Friday, October 17, 2014

Taylor Swift Needs to Write a Song for This

Review/Recap of Sailor Moon Crystal, Act 7: "Mamoru Chiba" - Spoilers! (though, I'm pretty sure the statute of limitation has run out on this one... oops)

(If you don't mind - listen to The Piano Guys' medley Love Story Meets Viva La Vida. Just because it works with this review and these characters and I'll take any excuse to put these videos on my blog.)

It’s taken me the better part of a week two weeks to decide how best to talk about this episode of Sailor Moon Crystal. Not because I didn’t like it - quite the opposite, really. But because it contains some pretty vital plot progression to the overall Sailor Moon story. Plot progression that I completely adore and, really, all I want to do is bask in the wonderfulness of it.

Also, this episode is a continuation from the last one. Where the first five episodes were more or less character portraits of the main cast (with the exception of “Masquerade Dance Party,” but that one had other things to accomplish) that were only connected by a tenuous thread, Act 7 is pretty much Act 6, part 2. So, what did Act 6 do and where did it leave us?

Quick Act 6 Recap: Usagi is the leader of the Sailor Guardians. She can barely pass middle school, so what the crap are you thinking? Usagi is troubled and stressed and doesn’t think she can do it, but she’s not going to tell her friends because they depend on her and she’ll probably get chewed out for it anyway. But she does trust and believe in Tuxedo Mask (who none of the rest of the group trusts, so there’s another worry on her part). And, right on cue, he shows up because ~*~destiny~*~ (magical girl genre - it’s a staple. Just go with it) and he gives her the pep talk that she always needs (and what makes this relationship so special - we’ll get there in a moment). Sailor Moon shows up, renewed in her confidence, kicks ass with her new magical item (in stores now!), but using this new power drains her and she passes out. Tuxedo Mask takes her to safety and the final scene of Act 6 reveals the most non-reveal in the history of non-reveals - that Mamoru Chiba (that guy that Usagi’s always running into and she feels an odd connection to) is Tuxedo Mask (hold your surprise, please folks).

To the surprise of precisely no one.
(I only poke fun at this because Sailor Moon has been around for twenty years, but I’m sure someone back in the early 90s was surprised at this reveal. Tropes have to get their start somewhere, you know).

So - Act 7 opens and we get to explore Mamoru the regular guy rather than Mamoru the mysterious thief who’s after the Silver Crystal for Reasons Unexplained. Because here - those reasons are going to be explained. And it just about breaks your heart (well - it does me. But I’m a sap like that). We learn that Mamoru lost his parents and his memories in a car accident on his sixth birthday (I never knew it was his birthday until I read the manga, which made my heart ache for the guy even more). Since then, he’s dreamed about some mysterious person asking him to find the Silver Crystal, but there’s no reason for it. And that’s what his life has been consumed with. Because maybe the Crystal can bring back his memories of who he really is.

Usagi’s reasons for looking for the Crystal are much less grand - it boils all down to Luna told her to find it. And she even seems to play it off like no big deal (in true Usagi fashion - bless her). Again, comparing sweet, lovable Usagi to someone who has dealt with heartbreak and tragedy in life - Usagi could come off as unfeeling and uncaring, but it’s just the opposite. It’s a subtle thing (and the hints were left in earlier episodes, so it’s not like comes out of left field), but this is where Usagi and Mamoru really start to understand each other on a deeper level. I love how tender this whole scene is, without really being grand and amazing about it (there’ll be time for that later). They both care about each other a lot, but neither are very good at saying so. Usagi’s spent most of her time daydreaming about the dashing and handsome Tuxedo Mask and how he always comes to save her. She lives out these fairy tales in her mind, heedless of what people around her say or do - even accentuating that spacey reputation she has around others because that’s who she is and she’s unapologetic about it. Mamoru - well, he’s kind of socially awkward in general. But in an endearing way. And it turns out that he’s had other things to deal with that took him away from trying to cultivate good social standing for himself.

Both of them have lived their lives outside of their normal societal expectations, but in such a way that it goes unnoticed. Or, at least, it’s not troubling to anyone else who might be watching. And somehow, both of these daydream-obsessed people find each other and discover that they've been living in the same daydream. It’s poetic and gorgeous in its simplicity - how can you not love it?

Back in reality (it always comes back, doesn't it?), the Dark Kingdom is hatching new plans - Queen Beryl seeks an audience with their great ruler, Queen Metalia, and offers up the human energies they've been able to collect for her. It’s all pretty bog-standard villain and her minion plotting the end of the world - except for one thing that’s slightly different from the other versions of this story. Beryl has an aside to herself about how Metalia will consume the Earth like she tried to do anciently (before the Sailor Guardians of old defeated her - as is alluded to during their conversation) and they won’t be able to take the planet back from her. Which does nothing to quell my speculation of how the small changes to the Dark Kingdom in Crystal is going to impact the greater story. Will Beryl turn against Metalia in the end? In the live action Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, that version of Beryl almost seemed to become one of the good guys, in that she wanted to stop the Silver Crystal from feeding Metalia and thus enabling the destruction of the world - except Princess Sailor Moon kept using the damn thing and creating more problems (PGSM was kind of a mess in who was doing what and who the good guys and bad guys were. And we never got a proper Silver Millennium flashback, which still irritates me. But that’s neither here nor there).

So, yeah, Dark Kingdom - shady as crap, but interesting all the same. Until they revert back to “Send some flashy new thing to Earth to steal energy from the stupid humans.” This time, the flashy new thing is... Blockbuster.

Well, it’s a video store that the people become obsessed with renting DVDs and then they watch the DVDs at home and in turn become obsessed with finding Sailor Moon because she’s supposed to have the Silver Crystal (which she doesn't. Oh Dark Kingdom, your evil plot skills continue to underwhelm and bore me. But that’s not the point). Of course, one of those gripped by the obsession is Umino - and Crystal gives us one of the more hilarious Umino Info-Dump Moments (and that is saying something, given what we've gotten thus far).

Umino doing his best Professor Tomoe impression. Weeks before Halloween.
I also adore that Ami is looking up information on Sailor V on an
off-brand iPad. It almost makes up for the lack of the Mercury Computer.
There’s some funny little visual gags with Luna talking about Usagi being the leader and Usagi stuffing her face and getting ketchup all over (in true not-very-graceful-Usagi fashion - oh, Usa... never change). She goes to find her handkerchief to clean off, but realizes that she’s left it somewhere (clear back in Act 4, during the Masquerade). But she does have Mamoru’s broken pocketwatch and she thinks back to their Moment that morning and that she wants to see her Mamo-chan again. And at the same time (we think - why not, right?) Mamoru has Usagi’s handkerchief and is pretty much thinking the same thing about his Usako and it’s beautiful and cute and fluffy and it’s everything you could ever want - let me have this!

Don't mind me. I'll just be here in the corner sobbing my eyes out.
Back at the Sailor Guardian Base of Operations under the arcade (still awesome, btw), Ami’s been analyzing the goings-on with the Crazy DVD Rental Place and when Zoicite puts his plan in motion, she calls the other Guardians and the three not named Usagi go after the bastard.

Split Screen - Make-up!
Elsewhere, Mamoru’s noticed people acting weird and saying they need to go after Sailor Moon, which shakes him out of his thoughts (which have been mostly about Usagi since she left his place. Side Note: She’s been returning the sentiment parallel to him. It’s damn adorable). I don’t have anything more to add to this other than it’s remarkable how fast he goes into Hero Mode when Usagi’s in trouble. It’s always been one of the best things about Mamoru Chiba and it will continue to be so. That’s all.

I tried so hard to get a cool-looking screengrab of
Moon Healing Escalation and I FINALLY did it!
You best I'm going to use in a review!
Of course, when Usagi discovers that everyone in Juban has gone all zombie-mode and is after Sailor Moon, the logical thing for her to do is transform and say “Here I am!” (that’s Usagi-logic for you - just go with it). Zoicite is there and ready for her (after having dispatched the other Sailor Guardians quite handily - dammit).  And, again, Sailor Moon hopes that Tuxedo Mask will be there to save her. He always does.

And, my friends, indeed Tuxedo Mask comes in to save the day. With a good old fashioned well-timed punch to Zoisite’s face.

And the fandom rejoiced ("Fandom" here meaning me.
I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who even remotely likes Mamoru Chiba).
I’m sure I’ll get to talk about this more as Crystal unfolds, but one huge character trait for Mamoru is that he doesn’t have powers. Not like the Sailor Guardians. He’s just himself - with his own wits and physical strength. And in this episode, we get a little bit of that where he’s unsure of himself and his ability to protect Usagi, even though that is the first thing he wants to do. This dovetails into that moment where Usagi is in trouble and Zoicite isn’t about to let Tuxedo Mask get the upper hand again - Mamoru says that he used to be so focused on finding the Silver Crystal, but that’s changed.

Because he’s met Usagi and seen her through all her happiness and sadness and how she keeps going on in spite of all her challenges and he loves her for it. And suddenly - his entire life is different and it’s all because of her.

I just love these two so mu-u-u-u-ch!
(excuse me - I’ve got to go find tissues).

This right here. This is why I love Sailor Moon and I am so glad Crystal is giving us this moment. Yes, the friendships between the Guardians are wonderful. Yes, the story is fun and enchanting. Yes, the kick-ass female superheroes are awesome. But I adore the love story between Usagi and Mamoru. Even discounting what’s revealed later (oh good grief, you know the story - fate, destiny, love that transcends death and time) the way these two crazy, awkward, broken kids fall head-over-heels in love with each other is simply perfect. They aren't perfect by any means. In fact, they’re both extremely unconventional and far away from that glorified happy ending. But that’s what makes their love story special. It’s that they never even consider giving up on each other - they’re determined to make everything work out because they’re just so damn in love. And that resonates with a lot of people (to be fair - it doesn't resonate with others, but everyone’s tastes are different).

Thing is - even after all this anguished declaration of love and loyalty, neither Usagi or Mamoru save the day. Like in the rather similar episode in the '90s anime, a mysterious-yet-very-familiar character comes out of the shadows and thwarts the Dark Kingdom’s evil plans. A gold light comes out of nowhere and on a nearby rooftop *cue dramatic reveal* -

It’s Sailor V! Who precisely is featured in the next episode! (and all the complainers that are mad that Mamoru got two episodes can stop their kvetching. Besides - it wasn't completely about him. It was about him and Usagi and their relationship. Which is what basically started this whole story in the first place!)

(enough grumping - I just love this story so damn much! And it's about to go down, big time!)

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