It's time for one final battle against the Dark Kingdom on this week's Sailor Moon Crystal, and it's another stop on the up-and-down rollercoaster that has been the uneven quality of Crystal's first season - one that unfortunately doesn't hit the highs of recent episodes.
I've been enjoying the past few weeks of Sailor Moon Crystal, but Act 12 felt like a throwback to the earlier episodes of the season - not just in terms of the rough, uneven pacing, but also a significant animation step down as well. There were a lot of weird shots in this episode that felt like they were framed to hide as much animation as possible - lots of off screen fighting, tight closeups on faces. SMC has been dogged by these problems since it started, and although it's getting better on the home releases, there had been an improvement in the weekly episodes up until this point. It's a shame to see the series stumble as it heads into the final stretch of the Manga's first arc.
We pick up with where we left of last week, with the Senshi down and out and Tuxedo Mask now backed up by Queen Beryl. It doesn't take long for Sailor Moon to break down and refuse to fight Tuxedo Mask again, which leads to Beryl going all Medusa on the girls and wrapping them up in her hair. They're in it long enough for Venus to explain that Beryl was formerly a member of Earth's nobility like Endymion, before she fell under Metalia's thrall. Seemingly powered by being the only one to extol backstory at this point, Venus summons the moon sword the Senshi found in the Moon Kingdom to free the girls and strike Beryl down. Finally, Venus gets one of her best moments from the manga!
Oh wait. She doesn't. Venus' attack is deflected, only for Usagi to pick up the Sword, aiming for Beryl's necklace - and although she strikes true, it's not until Usagi begs Mamoru to turn back to his normal self that the sword works, purified by the Legendary Silver Crystal, and offing Beryl for good (not before Beryl gets to confirm that before she was evil she fancied Mamoru. As if this show needed more relationship drama! Was everyone trying to hook up before Metalia showed up or something!?). One of the biggest problems of SMC so far has been its willingness to sacrifice depth for other characters in the face of making it all about Usagi and Mamoru - and I get they're the main characters, but it seemed superfluous to make Usagi the one who kills Beryl, not Minako. The show is already enough about Usagi's relationship with Mamoru, it doesn't need to take character arcs from the other girls to give to her as well. It's the same even for Beryl - her death is dealt with and discarded so quickly it's hard to even remember why she was meant to be such a big threat. The pacing of this episode is just far too quick (and too light on any actual plot) and it ends up feeling like a rushed mess.
Alas, despite Beryl's death, Mamoru is still an evil jerk (hooray) and swipes the sword and the Crystal before opening up that wormhole from DS9 to flee into the Dark Kingdom, Usagi in hot pursuit. The other Senshi seem distraught at first that she would run off without them, but considering minutes later they're following her to the North Pole with their Sailor-glowy-bubble thing - but they're blocked off by the Shittenou, desperate for a fight and unwilling to hear that they'd been duped by Beryl and Metalia. At this point it just feels like we're going through the motions - Usagi begs Mamoru to remember, he fights her, the Senshi beg the Shittenou to remember, they fight them. Although Usagi can't get through to Mamoru, even with a Moon Healing Escalation attack, the Senshi are a bit more successful in getting through to the Shittenou, empowered by their need to protect Usagi, letting off a Sailor Planet Attack that restores their memories of being Endymion's knights. Yay, happy end-
As much as I kind of like the instantaneous killing of the Shittenou by Metalia - just because it's so literally the moment they're free that it's almost comedic - it's kind of a shame that all the plot twisting they did to keep them alive in this adaptation came down to nothing more than the confrimation of Takeuchi pairing the Senshi and Shittenou off after she finished the manga. The Shittenou didn't really get much characterisation, but the promise of them doing something more for them was always there - only to be cut off so immediately. A shame. Anyway, free to move on to find Usagi, the girls catch up to where Mamoru is fighting her, only to witness Usagi taking the nuclear option when she is unable to get through to Mamoru - charging at him with the Moon Sword and slicing him up, before turning the blade on herself:
Sailor Moon just cranked the dial all the way up to Romeo & Juliet. Our heroes are dead! Whatever will we do? Dun dun dun, etc.
It's a weird decision to have the penultimate episode of the series done in such a rushed, shoddy-looking manner, but who knows, maybe it was to give more of the budget over to next week's grand finalé. Death! Resurrection! Ominous shenanigans on Earth! Lets see if Sailor Moon Crystal's current storyline can end on a high in the new year.
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