Saturday, July 19, 2014

20 - The Summer, the Beach, Youth and Ghosts

We join our three heroines stepping off the train at the beach. It's summer, and in accordance with the immutable laws of anime, a beach episode is called for. The show had a few of these; if I recall correctly, three of the seasons had beach episodes and the other two had episodes that weren't strictly set at a beach, but still served the same purpose (which is to show the characters in swimsuits, apparently).

No swimsuits yet, though, and Ami is wearing her bizarre 1940s housewife ensemble from episode 18, but with a hat. They're actually here to train, Luna reminds them. Rei has made reservations at a nearby pension (which is an obscure term for guest house that got adopted in Japan and is being left as-is in this translation) that advertises blue skies and a private beach. Usagi's excited at the thought of a private beach, drifting into a fantasy in which she's surrounded by hot guys in swimming trunks, including Motoki, and, well...
You've got to hand it to him, windsurfing in a tuxedo isn't easy. After freaking out some locals with her drooling, Usagi joins the others on the trek to the pension.

About that... it turns out that Rei didn't quite know the way, and then for some reason everyone decided to listen to Usagi's directions, and soon the sun's setting, clouds are drawing in, and they're lost. It starts to thunder, but they encounter a strange little hooded girl who tells them to follow her. She leads them to an incredibly creepy house on a cliff edge... which turns out to be the very place Rei booked. While Usagi is distressed by the thought of staying in a house right out of a horror movie, Ami befriends the little girl, whose name is Sakiko.

They knock on the door. Welcome to Pension Adams! And just in case you thought the reference might not have been deliberate, here are the staff.
This whole sequence is great. Rei completely unfazed, Ami sort of bemused and Usagi and Luna freaking out in the background, while Sakiko just casually greets them and walks in. Next, we're introduced to Sakiko's father, introduced in such a way as to leave little doubt that we're supposed to think he's a dick.
In their room, Luna chides Usagi for making such a scene, but Usagi reminds Luna that she was scared too. Usagi wonders if the place is haunted, and there's immediately a knock on the door. The hostess's head appears at an alarming angle, and though she turns out to be up a ladder, repairing a light bulb, Usagi freaks out to the other girls. Sakiko and her father witness this through the window, in another wing of the building, and while Sakiko says she likes them, her father tells her not to associate with girls like that.

At dinner, Usagi is still frightened of the staff despite their friendliness. Ami says she likes their costumes... yep, they're just costumes, part of the pension's theme, which seems to be news to Usagi. Well, it's a good thing there aren't any real ghosts here, and... wait, what's this? They hear a ghostly moaning that scares the staff as much as Usagi. They follow the sound, and Rei opens the door to reveal an actual ghost.
It drifts towards the stairs and then disappears. While Usagi and the staff try to pretend they didn't actually see what they just saw, Ami wonders if it could have been a Youma. Rei says it's not, but there's some kind of strange power present here.

Meanwhile, in events that I'm sure are unconnected, Sakiko is being brought in and out of a hypnotic trance by her father, who's apparently oblivious to the distress it's causing her. Because, and this may have escaped your attention so far, he's a dick.

The next day, the horror movie weather has cleared up, and Usagi and friends visit the private beach. Yeah, it's private, alright... they're the only ones here. Poor Usagi, no hot guys for you. Ami wonders if Sakiko's alright, mentioning she didn't come out of her room today. Usagi and Rei are more concerned that Ami brought a textbook along; Usagi insists that Ami should join them in having fun. She agrees, and so begins a game where Ami and Rei throw a beach ball and Usagi is repeatedly hit by it. Sakiko watches them sadly from the cliff above.

Night comes again. Back at the pension, Usagi is preemptively panicking, and Rei is ofuda-ing everything in sight, though she feels that this isn't a true ghost, and that something more powerful is at work. She overhears the staff discussing something that they want to keep secret from the visitors.

Ami sees Sakiko outside, and goes to talk to her. It turns out that Sakiko watched the girls playing on the beach all day. Noticing how lonely she is, Ami tells Sakiko that they're alike, and that she used to be lonely before she met Usagi. She thinks Sakiko should become Usagi's friend too, but... well, here comes Sakiko's dad to disapprove. He drags Sakiko away, and says that the girls should leave, unless they want to be scared even more. This strikes me as no way to run a business.

Back inside, Sakiko's father scolds her, and starts talking about her immense psychic power, which he's able to bring out through hypnosis. As he hypnotizes her again, he tells her she'll be the world's foremost psychic and, more importantly, stick it to those guys who made fun of his psychic research.

Usagi, already doing a pretty good job of working herself up into abject terror, walks in on, well, this.
After plenty of screaming, Rei intervenes to tell Usagi that the staff really are just ordinary people trying to do something about the ghost... and that she senses the same power from before building again. Her ofuda are ripped from the furniture, and then objects in the room start to levitate.

Sakiko's father has her in a trance, and commands her to manifest her energies as a ghost, to scare off the visitors. Ami has been watching, however, and tells him to stop. The ghost appears, and knocks Ami away, but then, inevitably, it turns on Sakiko's father.
Seeing him knocked through the window, the girls transform in order to save him, to the extent that he merits saving. Meanwhile, Sakiko's father cowers, at the mercy of the immensely powerful ghost.
I think the problem is that it does recognize you...

Mercury tries to wake Sakiko, while Sailor Moon flings her tiara at the ghost, only for it to harmlessly pass through. Sakiko eventually wakes up, but the ghost is still there, targeting her father but attacking anyone else who gets near, including Sakiko herself. Her father tells her to run away, and that the ghost is beyond her control. Mercury realizes that the ghost has become a manifestation of Sakiko's desire for independence. Again, Sakiko's father tells her to run, but she refuses to leave him. He apologizes for isolating her, saying he always knew she wanted a normal life, but was too tied up in his own ambitions. As the ghost closes in on them, Sakiko stands up and blasts it with psychic energy, destroying it.

Sakiko's father admits that all of this was caused by his need for Sakiko's psychic powers to be acknowledged, and so he forced her to train them, using guests at the pension as test subjects. Again, I say: no way to run a business. He then allows Sakiko the freedom she always wanted, and while she plays with Usagi and friends on the beach, he assures the staff that the ghost will never be returning.

Monster of the day: Well, there was the ghost that wasn't a ghost. The premise is all very Scooby Doo until it turns out that the fake ghost is being caused by another, entirely legitimate kind of paranormal activity.

Most valuable person: Though her involvement is low-key, this is an Ami episode more than anything else, as she's the one who forges the bond with Sakiko that ends up saving them.

Least valuable person: Though he did apologize, Sakiko's father gets this for all around crappy parenting. 

This is undoubtedly one of the weirdest episodes ever produced. It doesn't have any connection with the current storyline other than the justification that the girls came to the beach to train, and has some uniquely odd guest characters in the pension staff. True, they're just regular people in costumes rather than the movie monsters they appear to be, but visually they're just not the kind of thing you expect to see in a Sailor Moon episode.

But even though it's a significant change of pace, there are a few nice callbacks to previous episodes, like Luna's fear of ghosts and particularly Usagi's iconic, hastily-repaired swimsuit. And the silliness is balanced by the fairly somber tale of Sakiko and her father. It's a familiar story: a parent controls their child's life because they know what's best for them, making them focus on talents they have but aren't especially keen on using, while the true motivation is the parent's bitterness over their own failures. It's a heavy subject, though Sakiko's father does seem to be taking the first steps along the path of making amends. This show is, at its core, optimistic about human nature, and likes to redeem characters previously shown to be evil, though effectively doing so can be a tricky business. Though I simply can't bring myself to like Sakiko's father, he does at least show contrition over his actions, and is pretty honest in his assessment of his own true motivations. For an episode frequently dismissed as the lightest, fluffiest kind of filler, I think that's pretty deep.

It's not easy assigning a grade to this episode, but I think it's enjoyable, and tends to be underrated by fans. So it gets four stars out of five, and now I have this song stuck in my head.
They're creepy and they're eerie
Depressed and scared and dreary
The hauntings make 'em weary
Sakiko's family

She likes to pick wild flowers
And help folks caught in showers
She's got some crazy powers
Sakiko's family

Her father was a villain
Sakiko was unwillin'
The ghost then tried to kill 'im
Sakiko's family

The panic in the pension
Resolved some family tension
Now I'll no longer mention
Sakiko's family.

1 comment:

  1. The pension staff always reminded me more of the Munsters for some reason, with the werewolf and Frankenstein. The ghost(?) lady not so much, but her look isn't that different from Lily Munster's in any case. :P

    Also, I miss your reviews. :( Any hopes of you doing them again? If you ever do, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the new dub as well. :)