Last Summer, the Sailor Moon franchise turned 20, affirming for many a fan that adulthood had descended, sharply but surely. Toei Animation planned the release of a new series, Crystal, to celebrate the anniversary and mark the passage of our pretty guardian into the modern age. Moon fever hit the internet, hard. Journalists and casual bloggers responded with speculative articles, histories and impassioned GIF sets. The premiere was accompanied by a freely available digital re-release of the original series, newly subbed and remastered. This was a monumental step considering the legal mayhem formerly engulfing the franchise. Licensing Sailor Moon seemed not just unlikely, but downright impossible. Aside from the odd piece of fan-made memorabilia, Usagi was resigned to live in memory. So, it’s with a heavy dose of surrealism that I’m approaching the Season 1 Box set from VIZ Media, available in two parts on both DVD and Blu-Ray.
I was introduced to Sailor Moon in the first grade by a friend, whose most distinct characteristic was a violent unibrow that rivaled only my own. I’m still not sure whether it was the overgrown facial hair, our racial ambiguity or simply a shared nerdiness that pitted us together. I only know that after listening to a fervored recommendation over the communal crayon bucket, I spent my mornings with Serena and company. Usagi would reveal her true identity to me at a later date.
"Licensing Sailor Moon seemed not just unlikely, but downright impossible. Aside from the odd piece of fan-made memorabilia, Usagi was resigned to live in memory."
Like many American fans, my first exposure to anime was through that infamous DIC dub. In syndication, Sailor Moon was not only scrubbed of its Japanese origins, but censored and condensed for a younger palette. Curious six-year-olds like myself were the target audience, and I ate it up. I penned my first fanfiction and acquired an obnoxious pair of light-up sneakers, complete with rubbery moon decal. My first web page was a senshi shrine, hacked together on Yahoo’s Geocities. There are hundreds of stories like mine, and given the recent media attention, dozens of these anecdotes were likely published over the past year.
The premise of the show was simple, and sounds even more so now, in retrospect. Fourteen-year-old Usagi Tsukino stumbles upon a talking cat, Luna, who recruits her as Sailor Moon, a long-lost guardian of the Silver Crystal. Despite her supreme awkwardness in the real world, she’s cast as the leader. On a quest to defend Earth from the Dark Kingdom, Usagi discovers and enlists other sailor soldiers. Celestial force supplies their powers, and the guardians transform into battle-ready form with magical brooches. If the set-up sounds familiar, it’s because Sailor Moon has set the standard for the Magical Girl genre. It has since spawned countless copies. While not wildly original, even during its debut, the focus on female-centric heroism was revolutionary for the time. As a role model, Usagi’s ordinary and realistically flawed personality makes her all the more relatable. Her crybaby tendencies, and inclination to over-emote with the greatest animated hyperbole, make her memorable. The ultra kawaii, food-obsessed ditz with pure intentions has become boilerplate, but Usagi will always be my favorite.
"Usagi’s ordinary and realistically flawed personality makes her all the more relatable. Her crybaby tendencies, and inclination to over-emote with the greatest animated hyperbole, make her memorable."
Revisiting the first season of Sailor Moon didn’t dash my dreams, but instead affirmed how exceptional the show actually is. I’d like to think that viewing the series with fresh eyes would still prove satisfactory. Is it a bit ostentatious? Absolutely. Plot-wise, Sailor Moon doesn’t deviate far from the monster-of-the-week format. What it does excel in, however, is strong character development. The anime in particular sought to carve out distinct personalities for each of the senshi. The sheer amount of time spent with the characters cultivates attachment. Sailor Moon mastered the art of banter to the point that filler episodes can be considered foundation-building.
If this review was solely based on the quality of the series itself, I’d issue an entire sheet of gold stars and call it a day. Sailor Moon has rightfully earned its legendary status. So, how does VIZ’s boxed set measure up? As previously stated, the first season is available in both standard and high definition. Due to visual fidelity issues, I would personally recommend the DVD version, priced at half the cost of the Blu-ray. We received the DVD set in the office, and I’m glad for it. Upscaling standard video can only be so successful. Granted, the base set comes without bonus extras and the packaging leaves something to be desired. Comparisons to the 1080p release must unfortunately be made through secondhand video and screenshot comparison, but I’m also well aware of the source material. Content-wise, Sailor Moon has aged well, but that doesn’t ease the technical limitations of remastering film whose age can be measured in decades. Animation poses a significantly greater challenge than live action footage. Throw in the potential of missing master reels, and you’ve got a veritable mess. Graphical damage has tainted every Sailor Moon release to date. Given the circumstances, VIZ shared an acceptable product.
"Due to visual fidelity issues, I would personally recommend the DVD version, priced at half the cost of the Blu-ray."
Videophiles will notice a picture marred by artifacting and the ghosting remnants of telecine reversal. While this is supposedly less apparent on the Japanese and European remasters, it’s still not completely absent. I favor the muted tones to the chroma boosted saturation present on these discs, but recognize that it complements the aesthetic defined by the slightly aggressive digital noise reduction. The overall picture is vibrant and clean, and though textural subtleties have been lost, some fans may prefer the streamlined look. VIZ addressed the biggest problem plaguing the sets, the inappropriate pillarboxing on the standard definition, citing it as an oversight that will not be repeated in future.
"The series has been completely redubbed, featuring an all-new voice cast purportedly picked by creator Naoko Takeuchi herself."
Sailor Moon is so deeply entrenched within my childhood, that it’s difficult to be objective in my expectations. As a fan, I feel compelled to support this release. It’s flawed, yes, but it’s miles better than anything previously accessible to North America. Not too long ago, fans could only choose between shady eBay bootlegs and exorbitantly priced sets from ADV. Viz plans to publish the whole series, uncut and true to form. To their credit, the audio is second to none. The series has been completely redubbed, featuring an all-new voice cast purportedly picked by creator Naoko Takeuchi herself. A less invested publisher may have skipped this step, but the fact that English-speaking fans can enjoy an accurate and complete release is huge. While I can’t deny an unexplainable preference for some of the voice actors in the original dub, I recognize that it’s entirely sentimental. I don’t miss the Westernization or the inconsistency. This is a throwback well worth the investment.
Review by: Ameenah Salamunic | Published by: VIZ Media | Review Format: DVD