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[In Which I Watch] Sailor Moon

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Shadowjack

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I sort of did this once before, but I never finished it or, for that matter, really started it.

Background: I grew up at just the right time to see fragments of and mock the notorious American TV adaptation, alongside whatever Highly Superior kids' show <i>I</i> was watching. My time lurking in anime circles has let me pick up a little more of the context; I know about the "more talent" joke, and the kissing cousins, for example. Last year, I decided—since it was a well-known series—to catch a couple of episodes in the original language and give it an honest assessment.

I was very pleasantly surprised. Sometimes slow, yes, low budget, yes, targeted at a young audience, yes, but each episode had definite progression forward, and unlike a lot of young adult adventure was actually well-written. I enjoy earnest and quirky genre media, and this show was doing the "teen magic as metaphor for growing to adulthood" bit with insightful humor, a little meta awareness, and that necessary dark edge to lend gravity. In short, I liked it.

However, my source dried up, and so I couldn't get very far beyond the first story arc (where Jadeite gets steamrollered), let alone finish the series. But I am now armed with the DVDs. So here's the thread In Which I Watch <i>Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon</i>, wherein a talking cat teaches a pudgy 8th grader how to bring down the pain for great justice.

The last series I finished rewatching was <i>Black Lagoon.</i> This will certainly be a whiplash change of mood, style, and art quality. :D
 

Shadowjack

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Episode #1: Crybaby Usagi's Magnificant Transformation

I had forgotten that this is one of those Japanese series that <i>loves</i> the absurdly long titles.

• OPENING TITLES:
I'm always surprised that the music is a <i>march</i>, and I want to hear an industrial remix of it for the culture shock factor alone. The imagery includes the usual protagonist headshots and pan-arounds, but it starts with a city in flames, and progresses through weird Middle-Eastern/Orthodox buildings painted like circus tents (Dylath-Leen? Ulthar?), dancing masks and shadows, rose blossoms, and three Sailors marching through a moonlit night against a demonic queen. Which alerts new viewers that there will be more to the show than what one gets in the opening of the first episode, which is a goofball teenager whining at her mother. I observe that only three of the kids are in the credits, but I know there are more of them, so I predict the credits will change up later in the show.

• INTRODUCTION:
"My name is Usagi Tsukino, I'm 14 years old, in the 8th grade, and an enormous crybaby, so you can't say I didn't warn you." And people thought Shinji was bad. Usagi is also gluttonous, willful, impulsive, whiny, late for everything, and lucky to be making a C-average in school; the most impressive thing about her is her hair. Naturally, she'll become a hero.

• HERO MOMENT #1:
Without Hesitation or Concern for her personal Safety, young Tsukino rescues a stray Cat from durance vile.

• RPG MOMENT #1:
GM: "The cat does a wire fu escape move, then stops and stares at you, with what seems to be intellig–"
Usagi: "I don't have time for this! I'm late for school!" *runs off*
GM: "Sigh."

• CUT TO: Break time at school.
Naru, Usagi's BFF: "Did you know that Townsville has its own superhero now? 'Sailor V'!"
Usagi: "Masked crimefighters now? Well, it's the right decade for it, what with the end of the millennium and all."
Umino, 14 year old boy and enormous dork (but I repeat myself): "Hi everybody!"
Umino /has a blatant crush on Usagi.
Naru /girltalk.
Usagi /girltalk.
Umino /feels utterly left behind by all the girltalk.
{Naru has left the scene.}
{Usagi has left the scene.}

• CUT TO: CREEPIEST EVIL SKULL CAVE.
Queen Beryl, love child of Titania and Shub-Niggurath: "We can't summon Cthulhu until we find the MacGuffin, but He still needs to be fed."
Jadeite, pretty boy Aryan faerie: "I've already implemented a 12-point plan to leech energy from mortals and transfer–"
Beryl /is playing WoW on her crystal ball. "Hmm? What?"
Jadeite: "…At once, milady."

• CUT TO: Naru's mom's jewelry store.
Naru: "Wow, Mom is working the sales floor today like a woman possessed."
Usagi: "I didn't know they even HAD '95% off' sales!"
Naru and Usagi watch the stampede of women (no men?) toward the counter.
Naru: "…You want to be the first?"
Usagi: "…I just remembered that I'm flat broke, and my folks are going to kill me for this bad test score."
Naru: "Be strong, Usagi!"

• While exiting the store, Usagi trips over Mamoru Chiba, intrepid <i>Miami Vice</i> cosplayer. It is irritation at first sight.

• META MOMENT #1:
Usagi: "There's a 'Sailor V' video game <i>already?</i> Awesome! Wait, no, they probably just slapped the label on some sucky beat-em-up that was already in development, and rushed it out the door to cash in. Crap. I wish I was a glamorous superhero instead of a <i>miserable failure at life</i>. I think I'll have a good cry."

• CUT TO: Another beautiful watercolor establishing shot.
Mom: "How was school?"
Usagi: "Fine."
Mom: "How did you do on the test?"
Usagi: "Uh…"
Mom /fixed smile. {Mom sense is tingling.}
Usagi /sighs and forks over. "…Thirty percent."
Usagi /cringes expectantly.
Mom /locks Usagi out of the house. Forever.
Usagi /cries.
Usagi's little brother /Nelsons.

• MEANWHILE: Back at Ackbar's Discount Jewelry.
Everybody wearing the suspiciously inexpensive jewelry swoons, and falls comatose. (Elsewhere, Jadeite nods approvingly at the increased energy flow rate.) Naru is horrified, and looks to Mom for help. Mom unmasks as a demon from hell. Naru fails her stress check.

• MEANWHILE: Usagi's bedroom.
Homework or sleep? Usagi is a master of avoidant behavior. She looks very pretty and vulnerable while sleeping. The weird cat breaks in and stalks up to the bed, very slowly…

Usagi /wakes up and boggles.
Luna: "Hi! I'm a talking cat. Thanks for saving me, and I'm glad I found you, because together, we're going to save the world!"
Usagi: "Hi. I'm Usagi, and I'm obviously insane or dreaming. Good night."
Luna /tries to wake her up by doing that cat thing with the paws kneading on the head.
Usagi /has iron willpower.
Luna: "Sigh. Will you do it for a Scooby Snack?"

• RPG MOMENT #2:
Luna fits Usagi for the Lens. Usagi is so busy fiddling with her new trinket that she completely misses Luna's boxed text briefing. The GM sighs and skips to the end: "Just say the magic words."

• STARKLY CORUSCANT TRANSFORMATION SEQUENCE COUNTER:
Usagi into Sailor Moon: 1.

• Usagi is now wearing a teenager's idea of an adult's idea of a bulletproof schoolgirl outfit.
Usagi /wtf.
Luna: "Should have paid attention, kid."
Usagi: {Spider sense is tingling.} "Naru's in trouble!"

• CUT TO: Ackbar's Discount Jewelry.
Naru: "Mommy?!"
Demon: "–is tied up in the basement in case I needed her, but since I'm just about done here, I think I'll throttle you right now, then go down and finish her off slowly."
Usagi /bursts in, dramatically lit. "Freeze, motherfucker!"
Demon /does that utterly creepy thing where the head twists slowly around 180°, and stares. "What did you say?"
Naru /slumps conveniently unconscious.
Usagi: "I am the loose heel on the pumps of Crime, the red dot of the laser pointer that flashes in the eyes of the Un-Just: I AM SAILOR MOON."
Demon: "Sailor who on the what now?"
Usagi: "Er… like, I'm a superhero?"
Demon: "Minions, seize her!"

• FIGHT SEQUENCE:
An entire room of smiling, brainwashed yuppies, schoolgirls, and fat old ladies tries to shank Usagi to death. Usagi staggers into a corner and cries. Enter Tuxedo Mask, dramatically, armed with +3 blessed throwing roses.

Tuxedo Mask: "Stop crying!"
Usagi /cries. "I can't help it! I'm 14 years old and an enormous dork!"
Luna: "Stop crying!"
Usagi /cries. "Brilliant plan, dragging me in here with no combat training!"
Demon: "For God's sake, stop crying!"
Usagi /cries even louder. Her Limit Break causes the minions to fall unconscious, thus demonstrating that sometimes crying <i>does</i> help.
Luna: "Use your finishing move!"
Usagi: "Wait, I'm allowed to <i>start</i> with that?"
Luna: "HELL YES."
<b>USAGI > TECH: MOONTIARA > DEMON</b>
<< Demon is slain. >>
<< Usagi has leveled up! New technique learned. >>

• ELSEWHERE: The energy flow has been cut off.
Jadeite: "Eh? What just happened here?"

• DENOUEMENT:
Exit Tuxedo Mask, dramatically, with a swirl of his cape. Usagi instantly conceives an enormous crush. Cut to school the next day:

Naru: "Last night I had the weirdest nightmare."
Schoolgirl #1: "Me too!"
Schoolgirl #2: "Me three!"
UsagI: "Last night I didn't get much sleep."
Naru: "Also, my neck <i>really hurts</i> for some reason."
Schoolgirl #2: "Say, where's your mom, anyway?"

• FINAL THOUGHTS:
A decent start to the whole thing. We've got the main characters, the main conflicts, and the main formulas. Usagi may be horrid crybaby, but she rescues a cat, which earns brownie points, and she has an instinctive knack for heroic dialogue, which is entertaining. And I know she does grow and learn in future episodes.

I must say: I can bear the low cost animation and cheap backgrounds, because they are wielded carefully and rarely ugly, and there are some quite good bits. But the music is just embarrassing. There was only one really good musical sting in the entire episode, and that was ripped off from Bach; the rest was a big pile of repetitious canned cheese.

The show creators have chosen the perfect character age to suit the art style: In 8th grade, a lot of the girls are filling out, and a lot of the boys haven't. And the girls, of course, are beginning to eye the older guys who <i>have</i>. And the oscillation between childish behavior and learned maturity also works at that age.
 

Shadowjack

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EPISODE #2: Punish Them! The House of Fortune is the Monster Mansion.

Dude, way to spoil things!



• RECAP:
"I'm Usagi Tsukino, and this episode is a recap for those of you who missed the first one, with some minor character development to justify it all!"

• STARKLY CORUSCANT TRANSFORMATION SEQUENCE COUNTER:
Usagi into Sailor Moon: 1 full, 1 partial.

• TODAY:
Jadeite likes to walk the world dressed like one of the aliens from <i>Dark City</i>, and why not? "Mister Leech" observes that humans will pay good money for street corner fortune tellers. Will they pay good <i>souls?</i> It's worth a try.

• CUT TO: First period at school.
Usagi: "If no one notices me sneaking into class late, I just might–"
Umino: "HELLO USAGI HOW ARE YOU TODAY LOL"
Usagi: "Frell!"

• LATER AT SCHOOL:
Umino: "I want to have Usagi's babies."
Naru /dies.
Naru: "I really shouldn't laugh, but you haven't a chance."
Umino: "I made a Flash animation that says Usagi should marry me, and Flash never lies."
Naru: "This is 1992. I don't think Flash was out yet."
Umino: "Macromind Director, then."
Naru: "On a hand-held?"
Umino: "I made an Etch-a-Sketch Animator animation that–"
Naru: "This is out of my league. Why not ask a fortune teller?"

I had an Etch-a-Sketch Animator, but it never told me to marry anyone. :(

• CUT TO: The Fortune Teller
Usagi: "Say, you're the famous street corner fortune teller. Where's the usual big line?"
Old Man: "Sigh… times are tough. Everyone's at the new place across the street."
Usagi: "What new place?"
Old Man /points.
{You see a neon sign that reads: ACKBAR'S HOUSE OF HONEST FORTUNE TELLING}
Usagi: "The laser light show I can understand, but the dancing girls seem a little over the top."
Old Man: "This, too, shall pass. But in the mean time, my take is a little down today."
Usagi: "Well, I'm a traditionalist at heart! Read my fortune, padre!"
Old Man /observes Umino entering the rival building, and puts two and two together.
Old Man: "Someone you see every day has a crush on you."
Usagi: "AWESOME." /tips extra.

• INTRODUCING: Usagi's Crush
Motoki, video arcade operator with tousled hair: "Gosh, geewillikers, Miss Usagi, sure is nice of you to drop by every day."
Usagi: "BLISS."
Motoki: "Here, why don't you try the new Sailor V video game?"
Usagi /plays, dies repeatedly.
Usagi: "I knew this game would be a crappy beat-em-up. Yet I can't stop dropping quarters on it. Why am I still here?"
Motoki: "You seem to be having a little trouble, miss. How about I sit here right next to you and help you out?"
Usagi: "BLISS."
Luna /CAT STARE.
Luna /CAT STARE.
Luna /CAT STARE.
Luna /CAT BITE.
Usagi: "…Oh, right, hero stuff. Gotta go."

• AND THEN:
Distracted by the allure of the new fortune telling emporium, Usagi trips over Mamoru again.
Mamoru: "Hey!"
Usagi: "Hey yourself!"
Mamoru: "You threw a shoe at me!"
Usagi: "I was doing that thing where you kick the shoe into the air and look at what way up it landed."
Mamoru: "?"
Usagi: "Like heads or tails, but I'm broke, so I don't have a coin to toss."
Mamoru: "??"
Usagi: "It's a Japanese thing, I swear."
Mamoru: "<i>I'm</i> Japanese."
Usagi: "Well, then you know all about it!"
Mamoru: "You threw a shoe at me!"

• INSIDE Ackbar's House of Honest Fortune Telling
Fortune Teller Lady: "Look into my beautiful gypsy eyes, dahlink."
Umino: "Okay!"
Fortune Teller Lady: "Your card is XV, 'The Devil.' Observe the Horned Goat of Mendes, with wings like those of a bat, standing on an altar. At the pit of his stomach is the sign of Mercury. The right hand is upraised and extended, being the reverse of that benediction which is given by the Hierophant. In the left hand there is a giant flaming torch, inverted toward the earth. A reversed pentagram is on the forehead. There is a ring in front of the altar, from which two chains are carried to the necks of the two figures, male and female. Hereof is the chain and fatality of the material life. The figures are tailed, to signify the animal nature, but there is human intelligence in the faces, and he who is exalted above them is not to be their master forever. Even now, he is also a bondsman, sustained by the evil that is in him and blind to the liberty of service. Commonly this card represents violent force or extraordinary efforts, or that calamity which is predestined and therefore not necessarily evil. Others say this signifies the Dweller on the Threshold without the Mystical Garden when those are driven forth therefrom who have eaten the forbidden fruit."
Umino: "What does this mean for my problem?"
Fortune Teller Lady /eyes glow. "You are an excellent servant of evil! Do whatever you desire!"
Umino /evil. "<i>Excellent.</i>"

• I do like the spotlight effect in the bumpers.

• ON THE WAY HOME:
Usagi bumps into Dad, and is inspired to Oedipal reminsicence about Motoki.

Dad: "Sorry to interrupt your internal monologue, dear, but why is that cat following us and muttering exasperated curses under its breath?"
Usagi: "The cat's my friend."
Dad: "You have some strange friends."

• THE NEXT DAY AT SCHOOL:
Naru: "Umino told me he has a crush on you."
Usagi: "Oh GAWD."
Enter Umino, wearing a powder blue suit and Garren Lagann sunglasses.
Usagi: "…That's not dress code."
Umino: "Hey, babe, sleep with me tonight."
Usagi /boggles.
Naru: "Who are you, and where you have tied up the real Umino?"
Usagi: "I thought you didn't remember the events of last week?"
Naru: "What?"
Usagi: "Never mind."
Umino: "I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you two over the sound of how AWESOME I am."

• A REIGN OF TERROR:
Umino attempts to convey evil laughter, but his voice hasn't broken yet, so it simply sounds manic. Undaunted, Umino and his NEW GANG proceed to repeatedly sexually harass their teacher, vandalize the school grounds, and smoke reefers (the devil's weed). Jadeite cheerfully draws upon "the rebellious energy of the young."

• THEN:
Umino attempts to violate Usagi's purity.
Umino: "I'm going to kiss you while my GANG watches, and you can't stop me."
Usagi /cries even louder.
<b>USAGI > TECH: CRYBABY > ALL ENEMIES</b>
<< Umino and Gangsters suffer 100 sonic damage. >>
<< Umino and Gangsters retreat. >>
Usagi: "Done crying now."
Naru: "You're <i>weird.</i>"
Usagi: "But if it works…"

• SEARCHING FOR CLUES:
Luna: {Cat sense is tingling.} "This is not simply youthful high spirits. I sense dark forces at work."
Usagi: "The new fortune teller?"
Luna: "Top of my list. Good guess."
Usagi: "Do I get a prize? Give me another magic item!"
Luna: "What? No. Hell, no."
Usagi: "Do I really <i>have</i> to fight the–?"
Luna: "Yes. Now transform!"
Usagi: "Uh… I forgot the magic words."
Luna: "Sigh."

• STARKLY KLAATU TRANSFORMATION SEQUENCE COUNTER:
Usagi into Sailor Moon: 2 full, 1 partial.

• BOSS FIGHT:
Fortune Teller Lady: "Now, my faithful servants, you have reached level 8, and I shall teach you <i>real</i> spells."
Usagi: "Halt, evil-doers! I am the sticky record button on your cassette recorder that erases the favorite songs on the mix tape of Crime: I AM SAILOR MOON!"

<< Fortune Teller Lady transforms into Medusoid Demon! >>
<< Demon attacks Sailor Moon with ninja throwing cards! >>
<< Sailor Moon dodges, barely. >>

Luna: "Don't waste your time with the dramatic entrances, just shoot her!"
Usagi: "Sorry, got excited!"
Demon: "Seize her, my minions!"
Usagi: "What, again?"

<< Umino and his GANG transforms into Zombie Vampires! >>
<< Zombie Vampires perform a dance. >>

Usagi: "If you guys don't back off, I'll hit you! I mean it! Don't come one step closer! Okay, I'll count to three, and… Oh, hell, I'm gonna die."

Enter Tuxedo Mask, dramatically, armed with +3 blessed throwing roses.

Tuxedo Mask: "Never give up!"

Exit Tuxedo Mask, dramatically, with swirl of cape.

Usagi: "BLISS."

<< Demon attacks Sailor Moon with strangling locks. >>
<< Sailor Moon dodges, barely. >>

Luna: "JUST BLAST HER."
Usagi: "Right! Moon Ti– SHIT!"

<< Demon attacks Sailor Moon with strangling locks. >>
<< Sailor Moon dodges. >>

Usagi (very rapidly): "MOONTIARAACTION!"

<b>USAGI > TECH: MOONTIARA > DEMON</b>
<< Demon is slain, slowly, painfully. >>

• ELSEWHERE:
Jadeite: "Another one?" *flips switch on and off a couple of times* "Huh."

• DENOUEMENT:
Naru: "No, seriously, you were flipping up the teacher's skirt and everything. Hello Kitty panties, not that I'll admit to looking. You really don't remember?"
Umino: "No. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go commit suicide now."
Enter Usagi.
Usagi: "Back to normal, Umino?"
Umino: "You know, I should be more like you, Usagi."
Usagi: "?"
Umino: "You fail tests all the time and you keep smiling like there's nothing wrong with that!"
Usagi: "??"
Umino: "I'm strong enough to face the music! I WILL survive!"
Exit Umino.
Naru: "This episode was kind of poorly paced, wasn't it?"
Usagi: "I forget, did we ever untie your mother and let her out of the basement?"
Naru: "…I <i>assume</i> so."




And that's about all there is to say about that one.
 

Unka Josh

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One of the things about looking at series from the past: It's good to remember the historical context.

There had been magical girls, before this. They transformed into pretty clothes and granted wishes (that generally went humorously wrong), or transformed into duplicates of their older sisters to find out if the boy that they had a crush on liked them. Pure Shojo.

And there were superhero shows. Some of them even had a token female character that wasn't a stay-at-home love interest.

And then there was Sailor Moon, in which the clumsy, awkward girl who has hopeless crushes on the cute, unattainable guy teams up with her BFFs to blow the living crap out of demons with their magical powers.

Nobody else had done this before.

It was groundbreaking.
 

David J Prokopetz

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And then there was Sailor Moon, in which the clumsy, awkward girl who has hopeless crushes on the cute, unattainable guy teams up with her BFFs to blow the living crap out of demons with their magical powers.

Nobody else had done this before.

It was groundbreaking.
It's interesting to note that the genre fusion of "magical girl" and "hero team" presented by Sailor Moon was originally conceived of as parody. It doesn't read as parody to today's audiences because it managed to single-handedly redefine the genre - a lot of the basic tropes of modern magical girl shows ultimately trace their roots back to Sailor Moon.

It's important to bear this in mind when you're watching the first season. Some of the more glaring false notes can be attributed directly to the fact that the writers were still approaching the series as farce, and hadn't yet twigged to the fact that audiences were taking it seriously. There's a very distinct transition between early episodes that were written as parody and later episodes that were written as a "serious" (though still predominantly lighthearted) cartoon serial, though the fans will endlessly debate the precise episode in which it occurs.
 
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anowack

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It's interesting to note that the genre fusion of "magical girl" and "hero team" presented by Sailor Moon was originally conceived of as parody. It doesn't read as parody to today's audiences because it managed to single-handedly redefine the genre - a lot of the basic tropes of modern magical girl shows ultimately trace their roots back to Sailor Moon.
Huh. I knew the fusion was new, but I didn't know that it was thought of as a parody at first. Now that you say that, though, I can definitely see it when I think of the early episodes.
 

6inTruder

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So what you're saying is that Sailor Moon is like ASBR, only flipping the 'play it straight'/'parody' aspects?
;) :)
 
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Peter Svensson

Reads Too Many Comics
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Well, I will point out that while the fusion of sentai tropes with magical girls is a Sailormoon first, there had been kick-ass anime superheroines before. Cutey Honey being the prime example.

Sailor Moon just made the amazing twist of aiming the show at young girls rather than teenage boys.
 
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