoisite teleports into his base and says that Queen Beryl wants to see him... kind of right now. You may recall that in our last episode, Nephrite blew her off because he wanted to do things his own way, and ended up screwing up as usual. Nephrite does actually show up for his scheduled bollocking, which shows that he at least isn't a complete idiot.
Oh, okay, looks like I spoke too soon. Nephrite shows less contrition than a teenager caught smoking behind the bike sheds, and says he'll find his own way to defeat Sailor Moon. Beryl is, obviously, enraged by this impertinence.
Oh, okay. So, Beryl isn't enraged. I have a theory that Beryl has an enormous preference for rebellious men who do things their own way and constantly disobey orders. That's the reason Jadeite got iced despite his groveling, while Nephrite is not currently a smoking crater. So Beryl okays Nephrite's plan to... okay, he didn't ever explain what his plan was, but the point is, he's a rebel. And that's something, right?

By the way, I believe this episode is the first time the term Shitennou gets used, and Viz translates it here as Four Kings of Heaven.

Later, Usagi finds a surprise in the mailbox... a love letter from Tuxedo Mask! He really went the extra mile with that pink stationery, got to give him credit for that. Tuxedo Mask confesses his love and says he wants to meet Usagi tomorrow night in the Shinjuku mall. Usagi's ecstatic, though Luna is skeptical, and for once she's not just being a downer for the sake of it. How does Tuxedo Mask know her identity? Can they really trust him anyway? He's helped out in the past, but they don't know who he is. Such details are of no interest to Usagi, of course, who's convinced this is the real deal.

Well, until she gets to school and realizes that every other girl has received an identical letter, claiming to be from Tuxedo Mask. Of course, nobody other than Usagi knows who Tuxedo Mask is, though Naru privately hopes it could be that nice Masato Sanjoin she met a while ago. You know, the one who had absolutely nothing to do with her lifelong friend turning into a psychopath? Ms Haruna enters the classroom and advises the girls not to be tricked by something so suspicious, which is good advice, though she's privately furious that she didn't receive a letter of her own. Meanwhile, Ami and Luna discuss the letters, and decide to consult with Rei.

At the arcade, Mamoru and Motoki discuss the matter too, while we get the first sighting of in-universe Sailor Moon merchandise (leaving aside the special case of Sailor V). Also, the biggest reference to Goldfish Warning so far...
There are no less than four Goldfish Warning characters visible in that image, plus a fifth that's obscured by the Tuxedo Mask doll. If you didn't know, Goldfish Warning was the show that many of the Sailor Moon staff worked on immediately prior to Sailor Moon, and I definitely recommend checking it out: not only is it interesting to see so many of the same artists and voice actors working on something different, it's also a great, albeit weird show in its own right. Any show that can successfully set up the old "rich girl loses everything, is befriended by down-to-earth poor people" chestnut then completely subvert it halfway into the first episode is a show worthy of respect.

Okay, back to the episode, Mamoru and Motoki speculate that this Tuxedo Mask business might be some sort of advertising, then a depressed Usagi enters, prompting the usual taunting from Mamoru. He says she must not have received the love letter, but nope, she's depressed because she thought she was the only one.

Rei, it turns out, is sick. She's got a fever and is stuck in bed, so although she too got the letter from Tuxedo Mask, she won't be going anywhere. Ami says she'll stay and take care of her. D'awww...

At the mall, Nephrite's in Masato Sanjoin mode. Naru sees him, and nervously asks him if he's Tuxedo Mask. He immediately wonders if Naru somehow figured out that he was the one who sent those letters. So he doesn't exactly deny that he's Tuxedo Mask, and starts complimenting Naru. And then...
Ladies, gentlemen and none of the above, this story arc just got creepy, and not in the wholesome Youma way. While I realize that Nephrite's interest in Naru is feigned, it's no less manipulative. Naru goes through a lot of crap in this arc. Nephrite says he'll see her tonight, leading Naru to conclude that he really is Tuxedo Mask... er, whatever that means. Oh, and just in case we're not yet sufficiently creeped out...

In her room, Usagi wonders why Tuxedo Mask would have sent love letters to literally every teenage girl in town. There's only one thing to do: ask him in person! At the mall, tonight, where she was planning to go anyway. But this is for investigative purposes only and is absolutely not a date.
Okay, carry on then.
Er... Usagi, what? I mean, that's not bad advice, but why is that your first rule? What are you expecting to do on this, your first ever date?

And I'm not going to comment on Usagi's choice of underwear beyond wondering if Goldfish Warning-themed panties were ever actually a thing. They probably were a thing.

While Usagi gets ready for her not-date, Naru shows up at the designated place, and is greeted by none other than... Tuxedo Mask!
Dude, the hair. You might want to... oh, never mind.

Anyway, Naru instantly recognizes him as Masato Sanjoin, which surprises Nephrite. She says it's his voice and presence, but I think the hair probably helped. Also, you already said you'd meet her tonight, you dope.

Naru is now head-over-heels for Nephrite/Sanjoin, after what he said to her earlier that day. Nephrite doesn't seem too interested in that, though, and leaps at Naru, demanding she show her true identity: Sailor Moon.

Speak of the devil, Usagi's on her way to the mall, when she's contacted by Ami. Once Rei discovers that Usagi's trying to meet with Tuxedo Mask without her, she struggles out of bed, determined not to be left out. Meanwhile, Nephrite continues to demand that Naru transform into Sailor Moon, while Naru doesn't know what the hell is going on. I guess maybe out of force of habit, Nephrite starts to drain Naru's energy, leading to what must be the saddest image in this episode.
Naru starts to lose consciousness, while Nephrite is amazed at the energy he's taking from her. Usagi enters, sees a guy in a Tuxedo Mask costume assaulting her best friend, and freaks out. She too sees pretty quickly that it isn't Tuxedo Mask. I say once more: the hair. Tie it back or put it under the hat or something. Show some initiative! Usagi transforms, and somewhere nearby, a curious thing is happening.
I'd have included more of this sequence, but it's evident that whatever compression Hulu uses really didn't like the colorful background, and hence the screencaps are artifacted to hell and back. Anyway, for those of you who haven't been reading the credits, or listening to his voice, or noticing any of the increasingly blatant hints the show's dropped recently, Mamoru is Tuxedo Mask! Only it seems he doesn't realize this, and his transformation seems to be an instinctive thing triggered by Usagi's transformation into Sailor Moon...

Nephrite seems to have finally figured out that the unconscious girl he's now holding isn't really Sailor Moon, just in time for the real Sailor Moon to show up and challenge him. She's pissed off tonight, and with good reason. Nephrite tosses Naru to her, and removes his disguise. Sailor Moon recognizes him as Sanjoin, but he finally introduces himself as Nephrite. Yeah, I hadn't realized it up until now, but Nephrite's so hands-off that this is the first time any of the main characters have seen him out of his disguise.

Nephrite uses his star powers to summon a blue lion from the constellation Leo. Fun fact: this pseudo-Youma was known by fans as Leo for a long time, for obvious reasons, but its name is actually Regulus (the brightest star in Leo, which gets mentioned a few times this episode).  Regulus chases Sailor Moon, but is smacked in the head by - you guessed it - a rose.
Accept no imitations! It's the real Tuxedo Mask, who's either modeling for a menswear catalog or has discovered a stylish new way to hold the elevator. He's annoyed at Nephrite's plot, and confronts him, telling Sailor Moon to run. As she does, he blocks Regulus's path, and...
Oh my god, I'm not the biggest fan of the art in this episode, but these poses are just the best. Regulus charges at Tuxedo Mask, and Sailor Moon uses the tiara on it. It's knocked back, but doesn't turn to dust like usual. Tuxedo Mask tells Sailor Moon to run for the elevator because everyone knows that's the safest place in an emergency. They make it inside, the doors close behind them, and of course it was a trap. Nephrite plans to bring it up to the top floor, then let it drop.
Alright, Nephrite, nobody likes a smartarse. As the elevator panics, Tuxedo Mask considers the situation, and Sailor Moon has to hold herself back from latching on.
After slightly embarrassing herself with her fantasies, Sailor Moon is brought back to reality by Tuxedo Mask, who has a plan. He forces a panel at the top of the elevator open, and the two climb out onto the top. As it reaches the top floor, they jump. Tuxedo Mask grabs onto a ledge and Sailor Moon misses, but grabs his hand. The elevator plunges to the ground beneath them.

Now dangling above a very big drop, Tuxedo Mask suggests they talk as he tries to gain a footing. Sailor Moon asks why he always comes to help her, and he says that he doesn't know: something in his blood tells him to do it. She asks who he is, wondering if he's Motoki, but Tuxedo Mask just says that he feels that he and Sailor Moon had a connection in the distant past, one that he can feel but can't remember. Just as they're about to fall, the door above them opens, and they're pulled to safety by Sailor Mercury and Sailor Mars (who's wearing a face mask because of her cold). While Sailor Moon and Sailor Mars bicker over Tuxedo Mask, Mercury seems to be the only one to remember Naru, who's unconscious and needs to get to the hospital. Tuxedo Mask bids the girls farewell, and tells them to get along. Tuxedo Mask gets stressed when girls fight.

In the Dark Kingdom, Zoisite points out to Queen Beryl that Nephrite has failed in his mission. He suggests Eternal Sleep. However, Beryl is impressed with the energy that Nephrite brought back, so he's off the hook. Back in the cathedral of solitude, Nephrite observes that the same energy he's been trying to collect from others is now being produced by Naru, as a product of her obsession with him. Oh dear.

Monster of the day: No Youma this time, but we did get the Youma substitute Regulus. What is there to say about him? He's a blue lion made of stars, he's tiara-resistant, and he's the first monster not to end up dead.

Most valuable person: It's Tuxedo Mask's episode, and time for him to finally get some recognition in this section. This is the most we've seen of him so far, and there's no argument that he was pretty useful this episode. He deserves this award for the poses alone.

Least valuable person: Nephrite, for a few reasons. Number one: he's a dick. Now, I know that's sort of the job description for enemies, but this marks the start of his manipulation of Naru, which is super low and creepy no matter how you look at it. Also, his plan was absurd and only succeeded in drawing Sailor Moon out in spite of itself. You think Sailor Moon's not going to notice that Tuxedo Mask sent letters to every teenage girl in town? And how was it that only Sailor Moon and Naru showed up? At least when Jadeite pulled a similar stunt in episode thirteen, the cops were on hand to keep curious citizens away from the airport.

This is an important episode, officially revealing Tuxedo Mask's identity to the viewer for the first time. And while it's not like it was a huge mystery, we have the added detail that Mamoru doesn't know he's Tuxedo Mask, and it's implied Tuxedo Mask doesn't know he's Mamoru either. We also get - and I say this with a heavy sigh - the beginning of the Naru/Nephrite thing. This plot element never sat well with me. I just can't enjoy watching emotional abuse of a character who's unable to fight back. I'll talk more about this later... unfortunately.

This episode does a few things that bug me, but it's solid enough that they don't ruin it, meaning the episode evens out at three stars out of five.

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