In the original, Sailor Moon was, for a decent chunk of episodes, actually about Sailor Moon and only Sailor Moon as she went about fighting crime in her own unique way. We spent quality time with Usagi, but they didn’t do a whole lot of character or plot development, since it was before Netflix made it possible to actually see all that character development, even if your parents took away TV privileges due to the state of your room and you missed three straight weeks. Now we have a condensed series, but I’m hoping that even 14 episodes will be enough to show a good progression of events and characters without so much of the repetition. And with that, episode two!
We begin by seeing a bit more of the Dark Kingdom, which instead of a rather Lovecraftian figure set above a bare shadow realm is a gloomy castle. I’m glad they felt freer to redesign the space, as I think this show will really shine if it allows itself more creative liberties. After all, it’s a reboot, not a copy. Queen Beryl makes her first appearance, and Jadeite summons a yoma (monster) once again to pursue the Silver Crystal. Crystal has been doing good work in making the yoma more menacing in both appearance and atmosphere. The original has some truly farcical duds, and I’m hoping Crystal will resist that impulse to give them all corny themes and costumes.
Innocent of these schemes, Usagi begins getting to know the class genius, the lonely Ami Mizuno. In part because of Luna, in part because of her innate kindness, and in part because she thinks Ami will help her get better grades, Usagi takes Ami to the arcade to have a little fun. Ami, like all geniuses on TV, is automatically and instantly good at everything she does, and so immediately gets the high score on Sailor V. This trope is a pet peeve of mine, but fortunately Ami doesn’t fall completely within its confines, since it’s clear that she works incredibly hard on her education. (Worse offenders include Bones and House, who go from geniuses in their fields to, in later seasons, polymaths capable of speaking infinite languages, experts in fields completely unrelated to their jobs, and near-psychic detectives. Do you have any idea how hard it is to learn even one language? At least Ami only speaks Japanese…so far.) She cuts her bonding session short in order to go study, but not before getting a prize, a mysteriously nice pen.
In other words, the transformation pen and Mercury’s wand came out of the Sailor V game! Very cute. Ami gets hers by being the most accomplished, and Usagi gets hers by shaking the machine until it spits another pen out (aka, being the biggest brat). Yeah, that sounds about right.
Ami rushes off to the Crystal Seminar, and Usagi and Luna follow up. In the original, Luna suspects Ami of being agent of the Dark Kingdom, but here they dispense with that and make Luna suspicious only of the program, and it works much better. It creates more tension because we care for the lonely, sad Ami as she falls under the spell of the Crystal Seminar, adding to the already excellent atmosphere of suspicion and unease. The music cues in particular are just the right touch to make the investigation seem more dangerous.
In their investigation, Usagi runs across Mamoru, aka Tuxedo Mask. Tuxedo Mask is still in his goddamn tuxedo, wandering the streets as the world’s fanciest lunatic. He and Usagi don’t antagonize each other when they meet; in fact, Usagi doesn’t even remark on the fact that he’s still wearing a tux! Once I can understand, but seeing the same person in white tie–after being saved by a mysterious tuxedo-wearing hero–just walking around…that mystic bond of theirs must really be doing a number on her, because otherwise there’s no excuse.
Her basic mental faculties resume function once she gets home, though, and she begins using the Crystal Seminar program. It…does not go great. She can’t find anything, and eventually she gives up and begins hitting random keys. Luna points out that it’s not going to help, and in any other universe, she’d be right. But this is Sailor Moon, and the show finally seems to realize that it works best when Usagi is being herself. In this case, hitting random keys gets it to spit out hints of its true purpose, which is to brainwash people into searching for the Silver Crystal. Rewarding characters for being themselves, rather than being some kind of ideal of intelligence, bravery, or beauty, is part of the greatness of Sailor Moon, and we see it again with Ami-chan.
In the original, Ami does not fall under the seminar’s spell because she doesn’t use the disc–she loses it and then shrugs and decides that she doesn’t need it. She trusts her intelligence. Here that doesn’t happen, and while I’m a little disappointed, she resists the spell for another reason. The “pen” reminds her of her desire for friends, and specifically her budding friendship with Usagi. She pulls away from the yoma just in time for Usagi to arrive, and snaps out of her trance just in time to rescue Usagi. The timing of the fight is poor, with lots of pausing for revelations, but I suppose it’s forgivable in light of the emphasis on the new relationship.
Ultimately, episode two exceeds the rather dismal expectations I was left with after episode one. Yet they still seem to be lifting the plots without considering why those plots worked in the original. This time we have an episode about computers, which when the original aired were new and mysterious devices that people feared would hurt children and stint our ability to learn. Now, they’re no less mysterious to most of us, and they still have the power to take over our lives. And yet here we have Japanese middle schoolers, arguably some of the most connected and tech-savvy people on the planet, bewitched by a CD-ROM. In the original the portability of the floppy disk was integral to the plot, but here it’s not plot-integral, and so it’s baffling to imagine why anyone would bother with a disc drive, let alone get obsessed with one. Of all the themes they could have run with–the obsession over test scores, the time spent in cram schools, the concerns about internet addiction, the increasing isolation that technology sometimes creates–they chose…well, I guess they sort of chose isolation, but that had less to do with the yoma, and more to do with Ami herself. Which, you know, good job for the character development, but please try to understand the material you’re reproducing for next week, please?
Next week we get right to Rei, the fiery Sailor Mars and third Inner Senshi.