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Sailor Moon R Blu-ray/DVD Set 1 Anime Review

14 min read

Sailor Moon R CoverSecond verse, same as the first.

What They Say:
After their epic battle, the Sailor Guardians are called back to action when some new and powerful enemies appear! Ail and An are alien siblings bound to the mysterious energy-devouring Makai Tree. And the Black Moon Clan, led by Prince Demande, has the power to destroy all of future Crystal Tokyo! Things get complicated when a mysterious pink-haired girl falls from the sky, demands the Legendary Silver Crystal, and claims Mamoru for her own! Could there also be a new Sailor Guardian?

Contains episodes 47-68 plus a 96-page full-color booklet, all housed in a shimmery 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’re 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 match 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 and 1994, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twenty-two episodes of this set are spread across three discs in an eight/eight/six 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 it’s essentially the same as the first sets, which is no surprise. Some of the problems will be highly noticeable to some while others won’t be able to tell. 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 in a lot of scenes throughout as you get characters whose skin tone really looks pink and almost red more than anything else. Well, more pink than usual, to the point where it feels like they’re blushing constantly. 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:
Mirroring the first part of the first season, this set comes in a heavy chipboard box that’s designed to hold the two sets of the second season. 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 two box overall and has just a small touch of the foil as well to give it a little extra attention. All of it works towards some great consistency between the sets which will please fans. 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 different image than that of Usagi from the cover but mirrors the book artwork instead.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 the villains from the Crystal Tokyo arc.

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 the whole second 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 second season with a page for each of them with little bits about them. We also get some gorgeous full-color artwork that really stands out beautifully that have come up from time to time over the years. Some of the song lyrics are included as well and it ends with a couple of pages of shots from the convention circuit with the new English language actors getting their time in the spotlight.

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. Each disc works its own color hue pattern aligned with the Scouts themselves and it 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:
The extras for this set continues to showcase some good new original material that can be produced thanks to the new cast. We get that here with a twenty-minute interview with the cast from Anime Expo last year that’s definitely fun to watch as they talk about the series and their experiences with it. We also get a very fun fifteen minute behind the scenes session with Cristina Vee taking us through the Studiopolis recording process to some degree, which is always fun to see for those who enjoy voice actors and the process itself. The remainder of the extras are familiar pieces such as a solid gallery of artwork from the show and the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
After the success of the first season of Sailor Moon it was no surprise there would be more. While the show stretched things out from the manga as one would expect, giving it some of the usual TV flair of extending sequences and involving a number of monster of the week opponents to deal with, it managed to do it in a fairly fun and creative way most of the time, especially since it was aimed at young girls and could be sillier in very different ways. Not that the shounen shows haven’t done that, but here it was a bit more targeted while also keeping some of the romantic-hopeful aspects alive with Usagi and Mamoru. All of that went properly epic towards the end with the Dark Kingdom arc giving us a fitting and final conclusion to things, bringing the menace to an end and then wiping the slate clean for all involved when it came to their memories. While you know there’s always ways around that, there’s appeal in the fact that they did give it some finality and a jumping off point. A dangerous thing to do with some series.

With Sailor Moon R, the show has the opportunity to do some new and interesting things that can separate it from what came before because of how it’s been done. Unfortunately, it is pretty much more of the same, which has its good and bad aspects to it. Frankly, what becomes most apparent with the series at this point as this takes us through two different sets of villains, is that the Sailor Guardians are lucky that they don’t get much in the way of really badass villains. And by badass I mean ones that come down and rain destruction on everything and tear up cities. What we get across both of the arcs as presented here is more of the smaller and more personal attempts at destroying what’s in the way of the villains goals, and that sometimes involves understanding human culture a bit. Which, of course, involves discovering our strengths and weakness all wrapped up in the magical word of love.

The first arc is one that involves the Makai Tree, which we learn at the end of the twelfth or thirteenth episode that wraps up the story has a pretty painful history tied up within the two humanoids that it has working for it. An and Ail have come to Earth to essentially power up the tree and give it a world in which it can survive and thrive and they go about having to figure out what makes up the world and how it exists so that they can find it a proper place. Most of that involves distilling certain human energies that can be given to the tree to get saplings to grow and the like. And naturally, they have to bring out all sorts of weird creatures called Cardians that they use to do their bidding. Card based creatures weren’t all too common back in the early 90’s so it adds a nice bit of flavor to it at the time, but feels a bit dated for obvious reasons now.

Naturally, the arrival of the pair and the sucking of energies gets Luna’s whiskers all in a tizzy and she realizes she has to wake Usagi up. Even though doing so means that her peaceful life will come to an end. And I’m not talking about Usagi’s peaceful life. Luna ends up doing the deed and it’s a painful piece for Usagi because she remembers everything that happened and realizes that she has all the more reason to pursue Mamoru now. Poor guy. Over time, actually within the space of an episode or two, everyone is back to normal as they get unlocked alongside Usagi as the threats pile up and they really have to fight some bad guys. It pales compared to the Dark Kingdom arc and the host of villains there, especially since Ail and An have very little personality and don’t even feel over the top. Particularly since both get involved in high school shenanigans.

The saving grace of the arc? The uncertainty about what’s going on with Mamoru. Since he doesn’t get unlocked the group is surprised by the arrival of the Moonlight Knight, which is done up semi-Arabian Nights style here. What complicates it is that he’s in the same place as Mamoru a few times so it makes it clear it’s not him. They actually do make it cagey for a bit as to who he really is, but enough of it is given away in the visual design that you really do know. The piece of it that can make or break it is whether they pull off the reasoning well. Sadly, they don’t. While the idea isn’t a bad one as it’s a split-energy kind of thing, it’s not given any sort of real explanation or pseudo-science in order to get us to really run with it. Instead, it’s an off the cuff kind of bit that doesn’t really work.

The main positive of it is that as the arc comes to its thankful close we end up getting Mamoru back in full possession of his memories. This eliminates the whine-snark that we had in the first season and parts of this one when it comes to Usagi and instead pushes the two of them into that hard and fast shoujo relationship fantasy become real. The two are fully dating, they’re all kissy-kissy, and there’s a general sense from Usagi that she’s squealing with delight every instance she gets. And it’s completely understandable with all the memories that have come back from their prior lives. I just wish that aspect was actually referenced more instead of just thinly implied. It doesn’t detract from their relationship in this moment but rather enhances it because there is such a rich, deep, love that exists between them. It really helps to explain away the sillier parts of it and why they’re able to connect so quickly this time around.

And into every happy relationship shall enter a child.

Chibusa.

She who must not be named but is.

The start of the next arc here, which continues into the next set that’s still to come, doesn’t have a lot of depth to it at the moment simply because it’s working the first season long form style of introducing itself. We get a group of villains coming from “elsewhere” looking for the Rabbit and the Silver Crystal so they can eliminate Crystal Tokio, which is being protected by some guardians that are eerily similar to the Sailor Guardians they’re coming across here on Earth. Their half of the set here is focused on them figuring out what’s going on with this world, how to deal with people to gain what they’re looking for and mostly searching through everything in odd places with odd traps in order to find what they’re after. It’s really very much the same as the first two arcs overall but with just some different trappings. It does, at least, give us a wider range of creative looking and colorful opponents to deal with. But at this stage there’s no there “there” about them. They’re just villains doing the worst job ever in trying to find a needle in a haystack.

While we get plenty of the silly action monster of the week kind of elements to it, the change here is the introduction of Chibiusa. Being a cute, pink-haired child that literally drops in on Usagi and Mamoru mid-deep kiss, she’s doing her thing and essentially is what actors fear in a show – kids and animals. Chibiusa instantly gloms onto Mamoru and insists that she’s going to marry him while at the same time giving Usagi nothing but grief while she sidles up to everyone else. It’s plainly obvious what and who Chibiusa is for a whole host of reasons, but you have to consider the original young target audience and that many were likely surprised by the eventual reveal later in the season next set. But here, she’s simply a difficult character that takes the worst traits of Usagi already on display and doubles down on them with gusto. Her presence also does the worst thing it can do in a show – reduces the presence of the already existing cast.

The rest of the Sailor Guardians find themselves minimized as it progresses though they do get their shot at episodes from time to time. It’s mostly meaningless though and a time-stretcher in order to build the seriousness of the villains and how far they’re going to deal with finding the Silver Crystal. So much of it just feels like a repetition of the first season at this stage with things aggravated by Chibiusa that in turn it makes me appreciate the Makai Tree arc even more. Something that still boggles me upon repeated viewings.

In Summary:
As much as I gripe about it, Sailor Moon R overall has plenty of fun when you get down to the core of it. And that’s the bonds of friendship between the girls. And the fact that Mamoru and Usagi have memories of their past love and all the sexytimes they likely had. That’s what you get when you extrapolate things! Anyway, the first half of Sailor Moon R gives us a pretty complete arc with the Makai Tree piece and that keeps it small, simple, and with some interesting pieces with the Moonlight Knight. The second half is just more setup of the next arc without enough meat to it but it provides a few tantalizing things to go with it when it comes to the villains, their creativity, and what it all really means. It just echoes the first season too much for my tastes at this point when it could instead really have charted some fresh territory. This segment also has the much larger problem of Chibiusa, a character that to this day still drives me nuts, from her attitude to her wetting the bed. Something I know I crack up about constantly with my anime. But I’m not the true target audience here, so I slide that out of view and just look at the larger themes and find my enjoyment there.

Features:
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, AX Cast Interviews, Dub Recording Behind-the-Scenes, Art Gallery, Opening and Ending Songs

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

Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: July 13th, 2015
MSRP: $79.98
Running Time: 506 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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