Sunday, September 21, 2014

Who Saves the Savior?

Review/Recap of Sailor Moon Crystal, Act 6: Tuxedo Mask - SPOILERS!

This review is going to be a bit different. Rather than go through and do a blow-by-blow analysis, there is one particular scene I want to focus on because there is so much packed into it (and the rest of the stuff is kind of secondary anyway - no less important to the overall story, but this one bit really stuck out to me. I love it when that happens) -

Actually - the seeds for this were sown at the end of Act 5 where Luna gives Sailor Moon the Moon Stick and says "You - Leader! Act like it!" And it kind of continues throughout this episode with the scenes in the arcade after hours. Luna’s giving the girls the whole “Your mission in life is to fight the Silver Crystal and guard the princess. There’s more to the story, but you’re only going to get bits and pieces of this until a certain unspecified time.” And there’s a secret compartment under the arcade that serves as a secret base and the Sailor V game is part of it (that oughta please the rabid nit-pickers. But of course it won’t so forget I even mentioned it). Ami, Rei, and Makoto are in awe of this random secret base under the thing - but Usagi... well, remember how at the end of Act 5 Luna dropped the whole “Hey, you - Leader!” thing on her? She’s still processing it. She’s still in complete and utter shock of that revelation.

Because the genre deems it so - stop fighting this
And Usagi - bless her - is not doing well with this information.

The idea that Tuxedo Mask could be their enemy doesn't sit well either. I'll get there.
And here I must back up for a bit and discuss my current mindset. For that is the lens through which I am watching Sailor Moon Crystal. At the beginning of this year, I was semi-involved in a business deal that, had it gone through, would have made me the manager (of sorts) of a huge chunk of our family’s business. This is what a lot of people in my age and situation are hankering for, right? This is what women in general have fought and campaigned for - the ability to be leaders in business and make high-powered decisions and be the boss and be over everybody and everything. Right?

The mystery of the pen-dispensing video game revealed!
I should have been excited about the opportunity. I should have been foaming at the mouth to get this thing done. I should have been ready to waltz in there and take charge and be the Head Bitch In Charge. I should aspire to being on the list of Top 100 Women Leaders in Business because that’s what women’s rights groups tell me I should want. This quiet, meek, little bookworm who maybe wants to someday get married and have a family - pffft! That’s weak sauce! That goes against everything women have worked for the past 200 (or so) years! Be a modern, proactive woman! Be the boss! Be intelligent! Be tough! Girl power! (and all that shit).

The reality? I was terrified. I almost didn’t want the deal to go through, even though I knew that it would open up untold opportunities not just for myself, but for our family’s business interests - thus, it would be beneficial to my parents, my siblings, possibly my niece and nephew (and future nieces and nephews). But I wasn’t sure if I could handle being in charge of something so huge and important. I was scared I’d mess it up and make things worse. I was comfortable and happy where I was - why should I want that to change?

Even in the face of all the "evidence,"
Usagi's faith in Tuxedo Mask is unwavering and I love that!
(In the end - there were some outside influences that prevented the deal from happening and our little Brain Trust group ended up parting ways with that particular company. Doesn’t mean that there aren’t other deals that could happen and I’ll end up back in the same situation - hopefully with an organization that wasn’t as messed-up as we later found out that one was. It’s a long story...)

Video Game!Sailor V being helpful in the way that Sailor V can
My point is that I can understand Usagi running away from being a leader. Especially where she’s this happy-go-lucky sweetheart girl who just wants to make friends and make the people around her feel loved. She cares little for school and other serious responsibilities, no matter how many times she’s told she should take more care in these things. Even being Sailor Moon - well, there are three other Sailor Guardians to help her. She can defer to one of them. She just happens to be the first one Luna found. She can depend on one of the others. Right?

And you need to stop being a pain in the ass, cat!
Nope. According to the talking cat - Usagi’s the leader. She’s in charge. She’s the one who had to run point and figure things out. And that scares her to death. She can barely manage to pass math class (if indeed she passes math at all) - how in the world can she lead??

To this point, this is not a side of Usagi we’ve seen. We’ve seen her be the best friend and the fun-loving girl. She pulls people out of their shells and helps them feel loved. She’s the glue that brings this unlikely little family together. Even back in the original anime - Usagi had very little angst or self-doubts. The times we saw a sad Usagi were the times that her friends were in danger and there was nothing she could do about it. She very rarely second-guessed herself. Which is why I’m so glad Crystal is allowing us to see this side of Usagi. Like Rei’s episode where we saw Rei dealing with some very real internal struggles, this episode gave Usagi some much-needed character development and a chance to see what’s under that happy face she puts on for so many people.

I know the feeling, kid.
And it’s interesting that this character study comes in this particular episode - the one where we’re promised more insight into Tuxedo Mask. Because as well as the bombshell of finding out she’s supposed to be the leader, Usagi also discovers that the one person (besides Luna) that’s been with her on this journey since the beginning might not be everything that she assumed he was. Usagi has taken strength and inspiration from Tuxedo Mask, even though she doesn’t have a clue who he really is. All she knows is that he shows up to help her when she needs it most. As much as Sailor Moon (the series, not the character) is about girls finding the power within themselves and not necessarily needing a man to help them through this (and as the theme song so succinctly puts it every episode) - Usagi does need that encouragement and reassurance from Tuxedo Mask. She relies on him just as much as Ami, Rei, and Makoto rely on Usagi.

And what’s interesting is that we do get that moment of introspection from Tuxedo Mask (which, if you don’t know that Tux is actually Mamoru Chiba at this point, you haven’t been paying attention at all). Because he even says he doesn’t have powers like Sailor Moon does. He admits that she is capable of so much more than he ever could do ([Spoiler Redacted]). And I think if we were allowed to follow Mamoru the way we’ve followed Usagi and the girls, we’d learn a lot more about the things he’s gone through to get to this point (then again - we’re getting the second part of his story in two weeks, so we’re not shutting the book on that line of inquiry just yet. To which I say - Hell Yes! I am here for that!)

I know the manga is its own storyline and it’s clear from the changes that have been made that Some Intense Stuff is going to go down - but I just want to talk about what I love about the manga in terms of Usagi and Mamoru’s relationship. In the original anime, I fell in love with the timeless love story. I thought it was adorable and romantic and so much squee worthy and wouldn’t it be amazing to be the beautiful princess and marry the handsome prince. But at the same time, I felt like it didn’t go far enough. I felt like there was more of their story to tell, but I’d have to fill that in on my own. It wasn’t until years later that I read the manga and I found how just how deep this story runs and that depth was there from the beginning! Because the anime tended to sort of gloss over the love story (and the English dub didn’t do it any favors in some respects, but I’m not here to discuss that) and some lovely details were lost in favor of oddly-placed humor and crass stereotypes (because societal gender wars between men and women are so much more important than finding common ground and realizing how much we actually do need each other, you know).

I think my fangirl senses went from "Okay, good" to "OMG YES!!" right here.
Perhaps it’s because I’m older and I've seen more disappointment and heartbreak - not just in my life, but in others’ lives as well - but I love that we have this moment where Usagi and Tuxedo Mask admit their failings to one another. It pains me to admit it, but that handsome white knight doesn’t exist. Oh, he may put on a good front, but he’s either trying to pull a fast one over on some gullible chicky-poo or he’s faking it because that’s how he knows how to gain approval (but he’s not very good at it, so it goes unnoticed).

You tried and that's all that matters. I think.
I mean, look at this - Mamoru is admitting that he screwed up with this whole “Help Me Find the Silver Crystal” thing. The Dark Kingdom was able to piggy-back off his publicity stunt and brainwash people into looking for the Crystal and then they attacked the entire city. Again, Tux needs Sailor Moon to fix a specific problem and he admits to her that he doesn’t have powers like she does (like I said before). But here’s the thing - he has to tell Usagi this through the guise of Tuxedo Mask (and never has a superhero name been so appropo). He clearly knows that she’s Sailor Moon, but he’s still not ready to reveal himself to her just yet. And I’m sitting here thinking - why? What happened in this guy’s past that he would effectively wall himself away from people like this? I mean, I guess it could be a commentary on how we all have our disguises and masks to keep the people we care about at arms length. But this feels like it’s a more specific instance. This is where I wish we had more insight into what Mamoru’s mindset is and what he’s thinking right here. I know what events happened in his past (the “Next Time” promo even gives it to us), and we can fill in the blanks as an audience. But I’d love to have more details and information - it would be a fascinating character study. I mean, just because it’s a magical girl anime doesn’t mean you need to leave out such a vital component of a vital and interesting character just because he’s a guy, right?

(Oh man, I probably just opened up a huge can of worms with that remark. Still - my point stands. I want to know more about Mamoru Chiba. I want more of his backstory and growing up years and what made him become Tuxedo Mask. Simply because I don’t know what happened to him. I’m already interested in this guy. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be asking for more backstory. He’s just as much a part of this story as Usagi or any of the other girls. In fact - I hope we do get more backstory on all the characters. C’mon, Crystal - you can do this thing!)

Anyway - it’s a tender and poignant moment. One that I hope and wish fandom will appreciate more and more. Not just because it’s “ZOMG - OTP!” (though that is fun and I won’t lie - I got butterflies from it) - but because it’s an example of how to do romantic relationships in fiction and do them well. I don’t care if your story is set on the planet Zog 496 and the people there have spatulas instead of fingers - if you can give me a realistic relationship between two people (romantic or otherwise) and make those characters interesting on their own as well as together, you’ve got me.

Mad props for the fade effect, animators!
I’ve barely touched any of the rest of the episode! We get dream sequences of the Silver Millennium - not just from Usagi, but also from Mamoru (loving the connection these two already have!) Not just that they're having dreams about each other, but also that those dreams take place in the huge battle that destroyed the Silver Millennium - much more dramatic than the princess simply staring out into the distance mewling about the Silver Crystal all the time.

A chance encounter between both of them - but this time Ami and Mako are there to witness it. I love that Mako points out that Usagi’s blushing and that Mako kind of gives her static about it (that’s what best friends do).

The design of the secret base under the arcade is gorgeous and wonderful. Sailor Moon’s new attack is quite well done too. The Dark Kingdom continues to be ominous and threatening - not foppish or cartoony at all (man, they really are scary this time around).

Also, Ikuko playing with Luna as if she were a normal cat brings me life. I love that we got just that one little comic moment and then it was back to the heaviness of the main story. It’s these little details that make Crystal so enjoyable and fun and I’m glad they’re allowing themselves to do things like this.

And for next time... you know - I love how this episode was “Tuxedo Mask” and the next one is called “Mamoru Chiba.” It seems like they two parts of one continuing narrative and that was sorely needed. Especially since Usagi has the two personas separated in her mind - so we had to have one exploring Mamoru as Tuxedo Mask and one exploring Mamoru as himself (so it’s very possible that all that lamenting I did about Mamoru needing more backstory and explanation will be moot in two weeks anyway. I need to go back and refresh my memory of how the manga dealt with this part of the story - it’s been a while).

Crystal continues to promise big things and it continues to deliver! Keep it up, kids!

No comments:

Post a Comment