I’ve neither read nor watched any other iterations of the Sailor Moon franchise, nor do I plan to. When I first heard it was being rebooted for its 20th anniversary, I wanted to go in as green as possible, unfettered by prior knowledge or expectation. Even so, I was aware that Sailor Moon was an immensely popular and iconic cultural phenomenon that directly influenced countless newer series I’ve watched and enjoyed. That carries its own expectations.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece here, and I didn’t get one. But I was pleased with how pure, elemental, and straightforward the storytelling was. That’s kind of a given when you’re dealing with a show that isn’t just “a take” on the quintessential magical girl stories, but is the quintessential magical girl story, full stop. To that end, it sticks with a charming throwback aesthetic that you don’t see very often in contemporary anime.
That simple story can be summed up thus: pretty but clumsy and unfocused girl steps on a cat on the way to school, removes band-aids from her head. The cat shows up in her bedroom window to bestow a magical talisman that turns the girl into something resembling a heroine. She defeats the villainess, frees the jewelry-grubbing ladies under her thrall, and catches a glimpse of the Dashing Prince of her dreams.
I liked how Tsukino Usagi’s initial weaknesses ultimately worked to her advantage. Her abysmal test scores meant she wouldn’t be able to ask her mom to buy her any jewelry, without which she didn’t fall under the bad guy’s spell. And because she’s uncoordinated and late for school, she ends up stepping on a cat that gives her the tools to fight the bad guy. Heck, even her quickness to tears turned out to be a useful weapon.
Usagi doesn’t just look like no one else in the current anime spectrum; she sounds like no one else, too, thanks to the veteran Mitsuishi Kotono, who has always voiced Usagi. Don’t get me wrong, so much of Usagi’s dialogue is sooo stupid, but Kotono’s line delivery is a wry blend of syrupy guilelessness tinged with wry irony. Whether she’s happy or sad or falling down the stairs, Usagi always puts on big, over-the-top productions, and I couldn’t help but chuckle at them.
That theatricality is put to good use when she transforms, which is the episode’s big visual set piece, employing elaborate CGI that heralds the show’s official arrival to the 21st century. It was a nice surprise, akin to when the cartoonish-looking Panty & Stocking suddenly adopt realistic character designs when they transform. Usagi’s somewhat cumbersome sailor fuku accentuates her clumsiness, but in Sailor Moon kit she cuts a far sleeker, more mobile figure.
Which is why her first moments as Sailor Moon are so funny: she looks the part, but has no idea what to do or how to do it, and is suitably flustered. Thankfully, Luna is there to tell her, and the bad guy is dispatched; perhaps too easily, but it’s only the first battle; it couldn’t be too hard. And for a few shining moments, Usagi shed the “hopeless dumb girl” act, believed in herself (and in the stuff Luna was telling her), and stood up against evil to protect others.
This episode was a nice introduction to Usagi, her ordinary life, and the more exciting and trippy life that awaits her. She still has lots to learn, including how to juggle these two lives, but we know she’s going to meet allies, allowing for more interesting battles with tougher enemies. To conclude, despite harboring zero nostalgia for the franchise, this reboot stood pretty well on its own freakishly long, slender legs, and left me looking forward to the story continuing in two weeks’ time.