Welcome to Sailor Moon, the Newbie Recap: Episodes 1 and 2
Be nice to cats.
Good day, and welcome to our Sailor Moon newbie recaps! Just for a change of pace, I, Susana, will be your resident newbie, and not our Newbie Recap Veteran (not an oxymoron) Rebecca. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be watching and recapping two episodes a week from the show’s original 1992 run (now conveniently available on Hulu), because I am a child of the ’80s who never actually watched Sailor Moon, except once, alone, on late night Toonami, at my aunt’s house in California where they had Cartoon Network. Let me throw my memory back and collect what I know about Sailor Moon:
- Actually a kind of decent amount. I read a bunch of the manga last year (including some Sailor V), as excitedly supplied to me by Victoria, and so I’m pretty well acquainted with the characters and even a few significant plot twists of the comics, which I shall try not to spoil for anyone who might be following along. We’ll see how the show aligns itself with my hazy memories of the books from a year ago.
- Based on what I’ve read, my favorite Sailor Senshi is Mars.
- My earliest memories of Sailor Moon date back to the late nineties, where I pretty much dismissed the series concept outright. It was that anime show where the bad guys waited for everybody to finish posing before they attacked, right? That’s so much more dumb than Power Rangers, obviously. To be fair, a childhood of reading fantasy and science fiction books and sneaking peeks at superhero comics where the boys couldn’t tease me had taught me that if something was made specifically for girls, I probably wouldn’t be interested in it. It was a while before I developed the maturity to stop knee-jerk distancing myself from Wonder Woman or Batgirl.
- Sailor Moon shares several staff members with my favorite anime of all time, Revolutionary Girl Utena, so I owe it an immense debt. Perhaps watching it, and absorbing tropes of shoujo anime when played straight, will give me more insight into the many metatextual levels that Utena operates on.
- Right, so Usagi is the leader of a group of four or five buttkicking female superheroes who derive their powers from celestial objects, related to some kind of Moon-based monarchical system. She’s guided by an animal companion, Luna, who basically started the keyboard cat meme. In their secret identities, they all go to school together and hang out at an arcade where they all crush on the cute, young (but NOT young enough for them, kinda ew) owner.
- Also Usagi keeps running into a creepy older dude who is clearly Tuxedo Mask, the most ineffectual superhero partner ever.
- They fight some… bad guys… who are collecting energy… for something…
- Eventually there are some lesbian characters.
And now, without further ado:
The Crybaby: Usagi’s Beautiful Transformation
Our story begins as many anime do, at least as I’ve been assured by the internet: the main character waking up late for school and dashing out of the house. It also begins as most hero’s journey’s don’t: with animal abuse. On her way to school, Usagi rescues a stray cat from some horrible children and shares a weird moment with it, but then leaves when she remembers that OH GOD SCHOOL IS A THING.
At school we are introduced to Usagi’s best friend Naru, who so far as I know will not be becoming a Sailor Senshi which in my mind makes her the Wakaba of this show. Can’t wait until she gets her awesome two-parter during the Black Rose Saga. We also meet Umino, that guy who hangs around Usagi and Naru all the time, who I have a soft spot for. I think because he’s exactly the kind of guy I would have crushed hard on in high school. The three kids discuss the mysterious Sailor V, a woman in a sailor suit who has been spotted fighting crime lately, and buy hook line and sinker into the rumor that she works for the police. This is frightfully implausible, but I respect that Usagi, Naru, and Umino just nod, because kids will buy into a lot of stuff, particularly concerning the omnipotence of authority figures.
Then, SHIT GETS VILLAINOUS VERY SUDDENLY.
We meet Queen Beryl and her underlings, who are all working on stealing “energy” from human beings for their unseen master through the magic jewelry that they’re offering at crazy low prices. While underling Jadeite explains his evil plan, some really snazzy but 0% ominous jazz music plays and I’m super into it.
Lured by the promise of cheap-ass shinies, Usagi and Naru head to Naru’s mom’s jewelry shop, where loads of women are just raking in the gems as Naru’s mom yells about the sale through a megaphone and is disturbingly, obviously evil.
Oh god, how long have the bad guys had their hooks into Naru’s mom? Did they kill her mom and replace her with an evil double? THIS IS A LOT DARKER THAN I EXPECTED, GUYS. (These thoughts are a recreation of Susana’s while reading the manga.)
Fortunately for Usagi, she manages to escape being trampled by bargain hungry women and from possessing any cursed jewelry, because she’s broke and certainly can’t ask her parents for money: she just failed an English test quite poorly. Then a grown man appears and insults her hair. Cards on the table: I know how things turn out with Mamoru. I know he’s . I just reserve the right to make fun of the big dork until that happens. As Usagi stomps off, Mamoru gives the jewelry shop the ol’ CSI: Miami stink-eye.
One thing about watching the anime that I can say in the first episode already is that the backgrounds are beautiful. Just look at this establishing shot of Usagi’s home:
If I saw that framed and on a wall, I wouldn’t think twice. But while the anime is taking full advantage of the new ways in which it can reach to tell the story, I also like the way it incorporates some of the static elements of comics language as well, like inset panels.
Followed by that mysterious black cat (Luna) with the crescent mark, Usagi bawls her way home with her bad test, and when there gets exactly what she was expecting: the riot act from her mother. She’s just about to take a nap without doing her homework when Luna shows up to tell her that she’s a
wizard chosen warrior against evil and responsible for protecting an unnamed princess. Usagi isn’t particularly impressed by this until Luna gives her a broach and tells her to say “moon prism power make up” and OH SHIT HERE WE GO.
GET IT, GIRL
No time for Usagi to be confused by her transformation, as she’s receiving cries for help on her new… bun decorations? And Luna convinces her to go out and save the day. Which is good, because the discounted jewelry is sucking the life out of all the women who bought it, and Naru’s evil mom is about to strangle her.
Oh, uh, good?
AAAAAAAAAAAAA. OKAY WHY DIDN’T ANYBODY TELL ME THAT SAILOR MOON VILLAINS WERE THIS CREEPY. Naru’s Other Mother turns all the women from the jewelry shop into a mind-controlled gang to attack Sailor Moon. And these women are hardcore: one of them just, like, has a broken bottle. Usagi, a fourteen year old with no idea how to fight, is rightly terrified, no matter what Luna tells her about her epic destiny. Fortunately, the intense frequency of her terrified wailing disrupts the mind control long enough that Tuxedo Mask has a chance to show up and provide moral support.
I know the “Usagi has super crying powers” plot device is an element of her earliest adventures, but lets say that I’m looking forward to the point where it makes itself scarce. Thanks to the encouragement of a strange, attractive man, Usagi collects herself long enough to follow Luna’s instructions on how to use her throwing tiara, and the day is saved by Sailor Moon!
Naru’s mom turned out to be tied up in the basement and all the bystanders involved assume it was a dream the next day, which I’m fine with, because the alternative is that Naru and her mom think it was all real, and I’d rather they just be happy and emotionally stable characters.
Punishment Awaits: the House of Fortune is the Monster Mansion
Okay, so Queen Beryl and her guys have regrouped. New plan. Visiting fortune tellers is the hot new trend that they’ll use to suck the life out of the average joe. In the modern day, cronuts would totally have been Queen Beryl, et al. all along. Those weird shoes with toes, too. Usagi update: still hopelessly late for school. Still super cute. Just, like, adorable. Usagi is really adorable, guys, and I don’t usually have that reaction to characters.
Meanwhile, it’s Umino’s turn to be central to the plot. He’s got a big ol’ crush on Usagi (like the kind where you’ve already picked out what to name your kids) but is too shy to ask her out. Naru suggests that he ask the fortuneteller everybody’s been going to, but of course he goofs it and goes to see the brand new fortune teller, the one with a neon sign and an actual business establishment, not the one sitting at a table at the end of a dark alley. I’m just saying, I would have done the same thing. On her own quest for knowledge, Usagi visits the real deal, whose customer base has all dried up. He observes the change sagely, though.
Sweetly, Usagi pointedly gets her fortune told by him and not that shiny place across the street, and he tells her that there’s a young man with a crush on her, one that she sees around a lot. This is the episode’s cue to remind us of all the men in Usagi’s life, including the first appearance of cute-guy-who-runs-the-arcade Motoki. The arcade has just received the new Sailor V game, which Usagi is terrible at. Nobody questions the plausibility or advisability of a video game based on a mysterious vigilante.
Usagi realizes that the fortune teller could have meant Motoki, and rushes back to ask him about it, only to find that he’s packed up for the night. She tries to do a little divination of her own with her shoe, but just continues her streak of accidentally bopping a sudden Mamoru on the head and then getting yelled at. Usagi stomps off home, meets her father on the way, and draws parallels between him an Motoki in a love-sick way and oh man, Usagi, you’re gonna look back on that after a few years of maturing and be embarrassed by it.
Man, Usagi and Mamoru really get off on the wrong foot. He should try walking a mile in her shoes before he criticizes her. But enough of the main characters, evil is a foot.
Umino finally gets his evil Tarot cards read by the evil Tarot lady, and she tells him to go do whatever he wants, turning him into the sort of well dressed ruffian that you warn your daughters about.
He sexually harasses a teacher, nearly traps Usagi in a kiss, and strikes up with a group of other Tarot-corrupted teen boys before, once again, Usagi’s Canary Crying Fit annoys them so much that they leave. Once alone, Luna tells her she’s gotta get to the transforming and sort out this problem. Her magical cat senses are telling her that those boys have been touched by evil forces. Like any homework hating kid, Usagi tries to guarantee a reward out of Luna first, to no avail. Come on, Usagi, you’re on a hero’s journey, get with the program!
Usagi transforms and goes off to fight the evil fortune teller Baum (whose true form is totally like a futakuchi-onna, and I LOVE IT) and her gang of mind-controlled evil teenage boys. Baum is creepy but a significant let down from last episode’s mother-replacing, neck-twisting horror, frankly. Tuxedo Mask shows up to help, and by help I mean to lean casually against a door with his sparkly teeth and tell Sailor Moon not to give up. Taking heart, she destroys Baum with a tiara attack, and, his job finished, Tuxedo Mask immediately leaves.
The day is saved, and Umino is utterly mortified to hear about his behavior. No word on how the teachers at school will treat him, but at least his beloved Usagi forgives him.
Moon Prism Power Wrap Up
As I go through these episodes, one of the things that I find myself wondering where the theme is in Queen Beryl’s domination and deception of humanity. The first episode can been seen as playing pretty hard into the “diamonds are a girl’s best friend” stereotype about the superficiality of women, but in our second episode, it’s a group of men who fall the hardest for the villain’s machinations. To put the question another way: what is being shaded as humanity’s weakness? Greed? Superstition? Consumerism? Shallowness/fickleness?
Or is it a lack of self control that manifests in buying into popular fads? Usagi’s personality failings (at least at the start of her heroic development) are numerous: tardiness, cowardice, an aversion to hard work, an obsession with food, sleep, and short term rewards, are all ones that can be solved by better self control. Anyway, that’s my current theory, and one that I look forward to testing on a larger sample size.
Until next week, when I’ll be watching “The Mysterious Sleeping Sickness: Protect the Girls in Love” and “Learn How to be Skinny from Usagi!”
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