Chibi-Usa makes a special friend no one knows about: Pegasus the unicorn, the guardian of the Golden Crystal. Unfortunately the bad guys want him too. This year Usagi and her friends must fight the Dead Moon Circus: Zirconia, Nehelenia, the Amazon Trio and the Amazon Quartet.
When long shows flag, this is often blamed on going on too long. I'm not sure I agree. A bad show is a bad show. If Season 47 sucks, don't blame the previous 46 seasons. Admittedly a series can evolve (e.g. Buffy) beyond its glory days, but that shouldn't stop it from trying to break new ground. The problem with Sailor Moon's fourth season is that it does nothing new. The first three seasons all made huge changes to the format - time-travel, Chibi-Usa, the Outer Senshi, etc. This year, nothing. Even the Outer Senshi never appear, the show focusing instead on the core team plus Chibi-Usa. Theoretically I'd have been happy with that, but even four of those are sidelined! Huh? I like Ami, Rei, Makoto and Minako!
Alas, this year is basically the Usagi and Chibi-Usa show, with only occasional moments in the spotlight for the others. It's disappointing and easily Sailor Moon's worst year. Even when I was enjoying the actual episodes, it was a struggle to get through the season.
This lack of innovation wouldn't be such a problem if the show wasn't so repetitive. 75% of these episodes follow the time-honoured formula. Villains threaten the victim-of-the-week with a new and freakish monster, only to be driven off by Sailor Moon in a stock footage sequence that only changes once a year. You can do a lot within that formula and even SuperS has some outstanding individual episodes, but we're talking about a 200-episode show here. We've seen it all before. Repeatedly. If ever a show needed to ring some changes, 'twas Sailor Moon. It doesn't help that this year's villains are looking for the Golden Crystal and we know where it's hiding, so right from the beginning we always know when the bad guys are looking in the wrong place!
Admittedly Pegasus is new. He's Chibi-Usa's secret friend, a refugee from the world of dreams who can manifest in reality at moments of crisis and lend great power to his friends. Unfortunately that's all he does. Even to Chibi-Usa he speaks only in secret when no one's listening. Effectively he's an equine deus ex machina, yet another example of this show's annoying tendency to foil its villains with rabbit-from-a-hat powers instead of, y'know, ingenuity or bravery.
The characters haven't changed, except for Chibi-Usa's enlarged role. Previously the joke was that she was hopeless as a Sailor Senshi, just a six-year-old tagging along with the big girls and winding up Usagi. Not any more. She's as important as any of them and gets more screen time than most, with Pegasus at her beck and call. I don't mind Chibi-Usa and she never becomes Scrappy Doo, but she's not my favourite character.
As is traditional, the first few episodes go into artery-blocking girlie overload. More damagingly, the final run of episodes (with actual cliffhangers and no "victim of the week" formula) gets tedious, with three episodes' worth of material being dragged out for seven or eight. There are good moments, but not enough of them. This season isn't even split into separate story arcs for variety, unless you count the demise of one set of henchmen and the introduction of their replacements.
Incidentally the manga upon which SuperS was based, the Dream Arc, was much more serious and dramatic. Unfortunately Toei, the licencing company, decided to change this for the anime and cut back the plot in favour of interchangeable episodes with more humour. One might almost say that SuperS has gets no plot development until it's almost over. Unsurprisingly the ratings plummeted and Toie nearly didn't make a fifth season, though when they did they'd learned their lesson and they tried to be more faithful to the manga again. However ironically this year was also the one with all the spin-offs: not just a movie but assorted specials. Ami's First Love is a fun throwaway. The three other specials are respectively a summary of the whole series to date, a fight in a vampire castle and an adventure for Haruka and Michiru on a cruise (which incidentally explains why they don't appear in the anime this year despite being in the manga).
In fairness there was one thing I liked this year: the villains. Sailor Moon's foes are always fun. This year there's a theme of carnivals and circuses, including one of the most evil-looking clowns I've ever seen. The first lot of henchmen in particular are something we hadn't seen in Sailor Moon... drop-dead gorgeous blokes who fancy themselves as ladykillers and assault their female prey in a disturbingly intimate-looking manner. When their egos are bruised they're also very funny! Their eventual replacements, the Amazon Quartet, are less distinctive (if only for being female in the Sailor Moon universe), but they're lively and entertaining.
Had this been Sailor Moon's first season instead of its fourth, one might have been more forgiving of its problems. However I don't think it would have made much difference. In the days of the Dark Kingdom storyline, this show was electrifying. Not any more. It's become more kiddie-friendly, too. Sailor Moon SuperS has many funny and touching episodes, but as a whole it doesn't really stand up.