Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Our Choices More Than Our Abilities

Review/Recap of Sailor Moon Crystal, "Act 9: Serenity, Princess" - Spoilers!

(yeah, spoilers from twenty-plus years ago...)

One of my favorite things about Sailor Moon is - and always has been - the backstory. What happened before Usagi Tsukino tripped over a cat in her rush to school and subsequently became a superhero. I adore the story of the Silver Millennium - of the Princess of the Moon and her friends, the Sailor Guardians of the Solar System (all princesses in their own right). How the Princess fell in love with the Prince of the Earth Kingdom and war broke out and everything went to hell and back (okay, maybe not the "war breaking out" stuff, but conflict has its place in storytelling). When I finally read the manga, I loved how we got so much more of that story - even in later arcs, there would be flashbacks of what happened in the past and how it applies to what's happening in the present. It's one of the things I enjoy about Once Upon a Time as well - paralleling a fantastical world with modern life.

The episode begins where the last one left off - Tuxedo Mask jumps in front of an attack meant for Sailor Moon and (it appears) he's dead. That act of sacrifice activates these "sealed memories" that Sailor V was talking about last time and everyone remembers the Silver Millennium - when Usagi was Princess Serenity and the Sailor Guardians were protectors of the Moon Kingdom. And - here's the important part - Serenity falls in love with Prince Endymion of the Earth. Which is a huge no-no, since the Moon and the Earth basically hate each other. War breaks out between the two worlds and the Dark Kingdom destroys both kingdoms in the process - but not before the evil forces are sealed away. Everyone dies - but then everyone is reborn in a new and quite ordinary life, with the hope that life will continue, but if the Dark Kingdom resurfaces, the Sailor Guardians can be reawakened to defeat them again.

(that's the Cliffs Notes version - just go watch the episode. It's worth it).

The thing about this first story arc with the Dark Kingdom is how the story is mirrored. Good and wonderful things happen, but then people come in to ruin those good and wonderful things (kind of like trolls on Tumblr - oh snap, I went there!) and tragedy strikes. But here, tragedy strikes and it's awful and terrible and Usagi is heartbroken beyond belief - but she shows how resilient she is and the strongest moment of this episode (which, I don't think this was in the manga or any other version of Sailor Moon that I'm aware of) is when she stands up and says -

I need an applause gif... hang on...

If there is a linchpin of this entire story - and something I wish fandom would focus on more - it's that Usagi is not bound by her past. She is not obligated to hold to the choices she made in her past life or the circumstances in which she finds herself. In fact, that is one of her defining character traits. She is not a victim of her birth or her situation or the bad things that happen to her. Nor is anyone else around her. Look at the people she chooses to make her friends - loners, outsiders, misfits. And none of that matters to her. But it goes beyond that - in her own way, she teaches the people she loves that they don't have to be held prisoner to what life has given them.

And then, when Usagi has been kicked in the head, these same friends come in and help her out. Because that's just what they do. Not because they're all Sailor Guardians or anything like that. Because they're all friends and they're all in this together.

Look, I'm getting ahead of myself. But this episode was just that good. I've enjoyed everything that Sailor Moon Crystal has to offer so far, but I feel like this was a huge turning point. It's a key moment in the plot as a whole and there's a lot riding on this part of the story. Everything here just worked the way it had to. Yeah, it kind of feels like an inbetween episode - a lull between HUGE moments in the story, but this was the perfect place to put it. Especially since they're going to the Moon Kingdom next episode (oh man - I can't wait for more backstory!!)

Other things -

Sailor Mercury got her visor!

Luna's kind of starting to figure out what her role ought to be with Usagi. It helps that they all remember what's really going on and that Minako is the actual leader of the Sailor Guardians. Still, Luna was really hard on Usagi and her recognizing that she needed to do better by her is a huge turning point in Luna's character growth. The original anime didn't do that very often, but it's done beautifully here.

Speaking of Sailor Venus - I talked last time about how I was not a fan of how Minako in the live action Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon was characterized. How she was cold and distant and not in any way part of the group she was supposed to be the leader of. But Crystal Minako is so much better. Yes, she takes her leadership responsibilities seriously. But she's also much more caring and compassionate, especially when Usagi is completely melting down over losing Mamoru and the return of these painful memories. It's a huge step in making this team of superheroes - and, more importantly, this group of friends - work together as a team. I love this entire dynamic that's being created here.

Speaking of group dynamics - the Shitennou seem to be getting some valuable group cohesion together as well. I'm eager to see where Crystal takes these guys (not wanting to spoil anything - but I have theories that I think would serve all these characters well).

Stupid rock. It's your fault all this happened.

Anyway - the next episode promises to have a lot more backstory. Stuff that's probably only ever been dealt with properly in fanfic. And all I can say is that it's about damn time.

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