Friday, 21 September 2018

Moonlight Shines Eternal (The Sailor Moon Post: Part 5)

Previously- Part One: The Crybaby Who Saved The World | Part Two: The Crybaby Heals The Future | Part Three: The Crybaby's Idealism Vs. The Pair's PracticalityPart Four: The Crybaby's Dreams And The Dark Queen's Nightmares

Part Five: The Crybaby's Uncorruptible Eternal True Self

"Things end. That's all. Everything ends, and it's always sad. But everything begins again too, and that's... always happy."

I don't believe it. After months of watching this show, months of thinking about it, and months of trying (and stalling) to put those thoughts into words... we're finally at the end. Sailor Moon Sailor Stars. Once we get these couple of thousand words out there into the air, that's it. I'm finished. Well, almost finished. There's a little surprise that will be lurking at the very end, but we've got a whole show to talk about here. One I've been all but chomping at the bit to talk about. Let's get it all out there, clear as day, like a real thesis statement sort of thing. Sailor Stars is not my favorite season of the show. What it manages to be is both a greatest hits compilation of many elements that made the previous four seasons resonate with me in some way, as well as managing to introduce some concepts with inspirational weight that still remain with me. It all sounds like a recipe for great success, but it just doesn't come together in the end. It's so tantalizingly close to doing it, but at the last second they make a blunder. No, I take that back. A blunder is something akin to stubbing your toe. This is a creative writing decision that utterly betrays the show at the eleventh hour and very nearly murders it before it can ride off into the sunset. In the Sailor Moon R post I made a big show out of Usagi and Mamoru's manufactured relationship "drama" and how goddamn toxic it was. I called it the first of two betrayals the show would pull on me. Sailor Stars has the second. We will get to it, and we do have a way of reading it that still crackles, but by God am I going to be angrily scrawling about that one. I just want to put that out there before I begin. This season was still really engaging and had some amazing concepts to think about, and I'll be singing its praises for the next... oh, 2000 words? Rough estimate? We'll take a lot of sugar with our bitter pill. For now, it's time to begin Sailor Stars.

Oops, must've thrown on Dragon Ball Z by mistake--no? Okay...
Oh, I'm sorry, I meant it's time to begin the rapid onset plot advancement mini-arc. Sailor Stars has a paradoxical opening, and I'm not just talking about the time travel shit that'll come up in a second. This both is and isn't the beginning to Sailor Stars. I alluded to this last time, but the short version is that Sailor Moon SuperS deviated a lot from the equivalent arc of the manga, to the point where my watch guide called it "filler". Come Sailor Stars, they could have continued on with an original story arc, but they instead (to the best of my knowledge) adapted the manga again... except the Dream arc of the manga had development for the Outer Senshi. The Outer Senshi, for those of you keeping score at home, never actually showed up in SuperS. In addition, I guess someone thought that Queen Nehelenia deserved a better sendoff than just having her plans foiled and fucking off back into her mirror world. So what do we get? A six episode mini-arc in which a mysterious face in the sky releases Queen Nehelenia from the mirror world and urges her to get revenge on Usagi and friends. While all of this is building up, the Outer Senshi are taking care of little baby Hotaru who, all of a sudden thanks to Nehelenia's attack, begins rapidly growing up. Mamoru gets a piece of Nehelenia's shattered mirror in his eye and slowly becomes mind controlled by her, as do lots of other people, and it's up to the Sailor Senshi to go into Nehelenia's world and stop her once and for all. I'm painting things in the broadest strokes because this really is just six episodes of moving the pieces across the board to match up for when Sailor Stars actually begins. Yes, the end of Sailor Stars ties into this given the mysterious face which let Nehelenia out, but it's not something I want to analyze frame by frame or anything. Rather, I'll just give you some bullet points on what stood out in this mini-arc and then we'll get to the good stuff, so to speak.

-At a certain point, everyone gets separated in Nehelenia's world and we get like an episode and a half of two Senshi each having to fight together. The pairings are really neat, the standouts for me being Uranus/Mercury and Neptune/Mars. It's really cool to see these two groups of different ideologies and strengths having to work together.

-The bit where Sailor Moon gets brainwashed by a beautiful dream and just sort of sits in a field, blissful and oblivious until Jupiter's rose earrings remind her of Tuxedo Mask and break her out of the spell. This is interesting because like, the third episode of the show is all about people falling into comas and Usagi longs to be able to just sleep in a beautiful dream forever. The fact that now she wants to break out for Mamoru's sake is real character development!

-Chibiusa. Oh god. This is actually the end of her time on the show, as well as Mamoru's. We'll get into all of that soon, but I want to point out the threat to Chibiusa here. I mentioned it in R when I was screaming into the void, and now here's the conflict I was alluding to. Nehelenia has Mamoru mind controlled and the clock is ticking before he'll be her slave forever, and this manifests in Chibiusa actually fading out of existence, Back To The Future-style, due to the fact that if Mamoru is lost she'll never be born. Any attempt to reconcile this with what the hell King Endymion did boggles the mind and reduces one to Cinema Sins-esque nitpicking. Look, not even Doctor Who can get consistent time travel rules right. The Endymion breakup gambit has to work on a predestination paradox case because Chibiusa isn't blinking throughout the series any time either Mamoru or Usagi is in danger, whereas this Nehelenia threat is absolutely something that should not be happening and time is being rewritten. More on why that might be later, but at the time watching I just threw up my hands and went "oh so NONE of the villains threatened her existence before, but this one mirror girl all of a sudden will rewrite time? What the fuck?". Again. There's a reason for this. This was not supposed to happen. I'll get to play with that soon, which leads us to our last point...

-The tone. Christ, this is all a bit dismal and grim, isn't it? Even when we have those cool pairings of the different Senshi, they're all still getting defeated and trapped in mirrors. Mamoru's going to lose his mind forever, Chibiusa and her utopia will never exist... we haven't had something this hopeless and full of despair since the first season when everyone died to the DD Girls! This whole thing is just misery and spite and hate, and that's the point. Nehelenia wants Usagi to suffer. It's maliciousness we've not quite seen on this show before, but despite all that... Usagi still pities her. There's no hate. There's only empathy and sorrow. It's enough to free everyone. It's enough to break her hold over Mamoru. It's enough to give her a power boost and, finally, do what couldn't be done at the end of SuperS. Queen Nehelenia, the lonely girl on the other side of the mirror, is healed. HEY. HEY Y'ALL. THIS GRIM TONE AND UTOPIAN IDEALISM WILL BE KEY TO THE FINALE OF THE SHOW. IT MIRRORS ITSELF. Yes. Now then... on with Sailor Stars when it isn't wrapping up stuff and moving chess pieces along. Wave bye bye to Chibiusa and Mamoru, because everything's about to change again.

Goals. (Also they have a bitchin' theme tune.)
Stop me if you've heard this one before. A new set of villains appears on Earth, seeking a super-powerful version of a magic item that exists within select individuals, and can be pulled out of them by their henchperson's magic. Said henchperson, more often than not, is disappointed to find that the magic item is not the special one they need to fulfill their evil goals, leaving it be as a monster themed around that target's special interests appears to attack the Sailor Senshi. A mysterious group of Sailor Senshi with ideologies opposed to Sailor Moon and her group often appears, clashing with "our" Sailor Senshi and never working together due to their supposed differences in goals. Did I just summarize Sailor Moon S or Sailor Stars? Yeah, when I said this was a greatest hits compilation, I meant it. The basic structure here cribs from S, but there are loads of little things. A new mystery boy who has run-ins with Usagi (since Mamoru is studying abroad in America all season), calls her Dumpling Head, and has a secret identity? Straight out of the first season. A strange child who moves into Usagi's house by hypnotizing her family? That's R. I've already gone through S, and everything above was all the stuff that called back to SuperS. The entire past of this show, five years in, is turned into a strange brew of inspiration material. I may be making the show sound unoriginal, but it's not. Really, it has some incredible new ideas. Chief among them are the new mysterious Sailor Senshi, the trio of the Sailor Starlights. On the surface, yes, they appear ready and willing to kill people for the greater good of whatever they're hoping to accomplish just like Uranus and Neptune were, but there's another dimension to it all. One that, paired with another expansion of the lore, opens Sailor Stars up in its final moments to encapsulate an infinite singularity of creativity and inspiration. The Sailor Starlights, you see, transcend gender. Sailor Star Fighter, Maker, and Healer are all women... but in their civilian forms they're all boys. Specifically a hot new idol group called Three Lights, the lead singer of which is that "new" Mamoru I mentioned. Oh my god. After all that fuss I made about Fish-Eye, all the concessions of problematic nature I needed to make... all I needed to do was wait a season and I'd get three Sailor Senshi who transcend gender and fight against evil? I'm honestly spoiled. Apparently Naoko Takeuchi wasn't too happy with this revelation; it seems she'd prefer that Sailor Senshi status be exclusive to girls. I find that quite reductive, to put it mildly. It's more interesting this way, I feel, especially when you pair it with Sailor Stars' other new expansion of lore...

It would have been enough if Sailor Stars had stopped then and there with its inspiring and interesting trio of new Sailor Senshi, but it actually goes one further. Sailor Stars, knowing that it's the finale of Sailor Moon as a 90's television thing, takes steps to expand its mythos and lore. For all our adventures, we haven't really ventured outside of the solar system that much. The Death Busters and Pharaoh 90 came from Tau Ceti or some nonsense like that, but otherwise it's all been very focused on our sun and its nine planets (and Earth's moon). Sailor Stars makes it 100% canon that other planets in other galaxies and solar systems have their own Sailor Senshi, with their own powers and goals and whatnot. That's what I was talking about earlier. You pair that fact with the entire concept of the Sailor Starlights transcending gender, and anyone from anywhere, in any corner of the universe, could be a Sailor Senshi. This is one of the biggest reasons why Sailor Stars sparkles so well with me. There's an infinity of possibilities now. Think of it! Anyone, from anywhere, could be a Sailor Senshi! For someone like me, someone who came this close to writing Sailor Moon fanfiction, this is nothing less than the show telling you that it can be anything you want it to be, and explicitly making that process so much more possible for you. Do you want to write the story  of Sailor Fire-n-Ice's battle on the planet Frostflame? You can! Wild crossover fanfiction where Sailor Shovel Knight battles the forces of evil? Absolutely! All of these interpretations were valid before, but with the revelation that Sailor Senshi exist across the universe in this world, it all becomes that much more tangible. With its last breaths of relevance, Sailor Stars has opened Sailor Moon up into infinity. How fitting, then, that Sailor Moon's newest form is called Eternal Sailor Moon. That's exactly what the show does here with this reveal; it makes itself eternal by creating an infinity of Sailor Senshi. This is brilliant. It should be the high point of the series, and a fitting end point... but there's someone else. Opening up this infinity allowed for something else to sneak in. Something with more power than anything we've seen up to this point. Lurking in the swirling red shadows of nebula is our villain of the season, Sailor Galaxia. Oh yes. That infinity means that there are both good Sailor Senshi and bad ones. Galaxia's might will be felt, trust me... but let's avoid her gaze for now. Let's move on.

Not until six episodes from the end, when the writers have
put it off for as long as possible, anyway...
Back to the Sailor Starlights. Back to relative safety. What's striking about them is their civilian form of the Three Lights group. Obviously in a show with a bunch of female protagonists, having a group of pop idol boys is an appealing thing. What really interests me is why they do what they do. The Sailor Starlights are, like Uranus and Neptune before them, laser focused on a singular goal and want Sailor Moon and pals to stay the hell out of their way while they do it. Their actual goal is finding the lost princess of their planet, which was destroyed ages ago. Oh hey, it's basically the arc of the first season! Greatest hits. What's really neat is that Three Lights and their songs are dedicated to this as well. Being pop idol space aliens, they have the interesting power of expressing some sort of telepathic thought-sharing with people through their music, which is how they hope to find their princess through the power of song. The literal power of Inspiration flowing through their music. Usagi hears it when she listens in on a Three Lights concert and gets their backstory explained to her via a vision. In addition to that, a friend of mine pointed me in the direction of an episode I otherwise would have skipped. See, this one's really sweet and has a little girl who's in the hospital about to undergo risky surgery. She's a huge Three Lights fan and she draws pictures of the woman that Three Lights keeps singing about. She's getting the message, and a chance meeting with one of the members helps give her the hope she needs. If you'll recall Part Two, this whole "risky surgery" thing is quite a lot like what was happening to me right before I started watching Sailor Moon R. To see the show itself bring it full circle really moved me, and I can't thank my friend enough for suggesting I view this one. Positivity's nice, but we have a little problem when it comes to the Sailor Starlights. It's not them. Well, not exactly. In the interests of stopping anything radical like "eradicating potential conflict", we have Uranus and Neptune showing up periodically to be really mad at the Sailor Starlights... because they're from outside the solar system? Making them bad? What? What in the fuck? At the end of S I made a big show over Uranus and Neptune's grim determination being actually beaten out by Sailor Moon's utopian idealism, such that they recognized both her and it as the true path to the future. Either I massively misread that as character growth for them, or someone didn't get the goddamn memo, because they're all but right back to where they were. Sure, now they're all like "our mission is to protect you from outside intruders", but it's the same goddamn thing. Just like the show was absolutely on the side of utopian idealism in S, so it is that we don't believe for one second that the Sailor Starlights are actual baddies. They're a little rude and refuse to be team players with the Inner Senshi (and even here when they do Uranus and Neptune barge in to literally ensure that doesn't happen to keep the conflict going for longer), but other than that there's not much reason to distrust them. I'm loathe to suggest writing changes, but I'll dip my toe in. If you want to pull this off? Make the Starlights act more like Uranus and Neptune in S. Then you could show how much Usagi's idealism actually changed those two, and made them grow, by having their new selves contrast against a new group of assholes who are acting like they once did! As it stands, it feels like it's just there to keep anything shocking like "conflict resolution" from happening. We're not done with Uranus and Neptune, though. We'll be back, and it will hurt.

Sailor Galaxia, gaining the almighty power of script editing.
Before we get to the big gun baddies, we should square away one little callback I mentioned just above; the clear callback to Chibiusa. A very small redheaded child named Chibi-Chibi who literally only says "chibi" comes down to Earth about halfway into the show and then lives with Usagi. It's a clear redo of the Chibiusa stuff, only done even weirder. At this point I didn't know what in the hell Sailor Stars was trying to do, but Chibi-Chibi clearly has some power lurking within her; enough to give Sailor Moon another power upgrade and a fancy new attack. We'll... touch back on her. For now, it can't be avoided. We have to talk about Sailor Galaxia and her group. We have spoken of the infinity of Sailor Senshi that opened up with Sailor Stars. Sailor Galaxia is powerful enough to twist this to her advantage; her entire squad of officers is made up of corrupted Sailor Senshi, all of them following a name theme of Sailor (metal) (animal). I don't have too much to say about them all, as they're fairly standard villains by Sailor Moon standards. They try and fail over and over, some of them try to backstab another one, there's some who have great respect for others. It's typical stuff. What is Sailor Galaxia after, though? I only alluded to them, but the magic items this time are called Star Seeds. Galaxia wants an utter shitload of "True Star Seeds" to rule over the galaxy. Make no mistake. Galaxia is no pushover villain. Sailor Galaxia is, actually and canonically, the most powerful Sailor Senshi to ever exist. This means a lot of things. Sure, it means that she's super strong and can easily destroy anyone in a battle of sheer force... but her power goes beyond that. I'm about to get really gonzo, but Sailor Galaxia has extra-narrative powers. She is an absolute force of nature that can impose her will upon the very structure and tone of the story that Sailor Moon, as a television show, is trying to tell. Don't believe me? She's already done it. Remember Queen Nehelenia's mini-arc? How grim and dire it got near the end when it seemed all hope was lost? How Chibiusa was fading away, despite no other enemy in the show being able to threaten the future like that? That was Sailor Galaxia. She let Nehelenia out, to further her goals... and, extra-narratively, to test her abilities. She flexed her power towards the show in those six episodes, and it bent to her will. Oh, she'll play along with the narrative rules for so long. It's entertaining to her. She'll let everything play out, and then in the endgame, she appears. The final six episodes of Sailor Stars; nay, Sailor Moon as a television show, are nothing less than a battle of narrative collapse. In the blue corner, Sailor Moon. The utopian idealist magical girl show we've been writing about for 20,000 words. Usagi Tsukino, full of empathy and compassion in her heart. In the red corner, Sailor Galaxia: The Series. A show that will twist and bend this other magical girl show to its will, make it grim and gritty, and create precious conflict and despair before finally ending it all. The end of Sailor Moon cannot be averted. It is 120 minutes away. The battle becomes far more than just "will Sailor Moon defeat Sailor Galaxia?". Thanks to this raging fight outside the very narrative, the ethos of the conflict becomes "Which show will defeat the other in the end?". Will utopian idealism shine through, or will the grimdark despair overwhelm us all in what was supposed to be a happy ending? Those are the stakes. Here and now, outside of time and space, the final fight begins.

Well, right away Sailor Galaxia makes her claims known. Her final corrupted Sailor Senshi, Sailor Tin Nyanko, had been half-healed by Sailor Moon's new power. Redemption was possible for this here little kitty in Sailor Moon. In the Sailor Galaxia show, not a chance. Tin Nyanko is vaporized. So, too, is Princess Fireball, the princess whom the Starlights were trying to find all this time with their pop songs. They'd found her halfway through the show and that was lovely... but oops. Different show now. Goodbye, Princess. Tokyo; hell, the world is under assault from Galaxia's sheer energy... and where has the portal to her base been this entire time? A TV studio called Galaxy TV. The show is practically HANDING me this narrative! Of course Galaxia can rewrite this long-running TV show to suit her grimdark needs! She runs a goddamned TV studio! If you thought the Queen Nehelenia arc needled things into dark despair territory, then you've not seen anything yet. Our Inner Senshi are ready to fight and their final battle is all set. One last go-round for the girls we've grown to know and love over 190+ episodes. I'm sure you all have your favorites. You know mine's Venus. Maybe you're a Mars booster. Perhaps Jupiter is your fave? Regardless, you're ready to see them take their last stand and have one final moment in the spotlight. Sailor Galaxia sees this narrative building up, and her show cuts it down. All four Inner Senshi, minus Sailor Moon, are shitblasted and vanish as their True Star Seeds are taken in a long and drawn-out sequence of misery. Sailor Moon, I don't feel so good. Christ almighty. Oh, but it gets worse. Remember how Mamoru was studying abroad? Well, Usagi hasn't heard from him at all since he left and she's been real worried about it. I wonder where he is? Oh. Oh no. He's been dead the entire time, his True Star Seed harvested. Sailor Galaxia has gone back to rewrite the show to put Sailor Moon through the wringer even more. All of this is terrible, of course. Galaxia's hold over the narrative is strong... but Galaxia also has no mercy within her. While we're still reeling from those series of punches, Galaxia delivers her strongest attack yet on the show... and it lands. What happens next is the single worst betrayal the show has ever pulled, and it is nearly strong enough to poison the well entirely and allow Galaxia to win, there and then. The Inner Senshi confront Galaxia and are handily beaten, but not harvested. Not yet. Galaxia is in need of new powerful Senshi to corrupt, after all, and offers the Inner Senshi a choice. Join her as her vanguards, or have their Seeds taken and die. Pluto refuses, as does Saturn. Nobody touched by Sailor Moon's utopian idealism would be so stupid as to sell it all out just for--


Oh my fucking god. There it is. In a ghoulish display, Sailor Uranus and Neptune join Sailor Galaxia's side, becoming EEEEVIL. Now, I'll tell you how this goes outright; it was all a ploy so they could use the power of Galaxia's bracelets to betray her and harvest her Star Seed in order to finally defeat her, but this plan doesn't work because Galaxia has no Star Seed and she just kills them then and there. That in itself had a slim chance of playing out well, and I am talking slim here... but it gets worse. I'm not clear on what happens when Uranus and Neptune take on Galaxia's bracelets; either her power is actually strong enough to overwhelm and brainwash them to her side, and they break out after a while to enact their betrayal plan... or, worse, they play along as grimdark antagonists for an episode to lull Galaxia into a false sense of security until they can backstab her. I am at a loss for words, and that's astounding considering how I've been mulling over this bullshit in my head for three months. To pull this grimdark edgy "I'M BAD NOW" bullshit with any of the Senshi we've grown to know and love would be damaging. To do it to Uranus and Neptune? The pair who started off as ideological antagonists, only to seem to learn and grow from Usagi's idealism? To piss all of that away and very nearly ruin them as characters-- no, very nearly ruin the entire climax of the goddamned show? It's sickening. For all of our troubles, all of the complete lack of any sort of understanding of what made these characters beloved, what do we get from this shocking twist? 25 minutes. 25 minutes of precious precious grimdark conflict. It's not like it matters in the end; Uranus and Neptune fail, and they're killed anyway. For the sake of one episode of this putrefacted bullshit, the show fundamentally wounds Uranus and Neptune. Not in a "they literally died" sense, but extra-narratively. They've been wounded. I had a friend warn me about Uranus and Neptune's heel turn when I was going through Sailor Stars, and I assumed they meant the pair not being friendly with the Starlights. I WISH THAT'S WHAT THEY MEANT! THAT I could have dealt with? This? This is awful. Right at the very end, the Sailor Galaxia show deals a mortal wound to Sailor Moon. How can utopian idealism possibly come back from this? You've taken the two people most touched by it and turned them into edgy antiheroes because you couldn't squeeze out an extra 25 minutes without ruining them! What the fuck? What possible response could utopian idealism have to such a fatal blow?

The crybaby who saved the soul of Sailor Galaxia.
Usagi, her arms wide. The Sailor Galaxia show would have you forget a fundamental truth. Sailor Galaxia was once a proud and noble warrior, the ultimate bastion of good in the universe. She was strong enough to fight off the literal embodiment of evil in the universe, Chaos... but not strong enough to beat it. Chaos's corruption was too strong for even her, and Galaxia sent her True Star Seed out into the cosmos, in the hope that someday it would be used to stop Chaos. Chibi-Chibi is that Star Seed, and a Light of Hope that can be used to destroy Chaos once and for all. Wielding the holy blade against the rampaging Chaos-Galaxia, Sailor Moon holds her ground and-- Wait. No. This isn't right. This isn't the Sailor Moon, the Usagi, that we know. She's not the type of person to plunge a blade into the heart of evil to destroy it once and for all. We learned after Queen Beryl and Death Phantom. We learned that there's another way. Like Mistress Nine and Queen Nehelenia before them, Sailor Moon's utopian idealism gives her true sight. Face to face with the literal, actual personification of all evil in the universe... Sailor Moon looks right past it and sees a fellow Sailor Senshi in need of redemption. After all the murder, all the character assassination, all the knife-turning of showing Sailor Moon a beautiful dream where everyone is alive and well... Sailor Moon's utopian idealism isn't extinguished one little bit. She heals Galaxia, and Chaos is banished once and for all. Everyone is alive and well, and the show can end. The narrative collapse was averted. Our cost, of course, was Uranus and Neptune. That the show managed to recover from this massive betrayal and not fall apart on me is nothing short of a miracle. So, as Moonlight Densetsu kicks in, we fade out. It's 1997 and we get to see our friend one last time. You know her now, right? Usagi Tsukino. 16 years old. A klutz, a crybaby, a gourmand, and a poor student with failing grades. She's also Sailor Moon, a warrior of love and justice who defeated the embodiment of despair. Not with a holy sword, not with a sacrifice. She did it with nothing but empathy and compassion. Sailor Moon fades from our screens, but one thing is for certain; they were right with the name of her newest form. Sailor Moon, in this moment in time... is Eternal.

That's that. That was Sailor Stars, the final season of Sailor Moon. I can't hate it. I can hate the absolute bullshit they did to Uranus and Neptune, and lament for what could have been... but I can't hate this season. Not when it gave us the Sailor Starlights. Not when it opened the universe up to other Sailor Senshi beyond our solar system. Sailor Stars, for all its faults, has so much more going on with it beyond the surface level stuff. With its dying breaths, it makes itself absolutely eternal. Really, it was already there with all the merchandise and whatnot. Sailor Moon has stood the test of time, and it's utterly iconic. Anyone, anywhere, can be a Sailor Senshi. Despite all this, I lament what could have been. Things could have been stronger, especially where Uranus and Neptune are concerned. They were the most fascinating new characters of S, and seeing them grow and change would have been superb. Instead, we get... well, the shit I've been complaining about for hundreds of words. I managed to make something interesting out of the situation with it all being an extra-narrative battle, but it has to be said: Someone, be it Naoko Takeuchi or one of the anime staffers, betrayed me. Someone chose to do this to Uranus and Neptune, and fly in the face of utopian idealism for the sake of 25 extra minutes of twisting the knife. It's indefensible. It really is a small miracle that I didn't sour on the entire thing, but somehow they pulled it off. Maybe you can see this as a "darkest before the dawn" situation, but my Sailor Moon isn't about that kind of shit. I don't think it was needed. Maybe your Sailor Moon, or the writer's Sailor Moon was... but not mine. Not the Sailor Moon I've been writing about for all this time. It is time to say goodbye to my Sailor Moon, though. We've reached the end. There's one more thing to do, one more bit of wrapup and reveal... but that's a wrap on actually talking about the show. It was beautiful. It was messy. Most of all, it was inspirational. There's not much left to say beyond this. Usagi Tsukino... Thank you, and goodbye.

Epilogue: The Second Transformation

The end.
It's September 14th, 2018. There are many things happening in the world, and many hit songs on the radio. We're unconcerned with world history right now. This is personal history. Here and now, at this moment in time, I have just finished my long summer odyssey of writing about Sailor Moon. My debt to the show has been repaid; for all the words of fiction I didn't spill in 2003, I spilled a shitload of critical analysis words in 2018. But, then, what has this journey been about? I knew, when I wanted to analyze this show, what needed to be said here at the end. The degree to which it will be said, I'm walking back on a bit. In a way, I'm stalling right now. It's something that needs to be said right. The more observant of you who have followed these posts as they've been released may know what's coming here. There's a secret I didn't tell you, back when this began. The prologue, in 2003, was the first transformation. The inciting incident that got me to watch this show again was the beginning of the second. What was it? Well, let's put it bluntly and put it out there. Questions of gender expression. Explorations and self-reflections that were required in order to make sense of things... and what was the outlet I chose? A magical girl show that I remembered from 15 years prior, a show I once got chided for watching. My own private little rebellion, an experiment in feminine energy. I'd love to tell you that this second transformation is complete, and that I'm a whole new me. That would be lying. I still have a lot of ways to go, and a lot of things to figure out. That's the whole point of gender exploration, I guess. I had and still have so many lovely friends who have reached out to help me or give me advice, and I adore them all. They've been here for me through all of this, and so too has this show which I've spent so many words on. The second transformation encompasses all of that, and it will continue for quite some time. Look what we've learned, though! Even a crybaby klutz can be a heroine. She can heal those in need of help with her empathy. She can let her utopian idealism light up the darkest of hours. She can dream a beautiful dream... and, most importantly, she can show you that anyone and everyone can be like her. That's the power of Sailor Moon's utopian idealism. This show never ended. It just went out into the world. It lit a fire within me, a light which will never fade. I'm sure you all have things like that in your lives. Pieces of media which have lit your world up. Dear friends who love and support you at every turn. I hope you all have, and continue to have, such wonderful things in your lives. As for me... I'll still be here, figuring shit out. I can do it all thanks to that one amazing person. Who? You know her.

She is the one named Sailor Moon.

June 7th - September 14th, 2018

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Moonlight Shines Eternal (The Sailor Moon Post: Part 4)

Previously- Part One: The Crybaby Who Saved The World | Part Two: The Crybaby Heals The Future | Part Three: The Crybaby's Idealism Vs. The Pair's Practicality

Part Four: The Crybaby's Dreams And The Dark Queen's Nightmares

“I am, and always will be, the optimist. The hoper of far-flung hopes, and the dreamer of improbable dreams.”

Well then. Let's push through and continue this wild odyssey. It could be said that Sailor Moon peaked with Sailor Moon S, and everything afterwards was a bit of a decline in quality before leading to the ultimate betrayal. It would be really easy to build to that narrative, but I don't want to. I don't want to because that really isn't how I saw the show, but it does put us in an interesting position. The fourth season, Sailor Moon SuperS (I guess you say it like the plural of the word "super", just for mental pronunciation. Wait, is it like a "super" version of Sailor Moon S? Holy shit.), is a wild deviation from what happens in the equivalent arc of the manga. Now, the 90's anime itself is a wild deviation from the manga in a lot of ways. So many so that my pal Alina, when reading through the previous essay on S, reacted in confusion and surprise and stated something along the lines of "I don't remember ANY of this happening in the manga!". The recommended viewing guide I'd been using to cut out a lot of the monster of the week episodes and shotgun the plot-relevant stuff was a bit more disdainful about SuperS as well, calling it basically a filler season. To say I find this line of thinking incorrect would be putting it mildly. What SuperS lacks in "plot-essentialism", it more than makes up for with strong thematic resonance and personal growth for the characters. If you're already down with the whole utopian idealism thing, what's a bit of so-called filler to get in the way of the characters growing and learning? Hell... what IS filler, anyway? For my purposes of watching this show, I defined it as episodes that didn't advance the central plot. Still, the monster of the week episodes ARE, in a sense, core Sailor Moon. I've actually tinkered with some of the earlier episodes I skipped way back in Season 1. They're both fun because they're Sailor Moon, and interesting to compare with Usagi's character development in this half of the series. I can't give you a more direct comparison until Part Five, I'm afraid, but that brings me to my next point. Bizarrely, the recommended viewing guide walks back its claim that SuperS is a filler season when it gets to the final season... so this is actually essential viewing if you want to understand what the hell Sailor Stars is doing in its opening six episodes! Filler, my ass! It moves the characters along and gives them more hopes, dreams, and obstacles to overcome. It has elements which are essential to the overall plot, and the proof is right there in the opening of Sailor Stars. It ain't filler. Additionally, and this is all behind the scenes stuff that I don't usually mention, this is the last season to have involvement from famous anime guy Kunihiko Ikuhara. Yes, that guy who made Revolutionary Girl Utena. He's been working on the show since Sailor Moon R, but there were creative differences about tone or whatever and he left after this. His absence will be felt, no doubt, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to the final season. For now, we're looking at Sailor Moon SuperS.

It's funny that I spent that preamble talking more about the things around SuperS than I did SuperS itself. I won't say SuperS is the worst season of the show, but it's one that is relatively simple to think about. I don't know if we'll manage quite the word count we did in previous parts of this odyssey, but I'm doing my best to try. I am, of course, still delaying because of a memory I had the day I watched the first episode of SuperS. It was early May, to give you an idea of how much I've been dragging my feet on this (and how September is dragging me kicking and screaming, Douglas Adams style, to a deadline of getting these fucking posts out to the public eye) and I was visiting a pal of mine in Gander, Newfoundland. During the few days I spent at his place, we went out shopping to various places. I saw so much goddamned Sailor Moon merchandise. Drink glasses, purses, plushes, Funko Pops... hell, I even saw the first half of SuperS on DVD, hours before I started watching it! It really put into perspective that I wasn't alone in this strange transformation of loving Sailor Moon. She was still a cultural touchstone, a nerdy interest icon, and someone who could be slapped onto a drink glass along with her pals to make someone a couple of bucks. Unbridled capitalism aside, it did make me feel like less of a weirdo. So it was that I watched the first episode with my pal, there in Gander, to share this show I loved with him and start off on the next step of the journey. Well, it wastes no time in setting up its status quo. There's an evil space circus that comes out of a solar eclipse and wants to capture a magic pegasus who can literally hide within someone's dreams. To that end, the evil Dead Moon Circus sends out its ringmasters to hunt for people with "beautiful dreams" and literally pull a magical mirror out of the body of their chosen target, in the hopes of finding the special mirror which contains the Pegasus so they can capture it and do a thing. Yeah, I told you that S would set the standard for villain plots. That really is just S's whole Pure Heart thing but with pure... mirrors and pure... dreams. Well, the monsters that come out of the dreams are all circus based now. And they're called the Remless, referring to rapid eye movement and dreams and implying that they're dreamless monsters! That's kind of clever and ties in to a thing I'll be talking about in a moment about these villains. For now, let's unpack this. This is a really fun season gimmick for me personally. If you've ever poked around at the archives of the blog, specifically my writings on the Peter Capaldi era of Doctor Who, extra specifically when they had Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald? You'd know I made a big goddamned deal about the theme of mirroring, and reflection, and dark mirrors, et cetera. I do it to the point that it's a running joke now with my pal Rainiac whenever I talk about the show on his podcast thing that we do. To have overt mirror imagery as SuperS's theme should be a playground! I'll do some swinging around with it, of course. Kind of like right now, which will lead to a brilliant segue about mirrors and dreams and whatnot.

Alright then. Pegasus. The execution of SuperS overall might have led to a season that's just okay, but oh my god are there some really crunchy magical themes going on here. Namely, all that mirrors and dreams stuff. Pegasus, as I mentioned, literally can hide within dreams and has some power over them. The reasons for this will be elaborated on in a moment or two, The dreams he chooses to hide from the Dead Moon Circus in are Chibiusa's dreams, and in many ways this season is about her. A more cynical person could connect the fact that SuperS is derided as filler nonsense with the fact that Chibiusa is a central player to the season arc, but let's not play with that bread crumb trail. Chibiusa is... well, an interesting character to be sure. She's generally a second emotional core for the show along with Usagi, and she's been key to the resolutions of both R and S. Even if, you know, she spent the finale of S bedridden because Mistress Nine stole her Pure Heart... but she was there in spirit to help save the day, you know? Things are a little different here in SuperS. She doesn't save the day with crystal power, or friendship, or anything like that. We will get to how the climax of this season plays out (God, I'm such a tease for the parts I have yet to write, aren't I?) and how I feel about it, but the arc of the season has more to do with Chibiusa and her feelings. She's got a bedroom to herself up in the attic of Usagi's house now, and there's many a scene with her, late at night, talking with Pegasus about her feelings and insecurities and whatnot. Like it or not, this is a season about Chibiusa and how she feels about things. There's a little bit of romance there as well, since she's got a bit of a crush on Pegasus. Before you all go wild and throw up your hands at the thought of a little girl being romantically interested in a fucking magic horse, that's just a form he's stuck in. No, it turns out that Pegasus is actually Helios, the priest of Elysion, the world of dreams. Wow. Not only do we go full cosmic and invoke the sun in our continual expanded myth of giving a face and name to each planet in our solar system, but Sailor Moon makes the fact that there's a seperate realm where dreams are real 100% canon. This is almost as genius as Doctor Who's revelation that fictional characters all had their own world where they were real in the late 60's. Sailor Moon doesn't play that much with it, sadly, but just the idea gives you an infinite wellspring of inspiration. It all directly contrasts with the Dead Moon Circus, which are all about nightmares and the lack of dreams (REMLESS REMLESS REMLESS), and it will definitely tie in with the mirror theme once we get to talking about dark mirrors and the true leader of the Dead Moon Circus. For now, we have to talk about a lower-ranking foe from the Circus. Buckle up. This one could get a bit rough...

Oh, God. We got here, huh? Okay. It's time to talk about Fish-Eye. Right, so the ringmaster (HEH) of the Dead Moon Circus at first appears to be a creepy old witch who demands her subordinates go out and find the Golden Mirror to get the Pegasus for the circus. These three, who are more like actual circus performers, are all animal-themed. Tigers-Eye and Hawks-Eye are, simply put, awful womanizers who only care about wooing pretty girls and getting the mirror out of them. They're kind of gross, so it's good to see them routinely getting dunked on by the Sailor Senshi every time they try and make a mirror monster. There's also an episode where Minako is actually dating both of them at the same time, on the same day, and this leads to an episode of her running back and forth between the dates. At this point of the show, Minako both mirrors Sailor Moon in her simple desires and has also become a goddamned sitcom protagonist. A genderswapped Jack Tripper who also transforms into a Warrior Of Love and shoots rapid-fire laser beams at her spurned suitors. It's FUNNY, but as David Byrne said, how did I get here? No, we're here to talk about Fish-Eye, the third member of this little trio. Fish-Eye, much like the other two bozos, is a romantic at heart and interested in getting closer to the mirror with Pegasus and all that. The wild difference here comes down to gender. Alright, so if I've done this right, you should be looking at Fish-Eye to the side of this paragraph. Obviously very feminine-presenting. Unlike Tigers and Hawks, Fish-Eye is much more into men and that's where their interest of targets lies. Note my use of pronoun there. While I'm no doubt sure the anime used masculine pronouns, implying that Fish-Eye is more of a drag queen than anything... I felt a different connection to this character. I felt an aura of gender fluidity coming from Fish-Eye, and I've even got some textual evidence for it. Here's a bit from an episode where Fish-Eye's target is a fashion designer who makes fabulous outfits for women, asking Fish-Eye to model for him:

Like, holy fuck. A miraculous person who transcends gender that has "true, pure, girlishness"? That's really cool and inspiring! Sure, Fish-Eye is a bit of a shitheel to this guy in the end because all of these circus people are just TERRIBLE with relationships, but there's a little more going on with this character than just... well, let's look at a Tigers-Eye example, huh? It gets even more interesting when Fish-Eye sets their sights on Mamoru, of all people. Mamoru rejects them because he loves Usagi, and Usagi gets a little pissy about it... but we get a bunch of interesting reveals. The trio of terrible circus villains don't have mirrors or dreams inside of them, because their names are literal. The nasty witch, Zirconia, literally gave sentience to a tiger, hawk, and fish before telling them to go out and get the Pegasus. We'll get to why she needed these stopgap buffoons, but for now? A series of events has led Fish-Eye to sit in the rain, depressed and without real purpose. Mamoru didn't have the Golden Mirror. Sitting in the rain, feeling down and out... Fish-Eye is approached by Usagi. Remember that moment way back in the first season that sold me on this show? Minako coming over to cheer up her new friend, who she barely knew, because she was sad and needed a friend? Usagi's learned so much about healing now, and she does her best to do the same for Fish-Eye. Crucially, she's not quite the best at it. She's still a little combative towards Fish-Eye considering all of the Mamoru flirting. Still, she does what she can. She lets Fish-Eye into her home, to dry off and get out of the pouring rain. Even here in SuperS, the theme of healing and idealism rings true. Fish-Eye is touched by it, and this much resonates forward to a sort of redemption. I don't want to go full plot summary here, so I'll fast forward. Fish-Eye finds out that Usagi is Sailor Moon and that Chibiusa is the person whom the Pegasus is hiding within. A whole bunch of stuff goes down and a clown tries to eliminate the trio of Tigers, Hawks, and Fish but Sailor Moon's mirror gets shattered in the process. With their last acts, Fish-Eye and the others use their power to fix Sailor Moon's mirror, and this bit of redemption gives them their very own dream life along with the Pegasus. So, wow! An interesting villain who's genderfluid and has feminine energy, who gets healed by Usagi's idealism and pays it forward to end up getting their own redemptive ending and living happily ever after in the world of dreams? What a neat concept and kind of an inspiring character! What's not to like?

SuperS also has a handful of moments of self-aware humor
like this.
Well, in my Googling to see if anyone else was pleased by these themes, I found this critical Tumblr post. This person, as it turns out, was betrayed and let down by the concept of Fish-Eye and the more problematic implications that the character's depiction and actions led to overall. I can sympathize, of course, and it's not a perspective that one should dismiss outright or anything. I have a completely different outlook on life than this person, and that will obviously lead us to take this character differently. Where I saw an inspiring genderfluid character with a compelling redemption arc, this writer saw a character who was either playing into the harmful stereotypes of tricking men into having sex with someone who's ""not a woman"", or a character whose desire to transcend gender and have "true pure girlishness" as someone to be pitied. I didn't see either, as I've said... but I recognize my perspective is off. I'm not, like the writer of this post, an out trans woman and I obviously lack that essential way of looking at the character of Fish-Eye. More than that obvious point, I didn't watch every episode with Fish-Eye. In fact, the only two villain schemes involving Fish-Eye that I saw had the fashion designer guy and Mamoru. Neither of them, when Fish-Eye turned into a villain and presented more on the masculine side, reacted in shock and horror at the fact that it was a man who had been flirting with them. Mamoru's objection to Fish-Eye's advances is based entirely on him loving Usagi, and not any "you're a BOY EW EW EW THAT'S GAY" hyperbole. Crucially, however, I must state again that I've been watching the episodes in my weird non-filler order! There very well could be an episode where one of Fish-Eye's targets does react in an indefensible way to Fish-Eye's villainous turn. If it exists, that of course changes things and I'd be right alongside this Tumblr poster(and others) decrying this turn of writing as extremely harmful and a betrayal. Even if that were the case, though... it wouldn't change how inspired and interested I was in this character. It would make me question the intent and scorn the writers, but the underlying thematic resonance of it still crackles within me. Fish-Eye reached me on a fundamental level, and otherwise clumsy handling about their gender expression and the reactions of those around them can't change that. It's the very definition of problematic. The show's handing of gender expression/gender fluidity was not handled with the grace it should have been, but that doesn't alter how it made me feel. I really do feel bad that the show betrayed this poster (and countless unseen others) with its message. Lord knows I yelled about how the show wounded me before, and I'll be doing it again in Part Five. It really is the worst feeling. Regardless, Fish-Eye is done and dusted. That took a good chunk of the post, I know, but it's the biggest thing about SuperS that I wanted to talk about. Now we can yell about Amazons. And mirrors! Hooray!

Ah, the Amazoness Quartet. They're... interesting, to say the least. The entire runaround with the trio of animals given human form was all just killing time until the Dead Moon Circus got enough power to wake them up, as Zirconia actually really wanted these four little girls heading out to find dreams and catch magic flying horses instead of those other three. The clown that eventually almost killed Usagi and led to the end of the old trio was sent by them, so that's classic power escalation there. None of their other Remless are actually that notable and strong, but the Quartet are a neat set of villains. They're kids, for one. More prone to goofing off than working for the Dead Moon Circus, and really just incredibly sassy towards Zirconia. They can, like quite a lot of villains before them, be seen as dark reflections of the Sailor Senshi when you really think about it. There's a good reason for that, and it's because they WERE. Not here, though. In the manga arc equivalent to this (which I'm told was called Dream, a fitting name), the Amazoness Quartet are actually Chibiusa's squad of Sailor Senshi in Crystal Tokyo? And the Dead Moon Circus has corrupted them before their time? It's Black Lady all over again, but wow. Thinking of them as actual corrupted Sailor Senshi makes so much more sense (and we'll be seeing more of that in Part Five, for better or worse...) and really gives them a neat sort of depth. They even get a redemption arc and just sort of ride off into the sunset at the end. Good work, girls. That just leaves the one behind all of this Circus business, the head honcho who really wants that magic horse. Trapped within a mirror deep within the circus's labyrinth tent lives Queen Nehelenia, ruler of the Dark Moon. Good lord. You couldn't ask for a better set of thematic metaphors and concepts for the show to plop into your lap. For all the promises of utopian idealism we've been given from S, we now have the flip side of that. The enemy who wants to stop all of that and reign supreme is an actual, literal dark mirror of not only the former utopia of the Moon Kingdom... but is all but a twisted reflection of Queen Serenity herself. Hell, you can even kind of see it.Nehelenia's no pushover, either, and in the climax she rockets her circus up into the heavens to ascend back to the moon. Something must be done to stop her. Chibiusa is up there as well. We know how this goes by now, yes? A certain inspiring girl who's a klutz and a crybaby will step up to the plate and save the day.

Things don't exactly go like that. Oh, sure, Sailor Moon bravely goes up there to save Chibiusa and confront Queen Nehelenia. There's some weird stuff about Nehelenia just wanting to stay beautiful forever and thus locking herself into a mirror world and corrupting her subjects into circus performers. It's almost underwhelming; after all this thematic crunchiness with her being an equal force to Queen Serenity, she's basically just the evil Queen from Snow White in the end. I suppose a fairy tale ending can be a fitting end to a season all about dreams, but Nehelenia is just resigned to going back into her lonely exile after all her schemes and plans are ruined by Sailors Moon and Chibi Moon. Lest you think she's no longer dangerous, she gets her final revenge by tossing Chibiusa off of her rising circus base, thousands of miles in the air, to plummet to her death. Nehelenia taunts Sailor Moon about this, but what does our Usagi do? FLINGS HERSELF OFF INTO OBLIVION TO SAVE CHIBIUSA. Holy shit! Now that's the Usagi I've grown to know. Would the klutzy crybaby of early Season 1 have done this? I can't say for sure. She may have, but she'd probably have cried about it. Here, though, she just goes for it. That hope and idealism fully at work, knowing that she has to save Chibiusa. This is the real climax of the season, as Nehelenia just heads back off into her mirror exile. We'll see how well that goes next time, but for now. Falling. It's a really tense sequence, as they catch up and Sailor Moon tries to wake her up so that she can summon Pegasus to save them. Yeah, that's the plan. She didn't just fling herself to certain death entirely on faith alone, see. Everything turns out fine, the day is saved, and Chibiusa has grown just a little bit more. Imagine that. A girl from a literal utopia's found new meaning, new lessons to be learned, in our simple little past. Cute.

That puts a bow on Sailor Moon SuperS. Its concepts and themes are strong. Stronger than the actual story itself, almost. It's not my favorite season or anything, but it's primo Sailor Moon and it advances things along. It's far from filler, and the ideas it has are really great ones thematically. It's all about dreams, and the nature of growing up, and reflecting those desires in your day to day life. When you really think about it, it's quite inspiring stuff! That's not even getting into the stuff that I liked personally, like all the mirror symbolism or a character that transcended gender in a lot of interesting ways. This was, in a lot of ways, Chibiusa's story. You can really see how both she and Usagi have grown, since they work together all of the time in this season. The utopian idealism of the future and the present, working in tandem to show us our dreams. What dreams do you have? I've got my own, and they'll be apparent soon enough. We're at the endgame now. As much as I've praised the arc of Chibiusa, this was her last hurrah. She has six episodes left before she vanishes from the series. A lot of things are going to change here in the final season, and some of them will be for the worse. Hold tight. It's going to be one hell of a ride to the finish.

Next Time: The Crybaby's Uncorruptible Eternal True Self

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Moonlight Shines Eternal (The Sailor Moon Post: Part 3)

Previously- Part One: The Crybaby Who Saved The World | Part Two: The Crybaby Heals The Future

Part Three: The Crybaby's Idealism Vs. The Pair's Practicality

"Listen. If someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you and told you that that child would grow up totally evil, to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives, could you then kill that child?"

(Copyright claims are a headache and a half in the USA, so if you can't see the above you'll have to make do with this. Same visuals, but it has the dub opening theme to it... which is iconic in its own right. Aaanyway. Sailor Moon S!)

At last, then, we've come to it. Sailor Moon S, the third season of the show and the exact midpoint of this entire experience. I have not-so-subtlely been building this up as the point where everything changes, and that isn't a lie. With overall reflection, I can say that Sailor Moon S was my favorite season of the show to watch. It was the most consistent with its themes and it hits some of the highest highs that the show will ever reach, while avoiding doing anything untoward like betraying my trust in its characters for the sake of a cheap shock. It would be easy to claim that the entire arc of the show's quality creates a parabola, with Sailor Moon S at the top. Easy, but not entirely accurate. There are some aspects where it falters compared to what's come before, and some aspects of what's to come that will resonate better with me. In the broadest strokes, though? Holy shit it's a masterpiece. We've taken our first steps into a bolder world with the show now, and the battle is bigger than just throwing magic powers at space demons. Sailor Moon S wants to tell a story about people, and about a clash of ideologies which cast a shadow on everything that's come before. Hold on tight. Everything's about to change.

Rei-chan, I don't feel so good...
I should have seen it coming, of course. As a matter of fact, I did. I promised one last glimpse into 2003 and we've now reached it. Visiting my pal in the summer sometime, we absently flip on the TV to kill time. On goes YTV, and would you look at that? It's the magical girl show I was watching up until I got busy as hell with prepping for college. Now we have a minute to relax, but this opening looks totally different. It's strange. On the screen, Rei has a premonition. Red skies promise the end of the world, the disintegration of her friends and city. In a dimly lit lab, a mad scientist tinkers with something to create a monster, its target being Rei. The creature reaches her, and rips out her heart. Not literally, thank god, but it pulls something out of her. A glowing crystal. A "pure heart", as I'll learn in 15 years from now. Her essence, her purity, everything that she is tugged out of her. Her friends are powerless to help, as the thing shrugs off every attack. This is all I remember from 2003, but back here in 2018 and watching it this is all familiar. Sailor Moon undergoes a bit of a shift here in the way it deals with monsters of the week, playing more from the Super Sentai/Power Rangers handbook. It's especially evident here in S with a literal mad scientist actually making the monsters in his lab, not unlike the mad scientist Finster from the first season of Power Rangers that we got (coincidentally right around the same time as S was airing in Japan!). Hell, later in the season the guy is literally throwing shit into a science microwave to make his monsters! More to the point, the monsters take on more of a... theme? Like there are targets with the pure hearts in the episodes, and the target will have some special interest or hobby. Say, playing the violin or running track. So the monster of the week to go after their pure heart will literally be a violin monster, or a goddamn shoe. The monster design was never exactly serious in tone, but from S onward they really take on a new level of goofiness. Even so, here and now, with Rei? This monster's a threat. Even the Silver Crystal can't stop it! The Silver Crystal! The thing that blew up two of the final enemies can't do a thing to a monster of the week! This is another trick from Power Rangers: power creep. Each new enemy is vastly superior to the last, such that even a monster of the week is stronger than last season's ultimate evil. To combat them, the heroines will need brand new powers and attacks in order to sell more toys improve their fighting ability and grow stronger. That doesn't happen here. No, what happens is absolutely jaw-dropping. Just when our five heroines have gotten their asses kicked by this one monster, two attacks come out of nowhere and just OBLITERATE THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF IT. Holy fuck! We don't see who did it, but there are two strange silhouettes which look remarkably like Sailor Senshi who examine Rei's pure heart once it flies out of the monster, and then return it after a moment. We don't know it yet, but two of the most fascinating characters this franchise will ever craft have just arrived on the scene.

With an angelic chorus and stylish flower petals in a freeze frame, Haruka Tenoh and Michiru Kaioh enter the world of Sailor Moon. This, in the end, was a gravity I always knew was coming. I didn't know them in 2003, of course, but in the 15 years since I picked up some things via cultural osmosis. Of course I knew about them and their secret identities. A duo of upperclasswomen by daylight, but by moonlight? Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune, respectively. Our universe has expanded, and in more ways than one. The other thing I picked up with that cultural osmosis? The fact that Uranus and Neptune are a lesbian magical girl duo. My GOD, the gay energies that radiate from these two. It's not even limited to their Sailor Senshi forms or anything; Haruka and Michiru (but especially Haruka) flirt with all of our main Senshi at least once over the early points of S. Granted, Haruka is somewhat masculine-presenting with her tall frame and short hair, but it has to be said: Holy Lord God Is Sailor Moon S Gay As Hell. Just... several examples for you all in one handy link. That on its own is pretty great, but it's their Sailor Senshi identities that make things really interesting. It isn't hard for me to compare the duo of Uranus and Neptune to another duo of powerful girls very near and dear to my heart; Kei and Yuri of Dirty Pair. It can be tempting to reduce Kei and Yuri down to a "tomboy and girly-girl" dynamic, but you shouldn't do that for either them or Uranus and Neptune. There's so much more performative play going on under the surface, but this isn't a Dirty Pair blog. No, Uranus and Neptune represent something altogether more fascinating; a conflicting ideology to our main Sailor Senshi. The mystery scientists (who I don't even think get named until late in the series, but are called the Death Busters and will be referred to as such from now on) have a simple racket going here. Target owner of a "Pure Heart", implant a monster into an object based on their hobby, plant object near the target, target uses the object and the monster awakens to steal their "Pure Heart". The Death Busters aren't just collecting plain Pure Hearts, though; they want special Pure Hearts called Talismans which will converge to form the Holy Grail and then let them... do a thing. We'll get to it. Incidentally, get used to this sort of plot: we'll be dealing with variations of it from now until the end of the show. The main ideological clash between Uranus/Neptune and our five main girls comes in how to deal with the Pure Hearts and this Talisman business. Uranus/Neptune are convinced that nothing can avert the apocalyptic scenario Rei glimpsed; nothing short of gathering the Talismans first. Of course, the implication here is that stealing someone's Pure Heart for any lengthy period of time will kill them. Uranus and Neptune are lone wolves who refuse to be team players with the Inner Senshi, and are ready and willing to take three lives to save the rest of the world. Naturally, Usagi and friends are horrified at this. Usagi, ever the sunny optimist, just knows that they could all work well together and that faith and love will see them through to victory. Uranus and Neptune believe that Usagi is incredibly naive, only co-operating in short bursts but warning the others to stay away. This is, after all, a life and death battle with the fate of the planet at stake. There's no time to be sentimental, or optimistic, or hesitant in the face of what has to be done. Three talismans. Three sacrifices to be made in order to ensure the survival of everyone on the planet. Uranus and Neptune adamantly believe, to crib from another utopia, that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

I'll get into what Usagi (and the narrative by proxy) think of that in a moment, but I want to preface it all by praising how much I love this. Conflict by way of clashing ideologies, not by bullshit knife-twisting drama. Usagi's utopian idealism and belief that everything will work out fine with enough faith and strength, versus Uranus and Neptune's contempt for such naive wishful thinking, and their grim determination in doing what has to be done without faltering. This the way I like my dramatic conflict to go in a work of utopian fiction, and the added bonus of making Haruka and Michiru likeable and flirtatious and fun in their civilian forms while utterly driven as Sailor Senshi? It makes them utterly fascinating. Haruka in particular is a favorite of mine. I don't agree with her methods, but the show tells its story so well that I absolutely understand her way of thinking. I would be remiss, though, if I didn't mention their turn in the manga. We've mostly ignored the source material since the 90's anime is an adaptation that changes quite a lot, but in all fairness to Uranus and Neptune's ideology it must be brought up: they're far more reluctant to sacrifice lives to save the world in the manga, even going so far as to say to Usagi that if she has a better idea for saving the world, they're open to hearing it. The anime omits that, in favor of making the pair turn up their noses at Usagi's naivity. As much as I adore this plotline, the anime is lesser for making Uranus and Neptune less conflicted and reluctant. Nuance is GOOD! More to the point, while the conflict itself seems well thought-out and an understandable set of idelogies from both Usagi and Uranus/Neptune? The narrative is absolutely on Usagi's side here. There are two major clashes here in which Uranus and Neptune are convinced sacrificing lives is the only way to save the world, and Usagi is convinced there's another way. The talisman issue is the first clash, and we're going to get to the second... but, spoiler alert. Uranus and Neptune's ideology is proven 100% WRONG by the narrative. There is ABSOLUTELY a way in which the world can be saved without sacrificing any needless lives. The utopian idealism had to win out, in the end. In the case of the talismans, it turns out that Uranus and Neptune were the holders of two of them. They're ready and willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of saving the world, of course... but then Sailor Pluto comes back. She's the holder of the third talisman, and they just create the Holy Grail then and there while still keeping their talismans/pure hearts. Nobody needed to die at all. Sailor Moon even gets a power boost using it, becoming Super Sailor Moon... but the transformation does task her. As wrong as Uranus and Neptune were, Sailor Moon isn't entirely ready for the full power of the utopian idealism of the Holy Grail yet. Still, in short bursts it will help to stop the monsters and heal pure hearts. To save the day, however, we'll need the intervention of a future utopia.

You guessed it. Or you've seen the show. Or you have no idea what I'm talking about and don't care about spoilers. Either way, let's spit it out. Chibiusa is back! And she's a magicial girl in training, becoming Sailor Chibi Moon! A lot of people find Chibiusa annoying. I can sympathize well enough, but she also embodies that entire utopian ideal I've been praising for the last... um... 2100 words? Dang. Well, we've got a lot of ground left to cover. Maybe this one actually will be shorter than the others. Unless I keep stalling like this. So yeah. Utopian ideal. Chibiusa is many things, of course. A magical girl in training. A smaller, diminished version of our Usagi. A resident of Crystal Tokyo, the future utopia. She occupies this strange space as both a lesser and superior version of Usagi and her idealistic views. More to the point, her involvement in the next two seasons is vital to saving the day from the forces of corruption and darkness. Don't believe me? Take a look at this. The final battle for the fate of the world is ages away... and yet, Chibiusa is about to win it here and now. The characters don't know it. The ideological clashes don't know it. The narrative knows it, and the narrative lets you know too. Now I'm going to let you know. Here it is. The moment that Chibiusa, without even knowing it at the time, saves the world.

Doesn't look like much, does it? She just was friendly to a young girl about her age named Hotaru. Pull back a bit, and we can see all the gears that turn. Hotaru Tomoe is the daughter of a bespectacled scientist. Dr. Tomoe is none other than the mad scientist we've been watching turn fucking violins and shoes into monsters to get Pure Hearts for the Death Busters. We find out, eventually, that he and his daughter were gravely injured in an experiment. To save them both, he made a contract with a devil from beyond the solar system, and now he works to help bring their god, Pharaoh 90, to Earth in order to cover the planet with darkness and reign supreme or some such nonsense. Oh, and Hotaru is also possessed by a powerful demon or whatever. Look, I'm going to level with you. The villains of this arc disappointed me. Everything around them is great, and the twists and turns as we slowly learn about Hotaru and Dr. Tomoe are wild. In making the true bad guys and their motivations late-game twists, however, we lose a certain sense of development build-up for them. This is what I loved about R; everyone was playing off of each other from the start, plotting how best to backstab each other. You get some of that with Dr. Tomoe's scientist helpers, where each one is eventually betrayed and killed by the next in line, but for the most part you don't know a goddamn thing about the Death Busters! Starting the show, I didn't even know if they were from an alternate dimension, or from Earth, or demons or humans or anything. In making all of this shocking endgame reveal, it made them flat at the start and just had me longing for some DEPTH for the other 80% of the show. For now, I'm painting in the broadest of strokes. Let's go ahead to the end of the world, and the absolute height of the clashing ideologies that embody Usagi and the pair of Uranus and Neptune.

To summarize. Things have gone from bad to worse. Dr. Tomoe and the rest of his scientist pals (and the alien menaces possessing them) are toast, but Hotaru has awakened. Implicit in the prophecy of the end of the world is a specific menace rising up, raising her almighty glaive and reaping the planet Earth... and she is a Sailor Senshi. Sailor Saturn, Agent of Destruction. Hotaru is that legendary power, but right now the Death Busters have her. Right now, she's stolen Chibiusa's pure heart in order to ascend to something else. Just as Chibiusa's corruption led her to become Black Lady, so does stealing her pure heart make Hotaru into a mature woman. Mistress Nine stands before Sailors Moon, Uranus, and Neptune, ready and willing to bring Pharaoh 90 into this world and purge the lot of it. All she needs is the power of the Holy Grail, but Sailor Moon is holding onto it for the time being. Here it is, then. The final clash of ideology between Sailor Moon and Uranus and Neptune. After that talisman business, Uranus and Neptune have been on the hunt for the vessel which will bring about Sailor Saturn and the world's destruction. The idea is even simpler than with the talismans; kill the child, and Sailor Saturn will never appear and reap us. Sailor Moon, pointedly, wants not that. She wants to save the child and save the world, and through the grim despair of a world on the brink she can see the way out. You saw it, remember? I pointed it out to you. The show ascended to a new utopian ideal after its brush with the future last season, and Sailor Moon has been blessed with the gift of true sight. Looking ahead, at her foe who threatens to unmake the world? She doesn't see her. Sailor Moon doesn't see Mistress Nine, the one who will summon Pharaoh 90 with the power of the Holy Grail. She doesn't see Sailor Saturn, cold and heartless destructor who will cut the world in two with her glaive. Sailor Moon looks right past all of that and sees Hotaru Tomoe. Chibiusa's friend, a somewhat sickly child with hopes and dreams all her own. Sailor Moon couldn't possibly kill that child. She couldn't pull out her magic talisman and blast that embodiment of hate into nothingness, like she did with Queen Beryl or Death Phantom. So, Sailor Moon does what she does best. She hands over the Holy Grail, and lets faith and hope take over for the rest. Uranus and Neptune beg and plead for her not to do this, convinced that Sailor Moon is condemning the planet Earth to destruction because of her weak-willed idealism. Once again, though, the narrative is utterly unconvinced of Uranus and Neptune's ideology. Hotaru Tomoe's will, combined with the pure heart of Chibiusa having some influence, is enough to fight back against Mistress Nine. Hotaru awakens as Sailor Saturn, but not to cut the world in two. It is Pharaoh 90 who will face the destruction, at the cost of Hotaru's life. Sailor Moon, at least, will help. You can really tell things have changed because we don't even see the final battle with Pharaoh 90. What we just witnessed, with Hotaru taking control of her life back and turning her glaive on Pharaoh 90? That was the final battle, and the naive idealism won out. The day is saved, and though Hotaru is destroyed she's reincarnated as a baby and given back to her father, injured and amnesiatic following his years-long possession. Everything seems set to wrap up, but there's one more wrinkle.

Utopian idealism well fought for.
Uranus and Neptune are furious at Usagi. Yes, everything worked out in the end, but the point is that Usagi put the entire planet at risk for nothing more than hope and faith. These are not the actions of a Moon Princess; they're the actions of a naive girl with far too much optimism in the face of cataclysm. Her friends stand up for her, ready to throw down... but Usagi calls them off. They're right, after all. She's naive. A crybaby. A klutz. Despite all that, she knows she did the right thing back at the edge of oblivion. Sailor Saturn was a Sailor Senshi, one of them. Still, Uranus and Neptune won't relent. If Usagi wants them to understand, it will have to be a fight. A literal clash of ideologies, as the pair and Sailor Moon face each other off to make the other understand their way of thinking on the field of battle. Uranus and Neptune aren't holding back, blasting their signature attacks directly at Sailor Moon, all while Sailor Moon remains pacifist in her dodging. The fight's quick to end once she gives off a divine glow and dodges an oncoming rush, making Uranus and Neptune collide. That's enough to make the pair stop. They bow to her, understanding now. In a pinch, in a moment of despair, she's proven herself. They depart the town for the time being, and it really seems like they understand Usagi's way of thinking now. She may be a klutz, a crybaby, and a naive idealist who trusts way too much... but she has the qualities needed to bring about the utopia of the future. She has the qualities of a Moon Princess. We'll be seeing Uranus and Neptune again, of course, but not until the final season. Whether or not they take Usagi's idealist nature to heart will be chatted up there and then... but I can get a little interpersonal and offer some context based on my own personal headspace. You may or may not be aware of a little game series called Dangan Ronpa. I'm quite fond of it and it's inspired me in important ways just like Sailor Moon has. To make a long story short, it too is about clashing ideologies... only these ideologies are more abstract. Hope and despair are the warring ideologies at play here, and in the first game you play as an average high school student thrust into an awful situation forced to make him and his classmates murder each other for the purposes of snuffing out hope and letting despair run rampant. Despite multiple murders and multiple betrayals, this average high school student holds fast to his hope, letting his idealistic and hopeful nature burn like a torch against even the pure embodiment of despair. In a final ideological battle versus despair's ultimate leader, his hope rings true and inspires everyone around him. That average high school student is Makoto Naegi, and in the original Japanese version he's voiced by Megumi Ogata... who, years earlier, lent her voice talents to Sailor Uranus. The sharing of voice actors is a happy coincidence, but one I'm happy to headcanon away as Uranus (in another form) being inspired by Usagi's idealism and using it to inspire hope in Makoto's comrades. Hell, Usagi's voice actress even lends her voice to a character in the second game... though things don't end as well for her. But, that's a story for another day...

In case you couldn't tell, I ADORED Sailor Moon S. Uranus and Neptune are totally fascinating characters, and the clashing ideologies are done in a really interesting way that offers a fresh take on the same old conflict. It has to be said, though, that the manga handles things a lot better and with more nuance... but the manga's not what I blasted through in April. No, here and now, Sailor Moon S has hit a peak of quality that the show will be hard-pressed to match. It will reach higher highs in some areas, and lower lows in other areas. Sailor Moon S, though, is the most consistent the show has been. All I can really fault it for is the Death Busters; making their motivations and machinations a big shocking reveal worked well for the plot, but it made them utterly forgettable Power Rangers-level villains in the first half of the show. Granted, this is an all-ages magical girls show, so Power Rangers with a feminine bent is a fine bar to aim for. We've hit the high-water mark of utopian idealism, though. Once we blew up Death Phantom, we lamented that there should have been another way. We found it. The other way is looking past the all-powerful devil looking to blow up the Earth, finding the person in need of healing inside, and doing your very best to help them heal. Even Uranus and Neptune can see the merit of that, given time. Now all we need to do is go forward with that ideology, and apply it to ourselves. Fear a little bit less. Trust a little bit more.

Yes. Minako. You're pure.
(Also, it has a hilarious Venus-focused episode where she's jealous that all the other Senshi have been targeted for their pure hearts by the Death Busters, questions her own purity, and goes on a mass blood donation spree in order to prove that she's so pure to be worth targeting for her pure heart... and it works. The image of Sailor Venus gleefully clutching her exposed pure heart and running off while cheering abot how pure she is is forever in my mind, and I adore this summer child. In fact, as I started writing the finale of this post, the planet Venus was literally visible from the night sky. She's watching over me. Venus help me in finishing the last two posts in a timely fashion...)

Next Time: The Crybaby's Dreams And The Dark Queen's Nightmares