Sailor Moon Crystal is back after a terrible relapse into old habits. However, this week there’s a welcome break from infodumping nonsense, which leads to an interesting mediation on one of Sailor Moon’s core beliefs: the power of friendship, and how without it people can stumble into their darkest moments.

Much of Act 21 is spent dealing with the fallout of the roughly three minutes of plot that occurred in the previous episode — Usagi has been kidnapped by Prince Demande and everyone is understandably upset. But although Act 21 falls back into the usual SMC tropes of navel gazing plot-dumping, for once it decides to use that information dump to flesh out its lead characters, Usagi and Chibi-Usa, and mirror their stories. It’s not a bad attempt at getting the audience up to speed with often pointless back story, its infodumping that benefits its characters — something that rarely occurs in Crystal, but when they take the time to do it, it makes for a good episode, as it largely did here.

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The strength someone gains from friendships sits at the heart of this episode, the need for those bonds to help people in times of great need. One of Crystal’s frequent points of interest is highlighting that while Usagi may not be the greatest fighter or the best leader as Sailor Moon, she is symbolic of the strength the Senshi find from their connections with each other, but here the focus isn’t solely on Usagi. Through Chibi-Usa we get to see what happens when someone does not have that strength to fall back on... and it leads Chibi-Usa into a whole heap of mess.

The first section of the episode revolves around Usagi waking up to find herself on Planet Nemesis, the prisoner of Prince Demande and the other members of the Black Moon. It’s pretty bleak: She discovers she can’t transform into Sailor Moon to free herself thanks to Nemesis’ own crystal negating the effects of the Legendary Silver Crystal. In the moment of her being robbed of that power, Demande takes control of her body, forcing her to sit and stare at him while he prattles on about how peace and long life isn’t good for people (he doesn’t bother explaining why that is, so it goes a long way into just showing how far off the deep end Demande really is). He even goes as far as to kiss Usagi while she’s under his control, a moment of weakness that almost breaks her and sends her into hysterics once Demande leaves her alone.

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But at that darkest moment, Usagi remembers that she’s being kept where her captured allies are (remember when this show had three extra main characters?). And instead of succumbing to despair at her situation, she realises that the strength of her friendship with them is what will see her through — to the point that she even manages to psychically stir the other Senshi out of their slumber, resolute in her desire to save them. And when Demande and Wiseman realise what Usagi has done, instead of going to confront her, they simply try to kill Rei, Ami and Makoto — a tacit realisation of where Sailor Moon’s true strength really lies.

The second half of the episode focuses on Chibi-Usa who, it turns out, does not have a close circle of friends she can draw strength from like her future mother does (oh, time travel shenanigans, you’re so fun). We learn that Chibi-Usa is unable to transform into a Sailor Senshi and use the Legendary Silver Crystal, which leads to her being bullied and ostracised by her peers, and largely alone. Her only real relationship is with her father — Neo Queen Serenity being seemingly distant for much of her life — and eventually with Sailor Pluto, who seemingly has learned how to do some basic parlour tricks with her Garnet Rod while she’s guarding the Time Door. I mean, I guess she does have the time to do that sort of thing.

But back in the present time when Chibi-Usa goes to see Sailor Pluto, she sees the Outer Senshi talking to King Endymion, most importantly sees her happy to talk to him, and this breaks Chibi-Usa’s resolve. It seems like a weird thing for her to get so upset about, but it mirrors nicely with her mother’s own relatively silly freak out when Mamoru wanted to protect Chibi-Usa, and underscores just how similar they can be. Distraught and believing she no longer has friends to confide in, Chibi-Usa abandons her Time Key and runs off, alone and in danger...

... where she of course bumps into Wiseman (somehow. Just say time travel enough and it’ll go away, I guess). Wiseman preys on Chibi-Usa’s moment of weakness, about her loneliness and the fact she has no one she can find strength in. And unlike Usagi, Chibi-Usa believes she doesn’t have that strength, that she doesn’t have friends any more. Her moment of weakness arrives, and she places her hand in Wiseman’s, giving up to his temptations.

See, SMC? A little character drama never hurt anybody.

As we head into the last chunk of episodes of Crystal, let’s hope Act 21 is a sign of the ship righting itself after an unfortunate nosedive last week.


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