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Sailor Moon R: The Movie
 Mike Toole  rates it:    

What could I possibly tell you about Sailor Moon that you probably don't already know? It's an enormously popular magical girl show about a ditzy 14-year-old named Usagi, her 4 buddies Ami, Makoto, Rei, and Minako, and her boyfriend, Mamoru. The twist is, they're all superheroes-- the girls transform into the Sailor Soldiers, with Usagi leading the pack as Sailor Moon. Mamoru becomes Tuxedo Mask, charming and elegant knight to Sailor Moon's princess. And the group (which also includes Sailors Mercury, Jupiter, Mars, and Venus) are advised by Luna and Artemis, a pair of talking felines from the Moon Kingdom.

There's a lot more buried in the plotline that you won't see in this movie-- a lost kingdom on the moon, reincarnation, a time-travelling mystery girl from the far future (Chibi-Usa, who only appears incidentally here)-- but the unifying factor is the necessity of the Sailor Soldiers (or Senshi, if you prefer) to defend the earth from various evil forces. They did so in grand fashion in the original TV series, ultimately putting their lives at grave risk to thwart the evil Queen Beryl, and returning to take down Rubeus and the Dead Moon Kingdom in the show's second season. The events in the movie take place during the second season, and are almost insultingly simple-- a mysterious childhood friend of Mamoru appears, wanting to rekindle their friendship. The thing is, this traveller, Fiore (who turns out to be an alien), is angry about Mamoru's relationship with Usagi (they're going steady, of course) and distrustful of the girl. He even knocks her over, but then retreats.

Things pick up later, when a mysterious floral alien starts attacking Tokyo. The girls transform and fight, proving more than effective against the malevolent creature. Then Fiore appears, saying that he values Mamoru's friendship so much that he's going to get rid of everyone he considers deceitful or harmful to Mamoru. That includes most of earth's population. But is Fiore really in charge, or is it the the talking flower who dispenses advice for him?

While Sailor Moon's plot is often surprisingly rich, its execution is pure cotton candy. It's attractive, tasty, and almost completely without substance. But that's not a drawback, considering that Sailor Moon was devised for little girls, and little girls love cotton candy. (For that matter, so do I.) One might think that a relatively insubstantial plot could totally kill a show, and it can-- but it doesn't here, thanks entirely to director Kunihiko Ikuhara. Ikuhara, best known for helping create the kaleidoscopic psychedia of Revolutionary Girl Utena, directs Sailor Moon R with a dazzling, in-your-face visual panache that's a delight to see.

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The Sailor Soldiers have attack sequences and transformation scenes that are ten times more intense and visually interesting then their transformation sequences in the series; unlike in the TV show, where I was often baffled at the Soldiers' ability to dispatch bad guys, I really got a sense of how powerful each Soldier was. The dialogue is wonderfully campy at times (Sailor Moon's angry speeches to her enemies upon transformation are always great fun) and the conflict between the Soldiers and Fiore, while kind of goofy, never seems forced or contrived. I've always thought of Sailor Moon as kind of a magical girls version of Gatchaman (or "Battle of the Planets"), and Fiore makes for a suitable, highly-dualistic, self-hating nemesis, much like the ones in Gatchaman. (Not the least bit surprisingly, Fiore is voiced by Hikaru Midorikawa, the absolute master of the sulky, smoldering young man voice).

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Sailor Moon has always been enjoyable, sentimental fluff, but Ikuhara's virtuosic visual style, combined with a budget that far outstrips the TV series, makes for a short movie that's more entertaining than entire 13-episode story arcs of the TV series. This is a no-brainer for existing fans of Sailor Moon, but I'd really recommend Utena fans check it out-- you can really see where Ikuhara developed his wonderfully skewed visual style in this movie, and how much it enhances the otherwise thin storytelling. Yes sir, I like it.


Added:  Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Related Link:  Pioneer Animation
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