Sailor Moon must face her worst enemies. First comes Nehelenia, whom everyone thought had died at the end of season four. After that from beyond the solar system comes Galaxia, the self-proclaimed ruler of the galaxy with the powers of a goddess. Suddenly there are new Senshi everywhere, not least among them three mysterious new figures: the Sailor Starlights. Are they friend or foe? On top of that, Mamoru has gone to America and Seiya of the pop group The Three Lights is interested in Usagi.
Known for short as Sailor Moon SS until someone remembered the historical connotations, this fifth and final season of Sailor Moon brought it to a grand total of two hundred episodes. The previous year's ratings slide had nearly got the show cancelled, but fortunately the studio relented and made one more season. They also learned from their mistakes. Sailor Moon SuperS had been lightweight, cutting back on the plot in favour of comedy. Sailor Moon Sailor Stars on the other hand was more faithful to Takeuchi's original manga, although it did make some fairly notorious changes.
Nehelenia's mini-arc is just a quick bit of unfinished business, but I was impressed. It's just six episodes long, so the show dumps a lot of the formulae and gets down to business. There's a new theme tune, often even no transformation sequences and an absence of monsters of the week. The girls have also started high school. They passed their exams! They have new uniforms! They're getting older and we've seen them mature and develop... yes, even Usagi. She's still a complete goofball, but she's no longer her fourteen-year-old self. She has hidden depths. Even Luna comments on it.
It's rich in continuity. The Outer Senshi are back, kicking arse and dropping lesbian innuendo. "I don't listen to that sort of talk outside bed." There's also a return for season three's Professor Tomoe and Sailor Saturn. Personally I enjoyed seeing these old friends again, especially Hotaru. There's nudity too, of course. Nehelenia's henchmen are naked crystal women, while episode five has a huge upskirt shot of Sailor Jupiter. (Admittedly the latter isn't nudity, but it's still startling.) There's some interesting stuff too... a scary image of Sailor Moon looking messianic as an omen of the future, a nightmare dreamworld reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz and some genuinely cool battles. Best of all, the Senshi all get individual screen time, which surprised and impressed me. In the dreamworld they split the team up and give everyone a chance to be a hero. It takes a few episodes to cover everyone, but that was great.
Then came the main Galaxia arc, which is frankly Sailor Moon's Greatest Hits. Plagiarise the best bits of the previous 166 episodes, change the names and pretend it's all-new. Lazy, but simple. Thus no sooner has Mamoru gone off to America to study than Usagi gets a wannabe-boyfriend, Seiya. Chibi-Usa returns to the future, whereupon an even younger girl turns up: Chibi-Chibi. Even the Sailor Starlights are reminiscent of the Outer Senshi, down to their gender-bending and slightly silly antagonism towards our heroes. Surprisingly however, I enjoyed all that. For starters, it was good to lose a few characters. Mamoru and Chibi-Usa had had points of interest in their early days, but by now saying goodbye to them is like clearing the dead wood and letting the show focus on the core team again. This is what SuperS should have been.
What's more, they're recycling the good stuff and arguably improving on it. Seiya is basically Tuxedo Mask from season one, but better. We know there can never be a Seiya-Usagi romance, but this is a good thing since it makes their unfolding relationship far more subtle and interesting. Similarly the Sailor Starlights take the gender-bending of Haruka et al to a whole new level, i.e. actual hermaphroditism. Your first sight of their nude transformation sequence is probably the second most disturbing thing ever seen in Sailor Moon, which is no small claim. You also haven't lived if you haven't seen the dominatrix butch protagonist of a kiddie's cartoon unleash her magical attack with a cry of "Gentle uterus". I lost the power of rational thought after hearing that little gem. Oh, and a few of the monsters' character designs made me want to scrub my brain clean.
Another thing I liked was the way this season could go all girlie after the fashion of season one, in this case with Usagi's friends pursuing a boy band. They're shameless, like oestrogen-crazed mayflies. I cringed... but in a good way. It's almost a theme. Minako is the most fame-fixated, which is slightly odd if you think that in the beginning she was an authentic "record signings in shops" celebrity as Sailor V. However here she's determined to be an idol as if all that never happened. Perhaps she misses it? Amusingly even Ami is as obsessed by The Three Lights as anyone. Also, as in the Nehelenia mini-arc, I loved how hard the show worked to give everyone time in the spotlight. They re-establish character traits that I thought had been forgotten, like Mako's physical strength. There's even a Luna episode, which for some reason is always good news.
And of course Sailor Moon gets her annual power-up, this time with (please, no) Disney music. I nearly died.
The monsters of the week are back (this year they're called Phages) and as silly as ever. I still prefer the outright horror of season one, but by now goofiness is traditional too. However fortunately the monsters are often barely an afterthought in solidly character-based episodes. In particular, Usagi is one of the greatest leading characters in all children's fiction. She's endlessly entertaining and the real reason this show lasted two hundred episodes and assorted spin-offs. Imagine Spiderman's deranged twin sister: "With great power comes great irresponsibility". She's shameless, pig-ignorant and liable to jump in with both feet, hilarious in comedy episodes and heartbreaking in dramatic ones. She also gets some great facial expressions.
There's a good variety of episodes, from teenage comedy to a few that are almost shocking. This show can be genuinely emotional. Yet again we're also reminded that anime's most vicious parodies of Sailor Moon have all been in Sailor Moon itself. Episode 18 (or 184) is a classic for this. Meanwhile Galaxia demonstrates yet again that the Sailor Moon universe isn't a good place to be a villain's incompetent henchman, killing her way through a startling number of sidekicks. (I was delighted to find that one of them's voiced by Kikuko Inoue.) What's more, episode 29 and certain subsequent developments cast a slightly disturbing light on this. Galaxia and her servants once used to be heroes.
The season climax is emotional. There are plot twists! Revelations! It's also well paced, escalating by the episode instead of suddenly lurching from "monster of the week" to "whoops, where did we leave the plot?" Things had got tearful and apocalyptic long before at last we hit episode 200 and the grand conclusion. It's perfect. It's consciously mirroring Usagi's first stumbling steps down a long hard road in episode one. She's seen redemption and sacrifice. She's accepted her responsibilities. And no less importantly, having spent episodes 198 and 199 wearing only ribbons, she's stark naked when she finally fights Galaxia. In the end she even gets a snog! The credits roll over the REAL theme music from all the previous seasons, then finally the show ends with a completely gratuitous shot of a feather that looks like a penis. Never let it be said that Sailor Moon was ever knowingly under-perved.
Overall, this season hits so many good notes for me that I didn't mind that I'd seen most of them before. I like little things (the Outer Senshi's violin theme) and big ones (the return of Hotaru). It's an infinitely better conclusion to the series than SuperS would have been... and I like the fact that they made 200 episodes. That's a good number.