Sailor Moon Season 1 Box Set (of 2) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, July 16, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, July 15, 2003
What They Say
|Based on a manga by Naoko Takeuchi, Sailor Moon is the story of a teenage girl who meets a magical cat who gives her super powers. She becomes the leader of a team of brave girls, known as the Sailor Warriors. Sailor Moon has long been justifiably renowned for the strength of its plot, its direct and honest treatment of romance and, in this uncut version, a realistic and unflinching acceptance of death as a necessary possible consequence of a righteous fight.|
When Sailor Moon burst onto the American television landscape nearly a decade ago, it was something that we really hadn’t seen before, a superhero show about girls, for girls, but with a broad appeal, and just enough Japanese je ne sais quois to feel quirky and exotic, without seeming truly alien. Hundreds of episodes, and millions of dollars in merchandising later, Sailor Moon evokes just as much loathing for its shallow corporate character as it does admiration for its Girl Power message and inventiveness. But beneath all the hype and criticism, Sailor Moon started out as a zippy show which melded action, comedy, drama, and suspense into a successful shows.
Presented in its original Japanese language, and without edits or censoring, ADV presents the first season of Sailor Moon in a handsome box set. This should be a cause for celebration among Sailor Moon fans, as well as anime fans in general. Although the set has a number of minor technical issues that make it not quite the perfect set that many fans were hoping for, the set is a great way to discover and rediscover one of the classic seasons of a great anime.
Sailor Moon is one of those shows where the Japanese producers never put much effort into making it look or sound very good, and this first season is presented entirely in a flat, monaural mix. For the majority of the episodes on this set, the audio approaches the quality of the audio on Pioneer’s Season 3 (S) and Season 4 (Super S) releases, which is to say, not that great, but passable.
For a handful of episodes, however, the audio is too low and muffled. These episodes sound as though they are playing in another room in the house. Fortunately, this problem is generally limited to the first half of the series, and the audio becomes more solid and consistent in the second half. For some episodes the problem is exclusive to the pre-episode prologues, and sound quality improves in the episode proper. Generally, the OP and the first ED songs are low and unpleasantly distorted. The second ED is much louder, with some clipping in the upper registers.
This is in no way a reference or archival quality release in terms of audio, but I suspect that ADV made do with the best elements they had available.
If the audio on this set was disappointing, the video was a great surprise. In typical Sailor Moon fashion, the video is slightly dirty, grainy, and lacks fine detail. However, colors are rich and stable and the detail that is present is clear and satisfying. The resulting image is comparable to the later Pioneer Season 4 (Super S) releases. The only major complaint I have is the mild wobble in some of the episodes. Fortunately, this is mainly present in the early episodes, though it does reappear near the series’ end.
The set comes in two, four-disc Alpha multi-disc “bricks” in an attractive slipcase. The slipcase is gorgeous, with an simple, elegant design featuring a silver-finish Sailor Moon in silhouette in front of a crescent moon. The design is understated and classic. Bonus points are awarded for use of the original, Japanese logo prominently all over the set.
However, I do not like the use of the multi-disc keep cases. They are more efficient than eight single keep cases (the set occupies approximately the same width as six individual keep cases), though the set could be even smaller using gatefold digi-paks or single-width, two-disc “flippy” cases. The multi-disc keep cases feel flimsy and are difficult to open and close due to a shearing effect. The use of these “brick” cases is my only reservation about an otherwise appealing design.
Each disc features a single menu with direct episode selection. Each episode choice features a short animation window. Theme music loops in the background. There are no submenus of any kind. Each disc is front-loaded with a skippable trailer for the Anime Network television channel.
Nothing, except for a handful of ADV trailers on discs 4 and 8.
(Please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers.)
I came to Sailor Moon late, never having been able to sit through the dubbed version on television. My first real exposure to the Sailor Moon universe came as the DVDs were released domestically, first, the modestly entertaining feature films, then watching Season 3 (Sailor Moon S) and eventually reviewing the entire fourth season (Super S) DVDs. I found the show to be cleverer than I was expecting – especially the self-referential irony and the witty verbal play of original Japanese language version – but I was frequently disappointed by the show’s strict adherence to formula and the static relationships between the principle characters.
Taking in this first season was like a revelation. The formulas are still present, but in their nascent forms are more fluid and exciting, and the characters grow and change through the course of the season as their relationships become more complex. Later seasons would refine the formula, juicing the show with fan-friendly elements, and achieving what many regard the artistic and dramatic pinnacle during the third season, under the capable watch of Kunihiko Ikuhara. Graded on the Sailor Moon curve, this first season might not please fans as thoroughly as later seasons, but on general merits, it is a classic season of animated television and is a great starting point for new fans. One need not be an indoctrinated Sailor Moon fan to appreciate the inaugural season’s many wonders.
Usagi Tsukino is a below-average teenage girl who oversleeps, overeats, suffers from mood swings, and does poorly in school. For Usagi, merely functioning as a human being is a challenge, so when a talking cat named Luna tells her that she’s destined to become a superhero charged with the responsibility of saving the earth, it is certainly a recipe for disaster. Throughout this season, Usagi will grow into her role as the powerful Sailor Moon, developing confidence in herself and learning to understand her fate.
Along the way, she will recruit more warriors to help her, other Sailor soldiers, each with a special power, as well as the mysterious Tuxedo Mask, a dashing rogue who helps the Sailors only so far as it helps him achieve his questionable objectives. They are pitted against Queen Beryl, an alien witch bent on world domination. Aided by her four generals, Beryl sends wave after wave of monsters to Earth to collect human energy (the psychic aura generated by passion) and to search for the Silver Crystal, a powerful talisman. Despite the stresses of saving the world week after week, Usagi and her friends still have time to chase after boys and do each other’s hair.
At the show’s heart is Usagi, who is quite possibly the world’s least deserving super hero. She is selfish, cowardly, and irresponsible, but at the same time, capable of great strength, loyalty and kindness. Early victories for Usagi are credited mostly to luck and surprise, but as the show progresses, she gains confidence and eventually aspires to leadership and greater responsibility.
Her supporting cast is memorable and appealing, and the characters really get a chance to breathe enjoy the spotlight here compared to later seasons. Perhaps the biggest change is to the character of Tuxedo Mask, little more than token boyfriend and plot device in later seasons, but here is a complicated, conflicted soul. His growing affection for Usagi is tempered by his inability to speak kindly to her when she is near. The way the story of their relationship develops is sensitive and patient, and the complication of a relationship with one of the other girls only makes it more tragic and believable.
Of the remaining Sailor soldiers (the appropriately named Sailor Mercury, Sailor Venus, Sailor Mars, and Sailor Jupiter) time is given to develop them and explore their individual relationships with Usagi and each other. In particular Sailor Mars’s rivalry and frequent bickering with Usagi is given context and feels like a natural outgrowth of their circumstance. Benefiting most by the extra attention, perhaps, is Sailor Jupiter, the kind-hearted girl with the tough reputation. Later seasons file down her rough edges and accentuate her more feminine side, but in season one, she is fully three-dimensional, as likely to fight a bully, as she is to bake cookies.
This seasons’s greatest accomplishment is in the establishment of a believable, normal world for Usagi and her teammates to inhabit. We see more of her home and school life than later seasons allow. Her family and school friends are present in nearly every episode, giving the series an air of continuity and offsetting the episodic “monster of the week” plots. In fact, a long-running story involving Usagi’s best friend, Naru, provides the tender, emotional core of the first half of the season.
The show’s villains are woefully underwritten this time around, deferring always to allow development of the heroic main cast, but they are memorable and distinct enough to keep the story fresh for the season’s 46-episode length. Broken down into shorter arcs, based on the particular villain in charge and their particular mission objectives, the season is easily navigable and seems to move forward at a jaunty pace. There is surprisingly little padding and filler, and there was none of the marathon-like trudging to get through long blocks of episodes that I remember in season four.
The best of these arcs is the Rainbow Crystal story, in which demons exiled to Earth are resurrected in the bodies of kind-hearted humans. When the demons are revived, Sailor Moon must work, not to defeat the monsters, but to redeem them. It is probably the cutest and most sensitive monster of the week story Sailor Moon has ever done. Also powerful is a story in which Tuxedo Mask, finally united with Sailor Moon becomes evil and fights against his beloved. This concept was used in Buffy, the Vampire Slayer – Sailor Moon’s direct spiritual descendant – and it at least as dramatically potent here.
The show’s best conceit, however, is that of Sailor V, the heroine of one of Sailor Moon creator Naoko Takeuchi’s earlier manga. In the show, Sailor V is a real-life superhero who has spawned a merchandising blitz reflective of the Sailor Moon lineup in our world. There are games, anime, toys, etc., and she is the idol to many young girls, Usagi included. Throughout the series, Sailor V influences Usagi and her Sailor soldiers as they try to live up to her ideal. This leads to some of the best in-jokes and gags of the series. By the she actually meets her inspiration, Usagi has, in many ways, already surpassed her.
The finale is so tense and so dramatic, that it is nearly impossible to imagine American animators tackling such an emotionally challenging story. Although the three-episode climax does involve the Sailor soldiers in long battles against the forces of evil, the action never overpowers the resolution of the show’s primary themes of Usagi’s evolution into adulthood. The ending brings all of the show’s elements together elegantly, and ends on a note of ambiguous finality that sets up the sequel series well, but also serves as a definitive ending for those viewers not ready to commit to the entire Sailor Moon oeuvre.
ADV’s presentation of the season is good, and the episodes themselves are uncut, though there are a few problems guaranteed to upset the more hardcore fans expecting a perfect release. Like Pioneer’s releases, the next episode previews and some of the OP animation variations are not provided. This is because they were not made available from the Japanese licensor, Toei, for whatever reason. While fans had hoped that ADV would be able to secure these elements from the licensor, this is business as usual for Toei. Another minor gaffe with the set is that the pre-episode prologues (basically teasing the story before the episode begins) have been moved from before the OP to after the OP. While this does not reflect the true broadcast sequence, I found the move to be slightly convenient, as I did not have to skip past the OP (which are the same nearly every time) to get to the episode proper. I am sure that ADV will fix this error in the season two (Sailor Moon R) set.
It’s a simple enough premise – take the basics of shoujo storytelling, meld them with elements of the magical girl genre, and top it off with a liberal amount of Gatchaman-style team superhero action. Sailor Moon has become so ubiquitous, even in mainstream entertainment, that it is easy to forget that it really was a good idea and an inventive show when it started. I can heartily recommend this set to fans and newcomers alike.
Japanese Language,English Subtitles,Printed episode guide
Panasonic Panablack TV, Panasonic RP56 DVD player, Sony ProLogic receiver, Yamaha and Pioneer speakers, Monster cable. (Secondary equipment, Pioneer 105s DVD-ROM, ATi Rage Fury Pro, ViewSonic A90f, PowerDVD 3.0)
Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: C-
Video Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: N/A
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
Running time: 1065
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Sailor Moon