Chiaki TakahashiAi MaedaSailor MoonShoko Nakagawa
Sailor Moon Crystal: Death Busters
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2016: S
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2016
Director: Chiaki Kon
Writer: Yuji Kobayashi
Original creator: Naoko Takeuchi
Actor: Ami Koshimizu, Hisako Kanemoto, Junko Minagawa, Kotono Mitsuishi, Rina Satou, Sayaka Ohara, Shizuka Itou, Yukiyo Fujii, Ai Maeda, Chiaki Takahashi, Hikari Yono, Kenji Nojima, Misato Fukuen, Naomi Ozora, Rina Honizumi, Ryou Hirohashi, Shoko Nakagawa, Takaya Hashi, Takuya Kirimoto, Umeka Shouji, Youhei Oobayashi, Yuki Nagaku
Series: << Sailor Moon
Keywords: anime, magical girl
Format: Episodes 27-39
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Website category: Anime 2016
Review date: 1 March 2018
Sailor Moon is many things. It's an international mega-franchise and one of the all-time huge anime breakouts. It started as a 1991-1997 manga, then became a blockbuster 1992-1997 anime and then more recently a more manga-faithful anime remake, Sailor Moon Crystal. Personally I find the 1990s anime far more iconic and stronger, but also more childish and repetitive. You could tell which characters the 1990s directors hated, for instance, because they made you hate them too (Tuxedo Mask and Chibi-Usa in their first seasons).
The 2014-2015 episodes of Crystal had plenty of problems too, though. This season fixes a lot of them, though, perhaps partly because it's being aired on TV rather than just being a web series. I enjoyed this run. It's pretty good, I think. It's adapting a popular season with fan-favourite characters. I'd recommend it.
Plot summary time! Usagi and her friends are getting on with their lives. They're going to school, hanging out and having fun. We even get a few episodes in which they're allowed to be goofy idiots, which is something you don't get much in Crystal. Before long, though, some new faces appear: (a) Haruka and Michiru, a glamorous and super-talented couple at the famous Infinity Academy, (b) Sailor Pluto, (c) Master Pharoah 90 and his evil servants, (d) HOTARU. I couldn't have been happier to see Hotaru. She's one of the two characters from the 1990s series that I love above all others, the other being Usagi. I know that Haruka and Michiru have a big following too, especially Haruka, but for me they've got to come behind Hotaru.
The season's split into two halves. The first half (roughly) is monster-of-the-week battles between the Sailor Senshi and the latest minion of Master Pharoah 90. Plotwise, it's standard magical girl stuff. Nothing special, but perfectly watchable.
Alongside that, though, we also explore Usagi's sexuality in a season that's pumping up the manga's lesbian overtones. Haruka comes on heavy towards Usagi, who gets even more big-eyed, melty and responsive than usual. (This is on top of Usagi's known tendency to appear to have fallen in lust with any passing girl.) At the same time, though, gender-bender Haruka ("is it important if I'm male or female?") is in an out-and-proud relationship with Michiru, while in addition to that is the blossoming relationship between Hotaru and Chibi-Usa. Yes, they're both pre-pubescent, but that won't stop Hotaru from declaring her love for Chibi-Usa while saying "it may be strange because we're both girls". (That wasn't in the manga.) Oh, and the opening and closing credits will be showing both Chibi-Usa/Hotaru and Haruka/Michiru naked around beds of flower petals.
That said, though, Usagi (age 14ish) and Mamoru (age 18ish) are clearly in an active sexual relationship. Ep.31 shows them in the same bed (albeit alongside Chibi-Usa), then the next day Mamoru says "you don't have to go home tonight" only for Usagi to respond by embracing and kissing him.
The story gets more meaningful, with ep.34 being the episode that really hit the next level. It's so good, in fact, that the episodes afterwards were a slight disappointment in how they failed to follow up on one of ep.34's promises. This season's finding some fascinating ways to combine the concepts of friend and enemy. Uranus, Neptune and Pluto couldn't be more respectful to and protective of their queen, yet at the same time they're potential foes. Hotaru is multiple kinds of special. (What the hell is Sailor Saturn? Seriously. She's so apocalyptic that she stops you from questioning the existence of Sailor Pluto and the latter's basically Hades in a miniskirt, doomed to stand alone at the end of existence for eternity.)
Oh, and Pluto's attack is DEAD SCREAM. The other Senshi in contrast have cute attack names, with the most eccentric being Jupiter's Coconut Cyclone.
The season's second half has more force and urgency. One of Crystal's great advantages over the 1990s anime is that its story feels like a real story. It's not going as far as the manga, e.g. no blood, but it still feels like a proper narrative. (The 1990s show usually feels to me like an artificial cut-and-paste of a fairly silly episode template.) The Witches 9 get killed when the Senshi beat them and we'll see Usagi's magical attacks disintegrate people. (They're villains, but they're still people.)
On the downside, Crystal still isn't your first stop for characterisation. There are eleven heroes this year and some powerful story elements, all in only thirteen episodes. Precious few of the girls get to stand out this year. There's Usagi, Chibi-Usa, Haruka and Hotaru. That's it, mostly, with the other four core Senshi getting particularly blatantly sidelined. That's not really a problem, admittedly, since this is an ensemble show and it's carrying itself admirably on charm and companionship, but it's still true. Besides, goofiness has mostly been banished, apart from the first few episodes and a welcome but tiny bit at the end.
They've also fixed some big things from the earlier Crystal seasons. They've changed the art style, improved Chibi-Usa's design and toned down the conspicuous CGI. Besides, Death Busters is the darkest, most mature storyline in Sailor Moon.
This is a pretty good season. It's a bit cookie-cutter in the early episodes, but it picks up later and I believe it was much better received by fans than earlier Crystal seasons. You could show this to normal adults without apology, which isn't really true of the 1990s show. It's got a big LGBT fanbase, for obvious reasons, including transgender and non-binary. (This is a big deal for me too, actually, since the 1990s show gets bizarrely family-unfriendly if you study it for more than five consecutive seconds and I really appreciate this franchise's oddness and not-so-hidden sexuality. They're not messing around with the nude transformation sequences, for instance.)
Oh, and Chibi-Usa's end credits song made me laugh. (It's in eps.31-34, with cheesy male backing singers.)