February 2018, Sailor Moon Collection 1 BRD Feature image

Review: Sailor Moon Complete Season 1 (Blu-Ray)

So two years ago I postulated that the only way we would ever see Toei’s 1990s adaptation of Sailor Moon in HD was if Madman could magically access an equally magical restoration from a Japanese release. Which actually happened, and I’m still in shock. So now we have Sailor Moon Complete Season 1 on Blu-Ray in Australia using the improved assets from Japan along with the new English dub to appease all fans. This is all happening. It’s real. And it’s wonderful…

Not much has changed since I last watched through these episodes in 2016 (or even really 1996 if we’re being honest, localisation changes notwithstanding), so it seems almost a little redundant to go into a detailed synopsis for Sailor Moon Complete Season 1 given our previous reviews for part 1 and part 2 of the DVD releases. Needless to say Sailor Moon is generally regarded as the one of the most accomplished executions of the modern magic girl/sentai hybrid formula that has evolved in all sorts of interesting ways over the past 25 years since it first started screening in Japan. It takes in the usual array of elements – talking animal mascots, a mix of different archetypes amongst the main cast, canned henshin and attack footage and folds a long-running narrative around monster of the week tropes. What sets Sailor Moon apart is its ability to double-down on the slice of life elements and plenty of shoujo themes, creating an at-times long winded story that nonetheless endears you to its cast. The other edge in terms of its narrative are the times when it pushes hard on pivotal elements that transitions the show into new arcs, culminating in an incredible closure to this first season that is just as engaging today as it was when I first watched it in 1996.

What makes Sailor Moon Complete Season 1 on Blu-Ray special is the new high definition transfer that graces the box set. Viz infamously released a HD version of 1990s Sailor Moon starting in 2014 and their releases have been plagued with a high degree of technical issues, including poor deinterlacing, heavy use of DNR and access to masters which resulted in a poor source for the remastering process on the whole. Two years ago when I reviewed the DVD releases the discussion lamented the lack of 16mm prints to perform a full remaster; with Toei’s announcement of a HD release for the Japanese market however, speculation kicked up a notch. The outcome is certainly interesting – the Japanese Blu-Ray release is actually an upscale from the best quality standard definition masters Toei were willing to use as part of this release, with some chatter suggesting it may not be a reluctance to perform a fresh negative scan of the original prints but an outright lack of available source materials for the 46-episode run for Sailor Moon’s first season.

This places Toei in a similar position to Viz, but the outcome is significantly more polished. The usual garbage-in/garbage-out principles hold true as much as elsewhere for Sailor Moon Complete Season 1, so we’re never going to see anything as amazing as a native high definition release and this holds especially true where the original masters aren’t as clean as others. This manifests itself in various ways throughout the series – Junichi Sato’s pilot episode, for example, comes across quite nicely, with the slightly more muted hues and delicate linework from the extra budget typically allocated to the first episode looking cleaner than the DVD release. We can see extra detail in the backgrounds and are more easily exposed to some of the shortcuts taken with the initial filming of the cels, especially the opening sequence.

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This will contrast with other elements. Telecine wobble is generally present throughout the series, with its prevalence variable depending on the source material. While it isn’t overtly distracting (and not surprising given the speed of production for a series as long as Sailor Moon), it’s definitely there and the extent to which you find this distracting will vary depending on your level of anal retentivity. The opening animation for the first arc appears quite muddy in comparison to the second arc, and this is something you can especially see in the text for the credits where a combination of source material quality and the use of DNR rounds out may of the edges and reduces the extent of the detail. DNR in itself is interesting to consider – one of the big differences between this and the DVD release is the amount of grain that’s been removed and the subsequent tweaking to the colour balance and contrast levels. One of the biggest sins in applying these techniques to anime (and I guess other remasters as well) is that a heavy-handed approach reduces the fine detail in the linework and backgrounds in favour of smoothing out the colours. I’m pleased to say that, on the whole, this technique has been applied appropriately as a general rule in Sailor Moon Complete Season 1 – we still get some of the grit that’s part of what was an analogue production workflow from the early 90s, but the grain reduction and tweaks to the hue, color and contrast result in a subtlety more dynamic image.

The presentation also benefits from an encoding perspective. While the previous DVD release was an impressive show of MPEG2 encoding given the source material, the combination of a more modern codecs for both audio and video helps ensure that the encoding itself isn’t problematic. While macroblocking and other artefacts weren’t overly problematic in the previous release, when comparing footage between the releases there’s definitely an improvement in how the footage (and audio as well) is being presented.

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The net result of the above postulating is that the improvement to audio and visual quality in Sailor Moon Complete Season 1 is variable and potentially quite subtle depending on your attention to detail, but it is by far an improvement on the original release. This really strikes home during selected episodes, such as the first episode that introduces Makoto, the episode where Zoisite goes on a power trip and tries to take out Tuxedo Mask and the concluding episodes for the season provide some lovely examples where the improvement in this release stands out. Mind, it also helps that these are great episodes on their own merits, especially some of the grittier art designs and animation direction in episode 45 while the Sailor Senshi push their way to D Point in the arctic circle.

In addition to the remastered audio and video, Sailor Moon Complete Season 1’s Blu-Ray release from Madman sees the 5 discs spread over two multi-disc Blu-Ray cases and is housed in their signature thick, premium cardboard box used in many of their releases over the years. Print quality is superb – the glossy art on the box looks great and this extends to both the reversible cover clips on the inner cases and the screen printing on the discs themselves. Also included is an artbook with a huge selection of official art created for this adaptation of Sailor Moon that is beautifully printed. The contents are the same as the artbook included with the limited edition release for Sailor Moon Season 1 Part 1, but scaled down to fit the slightly reduced size of the Blu-Ray box format without compromising any of the original aspect ratios of the artwork. It also includes the featurette on the new English dub as seen on the DVD release and it bilingual to suit whatever floats your boat.

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The Blu-Ray of Sailor Moon Complete Series 1 was an enormously enjoyable excuse to revisit this amazing, beautiful and classic anime series. While the improvements are definitely variable, the careful restoration of the original footage back to 24p, surprisingly restrained use of DNR and tweaking of the original picture dynamics results in a polished package. I’d certainly advocate for the upgrade from DVD to this Blu-Ray release without hesitation, but I’m an irrational fanboy so objectivity isn’t really a consideration here. The choice to wait for access to high-quality HD masters may have been a difficult prospect for Madman back in 2014, but four years later I’m happy they waited. This is a spectacular release and remains an essential anime that needs to be experienced – highly recommended.

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A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.

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