Sailor Moon Crystal is a reboot of the original anime Sailor Moon, not a remake, though at this point in the series, it’s hard to tell the difference. Outside of a few minor (but notable, for reasons I’ll get to shortly) differences, “Act 1 Usagi—Sailor Moon” is close to a shot-for-shot remake of “The Crybaby: Usagi’s Beautiful Transformation,” the episode that kicked off the Japanese anime original in 1992. But Sailor Moon Crystal is reportedly going to swear its allegiance to the Moon manga series; the similarities between this and the first episode of the anime are due to the fact that “The Crybaby” was as faithful to the manga as the anime series got. (Or so I gather; I’ve never read the manga, so commenters who are more informed than I, please share your insights on that front.) Things should start to diverge a bit from the original anime—and probably a lot from the bastardized English version—from here on out, but “Act 1 Usagi—Sailor Moon” goes about its origin-story business in more or less familiar fashion.
Origin stories are a necessary evil for established fans of any given franchise; sure, it’s sort of neat to see your hero of choice get bitten by that spider again, or tear the Band-aid off that black cat’s forehead again, but there’s generally little in the way of surprise in these stories, so there’s a sense of marking time until we get to the good stuff. In the case of this particular origin story, it’s especially frustrating, given that it only focuses on Usagi’s awakening, with the rest of the Sailor Soldiers not making their appearances until later chapters. I think it’s fair to guess that few Sailor Moon fans consider Usagi their favorite character—though it is great to have Kotono Mitsuishi back voicing her; Usagi’s constant wailing just wouldn’t be the same in anyone else’s voice—but she is the protagonist and catalyst, and her first transformation into Sailor Moon is iconic, so it’s impossible to fault “Act 1 Usagi—Sailor Moon” for sticking to the script. But given that Sailor Moon Crystal is ending a long drought of new Moon material, there’s a certain “get to the fireworks factory” urgency in terms of assembling the five Sailor Soldiers, particularly given that Crystal is only airing every other week.
The good news for us impatient types is that, since Crystal is following the manga—the “Act 1” structure and episode title comes straight from the first chapter of the manga—we won’t have to wait nearly as long as if it were following the original anime, which didn’t introduce the second Soldier, Ami/Mercury, until eight episodes in. I’m not afraid to admit I squealed a little at the glimpse of the back of Ami’s head that closed this episode, not just because it foreshadows the introduction of my, and many fans’, favorite character in the next episode—titled “Ami—Sailor Mercury,” in case there was any doubt—but because the nature of her introduction, all dramatic and teasing-like, indicates that the makers of Crystal are aware of what fans want from this series, and seem to be more or less giving it to them at this point.
Also in line with this approach are Usagi’s dream sequences, which nod toward the “Moon Kingdom” mythology of Princess Serenity and Prince Endymion. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this fan-service, because it’s simply foreshadowing something that will presumably be spelled out over the course of Crystal’s 26 episodes; but it does speak to the way Crystal appears to be approaching the Sailor Moon story as a complete entity, with backstory and established chronology, rather than just a battle-of-the-week kiddie show (which, in fairness, it never really was in its original iteration, though that’s how most American fans first came to know it).
But if it’s fan service you’re looking for, Crystal has that too, particularly in Usagi’s transformation sequence, which I think manages to be even longer and more fetishized than the original–which, let me be very clear, is a good thing. Those sparkly, hypnotic transformation sequences are iconic to the Sailor Moon anime, and are what drew a lot of young fans to the franchise in the first place. While the animation (done by Toei Studios, which is responsible for the original anime as well) occasionally gets a little too computer render-y-looking for my taste, particularly during the formation of Sailor Moon’s boots, it’s wonderfully dynamic and true to the original—right down to the nail polish—while working in the new series’ established art style.
As for that art style: It’s clearly influenced heavily by the original manga artwork, particularly in the opening dream and title sequences, and the episode title card. While I imagine this might be jarring to those hoping for a straight remake of the anime, with its super-expressive faces and floating sweat-drops, I’m completely taken by how gosh-darn pretty it all is; this is as close to literal eye candy as it gets—colorful, sweet, and instantly addictive. Even though I know exactly how the story is going to unfold, it’s a joy to watch, just from a visual standpoint.
But the familiarity of the story—right down to the clearance-priced-jewelry-based evil plot, which remains hilariously regressive in its gender assumptions, if ultimately true to the bauble-obsessed spirit of the franchise—makes the little differences all the more special. The first meeting of Usagi and Mamoru—okay, fine, Tuxedo Mask—is more overtly romantic here, and the jewelry-store battle is more dynamic, in terms of both animation and how it plays out. For one thing, Tuxedo Mask doesn’t throw that damn rose (he does even less than usual, really, just kinda watching the battle from the window, then departing in dramatic fashion), so Sailor Moon’s victory becomes uniquely hers... which means it involves her ultrasonic crying incapacitating a horde of young girls hypnotized by cursed jewelry. As superhero mission-statements go, that’s a doozy.
Those differences—not even differences, really, just amplification and slight tweaking of certain elements—make this first episode of Sailor Moon Crystal feel like the start of something distinctively new, despite being more or less a remake. It’s familiar enough to established fans to function as comfort-food, but has enough personality of its own—in its look, in its pacing, in its general tone—to feel like a show capable of forging its own path over the course of a season, rather than just hanging out in the shadow of its massively popular, influential precursor. Whether that will create a new generation of Moonies, or just satiate the current crop, remains to be seen; if nothing else, it’s likely inspired a lot of lapsed fans, such as myself, to return to the series after not thinking about it for years.
But with the original series hanging out on Hulu right next to Sailor Moon Crystal, ready and waiting to service those looking for a hit of pure nostalgia and nothing else, the newer series is in a prime position to strike out on its own and create a new legacy. After all, there’s no point in retelling a story verbatim when that story in its original form is only a click away. So even though “Usagi—Sailor Moon” looks on the surface like a straight re-hash of “Crybaby Usagi,” it appears to be laying a slightly different foundation, upon which it can build something new and, hopefully, just as special.
- Usagi’s schoolmates Naru and Umimo have made the transition to Crystal completely intact—test scores and Umino’s swirly glasses included—though I wonder if they’ll have as big a role here as in the original, given that Crystal is working with a lot fewer episodes than the first season of the original anime.
- Also getting a little extra play this episode: Sailor V, whose identity I won’t reveal on the off-chance someone reading this isn’t familiar with how the original plays out... suffice to say, it’s exciting to see her referenced here in a little more detail than the original series pilot.
- I especially liked Usagi attempting to “Sailor V Kick!” her younger brother and whanging against the front door; so far, this series has a good sense of the original’s slapstick humor without being quite as cartoon-y in tone.
- Not sure if it was a subtitle fluke or the actual dialogue—I don’t speak Japanese—but Mamoru called Usagi both “bump head” and “bun head” in their first meeting. I suppose I can live without “dumpling head,” but “bump head” might be asking too much, Crystal.
- Yeah, who does wear a tuxedo in the middle of the afternoon, Usagi?