I have only watched the Sailor Moon SuperS anime series once in my lifetime. Considering the depth of my fandom and the fact that I've watched every other season multiple times, this revelation is surprising even to me. I couldn't even tell you how long ago it was that I watched it, either, but since I did so via VKLL fansubbed VHS tapes that I had ordered online, we're likely talking a decade or so ago. Even though I did buy the subtitled DVDs when they were released in the US, I never watched them--and I certainly didn't watch more than 2-3 episodes of that dubbed travesty that aired on TV, because I had the sense to realize that I was slowly but steadily dying inside after sitting through all of S dubbed, and I wanted to live past the age of 60.
So what's my malfunction? Why have I only watched it once? Here's what I remember. I was addicted to Sailor Moon throughout most of my teenage years. Seeing the anime subtitled, uncut, and unedited for the first time in the forms of the 3 movies and the S season heightened my addiction. I knew that SuperS was not well-regarded by the fandom, but I was certain that I was such a SUPER FAN that I would absolutely love it. I bought the series, watched it, and was sorely disappointed. As much as I had wanted to agree with outliers like the creator of In Defense of Supers, I found myself agreeing with the unsatisfied majority--"Chibiusa is annoying!" "There are no Outers!" "It's not serious enough!"
All these years, I've had this very strong notion that the SuperS anime sucked royally as a result of just one viewing back when I was a teenager. Well, now I'm an adult, and I've realized that I don't know what the hell I'm talking about when I try to explain why SuperS is the worst representation of Sailor Moon on television. I list reasons that other people might agree with, but I'm not even sure if they're valid, because it's likely that after 10 years of memory erosion, those reasons aren't even my own. So I decided it was high time to put on my big girl pants and watch SuperS again with the mind of a thinking, reasoning adult.
And here's what I have to say: SuperS does not suck. It doesn't even come close to sucking. It has some big problems, but so does every other iteration of Sailor Moon. My main problem in evaluating the series when I was a teenager was that my expectations were a hot mess. Fresh off the high of watching subtitled S, and adamant in the idea that Sailor Moon was a serious business adult show ruined forever by America, I was dismayed by the lighter tone of SuperS, the (mostly) nonthreatening villains, and the replacement of the Outer Senshi with a fruity horse. I think I spent the whole season waiting for things to happen that wouldn't. It was a sad affair, and I am proud to now list in detail all the major reasons for why I enjoyed my second viewing of SuperS.
REASON #1: It is hysterical.
Humor is a big part of the Sailor Moon anime. Humor is also something that's subjective, but even if you didn't crack a smile once during SuperS, you have to admit that the ratio of attempts at comedy to minutes of the program is higher than any of the other series. Instead of portraying the Dead Moon Circus as a frightening circus of nightmares, the creators decided to fill its tent with a cast of amusing and sometimes lovable freaks. After 3 seasons of repeated monster-of-the-day battles that we all knew Sailor Moon would win but we had to humor the show while it tried to convince us otherwise, SuperS gives us MOTDs that are about entertainment first, danger second...or third, or very distant fourth. The senshi often stare at these bizarre creatures (called Lemures) in total bewilderment as they babble nonsense, waste time, and / or perform tricks--the observation, "it looks like we've got another weird one," is made multiple times.
How about that cannonball girl (Dokanko) in episode 130? She spent inordinate amounts of time loading herself into a cannon, counting down 'til launch, blasting herself into the ground, then yelling, "you're not supposed to dodge!" after realizing that her kamikaze attempts had missed their marks. Sure, the senshi could have destroyed her ten times over if they had actually made an effort, but that's not the point of these fights. The point is to revel in the absurdity.
What about that tightrope walking guy, Tsunawatarou, in episode 137, whose sole power was to make Sailor Moon walk on a tightrope and create the small risk that she might fall and bruise her bum? When he donned a blindfold to further demonstrate his tightrope-walking prowess, even our hero warned him to be careful. Or the flat-chested Ponko from episode 144, who sprouted breasts by swallowing pool balls? Nobody, not even she herself, would say the name of her ultimate "golden ball" attack, since those words (kintama) can also mean "testicles" in Japanese. Or how about my personal favorites, the three beach ball-shaped Lemures--all family members, apparently--- from episodes 132 (Puko), 140 (Gum Mario), and 146 (Elephanko). Their powers included rolling, bouncing, inflating, and--in the case of the latter two--tricking us at first into thinking that their animal companions were the true enemy.
SuperS rarely takes itself very seriously, and features a large number of episodes with silly or whimsical premises. Some episodes like #139, which centers around a little girl training to be the best swordsman in Japan, treat a character and their dreams and relationships seriously, but do so with tongue in cheek; the girl's description of a samurai's solitary life is punctuated by a train full of people whistling past her; Tiger's Eye's exaggerated portrayal of a samurai master is undercut by his inability to correctly pronounce a famous samurai's name; the girl's mother wields a kendo stick in a minidress. In fact, it's the episodes that take themselves too seriously that I find to be the biggest failures--episodes 138 (the widow who wants to fix a car in honor of her recently deceased husband) and 157 (the little boy who was trying to invent a flying machine all by himself) were hard to enjoy because the narrative wanted us to take ludicrous concepts seriously. Just to clarify, in episode 138, the ludicrous concept is not someone wanting to fix a car, but Ami taking a part-time job as a mechanic, and being good at it because she's smart. I'm smart, too, but I can't fix cars because I have no training.
Finally, Diana has the cutest stinkin' voice I think I have ever heard, and she cracks me up every time she speaks.
To conclude this section, here is a list of some of my favorite comedic episodes:
- 133. Artemis' Affair? A Mysterious Kitten Appears
- 140. Love Those Minis! The Fashionable Senshi
- 141. Storm of Love! Minako's Grand Two-Timing Plan
- 146. Holiday in Juuban! A Carefree Princess
- 153. A Dentist of Terror? PallaPalla's House
- 159. Chibiusa's Little Rhapsody of Love
|Hawks Eye and Tiger's Eye are dismayed at Fish Eye's choice of target.|
This goes along with my previous point about the series being hysterical. Let's face it--the Amazon Trio are some of the weakest villains in Sailor Moon, not to mention the worst dressed. Their powers are poorly defined, but no matter what trick they pull out of their sleeves, they're never capable of standing toe-to-toe with the senshi; when they try to, we get embarrassing spectacles like the tail end of episode 131, where Fish Eye misses with every throwing knife despite being only a few feet way from his target. They fought for their lives against Mr. Magic Pierrot but were completely overwhelmed by him; moments later, Sailor Moon dispatched him without breaking a sweat.
Really, the Trio are no different from the Lemures. First and foremost, they're present in the series to entertain us, not to give the heroes a run for their money. They're annoyed by the Sailor Senshi, but usually more annoyed by each other, and most annoyed by the rejections they receive from many of their targets. Tiger's Eye supplies many of the funniest moments when his over-the-top strategies for wooing the ladies fall flat: decked out in jewelry, his impossibly voluptuous golden hair billowing in the wind, and dropping lines that you might find written in a really bad romance novel, he's the smug embodiment of a charming sleazeball. It's no wonder he disintegrates into a screaming child when a woman rebuffs him. Hawk's Eye and Fish Eye are no different. The 3 of them scrutinize each other's choices of targets as if they were reviewing matches on OKcupid or Eharmony.
Their relationships with each other are done quite well. They are competitive and combative, but also share some brotherly affection, as shown in their final episode (149). The shock on their faces when Nehellenia reveals that they are just animals given human form, the conflict they feel on whether to obey their final orders or not, and their ultimate solidarity in deciding to save Sailor Moon are touching testaments to the depth of their personalities.
The Trio's successors, the Amazoness Quartet, are not as fun in my opinion, but their debut signals an interesting change to the status quo; unlike the Trio, who were terrified of Zirconia and ineffective fighters, the Quartet give their wrinkled boss a run for her money: they sass her at every opportunity, attack her, and torment Zircon, her flying eyeball companion. You know that they aren't just blowing smoke, either, when Zirconia admits to herself that she would be no match against all of them (150) and when they nearly defeat the senshi in battle (161). While I find VesVes and CereCere to be pretty generic, PallaPalla is a riot (and slightly unsettling) and JunJun's rough-and-tumble style can't be found in any other female Sailor Moon villain. Episode 160 is fairly unique in that it lets us watch the heroes and villains work together and become friendly without knowing each other's true identities. This interaction makes the Quartet's eventual rejection of the Dead Moon more believable.
The Quartet also play a critical role in the final battle, the only villains / former villains to have this honor in Sailor Moon. Whether you liked this or not, you probably didn't expect it, and in the end, I think the SuperS "mid-bosses" are very much about defying expectations set by the prior 3 seasons. The blend of bumbling hijinks and brotherly rivalry found in the Trio, the mix of child-like antics and combat prowess found in the Quartet, and the redeeming conclusion for all of them are new combinations that compliment the fourth season's tone and theme.
REASON #3: Queen Nehellenia is Scary and Awesome
|Uhh, how 'bout YOU go rescue Chibiusa this time?|
Queen Nehellenia is the only villain in all of the Sailor Moon anime who I find truly creepy and threatening. To be clear, all of the other big baddies--Metalia, Death Phantom, Pharoah 90, and Galaxia--are threatening to some degree, but only Death Phantom could qualify as also being creepy. Yet his creepiness comes almost exclusively from his appearance, and he spends the majority of his time manipulating the other villains because he doesn't have the power or means to achieve his goals on his own. Nehellenia is different, and here's why.
We don't even know Nehellenia exists until 20 episodes into SuperS, when Zirconia channels her voice for the Amazon Trio; the face-like design on her cloak suddenly begins to move, and the distorted voice of a woman fills the circus tent. The Trio are freaked out, and so are we--we can't see her true face, only something like looks like a Rorschach ink-blot test. We learn that it is only by her magic that the Trio walk around as something resembling humans, and she's not inclined to maintain that magic. 2 episodes later (150), we see her full form...a tall, imposing woman who lives on the other side of a mirror, a dark lair covered in spiderwebs. Bound in those webs is Helios, a helpless fly captured by this predatory Queen who becomes creepier by the second. When her eyes twitch with annoyance, Zirconia almost craps her pants (if she's wearing any) and we start to worry about the fate of the planet again. These first introductions really let viewers see that Nehellenia is cut from a different cloth than the other villains.
Trapped in her mirror, Nehellenia is pissed off and impatient about "covering the world in darkness." Unlike other villains who are content to use up every one of their minions before they lift a finger of their own, she gets fed up from waiting and exerts her influence in a huge way despite her handicap. In episode 161, she manages to reach through the mirror, much to the surprise of Zirconia and to our horror, but is burned by the light. This shows us 2 things: she's powerful enough to break the seal of the mirror, but can't just because she needs something (the Golden Crystal) to maintain her form in the light, and she's so powerful that even getting 1 hand outside the mirror is enough to cause the entire planet to plunge into darkness. The next couple of episodes are like a slow descent into a nightmare, in which spider webs spread and encase the city, and the light from the sun becomes weaker. In particular, the scene where Usagi pulls a spider thread out of Ami's hair and the girls slowly begin to realize that something freaky is afoot could easily have been lifted from a horror movie.
Nehellenia's story is a little underdeveloped in SuperS, but what we do learn paints her as the most legitimately unstable villain in Sailor Moon history. She was the beloved queen of her own kingdom until her mirror showed her a mortifying fate of becoming an old woman. It's not clear where the evil energy or the voice in the mirror comes from, and this leaves open the possibility that Nehellenia might just be insane. She devours the dreams of her subjects, transforming her once beautiful kingdom into a farcical corruption--a circus, to be exact. Then she begins to envy the Moon Kingdom and decides to install herself as the new queen; this gets her sealed away by Queen Serenity. But after a great many years of stewing in her own hatred, her dark powers have increased, and she can now take hold of the Golden Crystal--and that's exactly what she does.
Things get even more bizarre when we learn that Zirconia is a walking manifestation of Nehellenia's nightmare of getting old (episode 164). Name another villain who creates an entirely new villain through the sheer power of her insanity. That's right, you can't. Furthermore, I can't be the only one who recoiled at the sight of old-lady Nehellenia shooting a Zirconia look-alike out of her chest to strangle Sailor Moon (166). When she's outside of her mirror and lacking the power of the Golden Crystal, she literally turns into a monster, one that survives the final episode of the season and returns to her prison. It seems Nehellenia's darkness might creep back another day....
...and it does, during the first 6 episodes of Stars, but that's a discussion for another time.
REASON #4: Mamoru and Ami are More Likable and Interesting
|Mamo-chan just can't catch a break.|
This reason might seem a little strange to some people, but hear me out.
Let's start with Mamoru. In general, I don't like him very much in the anime. I think he's too cold and doesn't act like he really loves Usagi unless they're in some kind of crisis. The two of them communicate very poorly with each other, and rarely even hang out unless they're on a "date". Their whole relationship is as far away from convincing as you can get, and this is why critics claim that they are together just because destiny dictates it, not because of any desire on their parts. Besides that, I oppose the writers' decision to have him rescue the senshi almost every episode. It's rather chauvinistic and a far cry from his more balanced role in the manga.
In SuperS, one of the reasons why he becomes more likable is, ironically, because Usagi becomes more irritating. We start to see him as just a regular guy doing his best to make the woman in his life happy (or perhaps I should say "women in his life," since Chibiusa is omnipresent), and to accept her shortcomings. For example, in episode 132, he patiently endures Usagi and Chibiusa clinging to him and causing a scene in front of his friends. Despite their childish behavior, he's proud to introduce them as his girlfriend and "girlfriend's sister". The final image of the episode is the two girls yanking him back and forth in a tug-of-war, while a sweatdrop floats above his head. This is endearing; we sympathize with the nonsense that he has to go through. In episode 140, he agrees to buy Usagi an outfit from a popular fashion designer. Afterwards, we see him staring at his empty wallet in despair. When Usagi asks him if he understands how she feels (happy), he responds, "tohoho?" an onomatopoeia conveying depression. Episode 153 features more scenes of Usagi and Chibiusa clinging to him desperately, this time as he drags them to the dentist. Although he's a little exasperated, he reassures the girls that he will stay by their side during all the scary stuff. At this moment, I actually had the thought, "aww, what a nice guy," a highly unusual occurrence for me. I also thought that if Usagi really hadn't been brushing her teeth every night, kissing her must have been a real drag.
We also get to enjoy some riffs on Tuxedo Kamen. Lampoons of his sudden appearances and introductory speeches are nothing new--we've seen him save the day from the tops of cherry trees and while riding a bus, and we've heard characters wonder aloud, "what the heck is he talking about?" as he prattles on about the connection between sweets and a woman's heart. In SuperS, the writers awareness of the character's formulaic mannerisms result in a couple new jokes. In episode 145, the Lemures (Kurumiwario, a ballet dancer who is the source of more laughs) mishears Tuxedo Kamen's name as "takushii ga kabin" (a taxi with a vase) and is understandably confused. Tuxedo Kamen becomes quite frustrated and shouts, "I said Tuxedo Kamen!" I'd probably be peeved, too, if I had been around as long as Sailor Moon and somebody didn't know my name. I'd probably also be peeved if I had spent all night formulating a clever introductory speech that referenced the plot and monster of the day but all the enemy took away from it was a mispronunciation of my name. As an aside, Tuxedo Kamen ticked me off a little when he suggested that Sailor Moon should go on a diet at the end of this episode. Yeah, the episode itself was teasing Usagi for "gaining weight"--in quotes because every single character has the same skinny body type--but a boyfriend should never say such a thing to his perfectly healthy-looking girlfriend!
Episode 140 contains what is probably the funniest joke about Tuxedo Kamen in the series history. Gum Mario, a bouncing beach ball Lemures, stops his assault on Sailor Moon and Chibi Moon when he hears Tuxedo Kamen's trademark music begin to play. He looks around in confusion for a few seconds, then suddenly takes a rose to the head and slowly deflates. This breaking of the fourth wall (the acknowledgement of the character's music) is hysterical. Something similar happens in episode 146, when our heroes face another beach ball Lemures, Elephanko. Tuxedo Kamen chucks his rose as he always does, but instead of interrupting the battle or disabling the enemy, it just gets flattened by Elephanko as she rolls over it--it is merely a flower, after all. Tuxedo Kamen then must stop himself mid-speech and actually move his ass to try and save Sailor Moon. I feel like this scene went out to all the fans who have been baffled by Tuxedo Kamen's choice of "weapon".
All these humorous scenes with Mamoru and his caped alter-ego make him more fun and likable. Instead of being asked to view him as the perfect man and a powerful knight in shining armor, we are welcomed to see him as a regular guy with quirks of his own.
|Ami actually looked in the mirror today.|
Happily, this is not the case in SuperS. There are three Ami-centered episodes: 138, where she works part-time as a mechanic, 144, where she develops a cute friendship with Shingo at the beach, and 151, where she comes to admire a musician and upgrades to her super form. None of these episodes have her going through the same tired conflict of "is studying all I'm good for?" and "I must work hard to honorably best someone smarter than me!" While I mentioned earlier that the mechanic episode is rather lame, I have to give it points for utilizing Ami in a different way--you'd never see her trying her hand at a part time job in the prior seasons. I found episode 151 to be especially interesting, because it showed us another different side of Ami--one that appreciates music and the arts so much that her strongest attack takes the form of an aqua rhapsody.
When she's not the focus of an episode, we see Ami reacting to and participating in conversations about romance, a subject that she's often reacted to with indifference. Even she wants to know if Chibiusa has a boyfriend in episode 159, and goes along with the scheme to squeeze a confession out of her. At the same time, she keeps her cool when confronted with "hot" guys, creating an amusing contrast between her and her friends. For example, in episode 152, a cute guy approaches the girls at Rei's temple. Usagi, Minako, and Makoto recover from their squeal-and-swoonfest just in time to see Ami waving as the man walks away. "He just needed directions," she says matter-of-factly.
Finally, I have to make mention of the outfit Ami wears in episode 162 (pictured above). The slimming black dress with wintry white fluff on the collar and sleeves paired with tall boots and leggings is one of the most fashionable outfits the anime artists have come up with, and I'd wear it in a heartbeat.
I have described the main reasons for why I personally found SuperS to be an enjoyable viewing experience. If you haven't watched it in a long time, I recommend doing so--you might be surprised by your reaction.
In this blog's spirit of fairness, I plan to post a second entry discussing some of the problems with SuperS. Expect that sometime after the post about manga volume 4.