While running to Juban Public Middle School, 14-year-old Usagi Tsukino briefly encounters a cat with a crescent-shaped bald patch on its forehead after tripping over it. The cat introduces herself as Luna and gives Usagi a brooch that allows her to transform into a Sailor Guardian. She explains that Usagi is Sailormoon and the leader of a group of Sailor Guardians that are meant to protect the Moon Princess and the Legendary Silver Crystal from otherworldly attackers.
Based on Naoko Takeuchi’s legendary manga series, Sailor Moon Crystal retells the story of Sailor Moon as she searches for her fellow Sailor Guardians and the Legendary Silver Crystal to stop the dark forces of Queen Beryl.
I have been putting off reviewing Sailormoon Crystal for some years just because I didn’t want to start it because I knew it would have to come to an end. Strange, I know, but this is an anime very close to my heart, rumoured to be more like the manga in story and design. But now with three seasons to enjoy back-to-back, I can finally indulge.
So, the main thing about this re-boot is that it’s meant to be more true to Takeuchi’s manga. Very much so. To the extent that people watching who haven’t yet read the manga may wonder what on earth has happened to everything. This is one of the explicit points for Sailormoon Crystal, and I think it succeeds in sticking close to the original story material well whilst keeping things entertaining and interesting. Though their has been some disagreement, I was looking forward to seeing parts of the manga that the original anime neglected to incorporate in this new anime. I wanted to see how it all fell into place.
One of the first differences you see is the artwork – the characters have more of a romanticised, long-legged bishoujo theme going on. Faces are slimmer, eyes are exaggerated and fingers are long and elegant.The original costume designs had a lot of detail that was filtered away first time around. Thankfully, animation has now evolved enough that it’s possible to add all filigree, accessories and jewellery to the scouts, making them more individual in their costumes. Usagi has those feathery hair slides she was always meant to have as well as those extra spirals and curls of hair and Tuxedo Kamen has his detail across his jacket and shirt.
The storyline is so much more similar than the original anime. Though their are criticisms of this version, saying that the 90s make was more expressive and energetic in tone and feel, Crystal is a lot more faithful to how Takeuchi intended the characters to be. In the first rendition, characters were portrayed as more cartoonish and more obviously dramatic. In the manga, Usagi is never show collapsing on the floor in tantrum and shooting fountains to tears from her eyes at the slightest schoolgirl difficulty. Likewise, Rei isn’t always yelling and bickering with Usagi, Ami is less bookish and quiet, Mako-chan is less aggressive and Minako isn’t as ditzy. They’re all more like actual young girls rather that caricatures.
There is more time spent on character development and less on Usagi’s silly antics. The Sailor senshi have a wider variety of attacks with varying power and tactical benefits, which they choose to use what best fits the situation they’re in rather than us seeing repeated animation of them unleashing the same attack on every enemy, whether it be a random monster or the big bad of the season. It makes this more interesting to watch, the fights more dynamic, the stakes raised. It also gives Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Venus more individuality than before, rather than them arguably being colour-coded copies of each other. Crystal has taken screen time from unnecessary slapstick comedy involving Usagi and given it to her Guardians. And it really pays off.
In the same vein, Crystal makes Mamoru a genuinely interesting character, which is refreshing. Originally, he was a bit of an arse with questionable dress sense; attending university whilst seeing fourteen-year-olds and had no control over his powers as Tuxedo Kamen. This time around he is a more sympathetic character with his own drives and goals and can control his powers. And he’s sixteen, which makes him less creepy. He has his own interests, is more caring to Usagi and actually takes the initiative in fights and urges Sailormoon on rather than chucking a rose about and being ridiculously enigmatic. The rapport between him and Usagi starts early and builds groundwork, making the audience more invested in their relationship this time around.
A theme that is more pronounced this time around is the idea that any ordinary girl can become extraordinary, and this is one of the elements that I think has made Sailormoon so iconic. There’s a magic and excitement to it that still exists in this version and makes is so fundamentally great. Usagi is not so helpless this time around and her transition into a weak and naive young girl into a hero capable of defending Earth is more gradual and substantial. For these reasons alone, it’s definitely worth a watch.
Though many people like to do nothing more that critique Crystal by picking apart its animation and rehashing endless lists about how the 90s original was better, those things don’t matter as much to me. Maybe because I was twelve when I first watched the Sailormoon dub and hadn’t read the manga (which is glorious). Maybe I always wanted to see a more true-to-manga version and see the characters how they were meant to be (including watching Neptune and Uranus as lovers, not cousins). In actual fact, I just love Sailormoon and how it opened me up to the world of anime and I take great joy in all of its incarnations. And Sailormoon Crystal is no exception.