The first episode of Sailor Moon Crystal recently aired. I think I just assumed that by the time it aired I'd have come up with a plan on if/how to cover this series. Well... looks like I finally have to make a decision. Here's what I'm going to do.
I'll be posting short reviews. I won't be scoring the episodes, because this show is a new entity and I don't have any context for what an average episode of it might be. And at least for the time being, I'll just be posting my thoughts on the episode rather than describing the events of the episode. I mean, it's episode one. Every version of episode one has the same story.
I do quite like the opening. I'm not completely sold on the song yet, but there are some nice visual bits, especially the appearance of the Dark Kingdom.
In terms of character design... the new style is a bit controversial, and while I appreciate they're trying for something closer to Takeuchi's art style, right now some of the characters look a bit stiff. Another new thing: a lot of characters' hair got lighter. Ikuko, Shingo, especially Haruna. Umino looks pretty odd. As I said back in my episode one review of Classic, he's a tough one to animate because of the sketchy way he was drawn in the manga. Here, he looks... spikier than I'm used to, and somehow even more at odds with the other characters because of the increased level of detail in everyone else's design.
I'd say that Umino has changed the most, except there are two minor characters who are really different. Kuri, one of the two girls who accompany Usagi and Naru to the store, has an entirely new, short haircut. I like it. I don't know why they decided to redesign such a minor character, so I'm just going to assume it was one of Takeuchi's demands to make up for Haruka not being in the show yet. Takeuchi needs attractive androgynous women, they're like her power source.
Then there's Morga. Morga actually looks more human in her Youma form than the original did. For the most part, I'd say she's less scary, though there's some definite uncanny-valley stuff happening when she shifts from Naru's mom to her Youma form: the weird eyes and all those teeth can be kind of chilling.
The story stuck very closely to the manga version. Motoki shows up in this episode (he didn't appear in the original until episode two) but Beryl doesn't. There were some bits where Usagi's dreaming about the Moon Princess that I think weren't in the manga, but as this is a straight adaptation of one manga chapter, there has to be a bit of extra stuff to make it the length of a regular episode.
Speaking of which, there were times when things seemed to drag a bit, the pace slowing down to presumably extend the episode to its required length. I'm not opposed to shows with a slow pace - one of my favorite series is Azumanga Daioh, and that dedicated an entire, mostly dialogue-free segment to some characters walking through a park. Some bits actually benefited from being longer, like the first meeting between Usagi and Mamoru. Here, you feel like there might be some real, deep connection, whereas in the original anime he's just a jerk and a bully.
The battle is... well, I've seen some people say that there's less menace than the original anime version, with Morga being less frightening. On the other hand, there's less of what made that battle annoying, in the sense of Sailor Moon being utterly useless and then suddenly winning anyway. Her victory here seems a little more earned. My main criticism is that the Youma's minions aren't as interesting: in the original, you had a diverse group of women, and here they all pretty much look identical. Which, I dunno, maybe that's a conscious choice, since they're zombies and zombies are pretty anonymous, but there's just something especially scary about possessed schoolgirls wielding broken bottles.
Finally... this was a faithful adaptation for better and for worse, and by "worse" I'm mainly talking about the flashing odango protectors. I will actually give the show a pass on this if they find a way of using them consistently, rather than using them once and forgetting they exist.
Where does the show go from here? They seem to be following the manga extremely closely right now, though I don't know how much we can tell from that, as every version of chapter one was pretty much the same. The live action series was supposedly going to be closer to the manga, but we ended up with evil Mercury and Zoisite playing the piano. This is a 26 episode series, so if they do stick to one chapter per episode, the first arc will be done about halfway through. It is notable that, if they use the chapter divisions of the revised versions of the manga, 26 episodes would be exactly enough to cover the first two arcs, so maybe that's what we're looking at.
I'm not as big a fan of the manga as I am of the original anime. If this is a completely faithful adaptation of the manga, it's safe to say I'm not going to enjoy it as much as the original anime. But I'm going to keep watching. Who knows? Maybe this format will give me a greater appreciation for the manga's story.