Well, whaddaya know. All this time, and it turns out the S stood for samsara.
Unlike the past two seasons, where the villain was defeated and all loose ends wrapped up in a whiplash-inducing 22 minutes, this time around Sailor Moon takes a hefty chunk of time to give us a proper denouement. It’s arguably too much time, but if it means I get a chance to digest the finale and say long goodbyes to some friends, then I don’t much mind. Plus I can keep the recaps short and cram a season retrospective in at the very end, and that’s always a nice bonus, too.
As my tag line notes, the big theme this week (and arguably for all of S) was the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. This is most obviously found in the Tomoe family’s story, but it’s also a part of Pluto’s fate, the way Chibiusa and the scouts keep thinking of their future selves as different people (quietly rejecting the concept of an eternal “self,” the same way Buddhism does), HaruMi’s attempts at a “new start,” and really the entire season’s focus on growth and change.
Sailor Moon has always been loosely based on Hindu-Buddhist beliefs (given all the reincarnation going on), but this is the first time it’s really felt like a Japanese Buddhist tale, and its penultimate episode at times aches with mono-no-aware, a term that doesn’t really translate but refers to a kind of wistful longing, an acknowledgment of life’s transience and the beauty which can be derived from that. As such, S’s finale is both a hopeful and sorrowful one, allowing for future possibilities without ever losing sight of what its characters have lost.
In other words, I really freaking liked it, and as promised I’ll have more good things to say in my nice long S review at the end of this post. But before we can do that, let’s check in with the team one last time before this season comes to its Sailor Moon Stop.
Episode 126 – Sailor Moon: Death & Rebirth
This episode begins with Haruka and Michiru stealing a baby. (Man, Haruka really is trying to take Mamoru’s place, innit she?) The good news is it’ll get a lot better from there. Basically Usagi came back from her battle with an Elder God all traumatized, and in the ensuing blackout Sailor Duo ran up, grabbed Li’l Hotaru, and peaced out before the rest of the scouts showed up. So the Moonies have to go back to Chibiusa and tell her that her two best friends have vanished and no one knows if they’re alive or not. Go team go?
Okay, so while I’m still not sure why HaruMi felt the need to snag Li’l Hotaru, their end game was a noble one: They were basically just taking care of her until her poor battered father was well enough to look after her. Yes, Professor Dad is alive and… well, alive, anyway. He looks to have broken just about all of the bones, plus he’s got wicked amnesia, and has forgotten pretty much everything from his years as Mad Dad.
But he does remember Hotaru and recognizes the baby as his daughter, so while it’s bittersweet (Michiru admits she’s more sad than happy), there’s a good chance the two of them will be able to build something from all this rubble. I’ll take it, and so will the Duo.
As an added bonus, the Tomoes are staying at the most negligent hospital in history, so he’s able to wander off to the nearest park, infant daughter in tow, in time to have a chance encounter with Chibiusa. She recognizes him, and Li’l Hotaru recognizes her, and I—it’s so—that I just—
Then a nurse finally realizes her amnesiac wheelchair-bound patient has wandered off with a baby and calls him back, so the trio say goodbye for now, with the quiet hope that they’ll meet again. Given that they’ve got about 1000 years between now and Chibi’s time line, I’d say their chances are pretty good.
(Oh, and Doctor Puu is “alive” too, by the way—she appeared to Chibs in a Time Vision to explain that she “no longer exists in this world,” but they’ll meet again eventually. So bully for that, too!)
Meanwhile, Usagi is having a crisis of confidence, feeling like she failed Chibiusa and Hotaru both, which sounds like the perfect time for HaruMi to show up and yell at her again. They say the world was saved in spite of Usagi’s actions, not because of them, and that they can’t forgive her naivety and refuse to acknowledge her as the world’s future queen.
Then the Duo and Usagi’s friends are all
for a while, until Usagi agrees to fight them to prove her worth. She transforms and uses her Moon Disco Powers to escape a tight spot and get the Duo to attack each other on accident. It’s not much, but apparently the Duo were just testing her resolve anyway, because it’s enough for them to fall to one knee and be all “MY LIEGE.” They recognize her as their Messiah before driving off into the sunset.
Enjoy your vacation, you crazy kids, you. I’m sure we’ll need you well-rested for whatever interstellar force threatens the planet next season.
Episode 127 – Moon(s) Over Juuban
I’m not entirely sure why we needed another episode after that last one, but here we are in peace time, with Usagi and Mamoru snuggling(ish) and Chibiusa receiving a letter from the future, telling her to come home. Now she could, technically, ignore this order for as long as she wanted and still wind up back home shortly “after” her mother sent the letter because, um, muthafuggin time travel, but for some reason everyone thinks she needs to listen to it right away, and encourage her to go see her parents again.
Chibs interprets this as “go away,” but she handles it with way more maturity than she would have a season ago. She just sort of quietly sulks and then goes to Mamoru’s place for a cute future father-daughter moment.
Meanwhile, over in Juuban’s latest giant crater, a lightning storm has awakened one of the Daimon eggs, and it’s begun crawling towards the (somehow) unbroken Evil Microwave, crying out for pure hearts…
But first, a party! The scouts throw a going-away get-together for Chibiusa, complete with the kinds of gifts you spend several sleepless nights creating. Usagi sewed her a homemade bunny knapsack, Mako made a delicious home-cooked meal, Rei recorded a cassette full of original songs (including one she wrote just for Chibiusa), Minako pieced together a lovely scrapbook, Ami PROGRAMMED AN ENTIRE VIDEO GAME, and Mamoru… walked out on his balcony and picked a flower.
Usagi and Rei get into one of their classic arguments, Chibs is sad because her Friend Count is at Mamoru Levels these days, and then it’s time for everyone to say farewell. “Give our best to everyone in the future!” say the scouts (so…yourselves?), before Chibiusa dashes off to make the trip alone. Usagi hasn’t quite said everything she wanted, though, so she chases after her and the two get to have a little glowy crying moment. Then the Chibs is back to the future!
…Or IS she?
Because Sailor Moon is contractually obligated to reuse at least some of its magical girl animation every week, that Daimon from before starts wreaking havoc and the Moonies have to go take care of it.
Things go poorly until Chibi Moon appears from the Time Mist, thwacking the Daimon and leaving an opening for first Tux and then Moon to take it out. Grail or no Grail, this team can still take care of business.
So, yeah. Chibiusa’s back! Since she wasn’t ready to leave her friends, she popped into to the future for a few minutes to give the gals’ gifts to her parents (including King Tux, who I just realized wears a mask all the time now, which is just…why?), then turned around and came back. Her parents are cool with it. So it looks like Chibiusa will be a regular member of the team from now on. And it really says something about Sailor Moon S that I am 100% okay with that.
The Sailor Moon Survey
And so we come to the end of Sailor Moon S! You guys weren’t kidding: This was easily the strongest season of the three I’ve watched so far, filled with charming, silly character episodes and riveting, action-packed plot lines alike. I’m not sure the story always made sense, but it made up for it by getting me to care about what happened to pretty much everyone.
Hotaru and Professor Dad formed the emotional core of the season, as their complicated (split) personalities and tragic shared history were gradually revealed over a series of episodes, building them up into people I both (1) really wanted to get a happy ending, and (2) honestly didn’t know if they would. S played with expectations better than the other two seasons did, making the finale legitimately tense.
And, in the end, it resisted a neat tied-up-in-a-bow conclusion, leaving us with something hopeful but also heavy with sadness. Hotaru and her father are never going to completely get back what they lost, nor is Chibiusa (or Usagi or Pluto, for that matter). Sailor Moon carried the weight of its apocalyptic story line well, and we felt those repercussions even into our overall pleasant final episode.
But really, as great as all that was, Sailor Moon has always been 30% plot, 70% episodic stories, and if the one-offs don’t work then the whole season suffers for it (see: the Nephrite episodes; most of R). Fortunately for all of us, S rediscovered the charm from its first season’s best moments and even managed to improve upon them.
Introducing Haruka and Michiru was a huge bonus, and getting to know them over the course of the first 13-odd episodes injected the early “filler” with loads of extra energy and gave the scouts new characters to play off of—which, in turn, revealed new facets to their personalities as well. This was the “growth” season, as demonstrated by the focus on the upcoming high school entrance exams, and just about everyone had to spend at least a little time considering the kinds of young adults they wanted to become.
If I’m being honest, I’m not sure how much I like HaruMi at this point, but there’s no denying they’re good characters: complex, flawed, and frequently conflicted, with strong ideals and a willingness to act on them. Maybe next season they’ll spend less time as stubborn antiheroes and I’ll be able to support them wholeheartedly. And, ultimately, I think it was good for both Usagi and the show to have them around to challenge her decisions, forcing her to really think about why she acted the way she did, which, in turn, served to strengthen her resolve about those actions, and make her fight harder to save the people she needed to save.
The expanded cast meant the other scouts didn’t have much to do this season, but the creative team made their limited screen time count by focusing on (and fixing) characters who’d gotten pretty severely short-changed in past seasons. Minako skyrocketed up my list of favorite characters thanks to the series expanding on her role as “the former soldier finally allowed to be a kid again,” and Chibiusa went from being a long series of groans to a solid—even enjoyable!—member of the cast.
That said, the best transformation from R to S was by far Mamoru, a guy who never quite fit with the rest of the cast and whose “romance” with Usagi was fraught with kidnappings, brainwashings, unconscious make-out sessions, and nonsensical breakup plots. Much like the scouts, his role was pretty significantly reduced this season, but when he did show up he integrated well with the other girls (especially Ami—BroTP 5eva!) and was both a supportive boyfriend to Usagi and an understanding father-figure for Chibiusa.
Ikuhara is somewhat (in)famous for disliking Mamoru, and you almost get the sense he slammed his hands down on the writers’ table at the beginning of this season and was like, “Yo team, your romantic hero is problematic. But don’t worry. Imma fix him for you.” And boy, did he ever.
Outside of a few forgettable filler episodes and the sometimes flimsy “logic” surrounding the central plot (SENTIENT UNIVERSES), I’m not sure there were any real weak links this season. It was pretty much always entertaining, frequently funny, occasionally illuminating, and at times downright riveting. Color me pleased.
Then white that out and color me excited for the next season. Rumor has it that SuperS is the Ikuhara-est season of them all, and while I’m not sure if that means it’s good or bad, it’s all but guaranteed to be pretty damn interesting.