Usagi Tuskino and her friends Ami, Rei, Makoto and Minako are fourteen-year-old superheroes, respectively Sailors Moon, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Venus. Every day they struggle with the fiendish forces of homework, teachers, boys, goofing off and evil inhuman monsters which might destroy the world.
Sailor Moon's first season will always be my favourite, as with the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Both shows' opening runs have rough edges but a wonderful freshness. In particular their heroines are still raw and unproven. Usagi's first year was about becoming a warrior, but in this year she grows as a person. There's a theme of responsibility, with Usagi moving along the road to adulthood as she becomes (among other things) a surrogate mother.
Of course she's still Usagi, so this makes her merely "scatterbrained" rather than "less reliable than a chocolate baking tray". Nevertheless I missed last year's outrageous airhead. There are still some classic comedy episodes, but a more mature Usagi is less intrinsically funny (and arguably also less dramatic) than the basket case we knew and loved. This Usagi has known sadness and tragedy.
There's also less of Usagi's normal life, e.g. family and school friends, though I treasured what little we got. I particularly adored Naru's cameo in the season climax. At last the show's format has settled down, focusing squarely on the five Sailor Senshi, but the downside of this is that the show feels a little more predictable even though it's arguably a stronger line-up of stories. The fight scenes are a huge improvement on last year, for instance. With five Sailor Senshi and lots of different magical attacks, you get actual tactics and other cool stuff.
However the good guys are only half the story. Sailor Moon has always had fun villains and this year has a rich crop. Unlike the first season's 46-episode Dark Kingdom epic, this year they've realised that breaking things up into mini-seasons lets them end each one with the equivalent of an apocalyptic season-ender. This year has either two or three story arcs, depending on your definition. We could call them the Doom Tree storyline, the Phantom Sisters and Back To The Future, although the last two are technically the same story. After the Sailor Senshi take out the Phantom Sisters, their bosses step in personally.
The Doom Tree storyline isn't anything special, being a pale rip-off of last year's Dark Kingdom. Bad guys summon monsters to steal energy, yadda yadda. It's no surprise to learn that this arc was developed by the show's producers as filler and has nothing to do with the manga. However in fairness it has an interesting ending and one of Sailor Moon's greatest shock moments to date. Not being used to cliffhangers in this show, we get absolutely no warning when after only a dozen episodes the show pulls one motherfucker of a cliffhanger before wrapping everything up. The villains Ali and En (i.e. Alien) seem less badass too, though there's some amusing comedy with them at school. They're drippily in love with each other but they also both have roving eyes, which leads to low comedy... especially since they're pretending to be brother and sister!
Incidentally this story arc's self-plagiarism is so blatant that they even sneak in a surrogate Tuxedo Mask, albeit the version from his early days when he was nothing more than an annoying deus ex machina. This one's called Sir Moonlight Knight. Yup, I'm afraid so. However thankfully he doesn't last long and at least this time there's genuine mystery about his real identity.
However the next storyline (based on the manga's Black Moon arc) is completely different, with a gobsmacking opening that messed with my head. Usagi is on a date with Tuxedo Mask when a little girl falls from the sky and puts a gun to her head. This brat is not only also called Usagi but even has the same stupid hairstyle... and that's just the beginning. At times it almost becomes the X-Files. It takes two story arcs to deal with all the consequences of this, not to mention a cast of villains who are total bastards. They're evil backstabbers to the point where it's bad tactics, manipulating each other like pawns. The body count ends up being fairly respectable, some deaths being richly deserved and others genuinely tragic. Sailor Moon villains have been known to find redemption, but this doesn't necessarily mean they'll get a happy ending.
It doesn't hurt that the Phantom Sisters are sexy, especially Berthier. As one might expect from this show, we even see them naked. Heh heh. As an aside, since it's unusual for TV anime to show nipples, this show's nude transformation sequences are basically as explicit as the dirty-old-man fanservice in something like Gun Frontier or Burn Up Excess. It's also hard to remember that our heroines are only fourteen, since they're already so shapely that in a few years you'd think they'd be stopping traffic.
I've voiced quibbles but this is still a good show, with a light touch (usually) and some glorious comedy episodes (e.g. 55, 78). It even has a vital lesson for every girl... avoid mini-skirts if your thigh circumference exceeds your leg length. Check out the super-deformed mini-Senshi in the advertising break cutaways. I wasn't so taken with the futuristic Crystal Tokyo episodes, but fortunately they didn't last long and we soon returned to our world. I laughed, I cried, I had a ball. Here's to Season Three!