Monday, July 21, 2014

Blue Eyes Smiling In the Rain

SPOILERS for Sailor Moon Crystal, Act 2: Ami, Sailor Mercury

Oh. My. Sweet. Henshin. Yo. (or something). Sailor Mercury’s episode nearly left me in tears (but in a good way).

This episode does deviate a bit from the manga storyline. Not too much - the Crystal Seminar and the girls getting their transformation pens from the Sailor V game is still there. But somehow, Ami is specifically targeted to donate her energy to the Dark Kingdom because of her intelligence, where in the manga it was more focused on everybody in the Seminar being brainwashed (that still happened, but only peripherally). But there are a few changes in the details and they go a bit deeper into the characters, especially with Ami. I don’t remember them spending so much time on Lonely Ami in the manga, to be truthful. But I’m glad that’s the direction they went for reasons I’ll get to here in a bit.

The opening is very much focused on Ami. There are random, nameless, faceless students talking about how much of a genius she is - how all she does is study, even during her free time. They whisper in hushed voices around her, never reaching out to talk to her or even trying to get to know her. One poignant moment comes when a group of boys walk behind the bench where she’s sitting while they’re talking about her. They notice that she’s there and they hurry away so they don’t have to talk to her.

And then there’s the point that nearly killed me emotionally. Ami is walking back to the school building alone and sees Usagi and all her friends laughing and having fun together. And this moment, I think, encapsulates why Ami Mizuno is my favorite Sailor Guardian. I mean, it seems everybody loves Rei for being fiery and outgoing or Makoto for being girly while also being the tough tomboy. And, I’ll be honest, I love those two for those reasons as well (especially Mako-chan - try being the gawky, freakishly tall girl in your seventh grade class sometime). But Ami has just always been the one that I gravitated toward - the one I felt like I could look up to. She’s quiet, reserved, loves to learn new things, has a passion for what she does, and simply wants a few true and honest friends, but isn’t quite sure how to go about finding them on her own. And she’s often scared of speaking up for herself, especially when people are saying mean things about her. But then she finds her niche as Sailor Mercury and ends up with a group of friends that have stuck with her since before she can remember - and that means the world to her. It even helps her find the confidence to stand up for herself and her friends - she feels like she finally has a purpose outside of her own goals and ambitions (which, her ambitions are many. That’s probably the only place where she and I differ - I can’t do math to save my life and I never had any intention of going into a medical field. But those are superlative traits - the basics are there).

Back to the scene - Ami sees this group of bubbly, happy girls, one of whom doesn’t do so well on tests at school - Usagi is even kind of bragging about it. And she’s going this look on her face (and maybe I’m reading too much into it, but you bring your own interpretation to the reading, as they say) that says “I wish I could be carefree and happy like that. But that’s impossible.”

And then “Moon Pride” blasts across the screen with its pitch-perfect tone for what all these girls are about.

Honestly, I could not have asked for a more perfect introduction for Sailor Mercury. Visually, I feel like the animators got Ami’s persona down to a science (pun not intended). She’s smart and confident in her intelligence - in fact, that’s her greatest asset. But she also has a sense of whimsy about her that often gets overlooked in this bubble of scientific logic she’s created for herself. The scene where Luna jumps out of the tree in front of Ami and Ami starts cooing and petting this strange cat - Usagi sees this interaction and runs up to introduce herself to Ami. And Ami says that she thought Luna was an angel, but immediately blushes at the ridiculousness of the statement (and I admit here - something might have been lost a bit in the translation from Japanese to English and there might be some deeper cultural meaning here that I’m not familiar with). But Ami is a little surprised at her own audacity to suggest something so fanciful - this is a side of her she probably hasn’t shared with other people and she’s not sure how they’ll react to the Genius Girl from Class 5 spouting off fairy tale nonsense. But Usagi smiles and laughs appreciatively at Ami’s comment, which gives Ami permission to smile at herself too. Usagi invites Ami to go to the arcade with her and, dear ones, we have just witnessed the first renewed friendship between the Sailor Guardians in Sailor Moon Crystal.

(It’s a beautiful moment - I’d say I’m gonna cry, but I think I’m way past that at this point).

To the arcade! I totally love everything about this scene (this was also in the manga as well to some degree). The Mercury Pen that Ami gets from the Sailor V game at Crown Arcade. Now, that scene where Ami kicks all manner of ass in the Sailor V arcade game on her first try did happen in the manga, as well as the game giving her the Mercury Pen (keep an eye on that game, by the way). It also give Usagi her Moon Disguise Pen (when she nearly beats the poor machine in... oh, Usagi-chan...) But I adore the scene the next day at school where Ami has her new blue pen in the front shirt pocket and Usagi also has her new pen in her front shirt pocket. Usagi points out that they both have their new pens and Ami grins about it - also recognizing that Usagi’s been calling her “Ami-chan,” which I wonder if anyone’s ever done that outside of Ami’s family (okay - I’m starting to see the draw with the glut of merchandise because now I want a Mercury Pen - which is actually a functioning pen!)

I love how this pen is already one of her prized possessions.
And Ami keeps using her pen while she studies! I’m sure that Ami probably has a bunch of simple-yet-functional writing implements to help her practice math problems and what-have-you, but she just keeps going back to that pen she got at the arcade. Even saying “I should use my new pen for this.” It’s more than it’s just a pretty new accessory - it’s a symbol that Ami has a new friend. Someone invited her to go do something fun. Something she enjoyed and excelled at that people were impressed with without being snooty about it. I mean, beating a video game isn't exactly getting into Johns Hopkins Medical School (or whatever the Japanese equivalent is) - but damn if Ami doesn't feel a sense of pride at winning the game. Or even that she doesn't love Usagi’s praise and adoration at the end.

Ami has a friend! (if you didn't feel anything at all in the scene, you're wrong).
So, yeah, the Mercury Pen is more than just a pretty accessory for Ami. Even before she learns its true power - it’s already a powerful symbol of hope and friendship for her.

So - Crystal Seminar. Yeah, pretty much a front for the Dark Kingdom to go after the Silver Crystal (just assume anything brand new with “Crystal” or “Dark” in its name is going to be bad news from here on out). From what gets established early on, this “cram school” has actually been around for a while, but up to this point it was difficult for students to get into. Until they basically throw open the doors and say “Everybody come in and study!” (real subtle there, Dark Kingdom) (you learn quickly that villains in Sailor Moon have zero concept of subtlety. What’s surprising is how often the good people of Tokyo keep falling for this crap).

I have no reason for this cap, except for the fact that Usagi has an iBunny laptop.
One huge deviation from the manga here is that Ami, while she does attend Crystal Seminar and does receive a Crystal Disk in the manga (upgraded here from a 3” floppy to a CD-ROM - which is still used in some educational institutions, so it works), she never uses. Or, she uses it once, but it gives her a headache so she stops, citing that she can study better on her own and she prefers it that way. In Crystal, Ami does use the Crystal Disk and she does wind up getting brainwashed by the Dark Kingdom - though her brainwashing comes more at the hands of the monster in charge of the Seminar (I didn’t catch her name and I’m a bit too lazy to look it up right now - maybe later), but it was started by the Disk. Honestly, I’m fine with either version. Manga!Ami is totally in character, but so is Crystal!Ami as well. Perhaps the Crystal Disk is much more powerful in Crystal. I’ll buy that for a dollar. But what makes this change work in Crystal is that Ami’s newfound friendship with Usagi helps her break out of her trance.

The ending battle at Crystal Seminar is about the same as the manga (more or less). Usagi sneaks in with her Disguise Pen disguising her as a doctor (honestly, that’s one of the tamer ideas she has for that thing). She finds where Ami’s being held by the Dark Kingdom’s monster. She transforms into Sailor Moon and starts fighting the monster, but gets pinned down.

Okay - I lied about this sequence being the same as the manga. Because of the deviation with Ami actually getting brainwashed, there is a moment of tension where Ami’s memories of being friends with Usagi have to fight against the Dark Kingdom’s programming. Even to the point where (before Sailor Moon shows up) that Ami just has to use her pen during her studies, even though everything’s on the computer. She runs after it after the monster knocks it out of her hands - keep in mind that this Crystal Disk programming is supposed to force you to keep your focus on the computer. After she scoops it up, that’s when Usagi shows up and transforms into Sailor Moon - and that’s when Ami’s Mercury Power/Avatar Spirit/Inner Soul Thingy (fandom’s a little fuzzy on what to call this, but that’s all right) kicks Ami out of the brainwashing. The Mercury symbol appears on her forehead, Luna tells her what to say, and Ami transforms into Sailor Mercury.


And, yes, again the transformation sequence is very much a CGI-and-traditional-animated blended update of the transformation sequence from the original 90s anime. I imagine this will continue to be A Thing with Crystal. And I imagine I will continue to have zero complaints about this.

While the transformation sequences seem to be standardized (as is tradition in magical girl anime), the attack sequences are not. Which, I am most intrigued by this. It seems like the girls’ attacks are going to be integrated into the action within the episode, but it’ll still look awesome and pretty and cool. Like, last episode the Moon Tiara Boomerang went one way, but this time it went another. And Mercury Aqua Mist was Sailor Mercury in the Seminar classroom, but she was sending water and ice and mist at the monster. AND IT WAS GLORIOUS!

Anyway, the girls win, the monster gets blasted back to the depths from whence it came, and Sailor Moon has A Moment with Tuxedo Mask (doki doki, indeed). Afterwards, Ami calls an impromptu meeting of the Sailor Guardians (HA!!) and we’ve got ourselves a TEAM.

And then... the moment the rest of fandom is going to scream about...


(oh boy oh boy oh boy!)

And because Hulu doesn't have it (I have no idea why) - here's the preview trailer for Episode 3 that aired on NicoNico -

(Question - How come Mars gets her full-on henshin in the preview for her episode? Doesn’t that seem a bit spoilery? Dear Marketing Departments Around the World - Please get your stories straight).

Anyway - Ami’s here, she’s happy, Usagi’s happy, I’m happy. The world is a beautiful place.

BONUS - I'm guessing this came out soon after Act 2 was released, but Momoiro Clover Z also released their music video for "Moon Pride" (the opening theme for Sailor Moon Crystal). It's an extended version of the song featured in the show with brand new animation (I figure there are some spoilers for future episodes of Crystal, so warning on that. But it is SO worth it!) Like I said on The Five(ish) Fangirls Podcast - it's an adrenaline rush laced with glitter.

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