Sunday, August 3, 2014

She Didn't Start the Fire

Review/Recap of Sailor Moon Crystal, Act 3: "Rei, Sailor Mars" - SPOILERS!

Y'all, I think I finally understand Rei Hino.

When I first discovered Sailor Moon fandom, I was surprised and a little confused at the sheer love and admiration that so many people had for Rei/Sailor Mars. She was never my top favorite, but there were tons of people who simply adored her character to the point of religious fervor. Now, I've never been one to pooh-pooh someone else's favorite things - we all have our different tastes and experiences and that it totally, 100% cool with me. But, personally, I just never got it. I guess I just like the quiet ones (hence, my love of both Sailor Mercury and Tuxedo Mask - neither of which seem to get much love in fandom circles. But... you know).

But whatever Crystal's done here, it's put Rei's story and personality into a perspective that I can understand. And I'm starting to see why she's a favorite of so many. Yet another tick in the Praise This Show To The Ends Of Eternity box (we're accumulating quite a few here).

Before we get to Rei, however, I've got some other praise to heap upon the Dark Kingdom. Specifically, how they are portrayed in Crystal.  For the first shot in Act 3 is, not any of our main protagonists (as has been the case to this point), but it's this -

Queen Beryl, ready to lop off heads after two failed attempts to gather energy for their great ruler.

This version of Queen Beryl is intense as crap. Sailor Moon Crystal's done a lot right with these characters, but I think the most important one to do justice is Queen Beryl. This woman is not to be messed around with. Her minions are properly afraid of her - not just out of any obligation because she sits on a throne made of a giant skull and wave around a creepy looking crystal ball (as in the original anime), but she has earned her villainous status. She's done things to become this evil and vile and to have the fear of those she rules over. She didn't just show up and say "All right, I'm the designated villain. Everyone - cower in fear!" She's just herself and that's enough to instill fear into everyone. Which makes the prospect of What I Know Must Happen Later (no spoilers) even more exciting. How is sunshine-and-friendship-and-love-and-justice Usagi Tsukino going to react to someone so heinous and evil and terrifying? I know how it happens in the manga and the original anime - but I have a feeling that Crystal is going to give us something entirely different (yet not so different as to be unrecognizable as being from the same basic story).

Anyway - Dark Kingdom, Queen Beryl. Scare the crap out of everyone. I'm ready!

What I'm also ready for (though I didn't know it initially) is what Crystal was going to do for Rei. I knew the basics - she lives with her grandfather and helps run the family shrine as a Shinto priestess (apologies if I get the cultural terms and such mixed up - I have a very limited knowledge of Japanese culture in this respect and I don't mean to be rude about it). She goes to a private Catholic school across town from where Usagi and Ami go to school. She has psychic powers, which were played with to wonderful effect in this story. In other versions that I've seen, Rei's psychic abilities are just... sort of there. You're expected to take for granted that it's A Thing that she has and they have no other bearing on her character. But in Crystal, Rei is actually conflicted about her powers. She wonders why she has them and doesn't like how uncomfortable other people are around her. She may be beautiful and have a "noble face" (I think the translation ought to have been more along the lines of "she's high class" or something like that - just my guess), but when it comes to that creepy psychic thing, people go out of their way to avoid Rei. The Sailor Moon R movie played with that a little bit, but that's the only part of Sailor Moon canon I'm aware of having done so.

Meanwhile back at Juban Public Middle School, Captain Exposition himself, Umino, has all the scoop about the mysterious Demon 6:00 PM Bus that has been mysteriously disappearing with all of its passengers. Mysteriously.

Can we just appreciate the fact that Crystal is well-aware of the fact the Umino serves
this sort of plot-exposition purpose and very little else in the story?
And Luna says it's girls who love gossip.

After school, Usagi and Luna meet Ami at the arcade. And we're treated to this wonderful little shot that I love quite a bit (given what happens later with the Sailor Team) -

You've got sweet, quiet Ami in her unassuming school uniform who'll be heading off to cram school after this meeting at the arcade next to the vivacious and glamorous Sailor V, who Usagi was all ready to accept as part of the Sailor Senshi because, hell, she's Sailor V! But who she has (so far) is Sailor Mercury. And it's a testament to the kind of person Usagi is that she has embraced Ami with all her heart (which is considerable). Ami may not be the out-loud, in-your-face, brave-and-tough girl that Usagi was initially picturing as part of their team of superheroes, but she still recognizes that Ami has a lot to offer to this group that they're building. Which speaks highly of the kind of story Sailor Moon seeks to tell - this group of seeming misfit girls discovering what truly makes them unique and finding a way for their different talents to blend together to accomplish this whole Saving the World business. They're not all different versions of the same girl - they need each other, they don't have time for catty gossip and backbiting. Goodness knows each of these girls has fallen victim to enough of that bullshit in their time (as we've seen with Ami and we'll see with Rei later).

This is the kind of thing I wish more girls understood about each other. This is why Sailor Moon is one of my favorite things in the world.

The girls leave the arcade and head to the bus stop where it's Ami's turn to give out some important exposition. There is a girl who takes the same bus Ami does to get to her cram school who might be the mysterious princess the girls are looking for. She's pretty and aristocratic and just has an air about her that's worth investigating. Usagi gets off the bus the same time the girl does and follows her to the nearby Hikawa Shrine.

Where she (nearly) immediately gets clocked in the face with one of Rei's ofuda meant to ward off evil spirits.

An auspicious beginning to a beautiful friendship
The next day, Usagi heads out to the Shrine on her own. En route, yet another auspicious moment in the Sailor Moon story occurs.

Usagi finally (properly) meets Mamoru Chiba. And the hearts of many fangirls melted (well... define "many")

Oh, ever since I read this exchange in the manga, I lamented the fact that the 90s anime gave these two such animosity toward each other. Sure, their initial meetings are awkward and a little dorky - but did that mean they had to be so awful to one another? But in Crystal - ah, the entire scene plays out just the way I thought it would. Mamoru notices Usagi talking to her cat (Luna notices that she and Usagi aren't entirely alone in having this conversation, which is hilarious), Usagi gets miffed that someone's been eavesdropping, Mamoru introduces himself as a high school student (oh, praise be to Takeuchi-sensei herself that they kept him as a high school student in Crystal!) and also hints that he's been investigating the Demon 6:00 Bus (OH GEE I WONDER WHAT THAT COULD BE ABOUT??) and then we get this -

Oh, you kids are going to be just fine (I'm already smitten with them both).

Anyway, after that interminable bus ride (one can only surmise), Usagi gets to the Hikawa Shrine where she sees Rei being confronted by a group of women whose children are missing. First, they want Rei to use her powers to find their kids, then they accuse her of knowing more about the Demon Bus than she's letting on - even going so far as to accuse her of being part of the conspiracy. Usagi, being our sweet and upstanding Champion of Justice, steps up and insists (after barely a day of knowing her) that Rei would never have anything to do with such a thing. To which (without missing a beat), the women ask how Usagi would know and Usagi has no idea, but... it's Usagi. Just go with it.

The women leave and Rei gets her turn to break all our hearts - how she has no idea why she has these powers, why people avoid her because of them, what her purpose is, and maybe Usagi should just leave her alone. After all - maybe people are right. Maybe Rei really is dangerous.

Oh hon - I suck at baking, but I just want to bring you a big plate of chocolate chip cookies. And a hug.
Usagi leaves and Rei goes back to meditating at her fire where she gets a vision of Usagi in trouble.

This shot is actually from earlier in the episode, but I thought it would go nicely here.
Rei runs after Usagi without a second thought - maybe because she does feel somewhat responsible for the people leaving the Shrine and then disappearing on the bus, or because of the visions that she's had of a shining palace since she met Usagi, or maybe it's just because Usagi is... Usagi. Rei tears off on her own down the road. Except she gets captured by the Demon Bus, being driven by Captain Incompetent himself, Jadeite. Usagi happens to be walking by when she sees Rei unconscious on the Demon Bus, so she uses the Disguise Pen to transform herself into a flight attendant so she can ensure the passengers have a safe and comfortable trip (look, I don't make this stuff up - I just recap it). At the last second, Flight-Attendant!Usagi jumps onto the back of the bus just as it's disappearing into an ominous portal in the wall - just in time to leave Luna behind and to catch a chance glimpse of Tuxedo Mask, who is evidently investigating the Demon Bus as well (OH GEE I WONDER WHAT THAT COULD BE ABOUT??)

It's a good thing destiny is at work here, otherwise you two would be in so much trouble.
Luna takes off to go find Ami, who works out that she can track Usagi by digitally tracking the signature from her transformation (and here I must mourn for the non-inclusion of the Mercury Computer. Yes, it looked like an off-brand First Generation Nintendo DS and would probably look out of place in a modern anime, but they could have updated the thing! Make it look like a super-powerful iPhone or something!)

I guess we'll make do with a not-iBook.
Our Heroine, everybody.
Seeing as Usagi is in the Dark Kingdom (which is presumably somewhere extremely north and extremely cold), the fact that Ami can track the transformation energy AND teleport herself there with her own laptop is intriguing in and of itself. Well, if it makes Ami look even more awesome, I shan't complain.

Jadeite creeps on an unconscious Rei (boy, he's going to regret that in the morning), but Our Intrepid Heroines are on the case! Enjoy some images of my girls being their most absolute fierce!

Bless the animator who completed this frame. I'll consider it a personal gift.
But the Dark Kingdom is nothing if not canny and never underestimate a minion with an ultimatum hanging over his head. For thus it is that Jadeite begins to get the upperhand (and apparently has been taking Ice Queen lessons from Elsa - well... okay). And Rei wakes up.

Bless Sailor Moon's heart - in the middle of a tense battle, she has the presence of mind to deny her true identity, but instead asserts that she has powers so she can help people and that's what her goal is as a Sailor Guardian.

I just thought this one was pretty - even though it's evil!ice.
But Rei's not an idiot - she tries to take out Jadeite from the back. Jadeite can be forgiven (I suppose) for assuming Rei's a normal person, but she's got powers too.

And for the first time, she doesn't feel like her powers are for nothing. She finally feels like she has a reason for her abilities. She's ready to accept herself as she is and to use her powers to help others the very best she can. Which is good, because now...

So - Sailor Mars. As always, henshin -

And the other girls - 

And now, we get the Sailor Mars that so many know and love - that soldier of fire and passion, the one who is going to kick all kinds of ass if you stand in her way. The one I never really appreciated until I saw where she really started out from and how far she went in terms of accepting herself and what she could do. Because once you learn and embrace the things you are truly capable of - well, what else is there except -

Some of the animation was a little wonky in this episode,
but when it counted, there were some spectacular moments.
So, Jadeite is dead-or-defeated (we're a little fuzzy on if he survived, I guess) and the Sailor Guardians get all the missing people out of the Dark Kingdom's Bus from Hell and back into the real world. Mothers are overjoyed at having their missing children returned and Usagi and Ami are thrilled at having a third member of the team.

And then next time... it's the Masquerade! Which... Hulu FINALLY got the "Next Time" previews to air after the episode. And, wouldn't you know it, it's for the episode that they decide to reuse footage from previous episodes with linking narration (sigh...) Oh well - that means we're getting something spectacular! Right?

Look, this is one of my favorite parts of this story arc - I'm really looking forward to it!

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