Gotta get in tune with Sailor Moon
The release of this boxed set quiets years of clamoring from anime fans. Uncut episodes of Sailor Moon have been a holy grail of sorts, forcing dedicated fans to purchase questionable pirate VCDs or expensive Japanese import videocassettes. It seems that the company responsible for Sailor Moon's American release (DIC) cut some pseudo-nudity, minor cursing, and somewhat mature themes. DIC excised entire episodes dealing with lesbianism and death. Given the series' popularity, it is reasonable for fans to want to see it all. ADV Films has answered the call, providing the first season of this popular and influential series in its uncensored glory. The clamoring and subsequent collective howl of relief begs the question: is Sailor Moon worth all this fuss?
It is very easy to underestimate Sailor Moon's value. On the surface, it is a repetitive, flighty series dealing with the cares of middle school girls. The main character, Usagi, is a clumsy crybaby. How do we know? Because she trips all the time and cries crocodile tears. Such unsophisticated slapstick elements combined with the girly gossip and pink magical jewelry make dubious reactions understandable. But once Sailor Moon picks up steam, mature elements of love, loss, desire, politics, social commentary, homosexuality, anorexia, commercialism, and other similar themes emerge. When all is said and done, Sailor Moon's reputation and influence are rightfully earned.
Facts of the Case
Usagi, a klutzy but likeable girl, is late for school. She stops to rescue a cat being teased by a couple of ruffians. The cat is Luna, an agent for the mystical forces for good. Luna realizes that Usagi is one of the prophesied Sailor Warriors. Now all Luna has to do is reveal Usagi's inherent powers, convince Usagi to fight evil, and locate a missing princess before the armies of the netherworld can conquer Earth and enslave mankind.
• Episode One: "Crybaby Usagi's Magnificent
• Episode Two: "Punish Them! The House of Fortune is the
• Episode Three: "Mysterious Sleeping Illness, Protect the
Girls' Hearts in Love"
• Episode Four: "Usagi Will Teach You How to Lose
• Episode Five: "A Monster's Scent! Chanela Steals
• Episode Six: "Protect the Melody of Love! Usagi is a
At this point, you may look at Sailor Moon and wonder if it has a future. His Honor is happy to report that around episode seven, things begin to pick up. Another Sailor Warrior appears, then another. Jadeite winds up in the dog house. The young ladies face tougher foes and start doing combo attacks and other strategic moves. The animation perks up a bit while the series generally finds its footing. It all ends in a dramatic, tragic finish.
Judge Rob's Chamber Notes
• Episode 1
Here comes the first episode. Whoa, are they playing that theme song through a tin can? It sounds wretched! So, the quality isn't good. Catchy tune, though. Hmmm…not much to the animation. Plot isn't much either. Okay, she's transforming into Sailor Moon…whoa, were those breasts? Fight, damn it! What are you waiting for?
• Episode 2
Okay, now Usagi knows she can kick butt, so this one should be more interesting. Hey, this plot is exactly like the first episode. This transformation into Sailor Moon is the same as the last one! Does Tuxedo Rose ever do anything? Sailor Moon still won't fight! What is wrong with this girl?
• Episode 3
• Episode 4
• Episode 13
• Episode 20-something
• Episode 32
• Episode 33
• Episode 34
"I'm sorry about not being straightforward
Stuff is happening…yadda yadda yadda…"In the name of the moon, I will punish you?"
• Episode 42
Sailor V, your poor tragic past. I want to weep. How can the world be so cruel? Won't Sailor Moon punish them for you?
• Episode 43
I am afraid for Sailor Moon also. Something bad is going to happen, I know it. Stop picking on her, Sailor Mars! I will punish you?
• Episode 44
Sailor Moon is a genre-defining Magical Girl series. This genre features regular middle-school girls who are granted extraordinary powers, typically via an artifact or spirit guide of some sort. Sometimes there are many of these girls, and they form units to fight evil. Each girl brings a unique power, and when the powers combine they are even more powerful. (If you've ever seen Voltron or Mighty Morphin Power Rangers you are familiar with this concept.) The episodes in these series are characterized by repetitive, even fetishistic phrases or actions, such as a new-agey transformation sequence. Sailor Moon has all of the above. It should: Sailor Moon was responsible for many of the conventions we take for granted in other anime series.
What distinguishes Sailor Moon (beyond its originality) is a hearty respect for emotion. Themes of love and desire are handled with remarkable delicacy. You could dismiss the show as glorified teenage romantic angst. Yet the romantic angle is central to the entire show. Sailor Moon is the warrior of love and justice. She pines for love, finds it, and defends it to the death. Dismissing the show as magnified teen longings would do a disservice to a sophisticated examination of emotional power.
The cartoon is extremely repetitive, like Scooby Doo. But unlike Scooby Doo, Sailor Moon episodes usually contain an undercurrent of sophisticated socio-political commentary. If you read between the lines, you'll gain all sorts of insight into Japanese philosophy. For example, many of the sources of evil are flashy new commercial buildings: jewelry stores, fashion malls, fortunetelling casinos, what have you. If Sailor Moon is any reflection on reality, you should run screaming in fear if a new strip mall opens nearby. This subtle bias against the new and flashy in favor of the old and timeworn speaks to Japanese values. This mature take cements Sailor Moon among the ranks of serious anime (granted, with a firm focus on a 12-year-old girl audience).
Once I got into the swing, Sailor Moon became seriously entertaining. I laughed aloud when Luna walked into the video arcade and typed in her secret password to access the magical kitty database. I stared in fascinated horror as the Dark Queen Frostine transformed into an acid-spitting automaton. I cheered when the Sailor Warriors discovered freaky combo attacks. The symbolism of the series is rigid but rich. I got a ritualistic thrill when Sailor Moon cocked her tiara and whirled it at the enemy. The entertainment value builds as the series progresses.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The boxed set does one thing right, and it is the most important of all: each episode is presented in the original language, uncut.
That's about it. The video quality is very poor. Colors are faded, with lots of dust and scratches. There is jitter and problems with focus. The video quality is poor but stable except for the first episode in the second box (episode 24). This episode is marred by stutters and lots of interlacing artifacts.
The audio is far worse. Atonal mono sound trickles anemically from the speakers. Voices are muffled, the music brassy. Sibilants grate on the ear and the whole affair is as flat as can be. There might be a poorer soundtrack in existence, but I haven't heard it. There are no extras save ADV previews.
I've mentioned the sophistication of this series, but it's in the context. The primary elements of plot and character are simplistic, immature, and often annoying. For example, Usagi cries. That is her thing. She cries at the drop of a hat; in the middle of battles, in school, in bed, in the sun, in the rain, wherever and whenever. Would it have killed the writers to have her mature somewhat as the season progressed? Likewise, Sailor Mars is argumentative. That is her thing. She argues at the drop of a hat; in the middle of battles, in school, in bed…you get the idea.
Sailor Moon introduced many elements that future magical girl series would borrow, and I could kick them. The worst offender is the transformation sequence and the moon tiara action. They are in almost every episode, and they never change. If you took the 1060 minutes in this boxed set and trimmed out the theme song, intro, transformation, and moon tiara action, you'd have about 608 unique minutes left over.
No chapter stops? Really? How difficult would it have been to place us at the beginning of the episode? I appreciate the theme song, introduction, and coming up features as much as anyone, but choice is a DVD viewer's best friend. In this case, you can choose to hit the fast forward button (remember the VCR days?) or you can choose to sit through five minutes of fluff.
Sailor Moon is not among my top favorite anime series. That should be expected; I'm a thirty year old guy who loves football and dark movies. But I can say that the series has a narcotic subliminal pull and archetypal dramatic tension. Fans of Sailor Moon are completely justified in loving this series. The image quality and sound have not held up well, but there is plenty to like. The plot is quite involved within the constraints of its formal repetitiveness.
If you enjoy the Magical Girl genre, you owe it to yourself to check out Sailor Moon. With five lengthy seasons so far, the franchise will entertain you for hours on end. This boxed set is the best way to see it because the dub ruins the effect. Be ready with the fast forward button or that song will invade your dreams!
In the name of the moon, Sailor Moon will punish you!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
Review content copyright © 2003 Rob Lineberger; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.