Hello, readers! I’ve been pretty out of it for the summer, mostly because the last few recaps have burned me out, and left me feeling kinda empty, like there was something missing. I don’t think they’re bad or anything, but they seemed to lack a certain spark that I see more when I read over my older stuff. Basically, the way I was writing most recently felt more like an office task, with me trying to insert certain things in certain places, regardless of whether or not it really worked, and in the end the whole process started to feel mechanical. As such, I took the last few weeks to clear my head a bit and relax.
So after quite a few weeks of inactivity, I’m back, trying to go back to the more free-flowing form of my earlier entries. I will definitely need a few posts to get back my footing, so bear with me. Or don’t; no one’s forcing you to read.
So that brings us to today’s subject, the live action incarnation of Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, the version that few fans bothered to watch, but just about anyone who did loved. And for good reason, too. The show took old concepts and drew new material out of them, managing to keep the stories fresh and interesting. The second half especially could almost feel like a deconstruction of the franchise at times, with downright frightening undertones, and some morally grey spots that the anime barely approached. But through it all, it never sacrificed the cheesy charm that got Sailor Moon its audience to begin with.
Of course, it wasn’t perfect. The actors’ inexperience REALLY showed at times, the ending was pretty abrupt (although to be fair, Sailor Moon is no stranger to that), and the fight scenes were… interesting.
But since no one watched this underrated gem when it came out, the show ended with out five main heroines permanently losing their powers, and there was no sequel series to abruptly give them back. Instead, there was an hour-long special detailing the lives of our plucky group several years after the world blew up and then became not blown up anymore (spoiler!). What have Usagi and Co. been up to after all this time?
First off, Ami Mizuno went to college in America, skipping her latter high school years, and is on her way to becoming an actual doctor. Rei Hino is hanging out in the mountains “harnessing her powers”, whatever that means. Apparently, practicing her calligraphy will help with that. Or maybe her powers involve waving a brush back and forth in a sorta graceful-ish manner and somehow forming coherent Japanese characters. Either way, the candles that she is working in front of start self-lighting, which can only mean that shit’s about to go down.
Minako Aino (who actually is an idol in this version, not just wanting to be one) has gone global, and now bases her songwriting in London. Makoto Kino has been studying flower arrangement. And Usagi… is late, as usual, and burned breakfast for her Mom and Luna. Oh yeah, Luna has a human form in this version of the show who can transform into Sailor Luna. It’s as unnecessary as it sounds. And aside from that, why no omelette for Shingo? Is he now at the age where he’d complain if you woke him up at noon?
What Usagi is actually late for is a meeting with her boyfriend, Mamoru Chiba. They’re engaged now, so Usagi had better get going on her omelette-making skills, otherwise she’d contribute nothing to the marriage, other than constantly having to remind the groom that she saved the world once in order to win arguments.
The two lovebirds’ day together is detailed in a montage even more sickening than the music video for Rebecca Black’s “Friday”. Basically, the entire day revolves around Usagi wanting to buy stuff, and Mamoru rolling his eyes at her behavior. So, basically, it’s as if they’re already married.
All this culminates in a scene in which Usagi and Mamoru get into a petty argument, as it seems like Usagi is treating marriage as an excuse to throw a party. Of course, my definition of a party is sitting alone in my room watching Sailor Moon, so in my eyes, every day is a party.
Meanwhile, Makoto has finished coloring in her flower blueprints for the wedding, while talking to her boyfriend Motoki Furuhata (yes, shippers, they’re canon here) about Usagi getting married so young. I’m wondering now, did Usagi get accepted into college? I’m not suggesting anything with that question, I’m just curious. Anyway, Mako-chan gets a call from Usagi, saying that the wedding’s off. So yeah, the central conflict of this special is a petty argument that most people in real life would get over in about 10 minutes. This is the part where story problems start to creep in.
Mako and Motoki have a talk with Usagi and Mamoru, respectively, with Mamoru revealing just how incompatible the two are when not charged with the burning passion of trying to prevent Queen Metalia from gathering energy. This is actually almost disturbingly accurate to how real-life breakups happen. Mamoru exasperatedly says that he doesn’t care if Usagi turns him down, which Usagi overhears, leading her to turn him down.
That night, while Usagi is asleep, Luna speaks to a
hallucination hologram of Queen Serenity. She asks the queen for her advice concerning our feuding heroes, to which Serenity responds by saying to do absolutely nothing. See, these two have literally waited entire lifetimes to be together, and clumsily written romantic conflicts aren’t enough to keep them apart! They didn’t work back in Sailor Moon R, and they sure as hell aren’t going to here!
Much more urgent, though, is that apparently something is about to awaken, according to the Queen. So, not much has changed. Incidentally, the Queen mentioned this after being summoned by Luna to talk about Usagi’s love life. What if the whole argument had never happened? Would Luna have just not felt the need to talk to Queen Serenity, and the Queen would have just not said anything? Come to think of it, does she really even NEED to say anything? Sailor Moon is rarely subtle about letting our heroines know when shit is happening.
As it turns out, something is going on, in the form of some random red lights operating out of what looks suspiciously like someone’s garage. Maybe it was the same one where the Cloverway dubs of S and Super S were recorded? Luna and Rei investigate, with the latter somehow wearing her shrine maiden outfit under a coat. Even though the coat leaves her legs exposed, while the maiden dress doesn’t. Okay. Turns out the new foe is Mio Kuroki, a bitch who was supposed to be Queen Beryl’s shadow or something, but now is here to provide a quick means for Usagi and Mamoru to work out their differences in the healthiest way possible.
Mio quickly fells Luna and Rei, before setting up her evil lair. Specifically, by turning a nearby closed amusement park into a Build-a-Bear workshop. I knew something was fishy with those guys! No one could possibly offer such customization and creative freedom without some sort of catch!
So Mio summons two more minions, one whose verbal tic sounds suspiciously like “Zuul”. Of course, this deliciously evil setup is not complete without a sufficiently evil outfit, one that is probably most evil to a fashion designer.
Mio’s first evil act is to infiltrate Tokyo’s broadcast billboards to sing her evil pop music, which is probably most evil to anyone above the age of 25. Usagi sees this on her way to visit the injured Rei at the hospital. Actually, Mio is sending a message to everyone that she is going to send in her clowns to take everyone’s energy, something which is probably most evil to… well, anyone, really.
The clowns do come in, and the braindead people actually believe they are there to entertain them, even though they literally just heard Mio tell them otherwise. Although, since Mio is under her guise as an idol, no one was really paying attention to her words, anyway.
Usagi, who strangely has not been attacked, does the very useful action of telling people to run, most who were already doing that to no avail. Though she does manage to save a little girl who can’t act looking for her mother, so there’s points in her favor there. Conveniently, all the clowns except one went out on their coffee break, so only the one is left to try and take Usagi’s energy.
Fortunately, who else should show up to save Usagi’s ass than Mamoru Chiba, wearing his Tuxedo Mask garb for the first time in ages (he stopped halfway through the show). During his intervention two other clowns’ breaks ended, so he ends up fighting three of them. Apparently his cane has the ability to dematerialize stuff, because the clowns are completely gone after the fight. Makes one wonder why Tuxedo Mask never used this rather nifty function.
Usagi and Mamoru’s bickering is interrupted by the four generals of the original Earth Kingdom, Jadeite, Nephrite, Zoicite and Kunzite. The four capture the duo and take them to their “new queen” (wonder who that is). All of the remaining girls hear of this recent development and all travel back to Japan in seconds through the magic of editing and suspenseful music.
Mio starts talking about her plans for world domination to Usagi and Mamoru in her usual playful style, which worked in the show because it provided a contrast with the darker, more straightforwardly evil Dark Kingdom members. Here, it’s just kind of awkward. Anyway, her plans involve marrying Mamoru, because “a queen needs a king”. A king which, in a generally patriarchal world, would mean either she has to share rule with him or serve as second-in-command to him. So her plan is basically to give the world to Mamoru. And since Mamoru’s a good guy, this kinda defeats the whole “evil” thing. Why go on about marriage again? Oh yeah, the writers need to convince the audience that Usagi and Mamoru are totally meant for each other.
Mamoru and Usagi, from their cell, start bickering again, with Usagi angrily telling Mamoru that he can just marry Mio instead. Again, Mamoru would literally be king of the world with Mio, while being with Usagi just got Mamoru a mountain load of debt from wedding expenses, so…
Meanwhile, Luna and Makoto call upon Queen Serenity again, who once again shows up to say that everyone else should do nothing, and that Usagi should resolve her latest crisis on her own. Yeah, because the whole point of Sailor Moon is that Usagi needs to resolve things by herself, and doesn’t need her friends at all, right?
Queen Serenity offers to lend the power of the legendary sword from the Moon Kingdom to Luna and Makoto, which marks a rare useful thing done by her, even if such an action is no basis for a system of government. The sword is stuck in a hunk of Styrofoam, and looks like it would have a nasty relationship with a wood chipper.
The next morning, after Usagi and Mamoru have spent a night staring awkwardly at the prison cell walls, apparently not needing to use the bathroom during that time, Jadeite and Nephrite burst in, ready to take Mamoru. However, our intrepid hero fights off the two in the most Adam Westian way possible, while telling Usagi to leave.
Meanwhile, all the other girls are headed toward the mountain where the sword is held. Because there’s just a mountain with a sword on it. Did this ever pique the interest of any local archaeologists? Or did Queen Serenity just put it there in a relatively remote place so that the Sailor Senshi could have their very own mini-adventures getting to it? I knew there was a catch to Serenity actually being helpful!
Ami reaches the place after essentially stealing a taxi and threatening to run over Mio’s clowns at speeds of 25 MPH (it would have hurt a LOT more). However, she is cornered by a monster. Minako gets cornered herself along with her bodyguards, and of course she proves to be far more a competent fighter than her bodyguards, by KICKING A CLOWN SO HARD IT BUSTS A WHOLE IN THE WALL OF THE PARKING GARAGE THEY’RE IN. Considering that Minako was always able to jump really high even out of uniform in the anime, I guess that was to be expected.
Luna and Makoto fight their way to the Legendary Sword, but of course are unable to pull it out by themselves. Obviously, all five of the girls have to be there to get the sword. Basically, Queen Serenity really really sucks at lending useful items to the Sailor Senshi. I know that friendship is cool and all, but don’t you think they’ve proved that enough in the show?
Mamoru is taken to Mio again, who takes control of his mind, a common occurrence if your name is Mamoru Chiba. Usagi has made her escape, and has just realized that Mamoru returned his wedding ring to her as he pushed her out. This makes Usagi reflect on how much of a brat she is, and she continues on her merry way.
The remaining girls finally reunite on top of Death Mountain. It’s not actually called anything, but I’m calling it that in reference to something else I could be doing. Minako arrives on a motorcycle, too, something that must be added to the list of things that all idols must be able to do along with axe-wielding and cliff-scaling.
Even though it was established that all five girls need to be there to get the sword, the four who are already present are able to pull the sword out by themselves, because the “hearts of Rei and Usagi are with them” or whatever. All I know is that Queen Serenity sucks at being consistent with the rules. The sword is unsheathed with a majestic metal-sliding sound effect that was definitely not post-recorded.
Usagi, deciding that now is the time when she usually goes in to save Mamoru’s ass, turns back and runs back into Mio’s place, where she and Mamoru are about to kiss, thus completing Mio’s thoroughly evil plan of stealing an 18-year-old girl’s boyfriend. She instructs Mamoru to kill Usagi, but he instead proves to be above Mio’s influence by dropping a sheet on the generals’ heads. A sheet that had nothing written on it and does not appear to serve any purpose other than to be placed above the generals’ so that Mamoru can have his moment of awesome. Seriously, even THIS feels forced?
After a little more banter (that actually feels natural for a change), our two lovebirds escape, with the four generals in pursuit. Actually, they’re not the four generals, but a bunch of Mio’s clowns in disguise. The real generals show up to save our heroes from the proven-to-be-easily-subdued clowns, which is the most use we’ll be seeing out of them.
Of course, where the four clowns fell, at least ten more are behind them, along with two Kamen Riders (not really, but once again I feel the need to refer to something else I could be doing). Mamoru magically gets on his Prince Endymion garb, and with it he and his four generals sort of do a clumsy little dance with the clowns. But since the clowns are shitty dancers, they keep running into the generals’ sword props and falling down.
Mamoru eventually faces off against the surprisingly patient Kamen Riders in a remote abandoned playground (Tokyo does seem to have a lot of those). Mamoru defeats the two by tricking one into killing the other for him, and using the distraction to kill the first one.
Finally, Mio has had enough of having her plans thwarted, so she takes it upon herself to complete her plan of stealing Mamoru from Usagi by… turning into a monster and trying to kill him. Well, with Mamoru gone, I guess Mio’s planning on being single then. And then her world would actually be ruled by an evil person. Or, Mio didn’t actually have a plan for anything and the writers were just making everything up as they went along.
Because Mamoru has long busted up his Badass Meter, the universe sets itself right again by having Mio’s new tentacle-monster form thing thrash him and his generals around. As Mio is about to kill Mamoru, she falls victim to the crippling villain reflex of suddenly losing momentum in her thrusting motion when Usagi calls out “Hold it!”
Usagi can’t do anything, not being able to transform, but as is natural with Sailor Moon, the rest of the Sailor Senshi show up in the nick of time with the Legendary Sword. Maybe it was Queen Serenity’s plan all along to have their entrance be as dramatically convenient as possible. Of course, Minako is the one holding the sword, because Sailor Venus.
The sword is really only needed to temporarily re-arm our heroines with their Sailor Senshi powers again. Which prompts me to once again question why Serenity even bother with this whole sword thing at all. Ah well, at least she actually HAD a plan, unlike the opposition, even if it did have to rely on a lot of improbable timing.
And so, exactly 48 minutes and 28 seconds into the special’s run time (out of 1 hour and 10 seconds…)
Finally, after the cheesy, Z-grade budget transformations that I know and love, that leaves 10 minutes left in the special to end Mio for good, conclude Usagi and Mamoru’s petty crisis, and show off the end credits. This does not leave much for the former. In fact, I’m fairly certain that the fight itself takes up less than one minute of screentime. Add that to the scenes of the girls kinda just standing there looking pretty for the camera, and that’s still maybe 3-4 minutes that they’re in costume, tops.
Oh, and it’s night now for some reason, because the day-to-night transitions in the show are even more spontaneous than in Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. Anyway, Usagi has decided that after having her boyfriend almost stolen from her by a dark chick with magic powers, no one’s having her Mamoru again except herself, so she’s getting married right after the next jump cut!
In what is undoubtedly the best part of this otherwise mediocre romp, Usagi tosses the bouquet after the wedding ceremony, only for it to be caught by… Motoki Furuhata! And then he pops the ultimate question to Makoto! For if there is any character in this series who deserves happiness, it is indeed the turtle-loving employee of Game Crown! There’s a few minutes left in the special, but it’s all standard flashback stuff, so as far as I’m concerned, this special is over!
So that was Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon: Special Act. While certainly not the worst thing to have come from the franchise (especially in light of the first two seasons of Crystal), it fails to add anything meaningful to a series that already tied up most of its loose ends within itself. The main conflict feels like something that Usagi and Mamoru should be well past by now, and even though part of the message of the special is how much Usagi’s “changed”, centering a story around a relatively petty crisis between the two completely undermines this.
But the absolute worst aspect is the fact that the villain has no proper motivation. In the series, Mio wanted to give Usagi hell for fun. That’s fine, as she was a relatively minor villain anyway. Upon promotion to the main villain in this special, however, her only purpose of being there is to shake things up so that Usagi and Mamoru can once again realize their love for each other, and this makes it seem like the only way their relationship can work is if they pound up bad guys all the time. Mio’s agenda is not made clear, and her plans are so full of holes that this just further drives in that she’s only here to make Usagi and Mamoru get back together. Nothing in this special has any sense of urgency as a result, because why would Toei end their special with the girl not getting the boy?
I came across as really negative in the above paragraphs, but this is certainly not the worst thing to come out of Sailor Moon over the years. At least it’s not Chibiusa befriending a baby dinosaur. Or worse, the first season of Crystal. I still say that the real show itself is fantastic, and should definitely be checked out by more people.
PS: It has come to my attention that I failed to include a group shot of the Sailor Senshi in costume. This came as a result of them actually being in costume for so little of the damn thing that skipping over it was almost inevitable. So here you go. You will notice that it suffers from a distinct lack of Sailor Mars. That’s because Queen Serenity really sucks at establishing the rules of a fictional universe. That, and because Keiko Kitagawa has way better things to do.