Sailor Moon Crystal Episode 1: Becoming the Fantasy

I mentioned in my summer preview post that I never watched the original Sailor Moon growing up. However, of recent times I have learned more about the franchise, how the episodes generally played out and a couple of story threads. I haven’t seen any of the original series, but from what I can tell, this first episode doesn’t appear to have deviated too heavily from the 90’s series.

Having grown used to a post-Madoka world when it comes to magical girl anime, Sailor Moon still feels like a blast from the past regardless of my missing nostalgia for the series.

The animation immediately shines in this episode, as we are treated to rather gorgeous shots of the solar system which will come to represent the various Sailor Scouts. The opening is a standout too, distinctively composed by Sound Horizon of Attack On Titan fame. I say this because at many parts during the non-vocal parts of the opening I felt like I was listening to the Bravely Default soundtrack all over again, which is far from a bad thing. The English lyrics were also subtitled on screen.

“We are not helpless girls who need men’s protection”

 

Not helpless girls

This show immediately conveys it’s intention to be a force of empowerment for young women.

Upon seeing Usagi’s face I immediately felt unsettled. It’s a very different kind of design. While she is only fourteen years of age, she looks like she’s wearing heavy make-up in her late 20s. Despite the eyes being noticeably large and cute even by anime standards, I couldn’t help but feel that they were going for a more mature design with the character. Despite this, the usual type of humour ensues- Usagi is late, she falls down the stairs on her but, she trips over a cat, and is immediately distracted by it’s cuteness. Usagi comes across as the usual type of prime Waifu bait to me, the type of character that I pretty much never classify as being particularly feminist. As a show aimed at young girls, however, Usagi also seems designed to come across as relatable- imperfect, especially when it comes to school, but also possessing a good heart.

Scenes not involving Usagi are usually fairly atmospheric. The opening scene in particular, and what I presume is a major villain sending the monster of the week out to do it’s thing. The obvious black and white morality comes across as a little simplistic, which makes sense given the audience for the show. However the haunting soundtrack and gray colour palette honestly lends an ominous atmosphere to some of these scenes.

Scenes involving Usagi, however, are usually fairly bright and filled with her saying and doing the usual comedic stuff. They aren’t uninteresting, however. She fantasies briefly about becoming a princess, because she ‘wouldn’t have to go to school anymore’. Usagi here conforms to stereotypes associated with young girls. Not only does she desire a position free of responsibility, but the princess in her dream is seen heading into the arms of a young man, a prince. A common ‘true love’ scenario. She soon meets the everyday identity of Tuxedo Mask (who quite possibly has an even more obvious secret identity than Clark Kent) and it’s love at first site. Usagi acts Tsundere around him, but the show outlines her personality more clearly than any amount of clumsiness or low grades could convey- her identity is heavily media and culture soaked, a factor that becomes much more important later in the episode.

The line ‘I wish I was… then I wouldn’t have to go to school’ is repeated when Usagi runs into an arcade game based upon Sailor V- an apparently real life vigilante who seems suspiciously similar to what the Scouts eventually become. Usagi doesn’t specifically look up to princesses, she looks up to idols- she had only learned about the existence of Sailor V that same day, and yet she is envious. She practically worships the feminine idols of the popular culture, ignoring what the roles actually mean- I feel that there is some irony in the idea that a princess in the traditional conception doesn’t actually have to put herself into any actual physical danger, and can live the rich life peacefully in a castle. Sailor V, on the other hand, is the exact opposite- she’s right on the front lines, placing herself in the line of fire to fight crime. Usagi simply wants a different life that people will admire her for, she’s not actually aware of what she is good at.

She plays an arcade game based around a fictionalized version of Sailor V. The story makes it ambiguous as to what Sailor V actually is- a fictional idol, a product with no real power, or an actual vigilante or a celebrity that people actually designed video games around. Especially in the 80s and 90s, this wouldn’t actually be too uncommon. Nevertheless, the arcade game essentially allows Usagi to buy into the illusion created by the product, drawing attention to the idea of games as escapism. There’s also an interesting parallel between her gung-ho attitude whilst playing the game compared to how useless she is in actual combat later on in her Sailor Moon persona. It may also be worth noting that gaming has always been often thought of as being a ‘boys club’ culture, a sentiment that sadly exists to this day in gamings darker corners. Regardless of such, I feel safe in saying that here, gaming is coded masculine, the larger culture controlling, dominating, and presenting the smaller, singular fantasy in the form of Sailor V’s arcade game, as no other media or merchandise related to Sailor V is mentioned. Combined with the idea of the princess falling for the prince, both of Usagi’s icons are male dominated.

Grrr

The CG in the transformation sequence is really off putting. I don’t like it. I hope we don’t have to waste time on this every episode.

Errm, so yes, Luna the cat grants Usagi the ability to become Sailor Moon, a magical girl who must fight evil. There aren’t really any questions and the origins of this aren’t really explained, Usagi seems to try writing it all off as a dream but she doesn’t seem particularly worried afterwards. Again, this anime being made, even as a remake, in a post-Madoka world felt fairly jarring to me on occasion.

Usagi’s first reaction to becoming Sailor Moon is ‘I look like Sailor V!’ In other words Usagi has literally become the idol. She fights for and upholds justice as defined by Sailor V, and all the cultural baggage associated with Sailor V as previously mentioned. The escapist fantasy has become reality, and the end of the episode makes me chuckle at the thought that despite Usagi’s wish being granted, she still has to go to school.

The villain’s plan this episode has been to sell off a ton of jewelry for low low prices this episode, which slowly saps their whatchamagig. This is bad, because this this allows the bigger bad to find the uugermaflip, which is even worse. By the end of the episode, the villain is able to use her canister of red whatchamagig to turn everyone who had brought the jewelry into zombies, who she orders to attack Sailor Moon. The important thing here is that jewelry, traditionally considered a fashion accessory marketed more for women than for men, is a commercial product that corporate entities use to control the consumer and effectively steal their identities for their own purposes, basically turning them into mindless consumer zombies. On the other hand, we also know that Sailor Moon is a commercial product, who is basically an addition to the pre-existing Sailor V franchise. The battle at the end of the episode thus becomes a battle of brands. To defeat the villain, Sailor Moon uses no combat prowess or wit, she throws her tiara, an iconic object belonging to Sailor V that has now been granted to her. No part of her own identity is used in the defeat of the villain.

Commercial Zombies

So far, besides the big bad being male, there hasn’t been anything to suggest that the jewelry has any other form of masculine influence. The monster of the week being defeated, of course, is female too. Going back to what I said earlier, Sailor V and princesses are also feminine icons, but they are also heavily dominated by masculine influences. Usagi cries and wails when the pressure of combat becomes too much for her, so her prince Tuxedo mask arrives to calm her down so that she can finish off the job. The point is, regardless of all the creator’s potential intentions for creating a feminist hero for young girls, the conflict for this episode still feels like a case that is coded masculine=good, feminine=evil.

Will my analysis of the show overall change? Probably. This is only the first episode. I feel the need to say once again that I never saw the original show. I never read the manga, either. Regardless of what I have said in this mini-essay, however, I actually enjoyed this first episode of Sailor Moon Crystal. Some of these choices feel too specific for me to believe that the show is somehow stupid or actively anti-feminist. If it’s intentional, then great, that means I likely have some subversions to look forward to. The Moon Pride opening song certainly seems to imply that the writers want the Sailor Scouts to be strong, independent girls. If not, then that’s still fine- the majority of audiences probably wont see what I do. Sailor Moon can still inspire and entertain audiences without secretly being a bad influence.

I’ll probably prove my initial impressions wrong over the course of my time with this show, but for now I am certainly looking forward to future episodes. Moon Prism Power! (Make up!)

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