Sailor Moon R
based on the manga by Naoko Takeuchi
1993-1994 • 43 episodes • Toei Animation/Viz Media
When Toei Animation asked Sailor Moon author Naoko Takeuchi to adapt her manga into a one season anime series, neither of them knew how successful it would be. Toei, not one to miss an opportunity, asked Takeuchi to keep working on the manga. Eventually, the manga and the anime found a rhythm that worked, with the anime following the manga closely enough that only the production time created a month or so long lag.
But, at first, the anime demand exceeded the manga supply, necessitating two filler arcs before Takeuchi and her editor hit upon the main idea for the Black Moon arc. The first is the delightful Makaiju arc, where two aliens, Ail and Ann, infiltrate Tokyo to feed human energy to the alien tree that sustains them. And the second is the infuriating subplot where Mamoru breaks up with Usagi due to a prophecy, never mentions that to her, and she spends most of her energy tearfully trying to win him back. It’s a hard side to see to the normally brash Usagi, especially when she’s only dealt this crap hand in the anime for the flimsiest of reasons. (Oh, and he’s a college student dating a fourteen year old. This kind of stuff doesn’t make me like you, Mamoru. Step it up.)
But the main arc of Sailor Moon R (the R is for romance) is one of the most iconic in the series—the adaptation of the manga’s Black Moon arc. After the Sailor Guardians are reactivated, following their collective loss of memory at the end of last season, and deal with Ail and Ann, they are confronted by a small child from the future who claims her name is also Usagi Tsukino. Chibi-Usa, as they end up nicknaming her, is on a mission to steal the Silver Crystal to save her parents, and is hotly pursued by the Black Moon Clan, also from the future. The lackadaisical pacing of the anime makes for a slow burn, but we eventually learn that Chibiusa hails from the Silver Millennium, the peaceful future Usagi will eventually reign over as Neo-Queen Serenity. (Sailor Moon’s use of English is a fascinating exercise in how other languages other my primary language. I highly recommend such a wonderfully destabilizing experience.)
Much like the first series before it, Sailor Moon R offers an interesting subversion of Western superhero narratives. It utterly rejects the concept of black and white morality by insisting, often to the point of illogic (which Sailors Jupiter and Mars wryly comment on), that the bad guys can be good guys—they just need the opportunity and, more crucially, the emotional support. Ail and Ann’s fatal flaw is misunderstanding the Makaiju tree’s needs—it needs love. The Spectre Sisters only have to experience true sisterly love outside of the competitive and abusive environment they’re from to see the light. Chibiusa’s transformation into the Black Lady is undone by the insistent and unconditional love of her parents. Even the entire Dark Moon Clan needs only to extend a hand of peace instead of an act of war. There are no problems that cannot be overcome with love, kindness, and radical empathy. (And super-sweet Art Nouveau dresses.) There are evil actions—as Usagi and Mamoru call out in every climactic battle scene—but no evil people. Well, Wiseman, the mastermind behind the Black Moon Clan’s actions, is, but his ultimate goal—the destruction of all living things—is implied to be too far gone for redemption. (Also, he tries to break Usagi by showing her an image of her daughter and her husband making out, so he doesn’t deserve to live, really.) That gets a bit wobbly around Prince Demande, who twice tries to essentially rape Usagi, but he, too, gets the redemptive treatment. Perfect, this show is not.
But, at its best, practically near it. In the charming “The Beach, the Island and a Vacation: The Guardians’ Break,” the girls steal a boat to rescue Chibi-Usa from a sea monster. Ami asks Mako, who is steering the boat, where she learned to drive. Mako’s answer? “I can do anything.” (This is why Sailor Jupiter is my favorite.) While Sailor Moon R deals with a lot of plot, especially once it stabilizes towards the end, we still get interesting and fulfilling character moments. When the girls find out Rei is in charge of a talent show at her Catholic school, we get to see Rei adored and feared by her fellow students. Ami deals with rumors that she’s a cheat. Minako gets more of a personality, as she proves to be an emotional klutz in the same way that Usagi is a… everything klutz. And Usagi remains, despite the unnecessary strum and drang of a subplot that’s revealed to be basically for nothing (I will never be over this), her usually delightful and broad self, even maturing a little. It does help that Chibi-Usa’s around to force her hand, as Usagi competes with her like a sister and eventually grows to love the child.
Sailor Moon R is also our first look at one of the Outer Guardians—the elegant and tragic (for now) Sailor Pluto, who gets more to do as we move on through the show. While Sailor Moon S will introduce us to Uranus, Neptune, and Saturn, seeing the team and the mythology slowly build is one of the joys of watching this in weekly installments. If you’ve got the patience, I recommend doing the same.