May 2016 Sailor Moon R Part 1 DVD Review, feature image

Review: Sailor Moon R: Part 1 (DVD)

Ah, Sailor Moon R, what a tragic history you have in the West. When originally aired in 1996 in Australia, the series spent a great deal of time moving through the filler Hell Tree arc before settling into the Dark Moon arc, only to unceremoniously drop off part-way through the series. The abrupt ending left the story in a mess, and it wouldn’t be until many years (and all sorts of nerd musings on the Save Our Sailors website) before we’d see the remainder of the series dubbed and thrust onto the airwaves.

But it wasn’t all bad. After I got hooked by the inanity of the Rainbow Crystal arc in season 1, the incomplete screening of Sailor Moon R managed to do two things. First up, it coincided with the early movement of the mighty interwebs in the average home. Sitting in front of a Toshiba 486 DX/40 laptop running a tweaked Winsock config on top of Windows 3.11, the raw power of our Netcomm 28.8k modem exposed the truth and beauty of not only the remainder of Sailor Moon R, but the extensive changes made as part of the localisation (Stan Bush’s spectacular “She’s Got The Power” excepted, as it’s awesome). Chibiusa brandishes a pistol, a beach episode got the chop entirely, Moonlight Densetsu made for a pleasant opening song in Japanese, henshin and other sequences had been altered and we didn’t get the awesome Otome no Policy ending theme. I also stumbled across something else – the infamous VKLL-subtitled releases of Sailor Moon R, all in the form of sub-320×240 Real Media streaming files hosted on a website that I imagine no longer exists. These literally took hours to buffer and required moving to our 686 100mhz desktop to actually watch. It was totally worth it though.

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I rambled in my review of Season 1 Part 1 that Sailor Moon was the start of my anime fandom rabbit hole, and the pursuit for Sailor Moon R lead me even further down as it exposed me to subtitled anime and the realities and consequences required when localising an anime in 1995 to get it ready for national (and international) distribution. The internet also claims this was one of the first major successful online campaigns that used online petitioning to make a difference by eventually getting the rest of Sailor Moon R localised (which I can admit, with a sense of bemusement, as something I participated in).

So, Sailor Moon R – much loved and very much a cornerstone of Western anime fandom, even if only in my little nerd heart. The good news is that you don’t have to worry about Real Media-encoded files, 6th generation VHS tapes that copped even more artefacting when converted from NTSC to PAL, or out of print R1 and R2 DVD releases. Madman have been kind enough to indulge Sailor Moon fans everywhere with the release of Sailor Moon R: Part 1, covering episodes 47-68 of the glory that is 90s Sailor Moon.

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The release kicks off shortly after the superbly directed events that closed off the first season, with Usagi and co running around with no memory of their trip to the arctic circle until interstellar lovers An and Ail land in the Juban district, grow a large demon tree in their apartment and pretend to be siblings while attending the local middle school. In their spare time they need to harness energy to stop them getting hungry and help give their glam rock hairstyles more shades of colour, which they do by playing a flute to summon monsters out of a deck of playing cards. Luna ruins Usagi’s life by re-awakening her powers, her friends follow suit, and sequentially each character gets a new variation on their attack until it closes with a bit more punch.

The Demon Tree arc is a filler through and through, an original series that gave Takeuchi enough time to get cracking on the real guts of Sailor Moon R, the Dark Moon arc, in manga form before being adapted into the mainstay of the series. It isn’t a bad set of episodes by any means, but it’s very by-the-numbers and its saving grace continues to be the shoujo slice of life elements. The final pair of episodes bring the arc to a nice conclusion and there are some episodes with some surprisingly good production values, in particular episode 51 when Sailor Moon gets her new henshin and special attack sequences amidst a flurry of cherry blossoms. It also creates some context for the first Sailor Moon movie which incorporates An and Ail’s world into an original story. As alluded to above, the opening animation also looks very slick and the ending theme, Otome no Policy, starts setting the tone for what would become a huge number of original songs developed for the anime.

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After 13 episodes the Dark Moon arc takes over and offers a more engaging selection of episodes, including the introduction of series mainstay Chibiusa. She’s come from the future in order to steal away Usagi’s Silver Crystal to save the future city of Crystal Tokyo, and its queen (and her mum), Neo-Queen Serenity. She’s a bit daft as she doesn’t really work out the identities of the Sailor Senshi, though to be honest she’s probably too busy running away from bishounen Rubeus and his group of lackeys, but this provides a great introduction to the Dark Moon Clan. The episode structure doesn’t stray much from the usual “monster of the week” formula and oddball setups (the evil ice cream store is a particular favourite), but the usual combination of great slice of life elements and snazzy new attack sequences make it an enjoyable if predictable affair. The all-out turf war in the last episode in this release was still a lot of fun and shows the series can throw in some nice action episodes among the canned attack sequences.

In terms of Madman’s release, once again we’re running with some lovely assets from the Japanese R2s that haven’t had their colour encoding or framerate touched, so it’s all NTSC and it’s all the better for this hands-off approach. Extras are super-lean, clocking in on the fourth disc with some trailers and clean ops/eds, The encoding is great considering the age of the source material and look fantastic given I’ve historically consumed these episodes on fuzzy analogue TV, fuzzy VHS, fuzzy internet or ADV’s welcomed though grainy R1 box set release from over a decade ago. At this stage in its life, the decision for better bitrates on the encoding side of things trumping more special features is the correct one, and also ensures regular releases if we’re not waiting on more supplemental materials to be added.

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Regardless of the lean presentation, this still remains absolutely essential viewing, especially for those of us old enough to be getting all nostalgic/nerdy about anime in the mid-90s. What’s really exciting is that this release should prove to be very interesting for those who haven’t seen Sailor Moon uncut before. In that sense, it’s also the tip of the iceberg for how they handled situations later on in this series and something that’s going to to have a bigger impact once we hit Sailor Moon S. If you enjoyed season 1 this is more of the same, but the pace, shoujo elements and production values make for interesting viewing. I can’t wait for part 2 of Sailor Moon R, as it only gets better from here.

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