Now that’s how you end a season!
Viz rolled the SuperS finale and the Stars premiere into a single week, but I want to include a season retrospective like I did for R and S, so I’m going to just focus on the finale this time and knock out the first three episodes of Stars in a single post next week. It’s not ideal, but I think it’s the best way to handle things.
Our old friend Ikuhara shows up for one last spin in the director’s chair, and makes damn sure to go out on a high note. As rough as SuperS has been at times, this is a visually stunning and thematically satisfying finale, tying up loose ends and setting the stage for potential future conflict. Say what you will about this season or its series director, but the guy knows his way around a tight narrative and striking imagery, and that’s on full display here. So let’s all go out with a bang together.
Episode 166 – SuperSweet Dreams Are Made of This
For the first time in Sailor Moon history, I had to keep pausing when I wanted to take notes because I was afraid if I glanced away I’d miss something beautiful. The animation and cinematography (coupled with pitch-perfect musical selections) were arguably the best they’ve ever been, and do far more to convey the emotions and magnitude of this conclusion than my puny point-by-point recap can. I have about as many screenshots for this one episode as I usually have for two, so you’ll forgive me if I overload on pics because MUAH, SO GOOD.
This finale relies more on image and motion than exposition, but a whole lot does happen in the first half, as the rubble clears (RIP my beloved circus) to reveal Nehelenia not only alive(?!) but carrying the unconscious Chibiusa. As the eclipse begins to clear, the circus remains lift into the air, carried back to the New Moon.
So Usagi does the only thing she can do: Uses those wicked sailor muscles to hitch a one-handed ride to the sky!
Pulling herself onto the structure, Usagi runs up a long spiral staircase to
the dueling arena Nehelenia’s throne room. There, we find our Big Bad standing appalled before the shattered mirror, staring at her reflection, which reveals not a beautiful young queen but a Zirconia-like crone.
Nehelenia tells Usagi the circus is being drawn back into the New Moon and her time of solitude is going to begin again, but she will NOT go gentle into that good night, not without getting a little vengeance first. Also, not before she explains her back story to the reincarnated Moon Princess. Like ya do. Flashback time!
A long time ago in a shojo palace far, far away, Queen Nehelenia ruled as a beloved queen surrounded by adoring subjects. But one day she came face-to-face with one of life’s most frightening, inescapable truths: One day, you are going to grow old and die. Horrified by the vision her mirror (in proper fairy tale fashion) showed of her as an old, ugly woman, Nehelenia became obsessed with maintaining her youth and beauty. She devoured the dreams of her subjects to maintain her youth, turning her people into Lemures and becoming the eternal queen of the dead. Like ya do?
Back in the present time line, Usagi listens to the story of the woman who’s “fine” with being alone forever if it means she can be young forever, and does exactly what I do: Pities the heck out of her. I think most people can relate to Nehelenia’s terror at her own mortality, and how tempting it would be to pursue the means needed to slow or even stop time’s inevitable march. But (as with so many of Ikuhara’s works) her “eternity” is not a dream but a nightmare, a place of selfishness and stasis and isolation. Nehelenia has chosen a familiar Hell over an unknown future, and there is something rather tragic about that.
Refusing the pity of Moon Monarchs and bloggers alike, Nehelenia takes her “revenge” by chucking Chibiusa off the side of the platform to her death?! (Dang, lady. I totally take back that thing I said about Helios and Queen Serenity treating you too harshly.) She returns to her mirror of beauty and solitude, pleased with her own petty “justice.”
As for Usagi… well, if you said to yourself, “Boy, I sure hope SuperS’s emotional and thematic climax features a beautifully shot and dynamically animated skydiving sequence where Sailor Moon turns into Princess Serenity so she can rescue her future-daughter from certain death,” THEN HAVE I GOT GOOD NEWS FOR YOU.
Usagi catches up to Chibiusa, but she can’t use the Golden Crystal on her own. She urges Chibs to wake up, reminding her of their dreams and pleading for them to be able to “grow up together.”
So, to summarize: Nehelenia chooses selfishness and rises up into darkness and an eternity of lonely stasis while Usagi chooses altruism and dives down into a world of light and change with the people she loves.
IT. IS. TOO. GOOD.
Chibiusa wakes up, of course, and they use the Golden Crystal to call on Helios to fly them gently to the earth. The episode continues to look beautiful. No one is surprised at this point.
With multiple worlds saved, it’s time for Helios and the Moonies to say their goodbyes. Now that the danger is past, he can’t remain in their world anymore and must return to Elsyion. He and Chibiusa have a cute, private farewell of their own, and… well… I know I said I didn’t have much investment in this relationship, but dammit if the rising swell of “Watashi-tachi ni Naritakute” didn’t put a little mist in my eyes after all. Sneaky music cues.
And so the scouts look on as their Alicorn friend flies home, Nehelenia returns to her prison, the Amazoness Quartet go out to find their own future (after providing a little helpful “magic” for Chibs and Helios), and the world is at peace once more.
Mr. Showrunner, I believe you had something you wanted to add?
A Sailor Moon SuperSum-Up
SuperS is notoriously polarizing, and it’s easy to see why. On the one hand, it dropped its outer guardians; put greater focus on Chibiusa (who personally hasn’t bothered me since R, but first impressions die hard, I s’pose); contained a metric ton of one-off characters and plot-free episodes; used a “guest protagonist” who never really developed a proper personality; and fluctuated wildly in terms of quality character writing.
But on the other hand, it contained some of the show’s most stylized visual motifs; easily the most entertainingly designed and choreographed monster battles (which helped keep the filler fun, particularly in the early going); a greater willingness to explore our protagonists’ pettier flaws, revealing new facets to their personalities and relationships to one another; hands-down the most compelling antagonists in both Nehelenia and the Amazon Trio (whose redemption arc remains the emotional highlight of the season for me); and a thematic through-line about beauty, growth & change, and the price of “eternity” that was on par with S‘s meditation on death and rebirth.
Did it drag badly in the middle? Yes, to the point where if I was recommending this season to someone, I’d probably cut out some episodes just to help them get through the midway slump. Did it also feature some of the show’s lowest points? It sure did, and in fact Episode 136 may go down as my all-time least favorite in terms of sheer, across-the-board awfulness.
And yet, for all that, it also featured some of Sailor Moon‘s funniest moments, most memorable scenes, and ambitious story arcs. More importantly, it allowed our cast to address their fears about adulthood, stew in the nostalgia (and selfishness) of their childhood, and come out the other side ready for the next step in their lives. The shift from child to young adult is full of growing pains as we fluctuate between self-centeredness and self-awareness, immaturity and empathy. Perhaps it’s fitting that the scouts’ stories this season—and SuperS as a whole—mirrored this process, too.
Admittedly I’m still coming down from the high of that top-notch finale, so my opinions on SuperS may lose their glow as time passes and I’m able to look over it as a complete unit rather than a pitch-perfect conclusion, but overall I leave this one feeling pleased—surprisingly so!—with the way it turned out. For all its inconsistency, I’m mighty fond of its ideas, villains, and art design, and I’m even starting to cozy up to the way it wrote the central cast, allowing them to backslide the way actual people often do in the midst of major change and growth.
SuperS may not be the best Sailor Moon season, but it’s still a season worth the watch. Despite my past frustrations, in the end, I’m bidding both it and our series director a fond farewell as we brush off the dust of one apocalypse and turn our attention to what is sure to be another. As they say, the future is written in the Stars.
This, That, and the Other
- I swear I had a note in last week’s recap where I commented on Nehelenia’s face cracking and the way Zirconia vanished once she came out of the mirror, and then I wondered idly if Zirconia was some kind of psychic projection or “other half” of Nehelenia, but then I deleted it from the post because I thought “Ehhh, she’s dead now, so it probably won’t come up. No need to waste words on it.” I…I’m sorry, Sailor Moon. I misjudged your ability to foreshadow. That one’s on me.
- A very special shout-out to Ito Ikuko and Hamasu Hideki, the animation director and key animator (respectively) who absolutely killed it this week. I tend to talk exclusively about directors when an episode looks amazing, but that’s super(S) unfair to the animation team, who bust their humps to bring those storyboards to life. And man oh man, did they ever this week.
- HAH, the old lady at Nehelenia’s court is straight-up the grandma from Rose of Versailles. Well-homaged, Sailor Moon. Well-homaged indeed.
- Hark! A (future) plot point! As of writing this, I have not watched the Stars premiere yet because I didn’t want it to color my opinion of this finale, but I did watch the episode preview at the end of Episode 166 and SQUEEE, OUTER GUARDIANS. I’ve really missed those gals.
11 thoughts on “Sailor Moon Newbie Reviews: Episodes 166 (SuperS Finale)”
FEEEEEEEEEEEEELS (the finale is right up there with the Amazon Trio farewell as far as being etched into my memory. Gorgeous). And now officially entering into the season I didn’t have access to as a wee young thing. Let the blind lead the blind!
P.S. on the list of homages I’m expecting from Steven Universe, Nehelenia is definitely on the list for “potential Yellow Diamond inspirations.” The opportunity is just too good.
One of the reasons I’m excited about Stars is that a lot of other SM fans haven’t seen it either, so we’ll all be able to react in real-time instead of my readers very courteously smiling and sipping their spoiler tea at my wild speculations.
And now you’ve got me hoping for Neheleniamond! May SU’s anime allusion well never run dry.
Episode 166 was actually the last episode to be aired on English-speaking TV, since Sailor Stars was never localized. As far as final episodes go, it wouldn’t be too bad of a choice.
Speaking of the original English dub, this episode also showcased the rare occasion of a change made to the English version that actually turned out to be BETTER than the original Japanese version. In the original, right after Nehelenia tosses ChibiMoon off the side of the floating platform, Moon says “I won’t lose to you!” before diving off. In the original dub, she says “I still pity you” before diving off. What a final sting to Nehelenia. Even more so since, knowing Usagi, she would say that in complete sincerity rather than out of spite.
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Even though its been a while since I’ve watched it, I still remember that sequence where Usagi dives down to save Chibusa. Absolutely fantastic. I just wish the season as a whole has more strong points like this.
On another note, I’m very excited to see what you’ll think of Stars. I absolutely adore it, and there’s a reason it often competes with S when people debate which season is the strongest. (It generally goes: S and Stars, in some order, are the best; The first season is somewhere in the middle; and R and SuperS, in some order, are the weakest… likely due to the filler quality tbh). The new set of characters introduced are great, and certain non-guardian plot developments make the series feel extremely refreshed – almost shiny and new.
(And yes, I tried to make it vague because I don’t wanna spoil anyone.)
Thanks, I appreciate the vagueness. ^_^ Especially since this is a season where quite a few other U.S. SM fans haven’t seen it before, either, so we’re all jumping in to this together! I’m looking forward to seeing how everything wraps up.
Episode 166 feels like a very affectionate goodbye for Ikuhara to the series and characters that made his career to which he is deeply grateful to.
People frequently tend to forget that he was something of an apprentice to Junichi Sato once upon a time, and while Sailor Moon wasn’t the first project in which he operated under with him, it’s likely the one from which he took the most cues and was given the most freedom to assimilate his teacher’s lessons and play around with them. Then, in his ascension to series director status, he was given even more freedom to experiment with ideas and visual techniques that would later come to define his “solo” body of work. And while he may or may not have some bad blood with the upper management of Toei Animation. I don’t think he resented his time with the show itself at all. Otherwise, he wouldn’t cram his personal works with visual homages to it all the time.
It bought him the artistic freedom to do whatever projects he wanted from now on. It has to be many times easier delivering a sales pitch for, say, Penguindrum to group of conservative business executives when one of them can whisper into the others’ ear and say, “Yeah, it sounds crazy and not particularly marketable, but maybe we should give him a shot. He directed Sailor Moon once, after all.”
And more then that I think Sailor Moon had a profound effect on his personal philosophies. While it’s true that Utena, Penguindrum and Yuri Kuma are a bit more cynical and world weary in their outlook then SM, they also inherited it’s chief spiritual and philosophical tenet, that love in ALL the forms and shapes it takes can change the world and people, no matter how broken and messed up they are for the better. And what with that faith comes under fire, it becomes the duty of the show (read: Ikuhara) to support it and demonstrate its continual value. And that he did.
You see this kind of thing in later Ikuhara shows as well; he’s all about reaching for the small oases of hope even while acknowledging the vast desert wastes of cynicism around him. In the end of Utena, it is suggested that escape may be possible from the social cage of Ohtori Academy…despite that same institution still standing tall. Shouma and Kanba may be able to “share the fruit of fate” with some at the end of Penguindrum, but they certainly can’t share with *everyone*. He’s not one to ignore cruel reality, but nor is he one to give up hope in spite of that and wants to have faith that there can be a better future and I think he got that from his time with Usagi.
Anyway, I’m glad to see you mostly enjoyed SuperS and now we move on to the final season, Sailor Stars helmed by Takuya Igarashi of Ouran High School Host Club fame.
You’re going to find it be quite the ride.
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Good commentary, and I think you’re right! Seeing Ikuhara work his way through 100-ish episodes and find his style and voice has been one of the delights of the past few seasons of SM for me. Regardless of whatever was going on behind the scenes, it’s clear how fond he is of this world and its characters, and how much of that care went into his final episode.
Sailor Moon certainly does have that same undercurrent of optimism that all of Ikuhara’s works have, though I’m not sure that’s something he learned from SM itself or if it’s simply a part of his own personal outlook–as well as the outlook of many of his shoujo predecessors, as the genre frequently seeks to find rays of hope and personal connection/love even amid its darkest stories. It’s one of the many reasons I’m continuously drawn toward the genre, and why Ikuhara’s own realistic-but-hopeful endings tend to resonate so strongly.
OMG, I never noticed the grandma from Rose of Versailles until you mentioned it! Although I did notice the design of the ladies of the court was very RoV style :)
Anyway, I just wanted to say I enjoy your SM reviews so so much and I’m kind of sad it will all end soon. As a long time fan, I’m so happy you are enjoying the show (it’s wonderful to see new people growing fond of the characters I love so much).
Thanks, I’m glad you’re enjoying them! And hey, we’ve still got the better part of 6 months of recapping left, so there’s plenty more before these wrap up for good. ^_^
I read all of your Sailor Moon reviews, thank you for so much of a fun read!
Something else to notice about the season finale is that it secretly adds an extra interpretation to the season as a whole.
Notice how in S the girld spent their entire free time preparing for high school exams, yet in Supers they didn’t go to school once? I think they never even put on a school uniform?
And the only one seen studying was Chibi Usa, yet only for the subject she likes, the art lesson.
So, do you remember how the season started? The group went to a park to see a sun eclipse.
So if you were to see that scene again, you’d notice all of them are wearing the same outfits they do in the finale as they say goodbye to Helios. At a park, too.
So a possible interpretation this adds is that the entire season never happened, and all of it was just a dream/nightmare they saw as that eclipse was happening.
It fits the theme of witch who traded her future for eternal youth, for her curse to postrone the main characters making one more step to adulthood and stay children a bit longer under her influence.
What personally rubs me the wrong way about this wonderful episode, is that shot illustrating Nehelenia remembering how the white Moon sealed her. Apparently the one who sealed her in the Silver Millenium times was PRINCESS Serenity? And by the power of the GOLDEN crystal in her hands? Why not the Neo-queen while at it?
Was the unnamed queen of the moon Nehelenia spoke of a few eps ago Usagi too?
Is it kind of like the Silver crystal, they spent 2 whole seasons druming how it was important, but then 3rd season on it seems to have stopped existing? Even the inside of Usagi’s brooch does’t seem to have it, as when Kaolinite stole Usagi only referred it to as transformation brooch, and Kaori only saw it as an accesory SM wears, then when thought otherwise she threw it away like a piece of trash.
I wonder if the original queen Serenity still exists anymore!
So for the next season, one is to wonder if Helios went away for long, as the very Sailor Moon cannot attack without his presense, and needs his help every single time!
I agree with your sum-up. SuperS is visually beautiful (except I miss Super Sailor Moon’s long back bow) and has some good plot points (Amazon Trio redemption was better than the Ayakashi/Spectre Sisters), but it just drags at times. Last season spends so much time building up the new team members…and then promptly kicks them out. That, and no one thinks of grabbing the one person who can summon Pegasus.
Glad you enjoyed SuperS though!
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