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Review: Sailor Moon Crystal Set 3 Limited Edition (Blu-Ray)

Sailor Moon Crystal Set 3 sees the Sailor Moon reboot continue into my favourite saga – Death Busters/Infinity/Sailor Moon S – which I continue to lovingly gush about whenever I have the chance (such as here and here). As much as I enjoyed the previous releases of Sailor Moon Crystal, it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation when I first sat down to check this out given how much I’ve enjoyed this story arc before.

With Sailor Moon Crystal Set 3 Usagi and co are enjoying transitioning back into the real world and studying for middle school exams in prep for the impending move to high school. Like all good mahou shoujo anime though, all the mundane excitement gets thrown to the side as another mysterious foe starts turning everyday people into monsters. At the same time unusual happenings start occurring around the mysterious elite super-school, Mugen Academy. It’s up to Sailor Moon and the Sailor Senshi to investigate the mysterious Witches 5, win over the trust of the grumpy Outer Senshi and face the impending destructive power of Master Pharaoh 90 who likes shiny crystals because reasons.

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So, let’s get a few things out of the way – I think Sailor Moon Crystal Set 3 is utterly magnificent. Fanboyishly so. Chiaki Kon took over direction for the series, and with it she’s brought in a stunning take that builds off the strengths that Munehisa Sakai brought to the previous seasons while bringing in so many of the elements that made the manga and original TV series so amazing through their use of inter-character relationships, exploring everyone’s idiosyncrasies and deftly navigating the beautiful relationships between Hotaru and Chibi-Usa in addition to Mamoru and Usagi’s ongoing romance. Kon is one of the few women in the anime industry to have climbed their way to earn directorial duties and demonstrates how a different perspective can benefit adaptations such as this. I really enjoyed how it explores the roles of the Outer Senshi and treats Haruka and Michiru’s relationship with far less winks and nods compared to the 1990s adaptation. Even down to how they introduce Setsuna to the world is subtle, confident and brilliant. Actually, the way they introduce all the Outer Senshi from a battle perspective is brilliant – if you didn’t get chills the first time you hear “Deep Submerge”, “World Shaking” or (my favourite), “Dead Scream”, you’re doing it wrong.

Then there’s Sailor Moon Crystal Set 3’s production – again, Kon’s direction draws the strength from Sakai’s work on the preceding seasons with an emphasis on character designs that more closely resemble Takeuchi’s original manga with vivid colours and less emphasis on the more static/canned animation from the 1990s anime adaptation. While we still have canned special attacks, in season 3 we frequently see them incorporated into broader action choreography with a real sense of athleticism and dynamism. Best of all, this season banishes virtually all traces of 3D CG and replaces them with beautiful 2D animation. So good. So, overwhelmingly welcomed, good. Just… wow, awesome – very much helps make up for the use of CG in earlier series’ which surprised me as I got used to it when watching the previous seasons. I haven’t gone back to re-watch them since watching through Sailor Moon Crystal Set 3, so perhaps in the future once the entire production’s finished it’ll prove an interesting exercise to go back in and check it out.

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There’s so many other elements of Sailor Moon Crystal Set 3 that made it an amazing journey – skits and goofy comedy finally made a return, the Outer Senshi are still awesome, and there were a slew of alternative ops and eds. The latter’s possibly a tip of the hat to the 1990s adaptation which saw the opening sequences change in often subtle ways over the course of each season, incorporating variations on characters and antagonists. The entire opening itself takes a drastic change from the previous seasons too – while I enjoyed Moon Pride, the new opening track and beautiful animation direction reminiscent of Ikuhara’s inspired visual flourishes in the creation of the Utena anime are a perfect fit for the change in direction for Sailor Moon Crystal Season 3 (and historically fitting given Utena arose from his frustration working on Sailor Moon). To accompany the changes we have 3 different covers of the opening (finishing up with Momoiro Clover Z on the final round), and three completely different ending sequences. The first, dominated by Haruka and Michiru, is probably my favourite for the delightful Utena-esque feel to the direction and awesome power-pop vocals, but Chibi-Usa’s sugar-pop ending’s good for a laugh. Mamoru’s ending is amusing on a whole different level, especially the bishi-bishi white shirt slow pan for those who enjoy being pandered to (which is fine by the way – no judgement here, I’m the wrong age and gender to be this into Sailor Moon!).

Moving onto the release itself, the Limited Edition of Sailor Moon Crystal Set 3 which we’ve been fortunate to review here is gorgeous. Similar to Set 1 and Set 2, we’ve got a lovely outer sleeve with foil embossing that matches the style of its predecessors. Within this sits the contents, with the four discs (2 Blu-Ray discs and 2 DVDs) in a lovely fold-out cardboard set. Wedged in there are a variety of lovely extras – we have a high-gloss set of cards featuring some beautiful art from members of the main cast as well as a great little artbook with plenty of character and promotional art and looks fantastic. The release itself features solid encoding on the BRDs (haven’t checked the DVDs so I’m assuming they’re Madman’s usual solid super-sampled MPEG2 encodes) and textless versions of all the opening and ending sequences which was a really nice touch.

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Sailor Moon Crystal Set 3 was, clearly, an amazing journey as a fanboy of the series. There’s a lot in there it got right, and it felt so refreshing to see Kon change things up the way she did. But it’s by no means perfect – the level of goofy comedy prevalent in the 1990s adaptation and original manga is still restrained compared to how they’ve approached this arc, and some of the core themes, while accurate to the manga, are still a little odd. Chibi-Usa’s Electra complex is thankfully a little more muted this season, and I still find it odd that Usagi’s parents seem cool with the idea of Usagi sleeping over Mamoru’s bach pad quite so often. The Witches 5 are kind of interchangeable and don’t have the time to develop into more fleshed out characters which the 1990s adaptation was able to accommodate, and if you’ll indulge a little fanboy whinge, I really wanted to see the kick-arse Outer Senshi transformation sequence music from the 1990s adaptation make a return here at some point.

There are some really great articles out there that apply much more level headed commentary on Sailor Moon Crystal Set 3 (this lengthy post of Deus Ex Magical Girl in particular is very good), so for me it was a bit of a wrestle how to ultimately handle this review. In the end I’m going to settle on my journey and my experience, own up to the bias and view it through this lens.

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In this sense I really enjoyed this release – the execution and production values made for an amazing run that did a great job balancing the strengths of the earlier adaptation and manga, while Madman’s packaging for this Limited Edition release is absolutely stellar. Sailor Moon fans will definitely get the most out of this release, and from my (biased) perspective it’s only failing is that we’ll be waiting a while before we see the story continue in theatrical format, with Kon once again at the helm. Highly recommended.

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