Sailor Moon vs. Snow Queen! The legendary sailor scouts' power appears!
It was bound to happen sooner or later. Sailor Moon is a story of and for young girls captivated by romance. Though I'm a 30-year-old guy who likes dark and gritty tales, I've thus far been able to see the clever and entertaining heart within Sailor Moon. Now, for the first time, I could not fend off mounting impatience and irritation watching a Sailor Moon DVD. Sailor Moon S: The Movie—Hearts in Ice left me cold.
Facts of the Case
A menacing ice queen floats around in space, setting her sights on Planet Earth. She sends her minions—Snow Dancers—to Earth to freeze the planet, securing it in her collection of worlds. But Earth will not surrender willingly to Queen Frostine's cold embrace. For humans possess the power of love, embodied in the hearts of the Sailor Warriors. Pretty soldier Sailor Moon will punish you?
It has never been a secret that Sailor Moon relies on a formula. Like most successful formulas, this one grants a certain level of comfort and familiarity. Fans can rejoice when their favorite attack comes up or thrill with anticipated lines. What distinguishes one episode or movie from another are clever tweaks of the formula, such as Season S's dark apocalyptic tone, or Promise of the Rose's integration of a romantic triangle laced with pathos. The downside of a formula is that if nothing grabs you, you're left with a transparent, non-entertaining experience.
Very little of Hearts in Ice's runtime is devoted to non-formulaic elements. (Spoilers follow; those of you unfamiliar with the Sailor Moon formula or the plots of Hearts in Ice and Promise of the Rose should read at your own discretion.) Sailor Moon villainesses typically have scant motivation or backstory, but Snow Queen Kaguya is particularly nondescript. She is blue and buxom, she sneers a lot, and she has an army of henchwomen. Thus she is evil and must be stopped. The Sailor Warriors (including the older Outer Senshi, who fight but do little else) by chance happen to be where the minions land, and without any preamble they transform and do battle. The confrontation at the end is set up by a handful of artifice and copious suspension of disbelief. "Wait! I just remembered," says Artemis, "long ago an evil snow queen tried to take over the earth with an army of Snow Dancers, but she was repelled at the last minute by the power of the silver crystal, then sent into exile where she vowed to return again! Could this be the same evil Snow Queen?" Later, after the Sailor Warriors just happen to figure out where the secret base is, Sailor Moon just happens to possess a silver crystal. More on that later.
The point is, most Sailor Moon plots possess a certain feeling of cohesiveness and internal logic, even if they are simple and formulaic. Hearts in Ice starts off abruptly, proceeds awkwardly, and ends ungracefully. It is jury-rigged with convenience rather than crafted with elegance.
The worst part is that Hearts in Ice is exactly like Promise of the Rose, but it isn't nearly as charming the second time around. If you'll recall, Promise of the Rose ended in a dramatic showdown between the Sailor Warriors and an impenetrable horde of flower women, led by a heartless villain who had forgotten love. The Sailor Warriors mowed down the flower women with their individual attacks, but were overcome. They were powerless to assist when the villain targeted Usagi. Usagi knew it was the end, but wanted to save Earth and her friends. So she used the silver crystal embedded inside her heart pendant, much to the dismay of her friends. Apparently, if Usagi uses the silver crystal, she will die. But she used the silver crystal and did not die, because the powerful display of her friends rallying around her caused the villain to show pity. He intervened and saved Usagi. It was powerful and touching.
Hearts in Ice ended in a dramatic showdown between the Sailor Warriors and an impenetrable horde of ice women, led by a heartless villainess who had never known love. The Sailor Warriors shattered the ice women with their individual attacks, but were overcome. They were powerless to assist when the villainess targeted Usagi. Usagi knew it was the end, but wanted to save Earth and her friends. So she used the silver crystal embedded inside her heart pendant, much to the dismay of her friends. She used the silver crystal and did not die. But this time there was no rationale; she just used it and was fine. Why the fuss?
While we're on the subject of Hearts in Ice's inferior replication of Promise of the Rose, I might as well point out some other things. The transformation sequences in Promise of the Rose were snazzy, but here they are altered for the worse. For example, the atonal heart box chime rings twice instead of thrice, and it isn't as ominous. Promise of the Rose had noticeably improved sound and video quality, but here we're back to normal (in terms of Sailor Moon, normal is poor). The colors are faded and there are many scratches in the print. The sound is muffled, as though someone had thrown a blanket over the speakers. The best thing to say about the technical aspects is that they're an improvement over Season One Uncut.
It's hard to say whether the story seems so slow because the voice acting is pedestrian or vice versa, but the fact is neither works very well. The voice actors aren't given much to respond to, which leadens the proceedings and tests the patience of the audience. As per Sailor Moon's custom, the English track is unlistenably bad, obliterating the scant meaning that the movie creates. Luna sounds like a prudish old schoolmistress, which is too bad because the movie features her heavily.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Which brings me to the one saving grace of this movie: Luna's plight. Luna falls in love, and much of the episode revolves around her character and the trials of first love. The climax of the movie, though clumsily integrated, is when Luna takes on human form. (For those of you who watch Sailor Moon for prurient reasons, Luna's transformation features honest-to-goodness nudity instead of pseudo-nudity.) This moment summons a fair amount of emotional resonance.
The extras are bountiful in comparison to most Sailor Moon DVD releases, depending on your point of view. There are a lot of extras, but most of them are repeats. The Character Information is identical to the text in other Sailor Moon releases, and the Edited Opening even features footage from Promise of the Rose. The only really new extra is a brief description of the Princess Kaguya legend, which has very little real bearing on the plot but is interesting nonetheless. There is also an extensive Pioneer catalogue that shows information on many Pioneer/Geneon anime releases.
Did I mention that Usagi is saved by Santa Claus? This one just didn't do it for me. I can only hope that Hearts in Ice won't cool my reception of future Sailor Moon stories.
The court finds Hearts in Ice to be a particularly cold and remorseless defendant. The legendary sailor scouts' power appears to be a ruse. Guilty as charged!
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