A Return to Sailor Moon Crystal

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Near and dear to my heart, the Sailor Moon franchise is something that means a lot to me personally. I know I’m not alone in this, and my story isn’t particularly special. Sailor Moon resonates with an enormous amount of people, making it one of the most well-known anime franchises both in Japan and the west.

Upon watching the first episode of Sailor Moon Crystal back in July 2014, I was ecstatic. While there were recognizable problems — primarily with the translation of Naoko Takeuchi’s character designs from the manga into animation — I overlooked them. Sailor Moon was back, with a promise to follow the manga more closely than its first anime iteration. My initial reaction was one fueled by nostalgia and emotional resonance.

As the weeks passed, poorly animated scenes, weak cinematography, and a general sense of laziness permeated Sailor Moon Crystal‘s presentation. Their schedule of one episode every two weeks made such glaring visual mistakes unforgivable in the eyes of the community. For me personally, Sailor Moon Crystal just made me sad to see a property that I cared about so much fail so miserably in creating any sort of resonance with me beyond my initial, rose-colored nostalgia glasses. After sticking with the first season for longer than I probably should have, I dropped the series.

It wasn’t fun. Sailor Moon Crystal was bad.

There was no “ruining my childhood” sentiment, as many love to say when a beloved piece of media is dredged up for another reboot. There was no anger, certainly nothing like the fury I saw on my twitter timeline every week.

I simply dropped it.

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When Sailor Moon Crystal‘s third season was announced, I didn’t pay much attention. I hadn’t even made it through the first season and, by most accounts, the second season was also poorly executed. Making peace with the fact that the Sailor Moon that I loved was nothing like Crystal, I noticed the announcement but thought little of it. What brought me back to the franchise, and Crystal specifically, was promotional material featuring Haruka Tenoh (Sailor Uranus) and Michiru Kaioh (Sailor Neptune).

Sailor Moon S was my second-favorite season of the series growing up. Haruka and Michiru, along with Hotaru Tomoe (Sailor Saturn) are some of my most beloved characters. The relationship between Haruka and Michiru is particularly affecting if told well. The S season is also where Kunihiko Ikuhara — who went on to Revolutionary Girl Utena, Mawaru Penguindrum, and Yuri Kuma Arashi — starts to identify himself as a director. Sailor Moon S is known for its dark and serious tone, which is something that Sailor Moon Crystal: Season III tries to replicate. There was a notable shift in tone from what I remembered of Crystal, which was far more carefree and straightforward.

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The third series of Crystal begins ominously with a monologue from the series’ new big bad before launching into a more melancholy opening from Etsuko Yakushimaru — her voice always reminds me of Mawaru Penguindrum, since she did both openings for that series — than Momoiro Clover Z’s “Moon Pride.”

Crystal Season III uses copious amounts of dutch angles to convey a feeling of uneasiness and frames both Haruka and Michiru interestingly in relation to Usagi and company. While the dutch angles are used a bit too frequently in this first episode, the entire presentation is significantly better and more thoughtful than any Crystal episode I can remember — which might not be saying much since I didn’t recall watching up until Episode 9. Gone are the stiff, manga silhouettes for character designs, with Season III opting for more filled-out look that works infinitely better in motion.

For lack of a better way to put it, Crystal Season III appears to have life, which the first season did not — each passing episode felt more and more like a soulless cash grab. The characters breathe, they move, and they feel things, something that seems like a simple concept until you watch the first season of Sailor Moon Crystal and wonder where the cardboard cut-outs came from.

13 comments

  1. Hi! I’ve also been digging a lot of the Sailor Moon Crystal artwork as of late, and I was wondering: what is the best place to enter the franchise? I would start with Crystal but the first two seasons seem to be unanimously reviled by fans, so could I possibly begin watching at season three, without having any prior knowledge of the series, or should I work my way back to the 90s anime adaptation? Or perhaps I should start at ground zero and begin with the source material itself?

    1. I’d still say the 90s anime adaptation. It acted as a breeding ground for a group of really talented directors, animators, and writers, some of whom are still working today. The S season specifically is really amazing. Don’t start with any part of Crystal, hehe.

      1. Your reply is rather amusing to a hardcore fan. The advice here is basically to ignore the original story/plot (however SLIGHTLY modified it was in Crystal), and watch a show so diluted and so modified that the main character is reduced to a whiny, useless crybaby that cannot do anything until someone throws a rose in her path and tells her to ‘Get on with it!’.

        I liked the old animation, but I love the manga more. Toei mutilated Naoko’s story and art.
        Crystal S1 & 2 at least tried to actually adapt the original, true story, with a few quirks by Naoko herself.

        Crystal Season III is higher quality in terms of animation quality control, thanks in no small part, to the much bigger budget, however, the design team seems hellbent in copying the old animation. Crystal was cool because it *differed* from the original. If many of us wanted a clone of that, we’d just go watch the original animation re-release.

        1. People can watch the original anime if they want to also, they can choose whatever version they want to see first, you don’t have to know about the manga in order to enjoy the anime, and/or vice versa. One can prefer the anime over the manga also.

          Sailor Moon wasn’t that useless in the original anime, sure she was a crybaby, but she did mature over time, and she didn’t need to rely on her rose throwing boyfriend all the time. The reason why the story was different was not because they were “mutilating” Naoko’s story, they wanted to improve the story and make it appeal more to audiences.

          Naoko wasn’t even involved in Crystal at all also, when she was involved to a point in the original one, her thoughts on it are mixed. Unfortunately, seasons 1 and 2 were more of poor, rather than good adaptations of the manga, they cut out parts like little interactions with the girls, hilarious comedic faces, and/or took all of the Inners’ accomplishments

          Season III still feels different compared to the original, even if parts do look like the old animation.

  2. I’m just not seeing it. Sure, I think the Season 3 premiere looks better, and the designs are much nicer, but it still just feels like a pallid, barely alive remake.

    I’ve never read the manga, but the thing that distinguished the 1990s anime (beyond its sometime wavering girls’ empowerment message) was that it was endlessly creative (those monster-of-the-week character designs) and frequently REALLY funny. Sure, it piled on the filler, and everything was seemingly always resolved in a nonsensical fashion, but it almost always had inspired storylines, and at many points was positively subversive.

    In short, it was a franchise that became more than the sum of its parts. And it was rarely anything less than really fun to watch.

    Maybe the small improvements made in Episode 1 of Season 3 of Crystal presage better things to come, but so far, there’s none of that wonderfully campy sense of humor, and the few yuks they reach for were all just by-the-numbers. The original had the potential to be self-serious, but never went there. Crystal, even in this latest version, seems all too full of itself and portentous.

    To anyone who wants to know where to start with Sailor Moon, my advice would be to go with the original. Unlike Crystal, that’s a show that really DOES get better as it goes along.

    1. Oh certainly. One of the reasons that the original Sailor Moon is so good is that the series acted as a breeding ground for Kunihiko Ikuhara (Revolutionary Girl Utena, Mawaru Penguindrum, Yuri Kuma Arashi) and his compatriots. Particularly the S season, which is a darker and serious story that was tempered with amazingly absurd comedy from both Ikuhara and Takuya Igarashi (who went on to helm the SailorStars season after Ikuhara left following SuperS).

      As a fan of the original series and the manga, I’m definitely curious to see where a more faithful manga adaptation goes. It certainly could be that the first episodes of Crystal were so bad that anything better looks significantly stronger by comparison. However, the point of this wasn’t to say that it was anywhere near the original S series, it was more to point out that, by abandoning the manga character designs and treating the story a bit better, it’s infinitely more watchable than what little I saw of Crystal before dropping it.

      Honestly, the fact that they had carefree, comedic moments to begin with is a step in the right direction. It’s unlikely that any new Sailor Moon property will come close to the original, if only due to the immense amount of talent that came up through Sailor Moon and the Toei machine at that time. Chiaki Kon (the new director of the Crystal property) is at least likely to treat the Haruka/Michiru relationship seriously, which is all I’m asking for at this point.

      Thanks for the comment.

  3. Watching this, I remembered that for all the issues Crystal has had, they sure as hell do gorgeous eye-catches and episode title screens.

    I ended up going back and trying to pick up the first set of Crystal episodes, and I was stunned at how utterly bizarre and bad the visual direction it. Crystal III’s opening episode didn’t really impress me insofar as this aspect went, but I realized that my lack of reaction to it was itself a good thing compared with how glaringly terrible it is in Crystal.

    I’m quite optimistic, perhaps unduly so, about this latest effort. Maybe I’ll be crushed with disappointment later, but it’s the only full-length TV anime so far this season that’s fully engaged me. The fact that they gave a lot of focus to Haruka and Michiru in the lead up to the premiere, and that they specifically opted to have them be the focus of the ED is a big part of my enthusiasm and hope. They just seem to be getting better what are the sorts of things that long-time fans loved about this franchise to begin with. Given that Toei has spent much of its time post-Sailor Moon furiously pretending that gay magical girls could never happen, its such a relief to see these two treated right.

  4. I’m more interested to see what they’ll do if they reach the Dream arc. As the original anime adaption of it, Sailor Moon SuperS is often cited by many as the weakest season of 1990s anime (Though I personally find it to be massively underrated and the Dead Moon Circus to be the best villain group in the entire series.) Reaction to something already beloved being remade is easy to predict, Reaction to something divisive and viewed as “not done right the first time” is much more interesting.

  5. There was definitely much more time for the characters to breathe. Those quick jabs Rei did with Usagi gave her a nice flare, but didn’t make her go into the nastiness we saw with her in the ’90s anime.

    Also that animation, the designs, and the 2D transformations are just gorgeous.

    Also Coconut Cyclone and Wink Chain Sword… why you take this from us, ’90s anime? You have the new attacks in your opening. * generic sad face *

  6. Season 3 of Crystal is far, far superior to the first two seasons fortunately. It isn’t as great as the original anime’s S, but it’s still a great series for a modern day Sailor Moon anime. True, seasons 1 and 2 of Crystal are just horrendous, and don’t even feel like Sailor Moon.

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