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Sailor Moon Blu-ray/DVD Set 1 Anime Review

14 min read

Sailor Moon PackagingThe classic series gets new life breathed into it.

What They Say:
Usagi Tsukino is a cheerful 14-year-old schoolgirl who often finds herself in unwanted trouble. One day, she saves a talking cat named Luna from some mean kids, and her life is changed forever. Luna gives Usagi a magic brooch that transforms her into Sailor Moon, defender of love and justice! Now Usagi must work with Luna to find the other Sailor Guardians and the Moon Princess, whose Legendary Silver Crystal is Earth’s only hope against the dark forces of the evil Queen Beryl!

Contains episodes 1-23 plus an 88-page, full-color premium booklet, all housed in a shimmering chipboard artbox!

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this series is pretty good considering the age and elements as we get the original Japanese language track in stereo along with a newly created English language dub, also in stereo. The original elements come across cleaner than I thought they would as there’s no real problems to be had with it such as hiss or background noise creeping into it. The show has a fairly simple forward soundstage mix that’s representative of its time and it definitely captures things well with the lossless DTS-HD MA codec that’s used. There’s not a lot in the way of strong directionality, but it hits the right notes that matches the material. The new English language mix comes across louder as one would expect in general due to it being newer and mixed in cleaner and sharper ways and there’s a touch more directionality to it overall, but not a significant amount. Both tracks are pretty good and the end result is one that will generally please and leave fans happy.

Video:
Originally airing in 1993, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twenty-three episodes of this set are spread across three discs in an eight/eight/seven format that gives it enough room to work with. Produced by Toei Animation, the series transfer here is one that’s certainly going to be divisive among fans, as some of the problems will be highly noticeable to some while others won’t be able to tell. With a lot of comparison shots floating around out there, there are a lot of different “masters” being used across multiple territories for DVD releases, which are all largely coming off of the same master that Toei has for their own releases. That said, not everything is exactly the same for a variety of reasons and discrepancies creep in. Having only watched the dubbed DVDs from ADV Films before, this release certainly stands out better in a lot of ways with its high definition presentation. It’s a much cleaner release and the higher bit rate helps to eliminate all the noise and blockiness that plagued a lot of DVDs, especially in the darker blues and the washed out backgrounds from those releases. For most viewers, when they watch this, there will be little to find wrong with it. For others, there’s a fair bit of ghosting in a number of scenes that creeps in and some gradient issues in a few places as well, though those were less pronounced and largely due fade-out sequences. There is a definite saturation issue going on, which is really noticeable with the third disc as you get characters whose skin tone really looks pink more than anything else. Well, more pink than usual, to the point where it feels like they’re blushing constantly or just got a bad spray tan. This isn’t what it’s supposed to look like, but it is what the masters Viz was given look like. It may be an issue where once you know, you can’t not see it, but others may not really register it at all. It’s a mixed bag for what should have been a fantastic release, and how much these issues impact you will certainly affect your overall enjoyment of it.

Packaging:
Viz Media has been doing good with their limited edition releases so far and this one is no exception. The set comes in a heavy chipboard box that’s designed to hold the two sets of the first season, which is made up of forty-six episodes. The box itself is done with some nice foil through parts of it that gives it a little more bling and shine against the pink and white stars that dominates it. The front of the box gives us Sailor Moon herself in her traditional pose with the logo just below her waist while the back side of it has the brooch that sets the whole series off. The spine is also one that I like as it denotes the box as being a season one box overall and has just a small touch of the foil as well to give it a little extra attention. Inside the box we get a spacer box where the second set will go, which is done with a soft pink and white approach that has Luna’s crescent on it. The slightly oversized Blu-ray case holds six discs, three Blu-ray and three DVD, with a front cover that uses a zoomed in image from the front of the box showing off Usagi nicely.The back cover gives her another pose along the right while the left gives you the basic premises, a look at the extras and the technical information in a decent easy to read form. Add in a few logos and other technical pieces along the way and it covers these decently enough. The case does come with artwork on the reverse side which is splendidly dark as it has Queen Beryl in the middle with Jadeite and Nephrite alongside her.

The big packaging extra, which you should expect from a publisher like Viz Media, is definitely worth it. The first half breaks down each episode in a simple way for forty-six episodes of the whole first season – so don’t read ahead and spoil yourself! It also includes a breakdown of the top level credits for the anime production itself and a nice page of thank-you’s for all that was involved in getting this going here. The second half of the book breaks down most of the main characters across the first season with a page for each of them with little bits about them, though the Dark Kingdom characters don’t get much of anything. We also get some gorgeous full color artwork that really stands out beautifully that have come up from time to time over the years.

Menu:
The menu design for this release is really nice and shows a lot of love and attention given to it rather than just duplicating things easily and moving on. The overall structure of each disc in the set is the same where we get an array of clips from the show playing out as pieces move across the screen and we get the same tiara-type navigation strip along the bottom that has a lot of clear space throughout it that makes it look great during playback as a pop-up menu. The logo resides brightly at the top center which gives it a lot of shine. The fun is in that each disc is essentially given over to each of the first three girls. The first disc is done with a lot of pink along the strip and through the background while the second goes for more blue for Ami and the third red for Rei. Each disc also has its own music piece associated with it, which is delightful, and will certainly inspire some to haul out their music again and reconnect with it. Navigation itself is a breeze and while I dislike that the language tracks are locked from changing on the fly, you can change it through the pop-up menu during playback and easily check differences in the tracks.

Extras:
While it’s easy to imagine that there’s not a lot of extras out there for a show from over twenty years ago, they did pull together a few fun pieces. The first two discs have just individual art galleries available with some really fun pieces to see and revisit. The third disc is where everything else is, as we get the clean opening and closing sequences and then a few dub related extras, which is where the extras can shine. The announcement trailer is a must, and familiar for fans who were delighted at hearing it take shape, as is the announcement panel itself and its inclusion with the reactions to what was going on. I also really like that we get some good behind the scenes recording sequences as well as there’s been a good push to let fans invest in the voice actresses along the way, and making them more accessible like this is a plus. There’s also a cute piece for the fans themselves where they got to be “interviewed” afterwards for their reactions which is always a nice plus.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the manga of the same name created by Naoko Takeuchi that ran from 1991 to 1997 and made up eighteen volumes of manga in its original form, Sailor Moon is one of the behemoths of the industry. The series took Japan by storm when it came out as it sprawled across two hundred episodes between 1992 and 1997. The show was also one that, during the mid 1990’s, got a lot of attention as it was brought over to appeal to a girls market here but had a considerable amount of trouble for a variety of reasons. My own experiences with the show over the years has been awkward to say the least. I saw only a handful of the episodes when it was originally broadcast in the US. When it came to releasing it on home video, we got the later TV series episodes and movies in bilingual form while the original core seasons were dub and edited only, which made things a little jarring at times. Eventually there was a massive subtitled-only DVD box set, but that was a pretty limited and pricey event. Until now, we haven’t had the show in an uncut form for both language tracks, which is thanks to a new more faithful dub that was created for this release. So in a lot of ways, it is like watching it for the very first time for me.

The premise of the series is one that is certainly straightforward and even was at the time that it came out. We’re introduced to a present day world where fourteen year old Usagi is the accessible girl in that she likes food, isn’t exactly the smartest one out there and is a bit of a klutz. And a crybaby as well. Where her life changes is when she helps out a little black cat that’s being bullied by some kids and she saves her and then removes the band-aid that’s on her. That allows the cat, Luna, to talk to Usagi and inform her that she needs her help to a princess and deal with some evil that’s seeping into the city. Usagi’s not exactly convinced by any of this of course, but the situation forces her quickly into the transformation mode that allows her to dole out justice in the name of the moon (and love). Usagi has to face a number of threats like this that are bleeding into the fabric of society, though more often than not she sort of just lucks into all of it and has opponents to deal with.

The structure of the series is a standard one in that we get a first half with some fun, a little tease of what the malicious element will be and then the execution of it, which has Usagi transforming and dealing with it. It’s part and parcel of the time with how shows like this were made in order to draw audiences and sell toys, which Sailor Moon certainly does. What I like, though, is that the first seven episodes are dedicated to just Usagi and Luna, with Luna providing a little help and knowledge along the way. Luna herself is uncertain about what it is that they’re facing for a threat, but she knows it when she sees it. It’s not until near the end of this set that we learn about the Dark Kingdom itself and how it’s orchestrating all these little events to suck human energy to power their own goals. Allowing Usagi so much screen time, along with her normal friends, helps to really make her accessible rather than rushing into her teammates that she’ll slowly discover.

This set gives us two more of the Sailor Scouts along the way, with Ami as Sailor Mercury coming along in episode eight and then Rei as Sailor Mars a few episodes later. With Ami being the intellectual one while Rei is the spiritual one, they provide a bit more balance to the cast. Ami brings her book smarts to the fights as well as her ability to keep calm while Rei has an inner sense that allows her to be aware of other things going on that might slide by the others. She’s also quicker to engage with a bit of flare and fire about her personality, which is why she conflicts so easily with Usagi. That ends up putting Ami up as the peacemaker more often than not, but she at least gets a little help from an exasperated Luna from time to time. The group, as it develops, is definitely one that you can easily get behind and it’s done in a way that’s also quite accessible for younger girls to get behind and find those that they’re similar to, which was a big part of its appeal during its original run.

Considering the overall length of the show, and even just this season as we get just the first half of it here, it’s definitely a slow build as it progresses. The show spends its time with simple plots that the Dark Kingdom is orchestrating. It starts with Jadeite doing a lot of small events that draws in the energy from people, such as messing with jewelry that sucks energy in a jewelry store or an episode that has a late night radio show being used, though nobody at the radio station is aware that it’s even running as it’s playing over existing material. A lot of it is designed to appeal to girls when you get down to it, to draw them to these places and suck the energy from them, but we do get some boys thrown into the mix as well. Part of what helps is that there’s a mystery man named Tuxedo Mask that almost always arrives in the nick of time to help Sailor Moon either directly or with some words of advice. Of course, we know he has a normal identity as well and there are regular occurrences of seeing him as Mamoru, who clearly messes with and doesn’t care much for Usagi when they see each other. There’s the natural fun of the two of them conflicting there while seeing a growing interest, and adoration, between them in their guardian identities. A few other guys show up as well, such as school friends and parents as well, which is a nice touch, so that it’s not a complete domination by women with no men at all.

Going into this set was an interesting experience. Since I had been exposed more to the original dub years ago more than anything else, I was keen to watch this set in its original Japanese because for me, that was a brand new way to experience these episodes. It was definitely a treat to get these stories in this form after all this time since I hadn’t watched the previous limited subtitled-only edition from quite a few years ago. A lot of attention is on the new dub here to be sure, and I spent some time listening to it while going through things, and a few spot checks along the way. Dubs, especially for shows involving teenagers, are always a little awkward for me because they never sound like teenagers, especially when it comes to girls, which is what dominates this set. The show definitely comes across well overall, especially since it’s a far more faithful dub in so many ways, though I can imagine there being a lot of people who have an affection for the original dub that may be hard to let go of. I’m still just in a state of shock that they’re dubbing the show again, something I don’t think anyone could have imagined. It’s definitely welcome though.

In Summary:
Sailor Moon in this kind of release has been one of those impossible dreams for many people. The original show and its North American adaptation in the 90’s was one of those watershed moments that brought in a slew of women to the world of anime in the last decade as they “came of age” into college and really helped to change the dynamics of the market in a big way, especially for manga. This first half of the first season is one that does a lot of things well as it works in the standard mode of how shows of this nature operate. It’s a monster of the week approach to be sure, but it has its charms and it builds you into caring about the characters as they deal with their situations and the friendships that are starting to form. One of the best parts is that the first seven or so episodes are all about Usagi, something shows (and their original source material) just can’t seem to do anymore. This set in terms of the actual show is solid, the disc materials are a bit of a mixed bag and the packaging is very strong. There’s a whole lot to like here overall and getting a brand spanking new dub is just an amazing feat that should be well supported. Though I had issues with the encoding and materials, the series as a whole continues to come across very well here.

Features:
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Dub Recording Behind the Scenes, Art Gallery, Announcement Panel & Fan Reactions, Official Announcement Trailer, Clean Opening & Ending

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: November 11th, 2014
MSRP: $69.98
Running Time: 510 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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