Tuesday, September 9, 2014

One With the Wind and Sky

Review/Recap of Sailor Moon Crystal, Act 5: Makoto - Sailor Jupiter - SPOILERS

You know how sometimes you see something that’s just perfect for the frame of mind you’re in? We Mormons commonly use the term “tender mercies” to describe such things - it’s a moment where you feel like God (or whatever higher power you subscribe to - it doesn't matter) is sending you a message of hope and comfort in something that has meaning only to you because He knows you better than anyone and He knows what is going to help you the best. But I think it goes even beyond simple comfort from a higher power. It’s also a teaching moment - you feel like your mind and soul have been enriched in a way you hadn't thought of before. I don’t know how it is for other people (and the experience can be so intense that you really don’t have the words to describe it), but to me it almost feels like I can physically feel my mind expand. It’s like an itch that’s been there for years but you never realized it was there until something poked at it. And now that that part of your mind being stimulated, it feels really really good.

That’s kind of how I felt about Makoto's episode. It’s similar to Rei’s episode in that I have a new dimension of looking at this character. The difference is, where I was never that excited about Rei (though I still liked her well enough), I’ve always loved Makoto. I love the balance in her personality of a physically strong and mentally tough tomboy with the girlier aspects of her character. This analysis has been well and truly documented by fandom - it’s what people know about her right off the bat. She’s the badass fighter chick who also loves to bake cupcakes and create floral designs. Though her fighter-chick side gets noticed more often by her peers - mostly because it’s an unusual trait for a girl to have and it’s more often remarked upon, whether in a positive or negative light (and I will let the legions of Perpetually Angry Social Justice Fun Police continue to rail about that - I have never made it my priority to do such things myself).

Not sure where to put this, but I have to remark SOMEHOW
on Umino's Drive-By Info Bomb and the increasingly
humorous ways Crystal continues to portray this character.
This is the source of Mako’s loneliness - that people only see half of who she is. She is reduced to a walking stereotype because people (for whatever reason - not necessarily intentional) only see her at a surface level. She’s taller than the other girls, therefore she is strong and she can handle anything. This is even more exacerbated by the fact that Juban Public Middle School doesn’t stock uniforms in her size and she has to wear the uniform from her old school and that makes this trait of hers stand out all the more (such is the plight of the tall girl. Oh, the times I came home from the mall in tears because I could never find clothes that fit me properly! To this day, I HATE clothes shopping. All you short, petite, little things - at least you have JCPenney looking out for you. That’s really why we tall girls poke fun at you. We’re jealous).

The Tall Girls' Lament
This is what I suspect Mako-chan feels: Maybe someday someone will notice that I’m better at things other than fighting. Maybe someday someone will see my cute bento box and my carefully prepared lunches. Maybe someday someone will see the time and effort I take in looking after myself. Maybe someday I won’t be the superhuman freak show that they all come to gawk at.

And this, of course, is where Usagi Tsukino comes in (why do I have the hardest time typing out her surname?) Call it fate or destiny or whatever (it’s magical girl anime - destiny and fate are this genre’s bread and butter) - but Usagi pops up and sees Makoto’s lunch and how good and cute it looks (Usagi loves things that are aesthetically pleasing as well as tummy-pleasing. So, this is a two-fer for her).

Usagi’s enthusiasm for Makoto’s creation kind of takes her by surprise. And I suspect that Makoto would love to have someone to share her lunch with and here is a girl almost ready-made to be Makoto’s friend. Usagi is even willing to show Makoto around town, since she’s new and doesn’t know where all the good markets are. And the arcade. Can’t forget the arcade.

In fact, the next stop is indeed Crown Arcade. Where Makoto is treated to pre-Senshi initiation (it seems that’s what’s going on) - playing the Sailor V game. And doing quite well, Ami is quick to notice. For a moment, I thought that Ami was going to regard Makoto with suspicion, but all she notices is how good Makoto is at the game (not unlike Ami’s first go-round with it). And then, Ami gives the greatest understatement in the history of understatements - (screencap of Ami saying Usagi is good at making friends).

Don’t think I’m finding fault with this at all! Ami is admiring Usagi’s skill at friendship - something that Ami has never been able to do so easily (it’s a skill even in the real world. Like - how do people just do that? They just always have people that click around them? It has to be a superpower). Also, maybe it’s just because I’ve always loved the friendship that develops between Ami and Makoto, but I feel like Crystal went out of its way to subtly create that initial connection between Ami and Mako. Whether or not it was there or even intended, I noticed it and I was glad to see that happening. I always felt like Mako was Ami’s link to the rest of the loud, boisterous, vivacious Sailor Senshi. Don’t misunderstand - all these girls are true and fast friends and they would do anything for each other. But I feel like Ami sometimes gets overwhelmed by the others’ energy and ambition (especially Usagi’s and - when she gets here - Minako’s). And Makoto brings this quiet strength to the group that can sustain Ami in those moments that Usagi, Rei, and Minako are nearly bouncing off the ceiling, while also fueling the other girls’ excitement and enthusiasm. This is what makes this group of characters work so well together - they each have a piece of the puzzle that makes this dynamic just work. That’s a huge strength in this story. Destiny knew what it was doing in this instance.

Oh, and Usagi ceremoniously gives Makoto her nickname of “Mako-chan.” Which fits her perfectly and Mako probably didn't know it did until Usagi said it. Such is the power of our Moon Princess (oops - spoilers. Well... it’s not like you didn't know it was coming. Thank you end credit sequence. And name of the show. And Usagi being Sailor Moon. I will be back to revisit this - if this story goes the way I think it’s going to go. There is one Sailor Moon plot point that I always have a gripe with that I have no idea why no one else doesn't comment on it. Too busy finding fault with the fairy tale aspects of the show, I suppose).

The visual cues for this episode were so good -
this fade between Makoto and Rei was fantastic.
And it wasn't the only one.
By this point, nearly everyone has met and given their approval of Mako - even Rei senses something about Makoto. It’s hard to say whether Crystal!Rei trusts Makoto at this stage of the story or not - they don’t spend too much time on that. Just that she knows Something Is Up with this girl. And that’s about all they need to spend on that. Because this is Mako-chan’s story. And she has a wonderfully heartbreaking story to tell.

ULTIMATE HEARTBREAK (yet another staple of magical girl anime)
Something that I’ve always appreciated and loved about Sailor Moon is the amount of time that the story spends establishing the characters’ backstories (which was one of my biggest complaints about the live-action Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon - there was nearly nothing of backstory in that at all. I kept waiting for it happen, and it never did. Highly disappointing. Anyway...) Whether it’s the Big Time HUGE Reveal of the Fall of the Silver Millennium or simply what these characters have gone through before becoming Sailor Guardians, these stories are handled lovingly and beautifully. Of all the versions (before Crystal), the manga is my favorite because each of the main characters gets at least one chapter dedicated to her backstory (and as more arcs are added, more backstory gets added as well). I love how the writing and the artwork depicts all this information, so when they said Crystal would follow the manga more faithfully, I wondered how this would translate. And I think, with Makoto’s backstory, they've done a fantastic job. Makoto’s backstory - how she came to be at Juban Middle School - is rather specific. A boy broke her heart, she was in a fight, she got kicked out of her old school. And while I’m being very simplistic about it here, Crystal is not. We see a flashback of Mako meeting the boy she likes and the boy telling her “Oh, I have a girlfriend. Sorry.” We see her heartbreak and how much that hurts. And it doesn’t matter that it was what most people call a “silly schoolgirl crush,” she’s hurting about it. She hurts so much that she had to leave her old school to get away from him.

This dovetails nicely with the Dark Kingdom’s Monster of the Week’s threat - they’re taking over mannequins from a bridal shop which kidnap grooms and steal their energy (here again is the Dark Kingdom’s absolute cluelessness at work - the grooms rarely do a damn thing with the wedding planning. It’s the bride and her mother that usually do all the work and at always stressed out about the whole event. Why not kidnap them? But I digress). Brides across town are missing their fiance’s, which is troublesome for the wedding planning business I’m sure. Oh, and their emotional well-being. I suppose that’s important too.

(Look, as much as I am a fan of love stories and romance and relationships in fiction, I hate weddings with the burning Fire Soul of a thousand Sailor Marses. I have no desire to plan one for myself or subject myself and those around me to such torture. I don’t want a dress, I don’t want decorations, I don’t want fancy pictures, I don’t want announcements, and I only nominally want a cake. If it wasn’t for the gifts-from-total-strangers potential (which, you have to stand in a boring receiving line for hours in uncomfortable shoes order to meet these strangers and get those gifts), I would probably consider eloping to be a perfectly reasonable option.This is why I’m still single).

Pretty for dreamy scenes in magical girl anime. Not so much in real life.
Back to the story - at the arcade, Mako meets Motoki, whom Usagi has had a crush on since Time Immemorial. Mako sees the appeal, of course, citing that he looks just like the guy who broke her heart (one way they add lightness to Mako’s Utter Heartbreak is that every guy she meets reminds her of the guy who broke her heart. There’s a deeper emotional reason for it that (hopefully) gets explored later, but mostly, it’s played for laughs). And somehow, Motoki gets kidnapped by this “ghost bride” mannequin (even though he isn’t a groom but, details) and is used to attempt another kidnapping against Mako because she’s a girl in love and love creates useful energy (look, I've gotta go back and rewatch that bit. I was too enthralled with Mako-chan being amazing and beautiful and precious to me. I don’t have time to quibble about the villains’ half-assed plans all the time). So, the Dark Kingdom uses Mako’s crush on Motoki to attack and threaten her - which is a big-time mistake. Because while Mako is a believer in love and hopes for that for herself one day, she’s also a badass-fighter-chick and she’ll lay the smackdown on anyone that toys with her affections.

And in this turmoil of the heart, Sailor Jupiter is revealed.

Wait - before I get there... speaking of love stories, there’s an important scene between Usagi and Tuxedo Mask (one that I’m sure the “Everything is Rape Culture” doomsayers will have a conniption over in their continued attempt to ruin everyone’s fun) - Usagi is dreaming about running after something or someone. We don’t see what this is (but I can hazard a guess - I’m going to write it in an envelope and see if I’m right later. And if I am, that’s quite the twist, there Crystal. Bravo), but suddenly she’s woken up by someone at her window - which turns out to be Tuxedo Mask

I can hear the anti-Twilighters screaming bloody murder right now.
Usagi's response? "F*** that s***! My dreamboat need me!"
He needs her help - there’s a monster threat out there and the Sailor Guardians need to come take care of it. Now, I’m going to have to go back and find out where identities were revealed in the manga, but I swear Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask found out about each other at the same time there. But in Crystal, Tux clearly knows that Usagi is Sailor Moon and knows to go get her and there’s no time to quibble about the “proper” way to go about doing so. And Usagi, being the hopeless romantic that she is, runs off with this mystery guy that she’s completely in love with but knows next to nothing about (other than he saves her life and she danced with him and they kissed while she was asleep - yeah, I don’t think for a second that she doesn’t know that happened or that she isn’t giddy beyond reason at having that romantic fairy tale moment).

And because it’s important, she wonders again about Tuxedo Mask - until she realizes that he’s led to her the site of this showdown between the monster bride thing and Mako-chan. And also that Ami and Rei have joined her (thanks to Luna’s quick thinking and a forgotten communicator because - who’s got time for accessorizing when The Love of Your Life is asking you to come with him in the middle of the night?) The girls transform and Tuxedo Mask disappears from view - for a little while.

I love how the girls came out in the PJs (except for Rei, because you know, Rei)

In the middle of Mako’s lament about romance and love and how she’s not sure what she believes anymore - Sailor Moon gives an inspirational speech that, were it a TED Talk, could easily be titled “Miracle Romance: I Believe In It” (complete with poignant cut to Tuxedo Mask waiting around the corner right when Sailor Moon mentions that someday she’s going to meet the person she’s destined to be in love with. It certainly gave me the warm fuzzies because I am here for that! Bread and butter of the genre, I’m telling you).

That’s when Sailor Jupiter goes “Hell Hath No Fury” on everyone - but in a way that only Sailor Jupiter can. Between Flower Hurricane and “Let the Storm Rage On,” (which, I see what you did there subtitle translators!) - it was magical. (I have a gif for it... hang on).

Source: here

The cold never bothered me anyway (sorry, I had to)
The lightning rod in the tiara lives! (that was important to me)

And Jupiter handily dispatches Bridezilla and Nephrite (who admits to recognizing the "I'm Gong To Royally Eff YouSailor Jupiter - probably from some Silver Millennium battle. Or possibly from a romantic encounter from back then. Depending on which fandom newsletter you subscribe to. Me, I could go either way - I really don't have a dog in this fandom war. For once) disappears before he can be subjected to manga!Nephrite’s ultimate fate (these Shitennou don’t survive encounters with the Sailor Guardians in the manga as easily as they do in Crystal).

Hm... I wonder...
Luna muses on the mysterious Tuxedo Mask and why he brought Usagi to the battle - does Luna still regard him with suspicion or has he been moved from "Possible Enemy - Avoid At All Costs!" to "Eh - He Might Not Be So Bad..."? (this is Luna we're talking about - she's got enough suspicion for all the cats in the universe. That's probably why cats in general are so laid-back. They know that there's someone out there doing all the worrying for them).

And... we have four Sailor Guardians. Which means Luna’s ready to hand out the next Shiny Object in the Guardians’ Quest for the Princess. It’s the Moon Stick, which looks much more crystal-y than it did in the original anime (as with most of what’s in Crystal, I like it!)

And the plot can only thicken from here on out. Until next time...

*happy fangirl hand-flapping*
Considering the last time we didn't get any new footage from the next episode for the “Next Time...” preview we got “Masquerade” two weeks later, I’m kind of excited about this. And not just because Act 6 is Tuxedo Mask’s episode. Still... like I've said before, childhood crushes never go away. They just get prettier.

This is why I'm still single...

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