Jab’s Reviews: Sailor Moon (The Entire Anime Series) Part 1


Art from official SM art & Tsutaya.


Sailor Moon- Series Overview:
-And now we finally reach the end of my Sailor Moon sets, as I’ve finally reached the end of my 200-episode-long watch-through. I can actually give a more thorough review of the series at this point, detailing the qualities and flaws of the show.

Was it good? Well let’s just say that Sailor Moon kicks the ever-loving shit out of Dragon Ball Z on every possible level, and leave it at that. Sailor Moon even has good FILLER. You LOOK FORWARD to Sailor Moon filler. For… like three seasons. 2/3 of the show is kick-ass, with only a few minor flaws. The last two seasons are pretty dire- Seasonal Rot is a harsh mistress.

Sailor Moon got its start as Sailor V, a solo book about a sailor-dressed girl named Minako Aino, written by a trained pharmacist named Naoko Takeuchi, who largely based the character and her family off of herself and her own family life. The manga did well, and people were interested- Naoko, her editor, and a toy company all got together and ideas congealed into “Hey, why not make a TEAM SHOW out of this?” And so characters were shifted around, and the “Sailor V” character was modified. A new girl with the same personality but a more “iconic” appearance was created, and Usagi Tsukino became “Sailor Moon”, with other girls being created to fill out some of the planets of the solar system- a smart girl for Mercury, mysterious magical girl for Mars, tough girl for Jupiter, and Sailor V was made “Sailor Venus”. And so a “Shoujo” action series was merged with the Power Rangers “Sentai” genre, and it set the world on fire.

Sailor Moon went on to be an international hit, and was there for the early days of the “Anime Boom” of the ’90s. Though the Shonen shows became a lot more popular, and the show itself wasn’t that big a hit in America, it had a very big “online fandom” back when those were becoming a thing, and so you saw a lot of obsessive fans like me traipse around and find everything they could. So much of what I think of as “Anime Tropes” were things I first saw here. Sailor Mercury’s inexplicable blue hair (Robotech did this as well). The “sweat drops” when characters were worried or embarrassed. Still frames of people’s staring eyes. “Limited Animation” disguised in a more artful way, as opposed to Hanna-Barbera Half-Assing. Transformation Sequences. “Filler Episodes” where they do Monster of the Day and Victim of the Day to fill time between the chapters of Naoko’s book.

The show seemed simple at first, but soon got complicated, with a very huge, epic backstory. Usagi was a normal, everyday girl- not a big role model like other heroes. She was a crybaby, a big klutz, and did “normal girl” things like have a crush on a slightly older boy, struggle with her studies, and hang out with her friends. And then one day a friggin’ talking black cat appears to her and tells her she’s the “Pretty Guardian” known as Sailor Moon, and she has to help find the “Moon Princess”. A handsome stranger named Tuxedo Mask rescues her on her first mission, setting off ANOTHER big crush. Oh, but she gathers a team of other girls with similar powers, and it turns out that SHE’S the Moon Princess after all! She and her one true love (Tuxedo Mask’s alter ego) were lovers in Earth’s ancient history, but were killed in a massive struggle against Queen Metalia, who twisted many other humans into destroying the Moon Kingdom. Everyone was reborn into modern times, and Metalia threatens to destroy the entire world once more! Last time, Usagi’s mother Queen Serenity sacrificed her life to save everyone- will Usagi have to do the same thing now?

Certain things changed between manga and anime, as the anime was mostly staffed by men who wanted to see the stuff they liked, versus Naoko’s more ethereal approach. Since the manga & anime ran more or less simultaneously (something that has produced a TON of problems over the years for other shows), “Filler” was added, as the energy-sucking monsters Sailor Moon fought at first were turned into “Monsters of the Week”, and most episodes had a “Victim of the Week”- typically someone the girls would befriend for just that day, get to know, detail their personal problems, then ultimately save from one of the bad guys. This “Filler” would last for 5-8 episodes until Naoko wrote some new thing, at which point the plot would rev up again and we’d gain a revelation or two.

Each season would typically have a “Big Bad”, who would slowly reveal a BIGGER bad behind them. They’d have a group of subordinate “Generals” who would either take turns or be the current “main bad guy”- in the manga, these would be one-offs who would die after a single mini-arc in the bigger story, while the anime expanded the characters and gave them arcs that didn’t exist in the manga (such as the second general of Metalia’s, Nephrite, getting an arc where he Discovered the Human Value Known As Love thanks to Usagi’s friend Naru, dying heroically to save her life). Once the manga’s first chapter ended and it was gonna be wrapped up… Naoko was told to keep it going, and so we got an arc where her future daughter arrives, chased by the Black Moon Clan, giving us ANOTHER big story. And after that, Naoko finally filled out the rest of the Solar System, as Sailor Uranus & Neptune, the most famous lesbian couple in anime, arrive and mercilessly hunt the villains and act unhelpful towards our heroines. And Sailor Saturn, Guardian of Destruction, is awakened to help Sailor Moon fight this Eldritch Abomination. And after THAT, mysterious villains come hunting human dreams, and we finally end things with Sailor Galaxia and her “Star Seed” hunters, destroying worlds so that only Galaxia remains.

The manga & anime end up immensely different. I find the girls more “generic” in the manga, with Usagi & Mamoru (the love interest) getting far more development instead. The fights are stranger in the manga, and the villains typically just easily-killed nobodies with good designs. The anime, left to fill time, actually did a LOT of inventive stuff to make them more interesting. I find myself preferring the anime a lot.

So Why Was It Awesome?:
-But while the backstory is a huge part of things, the REAL reason why people loved the show was the characters. Usagi was endearing to the young girls reading, who probably saw a lot of themselves in the flawed heroine. Ami (Sailor Mercury) was a brilliant mega-genius, but had a romantic’s heart that got developed over the course of the show. Rei (Sailor Mars) was mysterious powers, but is a gigantic grouch who finds Usagi’s character flaws tremendously annoying, and the two bicker like sisters, Rei’s maturity giving way to childish outbursts and competitiveness that belies just how close their relationship really was. Makoto (Jupiter) is a tough, violent girl whom Usagi befriends despite the urgings of others, and turns into her biggest defender, and has an easily-broken heart despite her aggressive exterior. And Minako (Venus)… is kinda like Usagi and they struggle a bit with that, but she gets more and more insane with each passing season.

The first season is completely epic, gains some tremendous villains, and even has good arcs for them. The villainous Nephrite grows attached to Naru, and yet is honest with her that he’ll probably just keep on lying to her. And he dies in a horribly-violent scene where villains impale him on thorns and he bleeds out before Naru’s horrified eyes. Kunzite & Zoisite are evil, but are also in love with each other (a rare gay couple in villainy- Zoisite is infamously a female in North America for this reason), and Kunzite mourns his lover when Queen Beryl- their leader- kills him for disobedience. The stuff where we learn Usagi’s backstory in the Moon Kingdom is just remarkable storytelling, seeming SO tragic and beyond anything- this is what hooked me on the show for good.

And ultimately we get this amazing Season Finale, where Usagi has to watch in horror as her dear friends die one by one protecting her. Ultimately it’s just her & Mars, who confesses that “all our fighting was kinda fun” and bravely opposes the last two villains, immolating one before she can hurt Usagi, and falling to the other. The villain prepares to attack, but Mars turns, body broken, saying “I’m not done yet” and calls out her attack, burning the screaming villain alive with the last of her strength. And then poor Usagi has to kill her one true love (who was mind-controlled into loving Beryl), then call upon her dead friends to empower her to destroy the evil Queen once and for all.

This was INSANE and then they just kept going- . Sailor Moon R wasn’t quite as great, but has a lot of phenomenal moments- Mamoru breaking up with Usagi, done to add more “filler” to the manga’s story, is treated as this heart-wrenching thing that gives us a lot of perfect moments, like a smiling Usagi in denial over what’s happening, and of course REI being the one person who eggs Usagi on to “go to him”. Sailor Moon S is arguably the best season ever, as the fascinating Uranus & Neptune (a masculine tough chick and her “perfect” feminine girlfriend) arrive and prepare to sacrifice anyone they can to ensure the survival of the world. And then Sailor Moon’s future-daughter arrives for “training” and befriends this poor, innocent little sickly girl… who has the friggin’ devil inside of her, and the gang has to prevent Uranus & Neptune from executing the little girl until she becomes Sailor Saturn and helps save the day.

By the end of things, this show has the greatest cast of characters ever assembled in a team. Any of the five main characters could run a show on their own, and they all strengthen each other. Of the new Sailors, three of the four are just as good, and make up truly unique characters in fiction. Now, using them PROPERLY is the trick (read on). Also the fact that many were mega-hot (Shut up they don’t actually look as young as they’re supposed to be!) was a big help- Mercury seems better and better with time, Jupiter’s talents are famous, and Mars is an all-time Dream Girl- a sardonic, argumentative, hard-to-please-but-deep-down-feels-the-most grouch with ankle-length black hair? HELL YES.

The Infamous Dub:
-OK, speaking of the Original Dub (which was originally just called “The Dub”): It wasn’t THAT bad. It gets a short shrift by a lot of fans, namely because of “it’s foreign so it must be better” and the general anti-dubbing wars that were FAR more intense back before there were many decent companies actually dubbing things. It was… heavily flawed, but decent considering the rules. Zoisite was changed from a gay man to a female for obvious reasons (and really, you’d have NEVER known without the ‘net telling you back then), ie. it would NEVER have passed any censors, and this was the mid-90s. A lot of episodes were cut, especially side-ones that didn’t involve the main plot. Sailors Uranus & Neptune were changed from not-so-subtle lesbian lovers to cousins (though leaving in enough relationship stuff to still make it weird). The Dark Messiah had its name changed. The Dark Kingdom is just changed to “The Negaverse”, and later villains from Nemesis are also given that name, as if it’s still full of evil people. Queen Metallia is called “The Negaforce”. Character names were changed, back in the days before it was cool to leave everyone’s names sounding Japanese (still, four of them retained near-exact names, like Ami/Amy & Rei/Raye). The team are called “Sailor Scouts” instead of “Sailor Senshi/Warriors”, though both names don’t make a lot of sense (the latter is QUITE redundant- Sailors ARE Warriors, y’know?- plus, they almost never fight on the frickin’ water, so nitpicking over the “Scouts” thing is dumb as hell). These things were either necessary, or a bit minor.

More important changes were to plot points. The Season One finale was merged into a single episode from two ultra-violent ones, and implied the heroines didn’t die. At one point, it’s made to look like Sailor Mars STOLE the Silver Crystal when the original makes it clear she was given it by Sailor Moon to keep safe, which is a deplorable change that REALLY altered Sailor Mars’s character.

So some were pretty big, annoying changes. But the main plot’s still all there, and most of this really hardly changes anything too major. The most spectacularly bad example of Dub Fail is when Sailor Moon begs Prince Darien to “remember your name is DARIEN!” and he’s all like “WUT?” and recognizes the name. Which is the name he’s currently using. That’s mainly because the dub somehow decided to rename “Prince Endymion” and just leave the normal guy’s name in it’s place. Just a temporary funny/bizarre moment, though- some people act as if this was a giant plot hole that ruined everything. The voice acting was iffy, but truth be told… people overrate original Japanese VAs all the freaking time– the original Japanese had a ton of REALLY squeaky-voiced girls, and the dub matched this with really annoying girls for the most part as well. Susan Roman was so good that even Dub-Haters enjoyed her performance as Sailor Jupiter. And despite the dub’s occasional snafus, the show was still bad-ass, and more than worth getting into just with the dub. Is the original better? Yes, no question. But the dub is still a fine show if that’s all you can get (and for 99% of the people on earth, it is- this show is infamously the worst-case scenario for additional DVD releases, matched only by Jem and the Holograms having an eternal lock-up regarding the rights- both shows took so long to get fully DVD releases that it was almost too late, and nostalgic potential had passed them by.

You have to keep in mind this was YEARS before anime dubbing became common, and “whole cloth” dubs became the norm- many of these changes were quite strictly ordered from above, so you can’t blame the dubbers for censorship and little things like that. Nowadays, all the girls would have their original names, there’d be no English stuff, no “Sailor Says” segment, etc. C’est la vie.

Oh, and the MUSIC. WAS. AWESOME. Seriously, you will not find better “Mid-90s Power Rock You-Can-Do-It Ballad”-type stuff anywhere else. Think Transformers: The Movie in general tone and “believe in yourself!” attitude and you’ve about got it. You’ve Got The Power is defined by it’s name (and actually written and performed by Stan Bush, of Transformers fame), and Carry On is just EPIC Final Boss Battle stuff for girls. Must-listen stuff, no matter how bad the anti-dub crowd whined about soundtrack changes. And honestly… the original anime soundtrack is complete garbage. All “soft jazz” & “synth-crap” nonsense.

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