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Review: “Sailor Moon R: The Movie” The Promise of the Rose, or Wilted Garbage?

by on May 26, 2017
 

Sailor Moon R The MovieWhen an apparently innocuous asteroid passes near Earth’s orbit, nobody fears anything out of the ordinary… except the Sailor Guardians! Infested with a particularly virulent sentient space weed, Sailor Moon and her team will have to defend their home with the power of love and justice. The enemy sending these threats is Fiore, but is he a childhood friend of Tuxedo Mask or a greater threat, demanding he hold up the promise of the rose? Sailor Moon gets the first of three theatrical movies released on Blu-ray, but does it hold up two decades later?

Sailor Moon R: The Movie was released in Japanese theaters in December 1993. Think about what the western world was like back then: Bill Clinton was the President of the United States, Fox Kids had just premiered Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, and Mrs. Doubtfire reigned at the box office. Ellen DeGeneres’ first self-titled show was four months away. We were kinda in a different cultural climate regarding homosexuality, one that has changed since their infamous “The Puppy Episode” made the lead of a television show openly gay, years before something like Will and Grace built the whole show around a gay lead from the outset, and decades before The Legend of Korra hinted at non-heterosexual romances for a main character in a children’s-focused television show.

Sailor Moon R: The Movie dances around homosexuality a bit, but this new release commits more to embracing the concept than the original release.

Sailor Moon R: The MovieThe initial pitch of the movie is pretty accurate and concise. While the main cast of the series (at this point, it was the five Sailor Soldiers, Tuxedo Mask, and a time-displaced future child in Chibi-Usa) are exploring a botanical garden when the threat of an asteroid passing by Earth comes to their attention. While not particularly dangerous (as it will pass the planet safely), the timing coincides with the return of a childhood friend to Mamoru (Tuxedo Mask)’s life. Fiore was the first kid that Mamoru interacted with after the death of his parents in a tragic car accident, explored emotionally and chronologically in-depth for the first time. While they bonded over mutual loss and an appreciation for flowers, the young boy soon had to leave Mamoru’s life because he’s a lost alien child. With the promise to bring him a beautiful flower, Fiore disappears, not to return until this trip to the gardens.

Naturally, since this was a girl’s show in 1993 in Japan, everyone points out how affectionate Fiore was to Mamoru, and here’s where we get to the subtext of the movie. In the cultural lens of 2017, it’s easy to perceive that Fiore could be interested in men and have a crush on Mamoru (who could be bisexual, given his obvious attraction and future-child-rearing with Usagi), or that Mamoru could be confused on his orientation, or any other sort of legitimate pairing of designations and directions.

Sailor Moon R: The MovieIn the original release in 2000 (admittedly, no copy was available to compare it to, and it was not included on this release), it’s hard to imagine the English dub (as aired on American and Canadian television) would have let the subtleties on sexuality remain, let alone anything overt. Given that the franchise was still targeted to young girls at this time and had changed a similar relationship from “lesbian partners” to “close cousins” later in the franchise, it’s interesting to see that we’ve progressed to the point where the background characters can, in discussion about how Fiore and Mamoru interact, quote Seinfeld and toss out a “not that there’s anything wrong with that!” and keep Usagi emotionally threatened about her relationship due to this new interloper.

It remains a background point that is never committed to or fully explored in this movie, but it is interesting and admirable (however clunky) it is addressed towards a different target audience: 2017’s fan is the adult Blu-ray buyer, not the kid tuning into Toonami.

The rest of the movie? Honestly, it’s not the most memorable of the series. Many Sailor Moon fans regard it as their favorite of the three. Tastes vary, but after any sort of drama, the movie goes into standard Sailor Moon fare, just amped up for the big screen to an extent. You have a main villain and a subordinate (the order of which is a slight twist) that have an army of generic-but-nice 1990’s stylized monster girls (years before the crew of Monster Musume would sexualize them). The Sailors use their (sadly stock-footage) transformation scenes and special attacks to move along the plot, an effort to save Tokyo and rescue the consistently-useless Tuxedo Mask. It could have been a three-episode arc of the actual series if it weren’t for the franchise’s strict reliance on season-long arcs with minimal adventures over self-contained stories. Another twist to the canon of the show is the true first meeting of Usagi and Mamoru in a sweet scene. There’s some general heart in the adventure, but the actual primary villain is literally a force of nature; there’s no denouement or moral play here, just defeat the flower monster.

Sailor Moon R: The MovieThe new dub is taken light years more seriously than the original. While the franchise could have important moments, by and large it was “a cartoon for children” that got away with grandstanding and overacting. The movie is also brought down by some surprising budget considerations of the original production. As mentioned above, if it could have been stock footage, it was. New theatrical-quality transformations and attacks? Nope. While the production has made them look better than ever, it’s still the original animation from the TV show, remastered into widescreen.

Sailor Moon has never looked better, though, and that’s including the modern animated series. This is glorious cel-drawn Toei animation meant for theatrical consumption, which just carries itself better than other forms of animation (not to dismiss all digital animation, but classic animation like this in Blu-ray quality is jaw-dropping at times). The soundtrack is an upgrade from the series, but the only song you’ll be humming afterwards remains the theme song to the show.

Doesn’t sound all that adventurous for the 90-minutes advertised on the Blu-ray sleeve? It isn’t, and that’s the problem. The movie taps out at the hour mark. If you’re gracious and combine it with the special features (one of which was included in the theatrical run), you may reach the 90-minute mark. It’s a fun way to kill an hour for fans of the series, and paired with an extra feature, could actually be a good introduction to the series, featuring a good balance of the original franchise’ humor (lacking in Crystal), action, and some prime-1990s nostalgia. It’s a Coke can versus a soda straight from the fountain; it’s the same flavor packaged for portability and a finite end, but it’s not intended to last that long.

Sailor Moon R: The MovieThe extra features consist of a handful of things related purely to the movie’s release and don’t expand past it. While it’s completely understandable that VIZ’s current series releases of Sailor Moon don’t include the original dub, it would have been nice to have the original English dub included on this (if it was made available). There’s absolutely no promotional material from the original Japanese release, though; you would think that a theatrical trailer, commercial promos, and the like would have survived somewhere in a vault and could be included, but apparently not. There’s also no commentary, which is like the original dub; it’s understood why that could not be included in the series, but movies get to follow different rules. What you do have is short but sweet. A mini-episode Make Up! Sailor Guardians that played before the movie in its theatrical run is a budget-oriented clip show. It shows the characters and mindsets of the heroes with some new animation bridging what would otherwise be dismissable vignettes to the educated viewer. There’s a small interview with the new US voices of Tuxedo Mask, Sailor Moon, and Fiore, talking about their expectations and experiences with the franchise, and finally, there’s some press attention given to the full cast at the 2017 Los Angeles premiere. The trailer included is just for the modern release, and the gallery includes character designs from the film, a tantalizing look (and the only one made available) into the behind-the scenes of the theatrical work.

Sailor Moon R: The Movie is a beautifully-animated work that shows what you can get when an older piece of work is taken care of for a proper Blu-ray release. Still, beyond some amazingly-self-prescient mindsets, there’s nothing particularly memorable about the actual story. It’s a somewhat-forgettable story that only gains notoriety for being one of three films in the franchise, alongside a few canon-nods for continuity hounds. It belongs in your Sailor Moon collection, but not as the centerpiece.

(All images copyright: ©Naoko Takeuchi/PNP, Toei Animation)

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