For anime aficionados, there are several significant works that serve as historical turning points for the medium. One early, essential exemplar is 1963’s Astro Boy, a title which boosted the global influence of Japanese animation. While not the country’s first televised anime, (1961’s Otogi Manga Calendar takes that honor) the series set precedent, becoming the first program of its type to cross the Pacific, delighting an audience of stateside viewers. As a precursor to more serious works such as Mobile Suit Gundam and Neon Genesis Evangelion, Space Battleship Yamato is another essential title which shirked the simplistic dichotomy of good and evil, revealing both fault in its protagonists and empathy for its antagonists.
Arguably the next major paradigm shift wouldn’t happen until the early ‘90s, with Sailor Moon (Bishōjo Senshi Sērā Mū) offering a charming alterative to the shōnen-driven anime of the era. As the title which reinvigorated the lapsed ‘Magical Girl’ genre, both Cardcaptor Sakura and Puella Magi Madoka Magica owe much to Sailor Moon. Revisit the inaugural episode in each respective series, and you’ll find more similarity than just a schoolgirl with special powers. Each anime opens near identically, showing a plucky, perpetually-tardy protagonist with a stronger sense of comradery that a commitment to her educational pursuits, an adorable, anthropomorphized creature incessantly in tow.
This establishment of a strong, female schoolgirl is a crucial archetype in anime, with variation still found in titles like Kill la Kill and Coppelion. As such, Sailor Moon is a seminal work, meriting a place in any collector’s library. But for years, stateside enthusiasts have had to endure substandard localizations, from DiC’s bowdlerized airings in the late ‘90s to ADV Film’s out of print and woefully monophonic DVD set. While Viz Media’s recent DVDs offer an affordable method to acquire Sailor Moon’s inaugural season, the collection isn’t without notable flaw. But save, for a disheartening transition to digital video, Sailor Moon’s relentless charm still makes the package worth owning.
Released last November, the Sailor Moon Season One, Set One DVD amasses the anime’s original twenty-three episodes. What’s notable is that this version includes the original airings, without any of the cuts, changes, or additions that many stateside fans grew up watching. As such, essential episodes like “Punishment Awaits: the House of Fortune is the Monster Mansion” are included, returning a possessed Gurio’s sidesplitting skirt flip and acts of vandalism back into Sailor canon. For some, heartwarming elements such as the renowned opening song and “Sailor Says”, a brief bit of needless moralizing are missing. Fortunately, they can take solace in the authenticity of the set. Casualties and acts of implied violence have been returned, misrepresented genders rectified, and relationships are no longer awkwardly sanitized, adding a tinge of maturity to the anime.
The first half-season focuses on Usagi Tsukino’s coming to terms with her newfound superpowers. Luna, a feline with an enigmatic crescent on his forehead, explains that Usagi is one of the Sailor Scouts, a team tasked with dismantling the evil stratagems of Queen Beryl and her minions. As with a number of fables and fairy tales, the first twenty-three episodes show a female protagonist discovering as dormant ability and wrestling with the repercussions this capability holds. Like most journeys of self-actualization it’s undeniably inspirational to watch, ultimately speaking of the virtues of delayed gratification. While Usagi would like nothing more than to spend her youth at the local arcade, the world needs saving, with the onus of responsibility placed directly on our heroine.
Arguably, the second half of the season is even better. With Usagi’s superpowers already established, the rest of the team gradually comes together, allowing amble time to develop each character. Expectedly, there are hints of social conflict, each spurring interest through the remainder of the 46 episode season. Being a shōjo, there’s also a healthy amount of flirtation and romance, but the contexts of reincarnation and fated lovers helps to keep the subject from being too tropey.
Although the first season’s storytelling is largely without fault, the same claim can’t be made for the Sailor Moon‘s picture quality. Both seasons are marketed as being anamorphic, allowing the image to scale for both widescreen and older 4:3 shaped television screens. While black borders on 16:9 displays are understandable given the age of the source material, the presence of bars on all sides while watching Sailor Moon on legacy sets is not. Fortunately, Viz corrected the problem for the second half of the season.
For many, image quality is also going to be a concern. Given the quarter-century span since Sailor Moon first aired, obtaining cutting-edge clarity from Toei’s original prints was going to be a burden (although the Italian and Japanese releases of the first season demonstrate admirable picture quality). For these releases, Viz erred on the side of too much processing, resulting in an image with a noticeable loss of noise, but one where background detail is occasionally lost. Fortunately, foreground details are largely preserved, but backdrops with similar colors occasionally get smeared.
Mercifully, the season’s sonic output fares far better. Viz brought in a consummate cast of voice artists to record a new English-language dub. While many will prefer the original Japanese audio track, it’s hard to find fault in the new track. Notably, there’s more stereophonic separation, background music is much clearer, with the dub sounding remarkably brighter. Accompanying each three disk collection are a number of pleasing perks that range from a peek into the English recording session as well as fan-convention reaction to the announcement of this new package.
While purists might bemoan the over-processing done to Sailor Moon‘s picture quality, visual blemishes do little to detract from the anime’s charm and deft characterizations. As the first animated shōjo to be broadcast on American airwaves, Sailor Moon deserves recommendation and a place in your collection. Seeing Usagi and friends first foray is a wonderfully nostalgic experience, and ones that ideal for a new generation of prospective Moonies.