SAILOR MOON SAILOR STARS:
-And now we finally come to the FINAL SEASON of Sailor Moon– the somewhat notorious “Gender Swap” season Sailor Stars! Having finally watched all the episodes of the show, I can at last sum this up.
So the series is winding down. The demand to make a “Chibi-Usa-centric season” ended with Sailor Moon SuperS and ratings fell, so they’re calling an end to it- the show is ending and Chibi-Usa is GONEZO. Naoko is expected to wrap things up, and so she creates a handful of NEW Sailors, and reveals a greater cosmos in her stories, as it turns out that EVERY planet has a Sailor Guardian, and almost all of them have been killed by this tremendous power named Sailor Galaxia. Her and her Shadow Galactica now have their sights set on Earth, right as three exiled Sailors from another world end up here, searching for their lost Princess. Galaxia’s goal? The capture of “True Star Seeds”- all humans have Star Seeds in them, but only those of Guardians (“Senshi” in the original- warriors/soldier/guardian/etc.) are “True Star Seeds”, and she’s collecting them for a mysterious purpose.
Buuuuuuuuuuuut then the anime producers did that weird thing where they just ignore whatever Naoko was doing and choose their own story arc, using only her trappings. And so the three Sailor Starlights who arrive (complete with their own, unique look)… transform into BOYS when they’re in their secret identities! And they’re an “idol group” (then as now, huge in Japan)! And the girls all lovvvvvvvvvvvvvve them and are huge fangirls, and Seiya (their most important) is in love with Usagi, who is mourning Mamoru, who went to “study in America” and never shows up again. Naoko was apparently aghast at the “Starlights as Boys” concept, as only GIRLS could be Sailors according to her notes.
Meanwhile, Usagi and her friends have FINALLY left Middle School and are now at Juuban High School! New school uniforms! MAKO even fits in this one! Not that we’ll ever see many teachers.
But this is our show now- Galaxia’s agents, called the Sailor Animamates (taking “Sailor + type of metal + animal” naming conventions), are hunting for the “True Star Seeds”, and when the victims of the week reveal just plain old Star Seeds, they transform into monsters of the week called “Phages”. Among them are a generic baddie, a really fun “Nice Villain” and her rival/best friend, the “Snarky Villain”, and then a “Super Evil Villain” right at the end. Many, many episodes revolve around the Starlights, who start out mysterious, then reveal their search for a Princess. Like Sailor Uranus & Neptune from Sailor Moon S, they are aloof and don’t want to work with these “weak” normal Sailors, but Seiya/Sailor Star Fighter starts admiring them. Meanwhile, as the “Three Lights”, they now attend Juuban High and the Sailors go through various levels of fangirling over them. Only Usagi is aloof and uncaring about them, which helps draw Seiya towards her (thought it’s pretty much a “Love At First Sight” kind of thing with him, too).
Meanwhile, Uranus & Neptune dislike the newbies, not that we see them very much. Oh, and remember Sailor Pluto & Saturn showing up for the Nehalennia arc? NOPE. They’re not really around here, either. Like 28 episodes of content and you’ll forget they even exist. In the end, the Starlights finally find Princess Kakyu- their songs as an idol group were heard, but she couldn’t reveal herself till just now… and then she dies one episode later, killed by Galaxia. Meanwhile, Usagi is… completely melancholy all season. As if they heard the fans’ complaints from last season about how they’d “Flanderized” her into a wilder, goofier character and undone it. But it’s just… sad to watch. Like, the character is SO emotional, always wearing them on her sleeve, that you can’t help but get sucked in by how dreary and unable to have fun she is. It’s both good and bad how they captured that sense.
-The opening arc, the mini “Nehalennia Redux” one, is actually one of the show’s best runs. The villain has an AMAZING design, the stakes are incredibly personal (Mamoru has been taken and is mind-controlled into loving the evil Queen), and for the first time ever, EVERY SAILOR is united in one single fight, dramatically pairing off and getting great feats, cool showings, and interesting interpersonal bits. Watching Sailor Mercury show her raw toughness, courage and smarts, impressing even Sailor Uranus, is incredible. Sailor Mars is shamed by how much more “with it” Neptune is than she is, but nonetheless saves her with an amazing arrow shot. Sailor Saturn finally gets to act and use powers on-camera, defending her Princess as Chibi-Usa once defended her.
There’s a great bit when a young Hotaru is living through the memories of her previous life- it’s really amazing how they show the little girl smile sweetly at the memory of Hotaru meeting and befriending Chibi-Usa… but growing more and more upset as she recalls Uranus & Neptune attempting to kill her, Professor Tomoe’s death at the hands of the Death Busters, and more- a harsh reminder of the brutality of their life.
This arc is everything the last season feels like it could have been.
Sailor Aluminum Siren & Lead Crow are amazing together, being one of the true highlights. They have great outfits, a great color scheme, and they’re so much fun the way Siren is this kind of dorky, over-the-top polite villain (giving people her business card before she attacks them) while Crow is aghast that her “Greatest Rival” is a complete goof-off and ditz, and tries to get her to take this seriously. And when Siren dies horribly… Crow is the only one to mourn her, in a really heartbreaking bit.
The animation is some of the show’s best in this season. The guy who did “Triangle Eyes” seems to be absent and you get fewer “Bad Animation” episodes. Though the best directors have since moved on, so the show’s not as fun in the goofy episodes- it’s more middle of the road and less outstanding.
The Starlights, while they’re hardly my favorites, get rounded out quite well. Seiya is the only one who seems to like humans (well, Usagi) at first. Taiki comes off as this aloof, uncaring jerk because he’s intelligent enough to feel superior to others, and it takes a long time to go through his icy exterior. Yaten has a similar problem, but instead of being aloof, he’s just… ANGRY. He lashes out, he acts rude, and he hurts others’ feelings because he’s miserable on Earth and wants to keep everyone at an arm’s length. This doesn’t really make any of them LIKEABLE (Seiya is, seen through the darkest lens, a sex creep at worst and a smarmy jackass at best, while the others are just dicks), but you can at least understand them, and it means more when they finally open up by the end, and truly love Sailor Moon as the others do.
The final four episodes all hit big. Sailor Galaxia removing the Star Seeds of the Inner Sailors, KILLING THEM, plays exactly as dramatically as it should, with a bawling Sailor Moon watching her friends slowly fad away. Her running to Mars, who chides Usagi to suck it up, is dead-on for their characters, and gives off the true feelings they have for each other. Sailor Uranus & Neptune, adversarial and ruthless as always, play the long game, even murdering their closest allies (Hotaru was virtually a foster-daughter at this point) just to get close to Galaxia… and when they finally prove to be the only people in the universe strong enough to resist the control of Galaxia’s Bracelets and hit her with a killshot… she’s immune to it, and they die failures. Both of them contemplating damning themselves to hell while finding solace in each other’s hands is GOD-TIER writing, and shows what you can do when you’ve built up character goodwill.
-And this becomes the main issue with Sailor Stars, to me- by this point, Sailor Moon has amassed the single greatest cast in the history of fiction, and I’m not exaggerating- that’s my actual opinion. They are AMAZING together- endearing, heartfelt Usagi, intelligent (but closet romantic) Ami, headstrong and angry (but deeply insecure and introspective) Rei, tough yet fragile Mako, and giant kindergartener Minako… then you add in the loving lesbian couple (who are nonetheless cold-hearted, utterly-practical, ruthless killers) who look at the cast like funny younger siblings, this adorably-innocent little girl who can crack the planet in half in Sailor Saturn, and the cold, distant (but also warm and caring) Sailor Pluto. Aaaaaaaaand the showrunners would rather do twenty episodes of fangirling over idols and ignore most of this. The girls receive very little characterization of their own anymore so the showrunners can just play with their new toys.
This sorta happened in Sailor Moon S, as Uranus, Neptune & the future Saturn became huge deals, with the writers spending multiple episodes just ENCHANTED by them, but by this point, they hang on the Starlights and don’t let up.
Oh, and they’re now finding Mamoru SO HARD TO WRITE FOR that he’s exiled (he’s killed off in the opening moments and the cast don’t find out until much later) and Seiya now has his “Season One” personality so they can play butting-heads-maybe-lovebirds with him & Usagi, but it really just comes off like he’s pestering her when she’s uncomfortable about it, making him come off like a creep because he won’t take no for an answer.
To be honest, SuperS and this one kind of add together to really end the series on a more sour note than it should have been- no fans anywhere seem to think the show was cancelled before its time for this reason. Looking through my episode reviews here on Echoes, I see that I started the final ten episodes last OCTOBER, and didn’t finish until the beginning of March- essentially taking five months two watch ten episodes. Partially I knew I’d have to set time aside to actually watch AND review the episodes, and partially I just wasn’t that into it so I wouldn’t make time unless I was like “holy crap, it’s been a while”. It was hovering too much into “just good enough” territory with very few “that was a gem of an episode” highlights (like the “Jupiter falls in love with Tiger’s Eye” episode) to keep things going.