July 5th, 2015

Firechick's Reviews: Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon



I give this live-action adaptation of Sailor Moon...a 95/100!!!

Ohhh! I can't resist! I simply must talk about the awesomeness that is the live-action Sailor Moon series! And yes, I kid you not, there is a live-action series (and no, not the rumored movie starring Scarlett Johansson which I am convinced is false and people need to let go of. There's no way something like that is happening)! But I will admit, I was never into Sailor Moon as much as my peers were when I was a kid. I was too young when the anime came out in its heyday (I was born in 1993), and the only thing I remember seeing of it was the SuperS movie when it aired on Toonami, that's it. I didn't start watching the anime until 2012, and I finished it last year, though I still need to watch the rest of the movies, and I am planning on buying all of Viz's DVDs, because the re-dub is amazing. But as I was dabbling into Sailor Moon, some friends kept mentioning the live-action series. I thought "there's a live-action series?! Really?!" And sure enough, it was true! But while I do like some live-action shows, such as Drake and Josh, iCarly (before its seasonal rot), Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, Degrassi, Caitlin's Way, etc., I always preferred cartoons because they spoke to me more than other programming did. I even had a friend in college who said he absolutely hated it, but I can't remember why, and other people thought the same. But one day I was bored and out of curiosity, I decided to check it out, since, while I did like the anime, it had a lot of problems, and I only read two volumes of the manga.

Seriously. Best decision I ever made.

I normally don't fall too hard for live-action shows, but that all completely changed when I watched PGSM. Seriously, it has almost everything I want in a show and more: good characters, an interesting storyline, a refreshing take on the canon material, polished filler episodes, etc.! Now, before I go on, I want to explain that there actually was an attempt to make a live-action Sailor Moon in the past, except it was an American company called Toon Makers that tried, and it was going to be a live-action/cartoon hybrid (y'know, like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?). It didn't make the cut, and mercifully so, as what little footage there is looked really bad, and it looked to be just a shallow, merchandise driven fantasy romp with the girls turned into shallow female stereotypes, such as the dumb blonde, the fiery redhead, the fashionista who flips out over a broken nail, etc. They were shown riding on what appeared to be floating sail boards!

Anyway, I will let you know in advance: PGSM makes many drastic changes that really deviate from the source material, even down to the characters. For example, Crown Arcade is now a karaoke place, Luna and Artemis are talking plushies instead of real cats, Motoki is a hardcore turtle fan, Usagi's stupidity, selfishness, and ditziness are massively toned down and downplayed, the plotline with the Silver Millennium is made darker and edgier, Minako is already an idol singer, etc. But none of these hurt the show in any way. In fact, the changes make the show stand on its own, and by using the new situations to their advantage, the creators can make good use of them in order to fully flesh out both the characters, the setting, and the story, and they do it well here.

For the most part, the overall plotline stays the same. A young girl named Usagi finds a talking cat, who claims she is to become a superhero, a sailor soldier named Sailor Moon. Queen Beryl and her cohorts are sucking energy from Earth to resurrect Queen Metalia, and Sailor Moon has to find the other guardians who will help her defeat them, they learn about their past lives, etc etc. The story is simple enough in the first half, but the second half is when the show begins to not only find its footing, but says, "Screw the source material! We're gonna do our own thing however we want, and you can't stop us!"

Now, I will admit, the show isn't perfect, for many reasons. First and foremost: The CGI and rubber suited monsters. It's undeniable: at first, the CGI is pretty bad. It clearly clashes with the live-action scenes, they don't blend together seamlessly, Usagi gets CGI pigtails for some odd reason when she transforms, the transformation sequences aren't very polished, and there's a lot of special effects that really make it hard to take some scenes seriously because of how bad they are. Sometimes Luna and Artemis, when moving, are shown in CGI, and they look rather blocky and don't blend well with the live-action scenes, and their movements don't look all that fluid, especially when they bob their heads like bobbleheads. It looks distracting. And the monsters are all people in rubber suits, and none of them look the least bit threatening or menacing. Not only that, the battle scenes and fight choreography don't make the girls look as though they're fighting, but rather dancing, cart wheeling, and running a lot. Many detractors have called it "Ballet Fu," and I can see why. But for the most part, the swordfighting choreography is well executed, and the girls to make an effort to fight their enemies, so I guess I can give the producers credit for trying, even if the end result didn't come out the way most fans hoped.

For hardcore fans such as myself, however, none of that matters, nor do they detract from the best parts of the show: the story and the characters. It's clear from the very start that the creators felt that characterization and development was very important, and they wasted no time here. The girls do start off like archetype, but as the show goes on, many depths to their character shine through and make them better than what they started off to be. Usagi's still bubbly and quirky, but in this adaptation, her colossal stupidity, crybabyness, and ditziness is pretty much gone, and she's a lot smarter and less selfish this time around, even though she's still given flaws, such as not wanting to make waves and not having a whole lot of confidence. Plus she actually makes an effort to fight, defeats enemies on her own this time, messes up a lot less, doesn't freak out so much, and she's not NEARLY as whiny as she was in the anime. I didn't like Usagi in the anime adaptation at first, as I thought she was too selfish, stupid, whiny, and downright annoying. Here? I fell head over heels for Usagi right away! Ami is more shy this time around, Makoto is still the strong, bold girl we know and love, Rei's stoicism is more in line with her manga personality, and she isn't mean to the girls like she was in the anime, Minako is much more mature and cold, but not for the sake of just being an aloof ally, and she doesn't vilify the girls like Haruka and Michiru did in the anime. Even Mamoru's characterization is improved, where he's just more shy yet blunt rather than the personality-less pretty boy he was in the anime.

However, I feel the best character in this series is Luna, as she undergoes the best changes in the show. Seriously, I could sing so many praises about her character here, and I think I will! I never liked her in the anime, for these reasons: she was too much of a nag, she was often very pushy and forceful, was always on Usagi's case about everything, never seemed to praise Usagi for any of her accomplishments, never gave her a choice in just about anything, and in episode 3 of the anime, went as far as threatening her if she didn't transform and save her friends. I thought that was going way out of line, and I never really warmed up to her. THIS IS NOT THE CASE HERE!!! Here, Luna is actually genuinely nice to Usagi, lets her decide to be a senshi on her own giving her time to make her choice, gives Usagi space, praises her for doing good, encourages her to fight without pushing too far, and even gently explains what she needs to do without resorting to petty name calling or being a nag, even if she does get exasperated with her at times. Heck, when the senshi are having fun, such as when they're singing karaoke, she even joins in without hesitating! THIS is what she should have been like in the anime! Thank you, PGSM writers!!! I also want to talk about another change that the creators did with her: giving her a human child form along with her senshi form, Sailor Luna. Many people I met love or hate Sailor Luna, and her detractors often compare her to Chibiusa with them being child characters to give the show some comedy. But honestly, that's the only comparison that holds any kind of water, and even with that, I think the comparisons to Chibiusa are unfounded, because I feel Sailor Luna is a MUCH better character than Chibiusa ever was, especially in the anime. For one thing, Sailor Luna was never bratty, her attacks were actually lethal, she did make a genuine effort to help the girls and always supported them, could actually hold her own in battle even if she didn't resort to any physical fighting like with punches and kicks, and everything she did for them was for their benefit. While I do agree that a mature character like Luna having a child human form doesn't really make much sense, since Luna in other adaptations is shown to be an adult, honestly, the whole Sailor Luna thing could have been a whole lot worse, and for what it is, I applaud the creators for doing what they did here.

Even the minor characters are given relevance throughout the story, and aren't just forgotten within two episodes of their appearances, like Naru and Motoki. Despite being civilians with no relevance to the main conflict whatsoever, they still remain prominent figures in the girls' lives, big or small. Some complaints against the manga and anime are that they don't give the minor characters any spotlight. PGSM avoids that by giving them plenty of time in the limelight in a way that doesn't get in the way of the story. The villains of this story are the best example of this. Instead of getting killed off within three episodes, all of the Shitennou are given time to shine and develop as characters throughout the entire series, as we learn their personalities and reasons for doing what they do, so they're not just the miniboss squad whose purpose is to get defeated by the heroes. I have to admit, I love the designs they gave Zoisite, Kunzite, and Beryl, Jadeite is okay, though I do think Nephrite looks too much like a live-action version of Rubeus. Seriously, what did they do to his hair?! Though as much as I liked their take on the Silver Millennium plotline, I don't like how they changed Princess Serenity. Unlike in the other canon material, Serenity is presented as a spoiled brat indifferent to everything around her, only caring about Endymion, and when he dies, she...destroys the world. And after all that, she still hasn't learned her lesson, even going as far as to say "I don't care about a world without Endymion in it." Uhh...you need serious grief counseling, lady. I love how the show changes the status quo, but I do feel that the ending could have gone better.

Speaking of which, PGSM is NOT afraid to go against status quo. Sure, it does start off that way at first, but it makes serious changes to the storyline that really make the show grow into its own, such as Ami being turned evil against her will, Minako dying of an illness (AND ACTUALLY DYING, NO LESS!...until she gets magically revived at the end, that is), Naru and Motoki finding out about their senshi identities, etc. This is awesome, because not only do these open up new possibilities for the show to explore, but it provides so many opportunities for story and character development, which the show manages to use perfectly...for the most part, anyway.

Another good thing about the show is the music. The soundtrack is very versatile, and in a way it blends well with the series, with more orchestral-sounding tunes, rather than the 70s Charlie's Angels inspired soundtracks of the 90s anime. I actually find PGSM's soundtrack to be better, because even though I like the 90s anime for what it is, the music is very dated and generic. The music here manages to feel more emotive yet subtle, and knows when to go all out and when to pull itself back.

I will admit, however, the show isn't perfect, as there are a few more flaws that keep it from truly being great. One is Mamoru's sudden defecting to the villains' side after his duel with Kunzite. I think the creators screwed up with this one, because there was absolutely no indication that Mamoru had any intention of going against Usagi, and even if he did go to the Dark Kingdom, it was all so he could help Usagi, so seeing him suddenly treat Usagi like she's an enemy, even for a brief moment, out of absolutely nowhere, without any kind of build up or resolution, just comes off as extremely jarring. The worst thing is, he doesn't even fully defect to the villains' side, which basically gives him no reason to treat Usagi the way he did in that episode anyway, even if there was a possibility of her letting the Silver Crystal go out of control. But I will admit, it did peter off after a while, and it didn't get dragged out for over 30 episodes (I'm looking at you, break-up arc in R!), so I'll give it a pass.

Also, Artemis's voice is much higher pitched here than it is in the anime. In this canon, he's voiced by Kappei Yamaguchi instead of his anime voice actor, Yasuhiro Takato, for reasons unknown. Why? They managed to get Keiko Han back, so why couldn't they do it with Takato? Did he have scheduling conflicts? Did he just not want to be involved? Nobody knows! Now, I like Kappei Yamaguchi, but I do feel the voice he used for Artemis was just too childish and annoying compared to other voices he's used for other anime. If he had made his voice a little bit deeper, and just a bit more mature, I'd be able to take him more seriously, but the high pitched voice he uses for Artemis here is just really jarring.

There's also one character who I felt really shouldn't have been in the show: Kuroki Mio, a PGSM original character who is Queen Beryl's shadow. By God, I hate this chick! She is a conniving, manipulative, annoying, and outright stupid little jerk-butt who is not only nothing but a walking queen bee stereotype with absolutely zero character to her other than being evil and conniving, but she just doesn't do anything all throughout the show! All she does is brainwash everyone into taking her side on everything, making the girls out to be outcasts when things don't go her way, sit around, and be seductive to Mamoru. She's basically just thrown in there to make things worse for the two of them, and even when she's faking being nice, she's still extremely shallow, with her "we're classmates so we're automatically friends" shtick and for guilt-tripping people if they don't so much as even look at her. Uhh...FRIENDSHIPS DO NOT WORK LIKE THAT! What is with Japan and their belief in this concept?! Friendship isn't when two people meet and boom, they're friends! Friendship takes hard work, open communication, mutual interests, compassion, and willingness to compromise and put grievances aside. It can be messy, and it's not easy, but it's always worth fighting for. This is especially jarring because earlier episodes showed the girls doing nothing but communicate, work toward their friendship, bond over mutual interests, and help each other! By throwing Mio into the mix and by having Usagi say "we're classmates so we're friends" when comforting her, they're basically going against everything the previous episodes conveyed with their messages of friendship. I know people say the show would be better if Sailor Luna had been cut out, but honestly, PGSM would be better if Mio was cut out! At least Sailor Luna actually did something and wasn't just thrown in to be nothing but eye candy or to make things worse for the team! Mio's just a useless villain for the sake of being a useless villain. There's literally nothing else to her. I was happy when a Metalia brainwashed Endymion killed her off near the end of the series. I even cheered!

The final flaw? ITS TOO SHORT!! I want to see more of these characters, and it would have been so great had the creators gone past the Dark Kingdom arc and adapted the other arcs in their entirety. The possibilities might have been amazing! But they only managed to make 49 episodes out of a planned 51 because ratings weren't all that good, resulting in the ending being a bit of a mess. Unfortunately, that'll never see the light of day. But that's okay. In spite of PGSM's flaws, its a wonderful show that deserves far more appreciation than it gets. I swear, if I had seen this when I was a kid, I probably would have loved it because it's so different from anything I've seen, and in all the best ways. If you want a good adaptation of Sailor Moon that fully utilizes its story, characters, and isn't afraid to go against the status quo, then PGSM is the show for you. It certainly stole my heart, as now, it's my number one all-time favorite live-action show!