Regardless of your opinion on „Sailor Moon”, it’s hard to deny that it was a much-parodied, much-imitated cultural phenomenon that changed not only the anime industry, but pop culture in general. The influence of Sailor Moon can be found everywhere in modern animation: for instance, on „Adventure Time”, Finn’s gender-swapped counterpart Fionna wore at one point a dress designed like that of Serenity, Moon Princess. (And the creator of „Steven Universe”, Rebecca Sugar, admitted, when I interviewed her not long ago, to having watched Sailor Moon as a kid). About 20 years ago, Sailor Moon was everywhere, including in Romania, where it was aired on TVR1 and dubbed by a single voice actor who impersonated all the characters (the original voices could still be heard, too). Advantage Romania: in our country, the series was not subjected to the shameful censoring of the American dub.
And now let me tell you what *I* thought of Sailor Moon: I was the biggest fan, writing in Sailor Moon notebooks at school, crying whenever a football game caused an episode of my favourite cartoon to be postponed. When I heard that Toei Animation were preparing Sailor Moon Crystal, a 26-episode remake of the first arc of the story (this time, staying closer to the manga by Naoko Takeuchi), my feelings were mixed. On one hand, some things are best left in the past, judging by the quality of most modern remakes of old cartoons. On the other hand…yeah, I couldn’t help it: I had to see the first episode as soon as it came out.
First of all, I will have you know that it’s perfectly possible to watch Sailor Moon Crystal online legally, on the japanese website Niconico: ch.nicovideo.jp/sailormoon_English If you’re based in the US, there’s also Crunchyroll or Hulu. Episodes will stream worldwide on the same day, every other Saturday.
And now, let us move on to the Sailor Moon Crystal premiere itself! The new series has a brand new theme song, with some badass electric guitar solos and badass lyrics such as „We are not little girls who need men’s protection”. It sounds pretty good, though I found the theme of the first anime much catchier. The first thing that becomes obvious is the different graphic approach. Sailor Moon and company have always had legs for days and eyes as big as saucers, but in the new anime, everything is even more so. Colours are brighter, and the (gorgeous!) title cards are drawn in a style resembling book illustrations. The new Sailor Moon, longer and sharper, looks older and more confident. It will take a while before I get used to this new visual approach, but I kind of like it.
There is a problem, though: the animation is quite stiff, which is disappointing considering that a reboot of such a successful franchise should benefit from a fairly generous budget. In the old anime as well as the manga, the characters had a wide variety of comic facial expressions, an aspect which seems to be considerably toned down in Sailor Moon Crystal.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing (all the mugging got quite annoying after a while), except that the new Sailor Moon is left with just one facial expression, one of wide-eyed wonder. The change is even more obvious taking into account that the actress voicing Usagi/Sailor Moon is the same as 20 years ago, and she plays the character in the same exaggerated manner, but now the visuals don’t match her over-the-top wailing anymore.
Another disappointing thing is the new first villain- in the original anime, it was a terrifying wrinkly creature whose head could spin backwards like in „The Exorcist” movie. The new monster is a bit silly and seems to be wearing a push-up bra. But we’ll see if they’ll nail the scarier aspects of the series better later on.
Story-wise, the first episode of both animes stays close to the first chapter of Naoko Takeuchi’s manga: gluttonous crybaby Usagi Tsukino meets a talking cat that helps her turn into Sailor Moon. Her first mission as a Moon soldier is to save her friend Naru from the clutches of a monster that replaced Naru’s mother and is now stealing vital energy from women around town by selling them discounted jewelry. (Stereotypes such as „women would do anything for bling” have always been a big part of Sailor Moon.) The protagonist also gets to cross paths for the first time with her future boyfriend Mamoru and his alter-ego, Tuxedo Mask. I went through this story 3 times for this article (manga/old anime/new anime) and I was pleasantly impressed to remember how well-structured is the pilot episode.
The old anime made several small changes from the manga in this first adventure (for example, Usagi saves Luna the cat from a bunch of bullies instead of tripping against it), but Sailor Moon Crystal lifts the script of the manga pretty much verbatim. Some of these differences are an improvement: in the original anime, Tuxedo Mask saves the day with a red rose, which kind of paints Sailor Moon as a helpless girl- in the manga and „Crystal”, he only encourages her verbally, and therefore the final victory is fully hers. Other changes are not that exciting: the monster is a lot easier to defeat, and the battle with Sailor Moon seems rushed. The two animes start quite differently in tone: old Sailor Moon was trying harder to be a comedy, with varying degrees of success. (By the way, neither anime kept Sailor Moon’s magical goggles from the manga.)
In a nutshell, Sailor Moon Crystal is a worthy member of its family: it has many good sides and bad sides, just like the old anime, although in different parts. The spirit of the series seems to be there, in any case. „Sailor Moon” has always been heavily flawed: its romance cheesy, its stereotypes strident, its storylines repetitive. But it is also full of magic, and it comes with a welcome focus on friendship between girls. At this early stage, the new series appears to similar to the old one to make its existence worth it, but things may change quite soon. Old fans (if they’re not ashamed to out themselves) should keep on eye on Sailor Moon Crystal, and new fans are, of course, welcome as well, as long as we’re clear about one thing: „Sailor Moon” is not, nor it ever was, a franchise for small children such as we were when we first watched it; its target audience are teenage girls.
Photo – Sailor Moon Crystal: codenamesailorb.tumblr.com