Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Video Backlog: “Sailor Moon”

Publisher: Viz Media (USA)
Format: Region A Blu-ray, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional English dub and English Subtitles. Region 1 DVD, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional English dub and English Subtitles.
Length: 46 episodes x 24 minutes
Production Date: 1992 - 1993
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

I was a bit hesitant about doing a synopsis for this show, but I guess a lot of new fans might be unfamiliar with it, so here goes. Usagi Tsukino is an ordinary 14 year old Japanese schoolgirl living in the Tokyo suburb of Azabu Juuban. Usagi is a complete klutz, cries a lot, gets low grades and is always late for school. Another ordinary school day seems to be starting as Usagi rushes to school, but she spots two primary school kids tormenting a black cat. She saves the cat from the kids and removes a pair of band-aids on the cat's forehead. Underneath is a golden crescent moon. The cat stares her down and moves towards Usagi which scares her a bit, but she notices she's late for school and runs off.

After a horrible day at school, and coming home to an angry mother who found out about her low score for a maths test, Usagi goes to her room. She notices the window is open and hears a voice calling her name. It's the black cat that she saved earlier that morning. The cat's name is Luna. She believes Usagi is Sailor Moon and gives her a brooch which can transform her into the legendary heroine. Luna's main mission is to find the Moon Princess, but in the meantime a monster has replaced the mother of Usagi's friend, Naru. Luna and the transformed Sailor Moon head to the Jewellery store where Naru and her mother work and live. There they discover that the monster has taken over a group of customers and turned them into zombie-like creatures. Sailor Moon is quite daunted at the task of defeating the monster, but is helped by a mysterious and handsome masked man named Tuxedo Mask (who oddly resembles Mamoru Chiba, the guy whom Usagi has a love/hate relationship with. Do you think maybe they're the same person? Nah, can't be...). Soon Sailor Moon manages to defeat the monster, restore the customers back to themselves and free Naru, though she doesn't know Usagi is Sailor Moon.

Over the next few months while looking for the Moon Princess, Luna and Sailor Moon battle a number of monsters disguised as humans, seemingly wanting to take human energy for some purpose. Along the way Luna recruits three more Sailor Guardians; a brainy girl in Usagi's school, Ami Mizuno (Sailor Mercury), a fiery Shinto priestess with limited precognitive powers, Rei Hino (Sailor Mars) and a brawny, yet very feminine tomboy, Makoto Kino (Sailor Jupiter). Luna eventually reveals to the Sailor Guardians that they are fighting the Dark Kingdom, enemy of the Moon Kingdom where Luna is from. Headed by Queen Beryl, the Dark Kingdom is trying to acquire human energy to revive an evil being named Queen Metallia. Beryl has several handsome male lieutenants who serve her; Jadeite, Nephrite, Zoisite and Kunzite, most of whom are defeated by the Sailor Guardians. But soon their focus switches to obtaining the Silver Crystal, also wanted by the mysterious Tuxedo Mask. The Crystal was broken into seven "Rainbow Crystals", each now in the bodies of seven humans. After a long battle, the Sailor Guardians finally come into possession of the crystals and obtain the Silver Crystal. They also recruit the final Sailor Guardian, Minako Aino (Sailor Venus) and her partner Artemis, a second cat from the Moon Kingdom. Both had been acting independently from the others, with Sailor Venus in disguise as the mysterious masked crime fighter Sailor V. The Guardians now set about defeating the Dark Kingdom in order to save Earth.

Before I get into my criticisms of the show, I’m going to point out that this show really did turn the magical girl genre on its head. "Sailor Moon" has the usual magical girl elements; the mascot, the transformation, the wand and other magical items, but creator Naoko Takeuchi adds other elements to the mix to create something highly original. Borrowing from Toei's super sentai series, she has taken the core formula of the genre; a transforming team of heroes who fight monsters who originate from an evil empire. Just like sentai team members, all of the girls have distinct personalities and even a colour which represents them. Even the way they fight a monster every week is similar to the formula sentai shows have. The other stroke of genius was putting all the girls in the classic Japanese sailor school uniform. And let's face it, this was the key element which made it a cross over hit. It's quite obvious that the boys who watched it tuned in to see shapely girls with obscenely long legs in short skirts. I also note that some of the Sailor Guardians footwear when transformed borders slightly on the fetish side, with lace up boots and stiletto heels. I mean come on, you can't tell me that this wasn't a conscious decision by the character designer. I also note that fan favourites Sailor Mars and Mercury do have some rather infrequent fan service moments, but these pretty mild and tame when compared to today's anime.

Aside from the design elements and the overall Dark Kingdom storyline, another great element is the relationships between the five girls who make up the Sailor Guardians. The characterisations are pretty good and there's plenty of comedic and romantic sub plots as well as character development to keep fans happy. There should by a girl with a personality here that anybody could relate to. The character designs by Ikuko Ito and Kazuko Tadano are such classics too. They're instantly recognisable to any anime fan, as well as those who aren't into anime. Even though this series is mostly comedy based, the drama is an area where this series truly shines. There's some truly heart wrenching subplots. In particular the final three episodes are quite sad and full of tension. The final two episodes are probably two of the best half hours of TV anime in the 1990’s (baring "Evangelion").

Director Junichi Satoh is a certified genius of magical girl anime. With titles like "Ojamajo Doremi", "Kaleido Star", "Princess Tutu", "Pretear" and "Maho Tsukai Tai (Magic Users Club)" he has become king of the genre. Like the majority of the titles he has directed or created, "Sailor Moon" is filled to the brim with cute and extremely likable characters, overflows with shoujo drama and has plenty of humour. Another important part of the series is the cast. In particular the woman who plays Usagi, Kotono Mitsuishi, who has also played Excel in "Excel Saga" and Misato in "Evangelion". Her energetic and happy-go-lucky performance suits the character very well. I can't imagine anybody playing Usagi but her. Interestingly Kae Araki played Usagi during the final couple of episodes due to Mitsuishi being hospitalised due to her appendix being removed. Luckily these last few episodes are very serious in tone, so her absence is not noticed that much, but this also due to the great performance that Araki gives, who sounds very close indeed to Mitsuishi.

Yes, there are tons of transformations repeated during the episodes. Yes, the wands and other items Luna gives the Sailor Guardians are designed specifically as marketable toys for young girls. Yes, there generally is a monster who pops up every week and yes, the Sailor Guardians end up defeating it each week. But geez, this a great little show. However I didn’t enjoy the series as much as I had in the past. Maybe it was an overfamiliarly with the show. Maybe it’s because the animation hasn’t aged all that well. Maybe it’s because magical girl shows released after this one ("Cardcaptor Sakura", "Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha", "Puella Magi Madoka Magica" etc.) have topped it. Maybe it’s the fact that the “monster of the week” plot is used over and over again for 40 something episodes and does get a bit tiring after a while. Whatever it was, it didn’t do it for me so much this time around.

The other major problem with this set is Viz have pretty much fucked up the video. Make no mistake, the BDs are far, far superior to ADV Film’s old DVD set from 2003. The audio is much more clearer and the video is a far cry from the old worn out composite master used on ADV’s set. However the show should look a hell of a lot better than what it does on Viz’s BDs. There’s a lot of weird ghosting, mosquito noise and aliasing. Add in some very occasional pixilation and what seems to be oversaturation in parts. The question is why does it look so bad? Viz just seems to have completely cocked up the authoring. And judging by a recent ANNCast, they don’t give a fuck. I suppose it’s selling truckloads and they just do not seem to care. It’s utterly disappointing, but at least the video is watchable and better than the old ADV DVD set. The preludes are still after the opening animation and I think the variants of the first opening animation (disguising the identities of the Sailor Guardians until they appear in the show) aren’t there, which is the same as the ADV set and quite disappointing. The extras on the discs include the first clean opening and closing only plus a whole lot of useless extras created by Viz. Most are videos compiled from footage from conventions where Viz relentlessly promoted the fact they’d acquired the series. Do people really want to see half an hour of over excited American fans blabbing on about how they adore the series? There’s also video of a panel where the Viz rep briefly introduces the cast of the original 1990’s DiC dub, but aren’t releasing that version (still loved by a large section of fans, some in anime fandom, a lot who aren't). Why in hell would they do that? To fans it must have given the impression there were releasing that version of the show as well. On the positive side the box which houses the two halves of the series is really well done, as is the booklet, which is a lot better than the crappy “Ranma ½” booklets which only have episode synopsises in them.

So in short, “Sailor Moon” is a bit of disappointment in terms of content and presentation. With no alternate UK (or Australian) blu-ray release on the horizon, I think I will continue to buy the Viz sets despite their gross incompetence in authoring the BDs. I still think the show is worthwhile and amazingly they’re a vast improvement on what was previously released on DVD. 7 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: One series, one movie, also waiting for second parts of a number of shows to be released before viewing them.

No comments:

Post a Comment