This week's Sailor Moon Crystal was a little all over the place. Instead of focusing on a single story like the excellent character piece for Sailor Mercury, it tried to be two things at once, never quite hitting highs in either. But it did tell us this: Sailor Jupiter seriously needs to step up her flirt game.
Even though pacing problems, the dreaded bugbear of Crystal, came up in Act 17, at least for once it was because the show wanted to do too much in its 24 minutes, rather than doing stuff all for much of the episode before cramming it all in at the end. The strict adherence to the flow of the manga means we could never get a 'filler' episode that would give the show time to breathe a bit and expand on itself outside of the main plot (which is honestly a detriment in the long run), but in all honest I'd much rather Crystal be a show that has too much it wants to show and do with itself rather than a show that has barely anything to it at all, which is basically what we got in the Dark Kingdom story.
Let's get this out of the way: Crystal will probably never be as funny as the original anime — it's even largely managed to skip most of the funnier moments in the original manga, a bizarre choice considering its otherwise far too reverential adherence to the source material. But god dammit, when it wants to be funny, it actually can be, and it goes a long way in the service of humanising its cast.
The first half of Act 17 is given over to Usagi and Mamoru trying to figure out what's going on with Chibi-Usa, but it's framed around a series of comedic events, a great way of advancing the plot in a way that isn't just a plot dump, as Crystal has been wont to do in the past. At first, we get to see Chibi-Usa freak Usagi the heck out by showing her Mamoru's still immensely creepy Tuxedo Mask doll. It's a nice bit of bonding between the two — a moment where they're not actively hostile to each other — even if it is brought about by a conversation that is basically "Hey your boyfriend gave me, the small child that recently inexplicably entered your life, this doll of himself, maybe you want it haha oh god". He doesn't even have to be in the scene to be immensely weird, which I'm pretty sure is Mamoru's actual superpower. I like to imagine he was was hanging outside Usagi's window watching this moment though, because that seems entirely likely for him at this point.
This carries on as Usagi meets up with Mamoru in the Arcade, only to find Chibi-Usa (as well as Makoto and Minako) in tow. Naturally, this leads to hijinks ensuing as Usagi and Chibi-Usa duke it out over several arcade games. It's a great little montage, not just because it's actually funny and a sweet moment for both characters, but it still further advances people cottoning on to Chibi-Usa thanks to Mamoru taking notice of the Luna-P for once. It's a sort of deftness with plot that the show has rarely managed before, and the fact that it did it while coinciding with being funny was great. Hopefully the show can do more of this as it expands and grows more confident with itself
Also, side-note: Motoki, the Game Crown staff member who seemingly runs the arcade all by himself, gives Chibi-Usa and Usagi Sailor V dolls. This isn't weird, because Sailor V is established as a mainstream fictional character in the show. She has her own video games, presumably her own TV show, there are posters featuring her everywhere. There's a precedent for there being Sailor V merchandise in this world, unlike Tuxedo Mask merchandise. There's only one Tuxedo Mask doll in this world, and it's owned by the guy who is secretly Tuxedo Mask, and he passes said doll around to the girls in his life. NO I WILL NOT STOP BEING FREAKED OUT BY THAT WEIRD-ASS DOLL.
Meanwhile, the show remembers that it should probably spend some time Makoto before she's whisked away by the Black Moon Clan — and although it's incredibly goofy, it still works out and makes sense for Makoto as a character, and it's still good to see more done with the characters outside of their role as Senshi.
Makoto, who is feeling a bit under the weather (which apparently makes her statically charged, leading to the hilariously awkward moment in the header image), accidentally bumps into her maybe-more-than-friends buddy Ittou, Mamoru's kohai. Noticing how unwell she is — and already a little freaked out having overheard Usagi, Mamoru and Luna discussing Ami and Rei's abduction — Ittou offers to take her back to her apartment. Makoto agrees, and, perhaps through a sickness-induced delirium, proceeds to put her charms on Ittou in the most spectacularly awkward manner. Let's break down just how bizarrely this goes for the poor girl:
"Is that a picture of your parents?"
"Yeah, they died in a plane crash ages ago ahahaha have some tea!" *weirdly inappropriate cutesy wink*
"Makoto, there's some weird shit going on with your friends. Like talking cat levels of weird shit."
"Well, you have cute eyes so please hang on while I explain that me and my friends are actually secret superhero ladies who fight evil, that seems reasonable."
"I like you, Makoto."
"Bwuh..." *falls directly onto Ittou's face, kissing him on the forehead*
Smooth, Makoto. Real smooth.
Understandably a little flustered, Ittou promptly runs off, and as goofy and awkward as the scene is, it's meant to be. It's a great little character moment for Makoto, who so far has merely been characterised as the straight-forward Tomboy who likes to fight stuff. She's understandably awkward around the people close to her, and her realisation that finding a set of friends in the Senshi has helped her be more caring and let people like Ittou into her life is very sweet. It's not something she does, because she's had her heart broken before, so of course her attempt to flirt with Ittou goes hilariously wrong. And yet, it works! Too bad she gets captured by the Black Moon like, 3 minutes later. At least her last thought before succumbing is of poor Ittou. D'aaw.
The actual fight section of this episode is painfully rushed, but for once, I don't actually mind, as the rest of the episode was spent doing things that were a) actually enjoyable and b) things the show needed to be doing anyway: spending time with its characters and making them feel less like cardboard cutouts in Senshi suits. In a way, it works because the fight with Petz is tossed so quickly out of the way it almost hammers home the pointlessness of it, the inevitability that once again the Black Moon will abduct another one of the Senshi. Intentional or otherwise, for once the rushed pacing didn't actively harm the whole episode. It almost had a point to it, something that Crystal is only really just starting to do with itself. That's a good thing, even if it means an inevitably messy end to the episode.
Although it ultimately doesn't hit the highs of the first two episodes of the Black Moon arc, Act 17 still manages to trump much of Crystal's first block of episodes merely by still taking time to focus on its characters rather than throwing half hearted, poorly paced adventures around. It's nice that the show has finally realised that spending the time to get to know this cast can actually be worth it.
Next time, it looks like what's left of the gang are going finally going to question Chibi-Usa instead of merely talking about questioning Chibi-Usa. Baby steps, team! God, I just hope that Mamoru doll isn't involved in any way at all.
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