Impressions - "Sailor Moon Crystal"
Sailor Moon doesn't need an introduction. So I'm not writing one.
Joking aside, Sailor Moon Crystal is arguably the most anticipated anime of this year. Why wouldn't it be? It raised a whole generation of anime fans in both America and Japan, is regularly one of the most-wanted reboots or sequels in anime fandom, and it promises to hew a bit closer to the original manga, not devolving into the "monster-of-the-week" formula that often gets the original... 4-6 (?) series of Sailor Moon derided by more cynical anime viewers. On top of all this, Sailor Moon is just goddamned iconic, familiar not just to anime fans, but to casual purveyors of pop culture in general. It's one of the best examples of girl power in media, featuring a female-driven narrative that isn't defined by manly men or victimization. Simply put, it's a feminist take on the tried-and-true Dragon Ball Z formula.
So, why am I getting a bad vibe from this first episode? I can't necessarily put my finger on it. The right elements are all there, that's for sure. We've got Usagi, the klutzy crybaby who gets mysterious moon powers and becomes the noble warrior of justice, Sailor Moon. We've got Luna, the sardonic and adorable cat who helps guide Usagi into being a stronger fighter, as well as assembling the rest of her team. And we've got Tuxedo Mask, the mysterious man in, well, a tuxedo and a mask, who's almost entirely useless outside of being Sailor Moon's love interest. Yes, everything here is in place, and those who know the formula will feel right at home. I daresay new viewers would even be able to pick up on this pretty fast, as it moves at a steady clip and gets stuff established really quick.
Which leaves the question of why I'm very apprehensive about this series. Firstly, it sticks close to the original manga, and subjectively speaking, the original manga is nowhere nearly as good as the anime. It relies too much on wistful romance and flowery imagery, whereas the original anime was bent on empowering the cast in a myriad of cool and badass ways. I don't dislike the manga, but I've felt that the characterization in it was not as inspiring to young women (or even young men) as the subsequent adaptation that we all know and love. Too reliant on shojo tropes, the core message of the manga always felt, to me, that it was okay to be badass and have a lot of friends, just so long as you snagged a dark, mysterious, protective man in the end. For my tastes, that's too conventional for me to fully enjoy, and I can already see the anime going down that route. Hopefully, I'm proved wrong.
The two other reasons I'm not gung-ho about this reboot are the aesthetics and the overall dated nature of the narrative. Honestly, I really dislike this animation, and outside of the action sequences, it's often shockingly lazy for something this high-profile and buzzed-about. Not only that, but the character designs are sort of inconsistent and occasionally look a bit odd next to each other, and the more dramatic stylistic alterations feel like a weird compromise between the manga art and the original anime designs. Basically, it just doesn't look that great to me, especially with the unnecessary watercolor backgrounds that clash with the rest of the production. And, as I mentioned above, the work feels very dated. The original anime adaptation made some embellishments and changes that allowed it to still feel entertaining even today, whereas this is very much a product of the 90's, just with a fresh coat of paint. That doesn't mean it's not entertaining, cheesy fun, but it feels formulaic and not fresh, especially with what else is available on the marketplace.
Maybe I sound like a cynical, bitter fuck writing this, but I have to stress that I still intend to keep watching this show. It's harmless, fluffy fun that's better than most magical girl shows today, which I think is a testament to how strong the core formula is, despite the dated nature of it. Sailor Moon Crystal is not the grand revival I was hoping for, based on this one episode alone, and while I still intend to watch it, I'm still more excited about the re-releases of the original series than I am about the future prospects of this one.