The biggest challenge facing Netflix‘s release of the Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Eternal films is escaping the shadow of Sailor Moon Crystal. The first three seasons were a slipshod adaptation of Naoko Takeuchi‘s original manga, stringently adhering to the original plotting which, instead of uplifting the source material, only highlighted its weakness. It also looked like hot garbage. If, like me, your expectations for these two films were about six feet in the dirt, I’m happy to announce that you can breathe a sigh of relief.
Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Eternal is consistently excellent visually and at times even manages to be emotionally evocative. Its writing still suffers from a narrative that’s too concerned to check things off than make them feel earned, as well as slapdash conflict resolutions that deflate any tension or suspense. This happens in small ways across both films, and much like Takeuchi’s original story, there is a lack of spatial consistency that keeps the battles from feeling grounded.
The story opens similarly to the television series adaptation, but for those unfamiliar with the manga’s story, SuperS diverts largely from the original story, arguably as much as Stars. There is a lot of room to take Takeuchi’s original narrative and create something that anime-only fans have never seen before. It’s also a chance to “redo” it, as SuperS is famously known for being the least popular season due to sidelining the popular new Guardians introduced in S and its focus on Chibiusa. Now, the second point only has so much wiggle room. The Eternal arc is still by and large Chibiusa’s story with a focus on her desire to grow up into a strong, beautiful (young) woman in her own right and experience her first love. Doing this means confronting her own feelings of inadequacy as she exists in the shadow of Usagi and abandoning her romantic affections for Mamoru.
Chibusa’s desire for attention from Mamoru is best looked at in the same vein as kids confessing they’ll grow up and marry one of their parents. Chibiusa is past the point where she should grow out of it and much of the first movie is centered on her growing pains. There’s a less fleshed-out underlying theme of Usagi’s own inner desire to revert to a responsibility-free childhood, but it isn’t explored in a way that I would consider meaningful or necessarily textual. Chibiusa’s infatuation with Pegasus/Helios is also hit or miss. Her affections feel barely earned even if they are one-sided, as her paramour does little other than politely give her the baseline of attention sans a cheek kiss. His personality is better suited to his status as a “spiritual advisor” but the play between their romance was always going to be a little suspect; Chibiusa is in grade school after all, and Helios is some kind of millennium-old being.
The second half of the first film concerns itself with Ami, Rei, Makoto, and Minako and is easily one of the strongest parts. Each Guardian is at their own crossroads now that they’ve entered young adulthood, evaluating their personal wants and their responsibilities in the service of Sailor Moon. This is the most poignant either of the films get and I was especially impressed with the writing for Ami, Rei, and Makoto. Rei’s spotlight highlights her desire to be a competent woman in charge of her grandfather’s temple and Makoto confronts her anxiety about wanting to ‘have it all’ versus putting in the work to get it. This is also the first time we get more information about Ami’s home life and her insecurities stemming from her parents’ divorce. Separately, we see Mamoru trying to grapple with his own insecurities as the “man in distress” by doing what Mamoru does best; push Usagi away.
The villains might be the films’ biggest casualty, as has continually been in the case in the more manga-focused adaptation. The original comic didn’t write much backstory for the villains and guys like Jadeite were introduced and killed off in as little as a chapter. For everyone excited about the perfect casting of Shouta Aoi as Fish Eye, I regret to inform you that he has somewhere around a total of five lines throughout the entirety of the films. Tiger’s Eye, Hawk’s Eye, and Fish Eye are as campy as ever and there’s little opportunity for them to shine. The Amazoness Quartet fares a bit better across both films, but there’s little distinction between their personalities or powers – which are weirdly not localized in the subtitles. The attacks are phrases like Tama… with different descriptors depending on the character, but all are easily translatable into English. For example, when Sailor Moon and Sailor Chibi Moon get age-swapped, the subtitles says “Gyaku Tama” instead of “Opposite Orb” or “Opposite Ball.”
The movies’ big bad, Nehellenia, also gets a brand-new backstory here and while it doesn’t include a cute little girl version of herself, I appreciated getting to see some more of life in the Silver Millennium and enjoyed how the “evil” queen’s presence shaped events as far back as season one. However the battle, like all the fights throughout both movies, lacks tension and payoff. There’s also a fair amount of inadequately explained circumstances that I just chalk up to poor adaptation writing. Sometimes the manga had characters doing things for no other reason than convenience and this carries over into the films as well. This includes Helios’ never-ending supply of “just enough power to do X,” whether it is reverting Usagi and Mamoru back to full-size humans, dissipating poisonous smoke, or teleporting characters all the while being locked away in a magic cage.
The fan-favorite Outer Guardians don’t enter the scene until the second film, where we are treated to the gayest polycule in recent anime memory. Setsuna, Michiru, and Haruka (“Mama,” “Mama,” and “Papa,” according to little Hotaru) are living out a lavish life in what looks like an English estate featuring a well-manicured garden. Setsuna spends her time in hot pants and a fishnet top while Haruka lounges in a white unbuttoned blouse. The designs are lifted straight from the manga but were still fun to see here. Meanwhile Hotaru, who begins to mature rapidly so she can take up her role as Sailor Saturn again, is begging for pathos but the writing fails her here as well. There are a lot of opportunities in the story to deal with the growing pains of, well, growing, the idealization of “16,” and the fear of looming adulthood that just aren’t capitalized on here.
The Japanese voice acting performances were a little jarring, but that’s the effect of having some returning talent (Kotono Mitsuishi, Megumi Ogata) paired with new performers that took over roles in Crystal. I hear Mitsuishi so I also expect to hear Michie Tomizawa, but it’s Rina Satou instead (Satou’s performance is fine, it’s more from a mental perspective). As for the dub, I didn’t watch it. I’m not interested in anything put out by its ADR Director (which I’ve addressed separately in a feature published on Tuesday). If you liked the previous dubs of the series by Viz, they got the same actors to come back for this.
Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Eternal is a solid entry in the Sailor Moon canon that had the pieces to be something even better. You can put your worries aside as it routinely looks excellent and, occasionally, fantastic. In the event that Stars gets a similar treatment, I’d go into it with far fewer reservations.