Warning: Spoilers for Sailor Moon R: The Movie
Though Sailor Moon R: The Movie was released in 1993 in Japan, it wasn’t until 2000 that it came in theaters in America. Then, last month, the film was rereleased, uncut and with a new dub. This new release also included the short “Make Up! Sailor Guardians.”
Sailor Moon has not changed much since its popularity hit its highest in America in the 90’s. This movie feels like a blast from the past, and that makes sense, considering the date it was actually released. Usagi and co are still the same as they were in the show, and, in this case, it really helps the movie.
When shows make the transition to a film, it often feels forced and dry. Characters who are great in 30 minute bursts may not be able to push through an entire feature-length film. However, Sailor Moon has a large cast and each character has a distinct personality that doesn’t always get along with the others. The film largely followed the structure of the show, but instead of spotlighting Usagi plus a single Sailor Scout or other periphery character, the movie gave them all the spotlight with Usagi and her relationship with Tuxedo Mask at the center.
The movie also had a good sense of pacing. Like any children’s cartoon, there was lots of low-brow humor and action. This is typical of anything Sailor Moon. There was plenty of Magic Girl transformation sequences and anime-style fights. There was also a bit of emotion. The plot forced every character to appreciate their relationship with Usagi and reminisce about how special she was to them. That, combined with the short at the beginning of the film, really helped to remind me as a Sailor Moon fan why I drove nearly 90 minutes to go see the film. Usagi doesn’t resonate with audiences because she’s the smartest or strongest or even the coolest, she’s simply relateable and kind.
One of the best things about Sailor Moon–and, in some cases, the genre–is how they replace subtext with regular text. Full disclosure, I started noticing this after Tom was hired to play drums for a production of High School Musical. The interesting thing about this show, he claimed, was that the songs take the subtext of a typical musical, and just make it text (i.e. “We’re All in This Together”). This is particularly applicable to Sailor Moon, and often shoujo as a genre.
This idea is present throughout the film. The characters all say what the audience is thinking. Even when the plot becomes formulaic, it’s because it’s what the audience wants to see rather than a trick on the part of filmmakers to elicit cheap emotion. When Usagi is about to sacrifice herself to stop the meteor from careening into the earth, she tells the others that she will survive even though the Moon Crystal will be destroyed. The emotion comes from the other characters. They are upset that she might be wrong, and, for that moment she is dead and may not come back. The audience and the characters both know on some level that she will come back, but, for that moment, she is gone. It’s not a false self-sacrifice (one of my biggest pet peeves in movies). Rather, it’s taking emotion from a particularly stressful moment. It’s meta, and in this case, it works.