I’ve been very, very slowly working my way through the original Sailor Moon anime, which aired from 1992-1997. Although there is a certain charm to the the first few seasons (titled Sailor Moon and Sailor Moon R, respectively), they are often pretty heavy on filler, sag in the middle, and are slow to develop character until the very end. While the five original Scouts are introduced by the end of the first season, Venus, the last, doesn’t appear until episode 33.
Sailor Moon R particularly dragged on, giving us over a dozen episodes with two fillery sibling villains before introducing Prince Demande and the Black Moon arc and finally giving me some character development. When I finished, I was a bit demoralized by the formulaic nature of the show. The only reason I was interested in starting Sailor Moon S was because it would finally introduce Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus (a.k.a. the most explicitly queer of the Sailor Scouts). What I wasn’t expecting was that this season would be so much more engaging on all counts than the rest of the show so far.
While S still has a new and ridiculous monster each week, this time around they feel more like monster of the week episodes than a constant string of filler battles. This season’s flavor is the Daimohn, soul-sucking creatures engineered by a mysterious professor and deployed by members of the Witches 5 organization, who are trying to collect pure heart crystals from various citizens of Azabu-juban to fuel the professor’s nefarious experiments.
S tips the fragile balance between monster of the week and filler by allowing the characters to really develop over the course of the season, with defining character moments woven in throughout all of the episodes. For example, unlike other random villains, the Daimohn are too powerful for even Sailor Moon to defeat on her own. It’s only with the interference of two new and mysterious Sailor Scouts that the squad is consistently able to defeat them. We get hints of their motivations and goals, which are considerably different from those of the original five, bit by bit as the story progresses. Meanwhile, their streetclothes identities, the talented high schoolers Tenou Haruka and Kaiou Michiru, sweep onto Usagi and co’s radar and sweep them off their feet.
It was fascinating to see how Haruka and Michiru interacted with the younger, more innocent Sailor Scouts—their motivations are far more cynical and utilitarian. They appear at every Daimohn fight not to save the pure-hearted person being targeted, but because they know that hidden inside three particular pure heart crystals are talismans that will help Neptune and Uranus hold off the terrible approaching threat, a foretold Silence in which everything will be destroyed. Should they seize these talismans, the pure heart crystals could not be returned to their owners, and the owners would die. Sailor Moon sees this as an unacceptable choice, while the older two see it as a cruel but necessary decision. It takes nearly the whole season and Sailor Moon’s sacrificing herself to protect the world to bring them around to her way of seeing things.
On a less serious note, a running theme of the story this season is that Haruka and Michiru are so powerfully gay that they skew the sexualities of those in their orbit. Usagi and Minako especially are fascinated by the two of them, and even after discovering that the butch-presenting Haruka is female, are still seriously attracted to her.
We also get a complex storyline for Chibusa and the new character Hotaru, who turns out to be Sailor Saturn. We barely see Hotaru in that role, as Saturn is a fabled destroyer whose appearance does not foretell good things ahead. Hotaru plays a complicated role in the story, as her daimohn-possessed father turns out to be the professor doing all the bad shit. Hotaru has the potential to become Sailor Saturn, but has also been groomed by her evil father as a vessel for Mistress Nine, the bringer of that nasty Silence that Neptune and Uranus were trying so hard to prevent. Hotaru is also chronically ill, although it’s unclear whether this is natural or a side effect of being experimented on. This is only sometimes handled gracefully; mostly, Hotaru has “seizures” that exhaust her (although they’re more like fainting spells). I do sort of wish they’d explored this more fully, as there’s a lot to unpack in the fact that the secret identity of Sailor Saturn, by far the most powerful of the Sailor Scouts, is disabled when out of uniform. Chibiusa quickly befriends Hotaru upon meeting her, despite their age gap. Hotaru is in many ways her first true friend, and Chibiusa tries her best to support Hotaru and to seek help when she becomes suspicious about whether the goings-on in Hotaru’s household are on the up and up. This was the point where I finally started to appreciate Chibiusa as a young character doing her best, rather than the seriously spoiled annoyance I was frustrated with in the previous season.
I actually ended up finishing Sailor Moon S in less than a month, eagerly binging episodes whenever I had the time to spare. In comparison, the previous seasons have taken me over a year, as I was invested in the end product but not the individual episodes, and often would only watch one or two at a time, every so often, when I had nothing better to do.
If I did have one complaint, though, it would be the characterization of Neo Queen Serenity as not having matured all that much from teen Usagi. While she seems more emotionally mature, at least, it’s a running joke that she’s still almost as illiterate as Usagi herself is, writing missives across spacetime entirely in hiragana because she can’t remember the right kanji. This is played off as goofy in the story, but holy shit it’s actually terrifying? Neo Queen Serenity is the benevolent ruler of, like, Earth. Crystal Tokyo is civilization, full stop. And it’s supposed to be funny that the woman in charge is such a goofball that she can’t even remember her kanji? Yikes.
While I absolutely recommend this season of Sailor Moon to potential viewers, I also acknowledge that it’s kind of dismaying that you have to sit through 90 episodes before getting there and being introduced to all nine Scouts. Your mileage may vary, but it was definitely worth it for me, and I’m excited to see what awaits me in the next season.