Sailor Moon Newbie Recap: “Naru’s First Love,” “Nephrite Dies for Love”
Dammit, Naru... NO, Naru... NARU, STAHP.
Oh my god guys, did Sailor Moon swap me from hating Nephrite to kind of feeling bad for him? I… I’m not even sure. Let’s get started.
“Wish Upon a Star: Naru’s First Love”
Let’s say it up front: this week was all about Naru and Nephrite. In case there was any doubt based on other episodes, Naru’s got it bad for Mr. Masato Sanjoin, even though he 1. asked her to an empty mall and then yelled at her for not being Sailor Moon and 2. was the last person she talked to before mysteriously passing out and waking up in a completely different room. Fortunately, she finally tells her best friend that she’s in love. Unfortunately, when Usagi tells her that she should definitely stay away from him, she thinks her best friend simply doesn’t understand the seriousness of her feelings.
Meanwhile, in the Dark Kingdom, Queen Beryl is flipping her shit over Nephrite not answering his phone. It may be that our second arc villain has finally worn out his good graces with the Queen. Naturally, Zoisite is there to see it, and naturally he pops over to Nephrite’s planetarium to gloat. But not for long: Nephrite is coming to the realization that the only way for him to get back in good with Queen Beryl at this point is to take Zoisite’s job and find the Legendary Silver Crystal, and he tells him so. Zoisite teleports out in a swirl of rose petals to go cry to his boyfriend again. Have I mentioned that I love Zoisite? Kunzite comforts him by pointing out that even if Nephrite does find the Crystal, Zoisite can just steal it from him before he can present it to Queen Beryl and take all the credit. Zoisite thinks this is a great idea and turns to the youma who has apparently been there the entire time observing their intimate moment. She agrees to watch Nephrite.
Also, Nephrite destroys his planetarium in order to summon the Dark Crystal.
It’s a magical device that will show him the way to the Silver Crystal. And it points to… Naru? Speaking of Naru, the other senshi are divided on how Usagi should proceed: should she tell Naru that Mr. Sanjoin is bad news immediately, even if it drives a wedge between them, or should she wait and hope that Naru continues to confide in her so that she can help her later? Either way, Usagi promises that as Naru’s friend, she’ll take care of it.
Then she goes to ask for more advice from Motoki. And Mamoru, who invites himself along on the advice-giving trip. Motoki’s initial instinct is to wait and see, but Mamoru disagrees, and Motoki is swayed by his reasoning. “If you tell her the truth, Naru might get mad, but as her friend, it’s something you should do.” Confidence bolstered, Usagi resolves to go to Naru’s apartment and tell her in person. So she does, blurting out that Masato Sanjoin is a bad person and that she should forget all about him… and then she leaves instead of staying to make sure the message sunk in, as Luna finds out when Usagi gets home.
Which is unfortunate, because that’s when Naru gets a late night call from Masato Sanjoin. He asks her to join him in a nearby park because that’s not at all a dangerous thing for a fourteen year old girl to do. When she gets there, he pours on the tragic hero story as they stand next to a VISUAL METAPHOR.
He tells her that he loves her, but that because he cares about her he has to leave. See, some “bad people” are after him and would hurt her if they knew he cared about her. If only he had the *ahem* Legendary Silver Crystal *ahem* then he could get them to leave him alone and wouldn’t have to leave. But he can’t. Because he doesn’t have the *ahem* Legendary Silver Crystal *ahem*. *Ahem*. To Naru, a silver crystal sounds just like a rare gem that her jeweler mother acquired for their inventory recently, and the poor sweet girl dashes off to steal it from their store so she can save her beloved man.
On their way to Naru’s apartment to check up on her, Usagi and Luna run into Naru’s mother, who’s terribly worried about how her daughter stole a rare crystal and then dashed off into the night alone after going to meet some person named Sanjoin. Transformation time!
In the park, Nephrite tests Naru’s crystal with the Dark Crystal—
And naturally he finds that it’s not the Legendary Silver Crystal. Meanwhile Naru is all:
When, to Nephrite’s surprise, the Dark Crystal starts to react to her. Hmm, he thinks, gotta investigate this further. But how to get her in my clutches… be smooth, Nephrite, be smooth.
Thank goodness that this is when Sailor Moon shows up and exposes Sanjoin as the evil Nephrite. A good old fashioned special-ability-off occurs between Nephrite and the Sailor Senshi, halted abruptly when Naru throws herself between Nephrite and a Moon Tiara attack. Much to Usagi’s undying relief, when she commands her tiara not to hit Naru it stops on a dime. “I’ll protect him even if it costs me my life!” shouts poor, sweet Naru, and all of a sudden the Dark Crystal—
The Dark Crystal flares up like Sting at the All-You-Can-Eat Man-Flesh Buffet for Orcs Only (look, I’ve been reading a lot of Lord of the Rings lately for this thing I do where I tweet the events of the books on the calendar dates that they happened). Does the Dark Crystal also react to… love?, muses Nephrite, just as Zoisite’s Noh-masked youma Yasha, mistaking the glowing gem for the Legendary Silver Crystal, swoops in to try and take it. In the scuffle, it falls to the ground, where it is picked up by a curious Naru. But before Yasha can lay a hand on her, Nephrite lashes out, protecting the girl, to the shock of everybody: Sailor Moon, all the Senshi, Naru (who faints), and even Nephrite himself.
“Traitors must die!” screams Yasha just before she is dispatched by a Moon Tiara. Nephrite returns Naru’s mundane crystal to her and Usagi begs him to have some care for Naru’s feelings. “Listen up, peons, when I get the Legendary Silver Crystal, you’ll all be under my heel,” is his only response. “I do what I want!” The episode ends with Usagi wishing on a shooting star for Nephrite to give up his evil ways, for her friend’s sake.
“Naru’s Tears: Nephrite Dies for Love”
Picking up where we left off, the next day poor Naru, who’s never done nothing to nobody, is 100% torn up about being in love with someone who is fundamentally not a good person. Not that she wants to stop loving him. She just wants… I’m not really sure what she wants, actually, but the episode sort of gets to that. Nutshell of the first scene is she can’t turn off her affection/interest in him in the same way you can’t turn off the weather: it’s just a thing that’s happening to her and she hopes Usagi can understand.
If you’ll indulge me for a moment, I am now wondering how much Naru inspired the character of Wakaba in Revolutionary Girl Utena, or if they both represent a broader trope in shoujo: the “normal” best friend of the “magical” main character who becomes infatuated with and is mistreated by an abusive or manipulative secondary villain. Wakaba’s second season arc in Utena is one of my favorite things in the whole series, from a textual and metatextual standpoint, and it’s really interesting to see it play out here in a less… self-aware way.
Indulging over: Nephrite is still trying to figure out why the Dark Crystal reacts to Naru, because he’s, like, never read a romance novel and so can’t recognize the tropes of the evil masculine character who cannot recognize that he’s in love. “Maybe the crystal is literally inside of her,” he muses, “because there’s NO way it could be reacting to mutual attraction/affection.” Can we get some Disney muses in here to give him a back up track?
Either way, Sailor Moon was on a first name basis with Naru, and that means that Naru might know Sailor Moon’s secret identity as well. Obviously that’s enough of a reason to go visit her bedroom in the middle of the night, right? That’s a normal thing not-obsessed-weirdos do, right? Nephrite verifies that Naru has not swallowed the Legendary Silver Crystal or anything, but she wakes up before he can leave. “I can no longer lie to you,” he lies, saying that he is the inhuman Nephrite but, thanks to how she showed him the true meaning of love for the first time, he wants to betray the Dark Kingdom and work with the Sailor Senshi, so if she knows anything about them she should tell him immediately. Listening in on all of this is Zoisite and three youma, who, assuming that Nephrite meant everything he said to Naru, hatch a plan to kidnap and threaten her in order to get their hands on the Dark Crystal.
Naturally, Naru doesn’t know anything and Nephrite leaves, clearly disappointed and angry that she’d lie to him. He watches the devastated Naru, unseen, assuming that she’ll contact Sailor Moon soon. And, naturally, not knowing who else to turn to, she calls her best friend Usagi, telling her all about how her beloved Nephrite is in real big trouble unless he can find Sailor Moon. Usagi rushes right over, only to be waylaid by Nephrite,
who knew where she was because I don’t know who now suspects that she is Sailor Moon for the flimsiest of reasons and only coincidentally turns out to be right. His theory is confirmed when Usagi unknowingly transforms in front of him.
Look, I’m just saying, the Senshi have never been particularly careful about who they transform in front of or even if they’re not, you know, smack in the middle of a crowded amusement park when they do, so really Nephrite you coulda figured this out at any time. He attacks, but is interrupted by, who else, Tuexedo Mask, who is standing on top of a street lamp like he’s not a total weirdo. And then they would throw down, but Nephrite psychically senses that Naru is in danger and returns to her bedroom, where Zoisite’s youma have left a very poorly written note about her kidnapping.
“Those fools. I don’t care what happens to that girl,” says the guy who just left his entire evil plan on the other side of the city because he heard Naru calling out for help in his head. He confronts the youma in the run down bar they’ve got her in and rescues Naru handily.
While carrying her home, he shares such romantic insights as “I don’t even know why I saved you,” “Oh god, am I turning into some kind of Tuxedo Mask,” and also “I’ve been lying to you like, all the time, and I have no hard plans to stop.” “As long as you’ll stay by my side, I don’t care if you deceive me,” Naru responds and AGH NO NARU. Then she notices that he got cut on the arm while rescuing her and drags him into the nearby park to tend his wound, because of the two of them, she has read romance novels.
As she bandages his arm with her PJs, she asks him if he likes chocolate parfaits. He answers yes, in an obvious lie, and she teases him about it, pointing out some lies are told out of kindness. I see what you’re getting at here, Naru, but last episode he wasn’t lying to save your feelings, he was lying to get you to steal from your family business. However, despite himself, Nephrite does appear to have started caring about Naru’s feelings and working to make sure that she likes him in general. He agrees that they should go get chocolate parfaits sometime and then probingly asks her if she thinks he’s lying about that. It’s a delicately played scene: Naru’s affection is clearly getting through to him, at least in this momentary situation where he’s not putting up a front for any outside observers. But still, her affection still exists in spite of his previous manipulative behavior and in hope of further change. If this was really an equal relationship, Naru’s affections might start from this point and grow. As it is, I’m still pretty uncomfortable with it, but I don’t feel like the show entirely expects me to embrace Naru/Nephrite, which keeps me from being wholly uncomfortable.
And then the youma show up and impale Nephrite on poisonous twigs. Hey, you read the episode title! They’ve as good as killed him and tell him that if he doesn’t want them to kill Naru too, he better hand over the Dark Crystal before he dies. The scene descends into the best kind of high drama, with Nephrite yelling at Naru to run, Naru desperately trying to pull the thorns out of his shoulder with the STRENGTH of LOVE while they magically electrocute her and burn her hands, and three youma taunting both of them from midair. When it looks like Naru might, against probability, succeed in pulling out a thorn, the youma decide to just kill both of them immediately, and Nephrite leaps in front of the blast, shielding Naru and releasing the Dark Crystal.
Naturally, this is when Zoisite shows up to gloat, grabs the crystal, orders his youma to finish them both off, and then disappears in a swirl of flower petals. Then the Sailor Senshi show up THANK GOD and destroy the youma before they can do any more damage.
All that’s left is to watch Naru openly weep over Nephrite as he bleeds out (taking the secret of Sailor Moon’s true identity to his grave). The Senshi are all real sad that he’s dying, even though they didn’t personally witness any indications that he’s become less of a manipulative bastard to Naru, so that’s admittedly a little weird. “It doesn’t look like we’ll get to eat those chocolate parfaits,” he says to Naru, “I ended up lying to you until the very end.” DAMMIT, SAILOR MOON, STOP MAKING ME FEEL SAD ABOUT NEPHRITE. Then he dies, and his body disappears in, no joke, a cloud of sparkles.
And then everyone is sad. Including me.
Moon Prism Power… Wrap Up!
But I’m not sad for Nephrite. I’m sad for Naru.
I gotta say, “how to tell your friend that they’re in an abusive relationship but can’t see it” is pretty heady shit for a kid’s cartoon, and I think Sailor Moon handled it pretty well. And I’m frankly impressed that the show managed to end the Naru/Nephrite will-they-won’t-they so quickly without making me uncomfortable. Naturally, this ending is the worst of all outcomes for Naru, in a way that the sadistic-to-characters writer in me is savoring. The fact is clear: no one should ever enter into a relationship based on the idea that it’ll work out if they can change fundamental aspects of their partner’s personality, or simply excuse their major negative qualities. Naru might have grown to see that, and to move on from him, if she and Nephrite had actually had the time to get to know each other and he hadn’t changed. Or… he might have actually changed, which would be a very difficult line to walk without making a story that perpetuates harmful ideas about relationships, from a metatextual standpoint.
But, coming back from the metatext, now Naru’s never going to be given a reason to internalize why Nephrite was/could have been bad for her: all she has is the initial hints that he might have been changing and her grief over having lost him. And the audience doesn’t even know for sure if Nephrite had the capacity to fully change. What we’re left with is terrible things happing to Naru that she barely understands and definitely doesn’t deserve.
You better make up for this with LOTS and LOTS of sassy Zoisite and Kunzite very soon, Sailor Moon.