14 year-old Usagi Tsukino is klutzy, stupid, and a crybaby; far from heroine material. But her life was changed one day when she meets a black cat with a crescent moon on her forehead while running to school. She tried getting close to it, but the cat ran away. The cat later met up with Usagi again after school in her bedroom, where the cat, Luna, told Usagi that she had the power to transform into the warrior Sailor Moon. Usagi reluctantly acceted her fate, not knowing of all the enemies she would face, the friends she would make, the experiences she would encounter, and even the romance that would await her.
The first season of the five-season Sailor Moon series revolves around Usagi, your typical teenage girl turned superheroine, her fellow comrades (Ami Mizuno/Sailor Mercury, Rei Hino/Sailor Mars, Makoto Kino/Jupiter, and Minako Aino/Venus), and their battles against the Dark Kingdom, led by the evil Queen Beryl and her four powerful generals.
I decided at the beginning of the year to rewatch Sailor Moon in Japanese for what I called my "20th Anniversary retrospective" on the forum. My third watch of the series in general, you'd think I'd have nothing else to add at this point to a series just about every anime has seen, or at least has heard of. But I do, and I'll share that with you once more.
Sailor Moon was an important anime in the day. It made popular in magical girl anime the concept of teams, an overreaching plot, seasonal sequels, and, like the 1973 Cutie Honey, had a successful run with near simultaneously released anime and manga throughout its 5 run. Countless imitators popped up in the mid to late 1990's, but few had the success, or memorability, of Sailor Moon.
Part of this is, oddly enough, due to having a wimpy, clumsy, klutzy crybaby for a heroine. Before this became a tired trend in the genre, Usagi Tsukino was kind of interesting. Here you had a typical teenage girl who loves video games, boys, and sweets, and then you have the audience supposed to leave that this girl is the protector of the entire world. Quite a bit of weight to drop on a 14 year old, ain't it? Usagi's isn't helped by being constantly told by both Luna and her teammates repeatedly to grow up, become more like a leader, and accept responsibility. Even her future love interest in the franchise, Mamoru Chiba, spends most of season one teasing her and kicking her down for her poor grades and immaturity.
In fact, a fairly big chunk of the first season with Usagi revolves around the tension between her, her school life, and her Sailor teammates, and it's why I think Sailor Moon stands out a bit from its contemporaries. The girls in Wedding Peach argue a lot, but at the end they're still friends. In Magic Knight Rayearth, heroines Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu get alone almost upon immediate of one another. Even in more recent magical girl anime like Smile Precure!, the girls are friendly from the get-go even before they became magical girls. Usagi does not get this kind of respect until nearly the series' end, only after her trying countless times to fix herself for the good of the team.
And the series could have made out Usagi into an annoying, unlikable brat, but series director Junichi Sato and his staff didn't do that. Usagi is emotional, but cares deeply for others even when she's being kicked down. She's a little selfish at times, but more than willing to lend a hand. She can be annoyed by her junior high school / Sailor duties, but is willing to do the right thing. Coupled with an excellent voice actress in Kotono Mitsuishi, and you have a character much deeper than early impressions lead you to think.
The other Sailors, each with a different attacking affinity (Ami water, Rei fire, Makoto nature, and Minako love), aren't quite as developed as they would be in later season, but you still get that despite all the fighting and conflict, they all care for each other. I always saw the Sailor Soldiers, Luna, and Artemis as one big family, and with all the emotional highs and lows that go with it. I also like that despite Usagi being made out to be the comic relief, her more competent allies' quirks are played for laughs at times, too. Ami's smart, but her intelligence tends to go over Usagi's head and confuse her. Rei's passionate and fiery, the result being accidentally setting her own teammates on fire as Sailor Mars due to her reckless nature. Makoto is strong (one of the first scenes in the series with her involves taking down men over a foot taller than her), but also very girly and prefers organization and tidiness over fighting. Minako appears in the early episode as competent and headstrong, but is bad at memorizing phrases and an be spastic at times. (This would develop much more in R.) It may not seem like a lot, but little touches like these add a lot to the show.
Surprisingly, the character I find myself liking the most in my Japanese run-through is Luna. Or, as my friend dubbed her in the beginning of the season, "the only character with her brain intact". Earlier I mentioned the Sailors being funny, but Usagi and Luna's chemistry bounce off each other so much, you'd think they were siblings despite one of them being a cat. She's not just a magical girl mascot; she's her own separate character with her own motives throughout the season. She has the heavy burden of finding all the Sailor Soldiers, as well as keeping them in line.
For all the good I have to say for Sailor Moon, the franchise, much less this series, has a problem that is expressed by both fans and haters alike; it's repetitive. Like almost all anime, Sailor Moon was a weekly broadcasted series, and was not really meant to be watched several episodes at a time over the course of a few weeks or even a few months. You can almost do a Mad Libs on it;
1.) Beginning of the episode begins with Usagi doing something stupid or Queen Beryl talking to insert name of general of the arc. (Switch when needed.)
Speaking of the Dark Kingdom, Queen Beryl isn't all that interesting a character, and she had little backstory for quite a chunk of the series. Her Generals, while amusing/cool at times, don't really add anything to the show other than colorful banter with the Sailor Soldiers. The only exception is the multi-layered Nephrite (and at times Zoisite, specifically during Nephrite's arc).
I also got tired about halfway through my Japanese-only watch of all the badmouthing of Usagi her supposed friends do behind her back, or right in front of her. Yes we get it, Usagi is a klutz who sucks at school and is not remotely lady-like. We don't need to hear Luna and/or Rei inform us of this every chance they get. Granted some of the arguments can get funny, but for those who think English dub Rei is a bitch should seriously rewatch episodes with her in pivotal roles prior to episode 43.
The early 90's art and animation is also dated. Usagi and her friend are cute as a button, but the backgrounds often come up looking like drafts (often the buildings/skies aren't fully colored!), and the animation relies on a lot of stills and recycling. (The transformation sequences are worlds better animated than the rest of the series.) Dated can also be used to refer to the soundtrack, though there is a decent variety of music styles, from piano, rock, jazz, and of course pop.
So yes, Sailor Moon hasn't dated very well since its premiere 20 years ago. Yes, there are other magical girl shows that are a little better (CardCaptor Sakura, for one), and even most of its knockoffs have better art and/or animation. But Junichi Sato's Sailor Moon has, underneath the monster of the day fights and hackneyed at times dialogue, heart. Unlike series director Kunihiko Ikuhara's sugar-rush take on the series, the girls act like typical teenage girls here outside of the fights. Heck, some of the classroom scenes in the earliest episodes almost feel like another series altogether, like a high school comedy. (Sato would expand more on the comedy in magical girl anime moreso 4 years later in Magic User's Club.) Whereas the original manga was clearly a girls series, the mostly male-staffed anime is a bit more down to Earth at times, and in my opinion more likable in that regard. I liked the series in 1999 when I saw the English dub, and I still like it now 13 years later in its original Japanese.
Also, since Stig watched the entire series with me from 2009 up to the middle of 2011, I'm going to let him add his two cents;
I don't remember too well how Sailor Moon ended up on our synchro schedule, but I looked towards it with a curious interest and some amount of trepidation. While I do have "magical girls" in my least favorite genre listing on my profile page, it doesn't -- as some people who've mailed me have assumed -- mean I hate magical girl shows. It only means that I'm well aware that I generally fall well outside the target audience group for said shows, and, by that token, rarely seek them out.
But despite Sailor Moon itself almost being as much a commercial for toys as an honest-to-god series, I found it oddly charming. Yes, it's formulaic as all sin, and yes, the characters in it almost all deserves slaps to the back of their heads at times, but if what I've heard about the manga is correct, that might be the preferable option anyway. The first season of Sailor Moon also wins point for having monster-of-the-week's that are actually somewhat menacing compared to the goofy cavalcade of misfits that would dominate later seasons, even if they all went down the same way; with tiara-shaped imprints on their bodies.
As such, I also remember my journey through the first season of Sailor Moon not without a certain amount of fondness. It's hardly a contender for my list of favorite anime, but despite its formulaic setup, it had a certain sense of fun about it. That's why I'd like to think I've gained the perspective needed to understand why so many people remember it so fondly, even if its wrinkles have long since started to show.
Knocked it down a star after a lot of fighting about it. Still an excellent series, but it has not aged well at all. — Tim Jones
Recommended Audience: Seven and over, for both the American and Japanese versions. Yes, the Japanese version had nudity, but never in a gratuitous or sexually-oriented way, and never detailed at that. The fight scenes are standard, as the enemies turn to dust, with a few exceptions, which are handled tastefully.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (46/46)
Sailor Moon © 1992 Takeuchi Naoko / Kodansha / TV Asahi / Toei
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