Psst, Sailor Moon. Your talent is showing.
These episodes are great examples of how exceptional directors can elevate throwaway or even downright poor material, taking a pair of one-off episodes and filling them with visually exciting shots, angles, sight gags, and character animation. The Showrunners of Sailor Moon Past and Future have pretty much always been around to direct individual episodes, but here we get a back-to-back pair that stand out from the recent run and do a nice job highlighting each person’s strengths.
Sato Junichi (the Season One Director who will also one day gift us with Princess Tutu) comes in with Episode 140, filling it with his skewed camera angles, deadpan humor, subtle(r) character interactions, and understated but nevertheless fascinating themes. Then we switch gears to Episode 141 and Igarashi Takuya (who will direct Sailor Stars as well as Ouran High School Host Club), whose more direct storytelling and cinematographic styles mesh well with his focus on expressive characters and excellent sense of comedic timing. I should have hated Episode 141, and I didn’t, and that’s all Igarashi’s doing.
In other words, this was a remarkably good week, despite some… fuzzy moralizing. Let’s discuss.
Episode 140 – Juuban’s Next Top Model
The local sexy fashion designer, Usui Yoshiki, is going through a slump that not even his boyfriend’s assistant’s best neck massages can solve. Worry not, though, because you, sir, are an eligible Dream Candidate, and Fish likes the cut of your gib! Fish also knows damn well which team you bat for, and decides to go out “as a man” this time. The language remains wonderfully vague and Fish cheerfully unconcerned with gender binaries, and I love it.
You know who else isn’t concerned with gender binaries? Usui himself, as he spots Fish on the street and dashes up to them, declaring them Juuban’s Next Top Model. Fish points out that they’re “a man” and Usui responds with perhaps the most interesting line in Sailor Moon history, assuring Fish that not only does that not matter, but “A miracle like you who transcends gender might be where the purest sense of a young woman exists.”
Then I rewound the clip like six times so I could scribble down the original Japanese (my listening skills are atrocious), fell down a linguistic and cultural rabbit hole, and eventually emerged covered in dirt and red paint and tart crumbs. Language and gender politics are THE MOST FASCINATING THINGS, you guys, and when you put them together it’s like:
…But I digress. The point of all this digging was to give me a better idea of how to interpret Usui’s line, which led to two key linguistic points: (1) “gender” = seibetsu (性別), which more specifically refers to the distinction or division between genders/sexes (seibetsu can refer to both sex or gender, but does have some biological connotations, so “sex” might be a better translation here); and (2) “pure” = junsui (純粋), which Utena Watch Party readers may remember is “purity” in the sense of “genuine” or “unmixed.” So basically, I think Usui is saying that because Fish is outside traditional sex/gender binaries, it makes their gender presentation more “genuine” since it isn’t bound by any social expectations or preconceptions.
I could quibble semantics or specifics, but at the end of the day this strikes me as a remarkably positive statement about gender fluidity and the concept of “woman” (or “man” for that matter) coming from something more complicated and less tangible than just one’s physical form. Also, it happened on a kids’ television program in 1996. So, yeah. You win, Sailor Moon. Our puny Nicktoons and Kids WBs bow before your gender politics.
Oh, right. I was recapping an episode, wasn’t I? So Fish is Usui’s muse, and his boyfriend assistant is none too happy about it because Fish is being a total jerk to everyone on staff. Also because he won’t get out of Usui’s area code. But mostly the first one! This leads to a big kerfuffle in the studio where Fish sets a “him or me” ultimatum, and the assistant quits to save Usui the grief of having to choose. I’m somehow WAY sadder about this than I should be, given that I’ve only known this character for like five minutes.
Usui creates a new fashion line that’s wonderfully aquatic-themed, although he loses the rest of his creative team in the process. Bummed, he takes some time away from Fish to SWING FEROCIOUSLY. (Fashion designers are hardcore.) And I guess we should spend some actual time with a Bunny this week, so here’s one now!
Usagi’s fun again this episode, finding that balance between compassionate, silly, and straightforward that makes her a good heroine (when the creators remember to write her that way, at least). She asks Usui to design her a wedding dress for free, and he’s so tickled by her passion and shamelessness that he kinda wants to do it. Whoa… he WANTS to create something again? That hasn’t happened in AGES! Thanks, random junior high student!
He returns to his studio and regards his Ocean Line like a college kid re-reading the paper they wrote at 2 AM while drunk on boxed wine, which is to say he tears them down and vows to start over. Fish finds him and is like “You uncultured swine, EVERYONE knows shellfish is the new black!” and busts out the Examining Table.
Good for us the Bunnies happened to be passing by in the middle of the night and can put a stop to this! It’s Moons Versus…
Ohhhhh, you guys. YOU GUYYYYYS.
Sailor Moon knows THE BEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO THE SHOW when they see it, so they bring in Puko’s cousin Gomumario to bounce up the joint. The sight gags are predictably wonderful, but the episode outdoes itself when Tuxedo Mask’s theme music comes on and Gomumario PAUSES AND LOOKS AROUND right before a rose casually flies in from the side of the frame and deflates him. Meta jokes will never not amuse me, and this one had me rolling. All the high fives, Sailor Moon.
But all good things must come to an end, so the gals Stage Out the Lemures and wake up Usui, who’s so inspired by their awesome costumes that he decides to do an entire line using miniskirts. And Usui got back together with his assistant boyfriend, too! Doncha just love happy endings?
Episode 141 – Two for the Beau
I began this episode screaming “Shut UP” over and over again at the Bunnies, who are—surprise!—fighting obnoxiously over Mamoru again, but we quickly switch gears to a much less tired topic: Minako’s love life! Usagi spots her out with a pink-haired fella (YUP) and immediately calls up the rest of the gang for an Important Moonie Meeting… where Minako eventually joins them after hopping off the back of a motorcycle driven by ANOTHER MAN?(!?!?!)
(Oh and also it is Tiger. Surprise!)
Mina’s more than happy to explain: She ran into both Takano the Art Student (Hawk) and Torajima the Roadie (Tiger) recently, both started hitting on her, and she just kinda rolled with it! Now, to be fair to Minako, these are recent relationships and we have no idea if they had a “we’re exclusive” conversation or not. That said, Sailor Moon demonstrates some SURIOUS double standards this week, as the Moonies have taken Mamoru and Artemis to task over suspected two-timing, but here Mina straight-up admits to it and their response is more exasperated curiosity than outright condemnation.
Really, Artemis is the only one who seems genuinely concerned. He encourages her to focus on the Sailor Mission and not get too tangled up with these guys, but Mina (intentionally?) misinterprets his concern and vows to “pursue happiness.”
Of course, from an audience perspective, all of this is softened somewhat because we know Tiger and Hawk are competing to see which of them can seduce their newest Dream Target first, so it’s like, “Yeah, screw those guys, play ‘em like a pair-a fiddles, Minako!” But SHE doesn’t know that, so the whole thing comes across as rather troubling. Mina’s moral compass may be just a tad broken, you guys.
It’s frustrating, too, because rather than come down on her for this, Pegward tells Chibiusa that “you have to experience many loves” before you find The One (a point Artemis will later echo). And this is a Good Message but, um… maybe DON’T experience those loves simultaneously without your partners’ knowledge? Just a thought.
But honestly, despite all of that, this episode is a ridiculous amount of fun, as Minako frantically tries to go on two dates at once and largely succeeds. I giggled through about 90% of it even as this nagging voice in the back of my head was all “I don’t like to use the word ‘problematic,’ buuuuut…” Then I glared that voice into submission and went back to giggling. It’s played like a classic farce, but with a cheating girl at the center instead of a guy, and there’s something super(S) refreshing about that.
Plus the sight of Hawk and Tiger SHOCKED to discover THEY were the ones who were being played is worth the price of entry, easy.
In the end Minako can’t pick between them, so the two put aside their differences (sorta) and Dreamcatch together. Good thing the Moonies were spying on this date, innit? They transform and get roughed up by the Scary Seesaw Acrobat Duo until Minako gets SO PISSED at Hawk and Tiger for tricking her that she BREAKS FREE of the Examining Board’s handcuffs and transforms, laying the beatdown on her former beaus. I know Minako’s a mess this week, but dammit if I don’t still love her.
At the end of the day, I’m not sure exactly what morals we’ve learned. Minako seems to reflect on her choices and deem them inappropriate, but because they wound up being The Bad Guys, her apology isn’t about the lying but about “letting those guys control me.” I s’pose the point is that two-timing doesn’t always come from a place of malice, but rather from insecurity, short-sightedness, or just a plain old lack of empathy. And Mina’s “betrayal” was swiftly followed by Hawk and Tiger’s “betrayal,” so there is a sense of fast-acting karma and a lesson about how much it hurts to get tricked by someone you like.
Muddled message aside, hopefully Minako will learn from this and grow, and we can all put these “cheating on people” story lines aside. I’m sure Mamoru would appreciate that, too.
This, That, and the Other
- Fish: “Are you ashamed of your short skirts?” Moons: “Uh…no?” Fish: “Oh. Okay then.”
A+ exchange, Sailor Moon. I’m not being sarcastic. It’s such a fun, understated way of flipping the bird to any audience members trying to judge the girls for their “scandalous” skirt length, and I love it.
- Am I the only one who really liked Fish’s dress designs?
- Ugh, I’d gotten so good at keeping these posts to a manageable length, but SuperS is so full of Criticism(!) and Analysis(!) that they’re starting to balloon again. I’ll keep trying to find a way to mix the commentary with the recapping more succinctly, I promise.
- The Sensei Next Door (Miracle Romance Edition): Pegward and Chibiusa talk about “the red string of fate,” which is a popular folk belief that the gods tie a red string to you at birth, connecting you to the person you’re destined to marry. Even the gods have OTPs.
- Hark! A
plotcharacter point! Hawk hates dark places ‘cause he’s basically blind in them. And thus our minions continue to be just a liiiittle less than fully human.