For many Westerners, Serena Tsukino is the principal ambassador of anime, but that almost wasn’t the case. In 1995, DiC purchased syndication rights for the first two seasons of Sailor Moon (Bishōjo Senshi Sērā Mūn), a series which had become immensely popular in Japan. But in the States, it faired so poorly that DiC ended up pulling the plug before the second season had finished. Two years later, Toonami took a chance and broadcast the first two seasons in their entirety. Sailor Moon built a feverish following- mirroring Tsukino’s own ability to rebound resiliently and emerge triumphant.
But stateside viewers weren’t seeing Moon in its original form, with DiC notoriously tampering with the show. Given the mid-‘90s context, when anime was still unfamiliar to many viewers, some of the changes, such as offering a dubbed voice-over, were understandable. But other choices, like the distributer’s decision to tamper with the storyline, eliminating and modifying major plot points, censoring reasonably innocuous content, and shoehorning in ‘Sailor Says’ segments radically changed the nature of Sailor Moon.
As such, Viz Media’s efforts to offer the anime in its original form are commendable. Much like the release of the first season, Sailor Moon R, is being split into two parts, with the first set containing episodes 47-68 of the anime. Pleasingly, the collection offers the second season intact, without DiC’s misguided sanitization efforts. As such, episode 67- a monster-less entry entitled “The Beach, the Island and a Vacation: The Guardian’s Break” (omitted from ADV Films’ 2003 release) is returned back into the season’s line-up.
Those expecting a vast improvement in picture quality over the first season might be slightly dispirited. While the first part of Sailor Moon R remedies much of the blurriness that would afflict backgrounds in the first season, there are still a number of blemishes. From shifting contrast levels, periodic instances of over-processing, pixeliztion, and the sporadic instance of picture judder, Season 2 still won’t please visual purists- but when compared against the ADV release, Sailor Moon R looks marginally better. While some have pointed the finger at Toei Animation, speculating of a superior master print, most anime from the early 1990s hasn’t been preserved well. As such, it’s extremely likely that this will be the best reproduction we’ll see here, as it’s both difficult and costly to proficiently up-rez from the 480i source material.
Credit should also be given to Sailor Moon R’s dubbing. From updating outdated terms, returning character names (Serena is now properly referred to as Usagi) and hitting the proper emotions, the anime’s new dub is a vast improvement, with cast members such as Stephanie Sheh (Usagi Tsukino/Sailor Moon) Robbie Daymond (Mamoru Chiba/Tuxedo Mask) and Cheramie Leigh (Minako Aino/Sailor Venus) exhibiting mastery of their respective characters. Christina Vee (Rei Hino/Sailor Mars) evens offers a touching rendition of Everlasting Melody (Eien no Melody) during one episode. While the original Japanese language tracks proficiently conveys the humor, tenseness and poignancy that pervades the anime, there’s a notable flatness to the sound mix.
But if you’re watching Sailor Moon R solely for its aesthetic elements, you’re overlooking a phenomenal blend of romance, intrigue, silliness, action, and mysticism which transcends typical shōjo. Filler arcs are often employed when an anime has to wait for its source material to catch up, and they’re often as insubstantial as their name implies. Yet, with R, the initial thirteen episode Makaiju arc is as satisfying as any other plotline in Moon canon. Starting with a poignant scene where Luna begrudgingly reactivates the Guardians after the girls relinquished their roles and responsibilities at the end of Season 1, subsequent episodes expertly blend a whirlwind of sentiments. From a pair of captivating villains to comical set-ups that find Usagi in a rich contexts like a sakura-viewing trip, a virtual reality arcade, and even in a production of Snow White, the arc is consistently charming.
More contentious is the adaption of the manga’s Black Moon arc, which while extending a number of interesting enemies, is undermined by the inclusion of Chibi-Usa, who viewers are led to believe is Usagi’s diminutive doppelganger. While later episodes redeem the character, the precocious pink-haired youngster suffers from the Cousin Oliver/Scrappy syndrome with many of her actions infringing on overbearing. Fortunately, Part One’s conclusion wraps things up rather nicely, reminding of the tension the girls have between their Guardian duties and their own individual ambitions. It’s a theme that’s ubiquitous through Sailor Moon, and one that remains universally relevant.