Kisenian travels to Earth from a distant galaxy to steal its positive energy and leave behind nothing but negativity and hatred. Needing allies, she hunts down the childhood chum of Usagi's boyfriend and preys on his weakness, turning him to the cause of evil. Together Usagi and Mamoru must defeat the combined forces of Kisenian and Fiore!
A good anime movie that's based on a TV series! Will miracles never end? I'd originally planned to discuss this as a sidenote to its companion TV series, but in the end it needed its own review. There are three Sailor Moon movies, one for each of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th seasons. This was the first and best of them, but what's more, astonishingly it breaks anime's curse by outclassing most of the TV episodes. Its plot is skimpy, with a villain who'd barely sustain a Buffy episode, but in fairness this movie is only sixty minutes long. To all intents and purposes it is a Buffy episode! Admittedly Buffy only runs for an hour if you include the advertising breaks, but the corresponding time here sensibly goes on characters instead of plot.
I love the animation because it isn't "good". Anime movies are fond of too-realistic animation that kills the charm of the TV show. Not here. Sailor Moon's early TV episodes were appallingly cheap, but this movie faithfully preserves the character designs, transformation sequences and so on. Instead they spent their money on some surprisingly good direction that make this a serious competitor in the action anime stakes. It's imaginative. The director, Kunihiko Ikuhara, would go on to create the visual phantasmogoria of Revolutionary Girl Utena. You can tell. I'd swear that one particular shot here inspired Read or Die.
The story is even better. I don't mean the villain, who's fun but the reason why this film is less well-regarded than it deserves. However in all other respects the script nails everything I love about Sailor Moon. At the beginning it's hilarious, with a lovely feel for the characters' relationships. The TV show ended up with way too many protagonists for comfort, especially given the 25-minute episode format, but the film's longer running time lets it showcase everyone properly. I approve. What's more it has ingenious horror-themed monsters that could have stepped from Season One. This film must have terrified its target audience of little girls, especially during a "we're so screwed" moment that's up there with the swimming pool in Gremlins.
However the characters are the heart of this film. We even get a fresh perspective on the girls' relationships! I honestly wouldn't have thought that possible. Nearly halfway through the show's 200-episode run, would you expect a cash-in movie to find untilled ground? I'm in awe, although unfortunately you have to know the original show to realise that it's a fresh perspective.
There's nudity. Of course. Oh, and the gay villain's in love with Tuxedo Mask. As is traditional for Sailor Moon, there was censorship for the American market, mostly to remove nudity and excessive violence (including a crucifixion!). However there was also a dialogue tweak when the girls see Fiore holding hands with Mamoru. The English Ami says, "That's not strange seeing as everyone is in love with him," to which Rei replies, "Everybody including you, Ami?" However Ami's original Japanese dialogue translates as, "I guess Mamoru is attractive to boys as well as girls." Overall I was really impressed by this film, which is great if you don't go in with Hollywood expectations. One last thing. According to the DVD's bonus features, Usagi's birthday is the day after mine! How cool is that? Usagi Tsukino, go go go!