The future depends on scout power!
Sailor Moon's Season R is typically considered one of the lesser seasons. Season One is fresher, while Season Three is moodier and more dramatic. But the movie that goes with Season R, The Promise of the Rose, is one of the best feature-length Sailor Moon efforts.
Facts of the Case
Usagi and Mamoru continue their chaste and idyllic love together. But the battles are not over. A mysterious alien plant infects Earth—a plant that sucks the energy out of human souls. The clincher is that the plant seems to have been brought to Earth by Fiore, an old friend of Mamoru, a friend who was perhaps more deeply attached to Mamoru than Mamoru was to him. Fiore is immediately jealous of Usagi; Mamoru is surprised at Fiore's fierce devotion; Usagi is confused about Mamoru's past; the Sailor warriors are simply trying to stay alive. It all goes downhill from there. The Sailor Warriors will need to take extreme measures to win this battle, and the cost may be too great for Usagi to bear.
Movies based on animated television usually go one of three routes. The conservative approach is to make the movie one big episode, with similar plot and structure to the normal TV show. This approach is no threat to alienate the core audience, but leaves viewers feeling somehow cheated. Another approach is to radically alter or expand some fraction of the cartoon's universe, giving us an entirely new experience. This tactic alienates some fans and enthuses others. The Promise of the Rose takes the middle road. The movie is more than just a big Sailor Moon episode. The characters connect on a deeper level, and a true sense of danger and emotion permeates the story. But the film stays well within the established formula of the show. The transformation sequences are there, along with the uniforms and attacks.
The most noticeable difference between this DVD and other Sailor Moon DVDs I've seen is that the production values are higher. The transfer is cleaner, with crisper lines and fewer physical flaws. The animation still looks dated and slightly faded, but it isn't an obviously poor quality transfer. The irony is that the transfer is now good enough to reveal moderate edge enhancement. The soundtrack gets a boost from some new pop songs, and the audio is handled with a bit more finesse. "Tinny" is the best word to describe the TV series audio, but this sounds less flat and shrill. I won't be praising the audio, but at least I never stopped and marveled at the wretched sound.
The plot of The Promise of the Rose subtly ignores the less mature aspects of Sailor Moon. There are few slapstick elements to this movie. In fact, the plot takes a relatively terse and aggressive attitude. The group is put into danger almost immediately, and the grip of tension does not relax until the very end. It is as though the writers wanted to put Sailor Moon's best foot forward, letting the antics stay behind in more carefree times.
Usagi, unsurprisingly, is the central character in The Promise of the Rose. Her relationship with Mamoru is granted deeper focus, with Usagi pondering the mysteries of his past and their future together. The Sailor Warriors take a back seat to the Fiore-Usagi-Mamoru triangle, although their supportive presence is always nearby. Chibi-Usa, the future child of Usagi, pipes in a couple of times to good effect. At one critical point in the movie, Usagi's relationship with each warrior provides vital emotional synergy. This is an obvious play to the preteen female audience, but it is effective nonetheless. The result of this emotional subtext is a finale with more heart and vibrancy than most Sailor Moon episodes. I was actually riveted for the last 20 minutes, swept up into the action and wondering how it would all work out. If you've seen more than two Sailor Moon episodes, you are aware that the end is rarely in doubt.
To reinforce this "mature female power" theme, the animation is a bit edgier. The villainess runs around topless, although her long hair and spidery tendrils usually block any titillating views. Usagi lays herself bare at one point, both literally and figuratively. Instead of the pseudo-nudity of the transformation sequence, there is actual bare skin displayed. This decision has its two intended effects: the guys will perk up and the gals will feel fear for the vulnerable Usagi.
More bountiful extras are offered than are presented by the television show DVDs. The character information is thorough, but no surprise to even casual fans. Fortunately, you can jump right to each warrior's transformation and attack. The image gallery is nicely framed but otherwise standard. "The Power of Love" is a catchy tune. The edited opening song is teeth-grittingly bad. (See The Rebuttal Witnesses below.)
The sum effect of these changes is an actual cinematic experience set firmly within the Sailor Moon boundaries. The melodramatic depth, bleeding romanticism, and edgy action give the plot a boost of dramatic weight. If you don't like Sailor Moon, you won't like The Promise of the Rose. If you are a fan, this movie takes things up a notch and feels like a solid attempt to elevate the story.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Let's talk about the English track. It is of better quality than the Japanese track, with bigger songs, stereo, and finer production values. But I had an allergic reaction listening to it. Sailor Moon is so inherently Japanese that the American voices stalled the mood. Serenity sounds like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Particularly bad is the opening song, featuring an elementary school-ish translation of the Japanese theme. She is the one named Sailor Moon…On whom you can depend…She fights to the end? Give me a break. I have a slight preference for the original language track in anime, but I'm not a diehard sub advocate. If an English track captures the heart of the characters, or offers a notable improvement in sound quality, I'll give it a whirl. This one is of high quality, but meshes poorly with the heart of Sailor Moon.
Like an episode, but better. Healthy extras. Real drama and emotion. The Promise of the Rose lives up to its promise.
For fierce devotion to her friends, lover, cat, and fellow humans, the court finds Sailor Moon not guilty. But I have a note from your principal notifying the court that your skirt length violates school dress code.
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