Sailor Moon Season 2 Box Set (of 2) (Mania.com)

By:Paul Grisham
Review Date: Saturday, June 12, 2004
Release Date: Tuesday, September 23, 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 possible consequence of a righteous fight.

The Review!
New enemies. New allies. New powers. New adventures. Sailor Moon returns in Sailor Moon R, the second season of one of the most beloved anime franchise of all time. Though something of a sophomore slump, Sailor Moon R remains mainly entertaining through the strength of its appealing principle cast and its willingness to poke fun at its own institutions.

ADV's release of the second series generally matches in overall quality and style its release of the Sailor Moon Season 1 Box Set. However, there are some problems with the release that may cause purists to complain.

Audio:
The audio for Sailor Moon R is generally more consistent than the first box set. The monaural mix is flat and too low in volume. While watching the set, I had to set my audio volume around twice as high as usual for other anime DVDs. My impression is that the audio was generally were consistent than the first season set, though there were still two or three episodes that sounded like they were played on an old-timey phonograph, and two episodes with a low, clicking sound throughout.

Video:
The video is as grainy as other Sailor Moon TV releases, but colors are generally solid and stable. The higher quality animations in the transformation sequences and attack sequences look quite good.

On the review copy I received there was a glitch in episode 68. I have heard of a replacement program, but at this time, the series box set is out of print from ADV, and I do not know if they are continuing to honor the replacement plan.

Packaging:
The second season follows the same basic aesthetic as the first season, and the two look splendid side-by-side. The set comes in two, four-disc Alpha multi-disc ?bricks? in an attractive slipcase. The slipcase is gorgeous, with a 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.

Menus:
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.

Extras:
Nothing, except for a handful of ADV trailers on discs 4 and 8.

Content:
(Please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers.)

It's rare to find any work where the sequel exceeds, or even matches, the creative merits of the original. Sailor Moon R comes on the heels of the dramatic – and noticeably conclusive – events at the end of the first Sailor Moon season, and the act is perhaps too much to follow. Though the second season is slightly more polished than the low-budget whimsy of the first season, Sailor Moon R stumbles around for quite a while without finding its voice, sinking comfortably into the security of a tried formula, before finally delivering a satisfying conclusion.

The season is broken into three, roughly equal-length parts, and the first, the Doom Tree arc, is tasked with doing too much on a limited palette. In addition to a new pair of alien villains disrupting peace on Earth, we are treated to the reunification of the Sailor team, a romantic challenge to Usagi and Mamoru's true love, and the appearance of a new ally, the dashing Moonlight Knight.

Although I have always thought that Sailor Moon should have shorter story arcs, nothing really coalesces in the 13-episode Doom Tree story. The villains are interesting in that they are not as evil or nihilistic as other Sailor Moon villains, operating mainly out of fear than hatred. However, they are frequently reduced to comic foils exactly in places where they should be written sympathetically. The effect is often of laughing at the drama and groaning at the comedy.

The Sailors themselves are also woefully underwritten. In the first season, the girls had to balance their duty as warriors against their regular teenage lives. This struggle formed the basis for the dramatic tension running throughout the series, and made their sacrifices poignant. Here, though, they reunite and return to duty as if they were merely salarymen returning to work after a three-day holiday. The writing is lazy, and the Sailors have none of the charisma and chemistry that they had developed in the first season. It looks like Sailor Moon, but it never feels like Sailor Moon – exacerbated in no small part by a flat substitute performance of Sailor Moon / Usagi by Kae Araki in the first few episodes.

The remainder of Sailor Moon R is made up of the Black Moon arc, which, after the Doom Tree story, feels like Sailor Moon. In a nice counterpoint to the Silver Millennium mythology revealed in the first season, we now move forward one thousand years into the future. The threat this time around is a group of humans banished from earth who are returning to take Earth back from Neo Queen Serenity, ruler of Crystal Tokyo, a futuristic city built on the ruins of modern-day Tokyo. In order to complete their invasion, the Black Moon clan have sent warriors back to the 20th century to subvert the positive energy of modern Tokyo landmarks with dark, evil energy, which will eventually weaken the future city's energy defenses.

If all this sounds complicated, then perhaps it is a tribute to the clever mythmaking of Sailor Moon that the whole thing seems consistent and logical within the framework of the show. There is something deeply satisfying to see the ancestral Queen Serenity assisting Sailor Moon who in turn is attempting to rescue the Neo Queen Serenity of the future. If anything, this season could have benefited from more of the mythology and science fiction elements. The passage through time to the future Tokyo is one of the season's high points.

The strength of the Sailor Moon story, though, is in its characters and not necessarily its plot. In this regard, Sailor Moon R simply disappoints. Though the character writing in the Black Moon arc is substantially better than the Doom Tree, and the characters feel more fleshed out, Usagi and the gang are mostly static this time around. They are less interested in debating love versus duty, or struggling with jealousy, fear, and sacrifice. The inter-character chemistry is still present, but at times feels more like an inside joke than real writing. Honest dramatic moments are replaced with predictable and somewhat cynical melodrama. For instance, when Mamoru suddenly breaks up with Usagi, it is hard to truly understand Mamoru's reasons, and it's nearly impossible to sympathize with Usagi's panicked and selfish overreaction for more than a dozen episodes.

That isn't to say that there is no emotion in the series at all. Much of the story's soul comes from a new character, a young girl named Usagi Tsukino who literally drops from heaven and infiltrates the older Usagi's life, moving into her house and even (comically) putting some moves on the elder Usagi's on-again-off-again boyfriend. The younger Usagi, nicknamed Chibi-Usa, may not sit well with the older viewers, but it is her story that becomes the lynchpin of the story's complicated threads. Although she is clearly the enemy of the Black Moon clan and is rapidly adopted by the kind-hearted Sailors into their inner circle of friendship, Chibi-Usa's ultimate objectives and motivations remain obscured until the rousing final battle, when her true allegiances are revealed. Then, all of the fear, anger, and frustration we have watched her suffer are placed in context.

The general production values (at least in the Black Moon arc) are slightly higher than the first season. The new transformation and attack sequences are impressive (though I challenge all but the most die-hard fan to sit through them more than a couple of times), and the opening animation that appears midway through is simply gorgeous and is one of the most imaginative anime openings I've ever seen.

ADV's presentation of this second season is comparable to the first season. Once again, the episodes are labeled as uncut, but like all domestic releases of Sailor Moon the next episode previews and some of the OP animation variations are not provided. Perhaps more disappointing, episode 67, a side story unrelated to the plot, is missing entirely from the set. The episode is not necessary on any level to the story, and was omitted for licensing reasons, but it's absence makes the inclusion of episode 89, an interminable clip episode, all that more annoying.

After the misfire of the Doom Tree arc, Sailor Moon R settles into a nice, if predictable, rhythm with the Black Moon story. Although the mythology and plotting represents an enhancement to the first season, I missed the character driven stories. Perhaps it is the Black Moon clan's emphasis on targeting locations and geography, rather than people that explains Sailor Moon R's lack of characterization; but perhaps it is simply lazy writing. Either way, this second season is exciting enough, but lacks what the first season had in spades: Heart.

At the time of this writing, the Sailor Moon R box set is out of print from ADV. The set is still available from many retailers, often at bargain closeout pricing. For fans of Sailor Moon, this set is an easy recommendation if it is not already in your collection. Even with the technical and creative flaws, at current pricing levels, the set is a good buy, and won't be available forever.


Features
Japanese Language,English Subtitles,Printed episode guide

Review Equipment
Panasonic Panablack TV, Panasonic RP56 DVD player, Sony ProLogic receiver, Yamaha and Pioneer speakers, Monster cable.




Mania Grade: C+
Audio Rating: C-
Video Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: N/A
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 15 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 149.98
Running time: 1000
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Sailor Moon