This week features the appearance of Sailor Mars, the third and most hot-headed senshi. We also learn more about the Silver Crystal, via Queen Beryl and Luna. It has so much energy that whoever wields it will be the ruler of the world. Neato. Glad our MacGuffin is, like, a really good MacGuffin.
We also get the rather odd legend of a haunted bus. Given the high quality of public transportation in Japan, I’m surprised that this one even got started–you’d think someone would have followed up about people going missing on a 6 PM bus. If it were a 3 AM bus or something like that, maybe I could see it, but a bus full of rush-hour commuters in Tokyo…I don’t know. This horror doesn’t exactly resonate.
It doesn’t resonate with Usagi enough, either, or at least not enough to prevent her from getting on it. She joins Ami on her wait to cram school, though less to partake in educational activities, and more to…gawp at a hot girl?
So…lesbains! I wasn’t going to say anything about last week, when Usagi blushed and thought to herself that Ami was cute, or when Ami blushed after Usagi complimented her smile. After all, that’s pretty tame, and the context and culture made it ambiguous. But there’s resoundingly less ambiguity when Ami gets Usagi to join her on the bus by saying, “we can look at this really pretty girl who’s there sometimes,” Usagi jumps on, and they cut to a pan of Rei from toe to head. And then Usagi follows her! She even gets giant hearts in her eyes; that didn’t happen with either Motoki OR Mamoru/Tuxedo Mask.
Speaking of whom, the other thing lacking so far that the original often showed was Usagi’s romantic attachment to Motoki (the guy who works in the arcade) AND Tuxedo Mask, to the extent that she often pictured herself skipping around arm-in-arm with both of them at the same time. In Crystal, they’re quite invested in the Eternal Reincarnated Romance of Doom or whatever, so we don’t get even a hint that she’s interested in other boys. I can’t fault them for wanting to foreground the reincarnation stuff earlier (they only have 14 episodes), but I am a little sad that they get rid of that girly part of Usagi’s personality that enjoys crushes for crushes’ sakes.
But the big question remains: are any or all of the Senshi lesbians? Look, I’m not going to come down on either side of this debate. You can decide, and ship–or not–to your heart’s content. I just think it’s nice that they’re acknowledging (or, I hope they’re acknowledging) the ambiguous, somewhat romantic feelings girls have before Sex and Sexual Orientation become these Big Honking Things that everyone has to Decide about. It’s also good to acknowledge that a large part of the fandom was deeply invested in shipping the Senshi.
Or maybe it’s all the male gaze dictating that pretty girls have sapphic interests in all other girls, but that they’re slavishly monogamous in their heterosexuality. I don’t know. I’m deciding on a positive spin for my own sake, but I guess you can take a negative tack if you want.
No matter what, I think we can agree with Ami-chan.
Sexual sub/text aside, Usagi’s impulsive crush leads her to the Hikawa Shrine and a dramatic run-in with Rei, who…tries to exorcise her. Yay, finally some comedy! It doesn’t work (and it certainly doesn’t banish the lesbian subtext–Usagi stays smitten), but it does make a nice lead-in to Rei’s more general strangeness. She has pet ravens and is a bit psychic, making the visitors to the shrine wary of her. In the original, Rei’s psychic abilities were taken as a matter of course. Here, they seem to make her an outsider–just like Ami-chan’s mental acumen left her ostracized. It seems that friendly, oblivious Usagi will again be called upon to be the heart of this growing group. I’m pleased to know they’re making Usagi more obviously important–sometimes it feels like the original made her so lackadaisical that she became the weakest member of the team.
The visitors to the shrine are trying to find a missing child, one of Rei’s friends. They hint at more about the Demon 6:00 Bus, and it’s a testament to the writing and animation that I can write that without shaking my head. They really are doing a much better job with atmosphere and mystery.
Usagi starts investigating on her own again, and thus has the inevitable run-in with Mamoru. And this time he’s only in a suit! He demonstrates that he exists in society–and doesn’t just wander endlessly in a tux like some…well, like some anime character–and is a second-year in high school. Oh, thank god. In the original, Mamoru was in college. I don’t know if that was a mistranslation or what, but at least this is only pushing the boundaries of inappropriate, not way beyond them. They have a cute not-really-interaction full of Usagi blushing and hiding behind Luna (yes, a feat, hiding a 14 year-old human behind a cat) and accomplish nothing. Great?
Rei, meanwhile, is doing something useful. She concentrates all her energy on discovering the culprit of these abductions, and sees Jadeite’s face. Then she sees Usagi! Desperate to protect her new friend, she rushes out, only to be captured and put on the Demon Bus. But Usagi is hot on her trail, and catches the bus just as it departs this dimension and goes straight into the Dark Kingdom. (Tuxedo Mask doesn’t manage it.) My god, is she competent already?
Uh, sort of. She’s no help when she gets there, and has to contact Luna and Ami via her communicator. (Usefully, they’re no longer compacts like in the original, but watches. I’d wondered how they kept compacts around–I can’t ever remember which purse mine is in. Problem solved!) Just by allowing Ami to track Usagi into the Dark Kingdom and suggest a way of joining her there, they have done more with Ami’s analytical skills than the original. Nice job! However, following her doesn’t accomplish much, as they meet with Jadeite face-to-face and are roundly trounced. He begins to freeze them, and their cries wake Rei up.
At which point, Rei recognizes Usagi! Jesus, finally. Someone recognizes the girl with the long blonde hair-buns as the superhero with the long blonde hair-buns. Usagi tries to deny it, but then concedes in a roundabout way by saying that she can’t be Usagi–openly–because normal girls don’t have such powers. This is exactly what Rei has been longing to hear her whole life, and it awakens her as the third Senshi. She throws off Jadeite’s freezing spell, and she and Usagi combine their attacks to banish Jadeite and return the stolen passengers to the real world.
After a wobbly start, this show is really finding its feet by focusing on the friendships of the girls, and on the way that Usagi–a flawed fighter, but an excellent friend–binds and grounds the girls in something much bigger than defeating the villain of the week. Bonds that transcend time seems to be the core of this iteration. So I guess it’s okay that the Usagi/Mamoru relationship isn’t so antagonistic anymore. Maybe he’ll even get something to do next week.
Next time: could it be the silver crystal? Hint: it is episode four, so no, it cannot.