I was pretty unashamedly positive about the first two seasons of Sailor Moon Crystal, but I’ll also be the first to talk about how yeah, it really was pretty lackluster compared to my high expectations.
Production problems plagued the new anime adaptation of Naoko Takeuchi’s seminal magical girl series, and it really showed in the quality of the animation, the shaky release schedule, and the prolonged delays in getting off the ground.
First announced in July 2012 and originally slated for release in early 2013, it wasn’t until July 2014 that the anime premiered through online streaming services. Fans were quick to jump on the issue of off-model animation in particular; given how long the series had been in development, it was frustrating that the delays had not helped to produce a higher-quality product. There also seemed to be budgeting issues, which people also took umbrage with: Sailor Moon is massively popular worldwide, so you would think Toei Animation would be more willing to sink money into a property that would draw in old and new fans on a global scale.
Despite the problems, however, a third season, covering the Infinity arc of the original manga, was confirmed in September last year. In January, new additions to voice cast and crew were announced, and anime sites were projecting the series to be a part of this year’s spring line up. For my part, I took this with a grain of salt. The first two seasons had been delayed so many times before the premiere that I was prepared for them to push back at least another six months before we got a solid date.
But fortunately, my skepticism was unfounded. A trailer premiered on March 6, and a release date of the April 4 was set. As with the previous seasons, new episodes are streaming on Hulu, Crunchyroll, and Niconico, free and worldwide, now coinciding with a television broadcast in Japan.
And let me tell you, the first episode looks amazing.
The animation problems that made the first two seasons infamous seem to be resolved. The animation is more consistently on-model, and already there’s a lot more of the cute, chibi moments that are both a hallmark of Takeuchi’s original work and were sorely lacking in the first 26 episodes. Perhaps this is the result of the series being taken on for broadcast in Japan; a television anime would naturally warrant a higher budget than one that was exclusively streamed online.
The transformation sequences have been made over as well. While the sequences from the first two seasons had clearly been made with a lot of love and respect for those in the original anime, fans had a lukewarm response to them given the uncanny valley appearance of the computer generated models sandwiched into an otherwise traditionally animated show. The new sequences show the same respect towards those in the original anime and keep the epic tone Crystal brought to them, but they are now traditionally animated and are a lot more in keeping with the overall style of the show.
As only one episode has aired, it will take a few weeks before we know if this season is going to follow the same format Crystal has to this point, where each episode matched up to the corresponding chapter in the manga. While this was a more faithful rendering of Takeuchi’s work, it resulted in a series that went at breakneck speed and left little time to delve into character development on the same level as the original 1992 anime. I personally don’t mind that they cut way back on the filler – it’s one of the major flaws of that first anime – but I wasn’t really satisfied with racing through the material either.
However, this first episode has been presented as part one of two, and it seems that the first chapter of the manga arc has been split over the first two episodes. Like the first arc, the Infinity arc only covers 12 chapters, but splitting the first chapter up suggests that there has been some retooling done for the pacing of the anime. If so that would be more than welcome: this season will expand the senshi roster to the full ten, and keeping track of so many prominent characters will be a balancing act.
Finally, there are new opening and ending songs: “New Moon ni Aishite” (“Fall in Love with New Moon”) and “Eternal Eternity,” respectively. While Momoiro Clover Z returns on the new opening track, I gotta say that it’s a bit of a let-down compared to the bombastic prog-rock “Moon Pride” from the first two seasons. “New Moon ni Aishite” has a very mid-90s anime feel. That might be appropriate for a series that defined the 90s for a lot of young girls, but I found it lacking for that same reason: I’ve heard dozens of anime openings like it before.
“Eternal Eternity,” like “Gekkou” (lit. “Moonbow”) before it, is a love song between one of the juggernaut relationships from the series. This time, it’s Haruka and Michiru rather than Usagi and Mamoru that sing about their undying devotion to one another. It’s unabashedly transparent about their relationship and borrows imagery from Revolutionary Girl Utena, another ground-breaking 90s anime known for being unsubtle about two female characters being in love.
Overall, it’s a really positive start to a new season. A lot of the issues people had with the first couple of seasons have been addressed, which makes me hopeful that it will be a stronger season when all is said and done. The Outer senshi are hugely popular among fans, and it seems that the already improved quality of production will allay a lot of fears about these characters not being done justice.
Are you excited for the new season? Did you give up on the first two seasons of Crystal? Maybe you’re being tempted to pick it up again? Or have you sworn off it forever? Let us know in the comments!