This week’s Sailor Moon Crystal isn’t quite as frustrating as last week’s. In fact, it splendidly introduces Sailor V, who has up to this point been only talked about. Despite it’s high points, the episode’s inexpressive animation and it’s unnecessary insertion of Tuxedo Mask in the last act prevent it from being an excellent episode.
“Mamoru Chiba – Tuxedo Mask” continues where the plot left off last week, with Usagi waking up in Mamoru’s room, their mutual secrets officially out of the bag. Mamoru, with little prompting, launches into the tragic backstory of his parent’s death and his total memory loss. The Crystal translation of a passable manga moment feels abrupt, and it highlights just how cliche a story it is. Perhaps a clearer mention of how Mamoru felt compelled – like a sleepwalker – to become Tuxedo Mask could have added a little mystery into his explanation, but without it, the moment falls flat.
That’s not to say that Usagi and Mamoru’s romance does the same. It may seem a little sudden in comparison to their long, complicated anime courtship, but their attraction does feel genuine. Their cutesy nicknames, ‘Usako’ and ‘Mamo-chan’, set a precedent for the nature of their relationship from here on out, and that kind of playfulness is what makes them a cute couple.
The overall plot is relatively standard (town goes crazy, it’s the Dark Kingdom’s fault), though it does reveal Queen Beryl’s ultimate plan. Beryl’s backstory goes over a little better than Mamoru’s, with her discovery of Queen Metallia hinting at some corruption. The idea is further acknowledged with Beryl’s plan to betray her boss. The idea of infighting adds to the intrigue of the Dark Kingdom.
It’s great to see Sailor Moon gain some confidence in her abilities. When the townsfolk scramble to find her at Zoicite’s behest, Sailor Moon uses herself as bait to lure all of the possessed into one spot and then expertly heals them with her Moon Stick (as is it’s intended purpose). It’s easily her most heroic moment yet, and it hints at her gradual acceptance of her role as a Sailor Senshi.
It’s extra disappointing, then, that Sailor Moon spends the rest of the episode being dragged around like a rag doll and choked out by Zoicite. While her friends lie helplessly on the ground after getting beat up (again!!), Sailor Moon is made to look completely ineffectual, especially when Tuxedo Mask comes and inserts himself into what is supposed to be Sailor V’s Big Damn Heroes moment. Yes, it’s cute that he knows Sailor Moon is in trouble and comes to help her. Yes, it’s cute that they have this moment in which he says his new dream is to be by her side. And yes, it’s cool that he straight up socks Zoicite in the face. But the thing is, Tuxedo Mask isn’t the hero of this show. Sailor Moon is. And while the veteran senshi Sailor V merely makes Usagi look like a newbie hero, Tuxedo Mask’s valiant efforts to save her make her look like a damsel to be rescued. It’s ultimately a small change from the manga that doesn’t really alter the dynamic of the scene (after all, Tuxedo Mask gets his ass kicked just as soundly as Sailor Moon does), but it’s enough to bother me.
Venus’ introduction is appropriately epic. Her Batman pose, as well as Artemis’ quick-as-a-flash incapacitation of Zoicite, makes the pair look like a threatening and experienced team. V looks elegant and mature, and her moment of eye contact with Usagi is a nice touch in planting the seeds of their relationship. Earlier in the episode, V is revealed to be Luna’s boss/contact/superior, and Luna’s denial of any connection to her is a source of intrigue about V’s role in the story. Veteran Sailor Moon fans will already know, but new viewers should appreciate another element of mystery to the series.
So far, Makoto’s introductory episode has the best animation. “Mamoru Chiba – Tuxedo Mask” remains at the same mediocre animation level of most of the previous episodes, which undermines the more emotional moments. I can’t help but wonder if Mamoru’s backstory would go over better with a lot more variation in his and Usagi’s respective facial expressions. Perhaps it’ll look better in the Blu-Ray release.
Ultimately “Mamoru Chiba – Tuxedo Mask” is a solid episode, gripes aside. I hope that the series will put more focus on Usagi’s character development, as well as the relationship to the other Senshi, who feel a little sidelined (Rei, especially). The mystery of Sailor V should be a pretty big turning point for the Dark Kingdom arc, so hopefully Crystal manages to do it justice.
The next episode of Sailor Moon Crystal will air on October 18th.
Images are copyright of Naoko Takeuchi, Toei Animation, and Kodansha.