Charles Baudelaire once said that the finest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist. Sailor Moon Crystal is in essence, very similar to the Devil in this regard — except that its greatest trick is to persuade you that it could be better than it had been. But it couldn’t even keep that trick up.
For anyone who actually listened to me a few weeks ago when I said “wait, hold on a second, Sailor Moon Crystal is getting better!” and decided to watch again, I am sorry. I really am. Because the show has seemingly discarded its attempts to improve on the first half of the season’s general malaise, and is back to its old tricks. Endless, endless infodumping in the most hamfisted way. Artificial drama to put a focus on the Mamoru/Usagi relationship. Atrocious pacing problems brought about by a misguided slavishness to the source material.
Mamoru straight up being the woooorst. But I can’t tell if that’s either a bad thing or the only thing I still love about Sailor Moon Crystal.
Instead of recapping the show as I would usually — because nothing of consequence happens until the last three minutes — let’s break down the three main reasons why Act 20 was such an outstanding return to poor form.
Over half of this episode was spent with King Endymion, the future version of Mamoru, explaining what happened in the 30th Century that lead to Chibiusa fleeing back to the present day for help (side note, Endymion makes Chibiusa introduce herself formally by her full name, Usagi Small Lady Serenity. WHO NAMES THEIR CHILD SMALL LADY. Proving that despite the fact nine centuries have passed, Mamoru will always be the worst.).
The problem is that this is something a lot of the audience already know — both metatextually because Sailor Moon Crystal is laser-focused at diehard Sailor Moon fans who know the manga off by heart, hence its reverence of the source material, and because of the fact that the show itself has actually been way better about peppering this backstory in during the second half. We slowly learn through Chibiusa and her flashbacks what we need to know: that Crystal Tokyo was attacked, Neo Queen Serenity’s life is in jeopardy, and now the same threat is beginning to strike back at 21st century Tokyo too. So what was the point spending 15 or so agonisingly slow minutes with Endymion spelling all this back out to Tuxedo Mask and the two remaining Sailor Senshi? There wasn’t much of a point, especially considering it leads to the awfully rushed climax of the episode.
This sort of lengthy infodump works in a Manga because hey, it’s just a chapter and then you move on to the next. With a TV show, a bi-weekly one at that, it means the audience is forced to endure a week of the story slamming the breaks on, before having to wait two more weeks before it picks up again. It’s wildly infuriating.
But hey, we at least get to see Sailor Pluto again as she warms up to the Senshi, offering them the Time Key and free passage between the 21st and 30th century. Seems complacent considering last time she was willing to kill them for even attempting to Time Travel, but hey. This episode has enough problems without over thinking things. Speaking of which...
When the gang return from the 30th Century, unceremoniously dumped back in the Park they initially travelled from, they have a relatively clear focus: protect Chibiusa, fight the Black Moon incursion so they can save both time periods. So naturally, this is the time for Usagi to turn on Mamoru and weepily bemoan that he’s so willing to protect Chibiusa over protecting Usagi or the other senshi. She runs off in tears, much to the befuddlement and shock of Minako and Mamoru. But also to the befuddlement of the audience, who are currently shocked at this atrocious moment of character stupidity.
As you know from reading these recaps, I will take any opportunity to remind everyone that Mamoru is terrible. But really show, you’re going to have Usagi get outrageously upset that he wants to protect the little girl he just discovered is his own daughter? That Usagi just discovered is her daughter, too? Usagi is clumsy, but she isn’t an idiot. This is turning her into an idiot, just to create artificial relationship drama between the two. It’s terribly done, and it’s a terrible way to try and drag that relationship back to the fore for no real reason.
It’s made all the worse by the fact we immediately cut to Usagi crying in her room, acknowledging that what just happened was completely ridiculous and would go nowhere. So why write it in the first place? Because Sailor Moon Crystal loves putting Usagi and Mamoru’s relationship above literally any other aspect of the show, even if it makes no sense.
Mamoru returns to his apartment with Chibiusa in tow, vowing to watch over her as a promise to his future self. Naturally, this means the following morning Chibiusa has vanished and he has no idea where she’s gone. YOU HAD ONE JOB, MAMORU. ONE JOB.
It turns out Chibiusa has ran off on her own to go back to 30th Century Crystal Tokyo, to see her unconscious mother and the fallen Senshi again. Naturally, this means she’s a prime target for Esmeraude to attack her, with the help of some Stretch Armstrong claws Wiseman has given her. Esmeraude is interrupted by the arrival of Tuxedo Mask and the Senshi, but they’re quickly incapacitated after Sailor Moon remembers her version of the Legendary Silver Plot Device doesn’t work in the 30th century. Luckily, Tuxedo Mask blasts Esmeraude with his energy attack, killing her — but then Prince Demande himself appears, recognising Sailor Moon as the young Neo Queen Serenity, and kidnaps her. Dun-dun-duuuunnn.
That whole paragraph? It happens in about three and a half minutes. Basically the only agency and plot of consequence to occur in this entire episode happens in the last three and a half minutes. Sailor Moon Crystal has long been dogged by pacing problems, but this takes those problems and cranks them all the way up to 11. It’s a complete mess, and any excitement to be taken from the scenario evaporates because it’s all packed into such a tiny percentage of the episode that you don’t have the time to even comprehend it before it’s over. Between this and the long, long period of infodumping in the first half, Act 20 is probably not a new low point for this second run of episodes, but a low point for the entire show so far. And considering that this is Sailor Moon Crystal we’re talking about, that’s saying something.
Toei Animation Chibiusa feels bad about everything that’s happened recently. But will that make the show better? God knows.
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