My God, it’s full of Sailor Stars!
And so we come at last to the end of things. As is tradition, I’ve got a Stars retrospective after the recap, with general commentary on the season as a whole. As for any overarching thoughts about the entire series and my two-year trip through the Mooniverse, I’ve decided to save those for another post tentatively scheduled to go up the first week of May.
For now, though, we’ve got a finale to tackle!
Episode 200 – To The Sailor Stars Through Difficulties
Fulfilling her season-long purpose, Chibi-Chibi (a.k.a. C.C.) (a.k.a. Galaxia’s star seed) (a.k.a. The Light of Hope) (a.k.a. Sailor ex Machina) turns into a muthafuggin sword so Sailor Moon can use her to seal away Galaxia. Basically Galaxia released her own star seed, complete with Sealing Sword, as a fail safe in case she was possessed by the Chaos. This fits with our knowledge up till now and (kind of) (I guess) justifies C.C.’s lack of personality since she’s more vessel than human, so I can roll with it.
Galaxia’s worried enough about this new development to break her own bracelets, going Super Senshi Level Three and switching her alignment from Lawful to Chaotic Evil. But Usagi’s a lover, not a fighter, so she uses the sword purely for defense, still insisting Galaxia can be saved. Along the way she accidentally stabs Galaxia, to which Galaxia responds by shattering the sword, Hope, and C.C. all in one go.
I can’t decide if this is a good thing or an annoying thing, because while it does at least put the resolution of the story back into the hands of actual characters instead of convenient plot devices, it also makes C.C. functionally pointless. There is nothing she does that couldn’t have been done by someone else, so why is she even here at all? I mean, I know “why”–because she’s in the manga–but they’ve cut manga characters before when it didn’t fit with the anime’s story, so that’s not really an excuse. Sailor Moon has usually done a good job of balancing its anime-original content with the source material’s content, but C.C. is a pretty glaring failure, I’d say.
At any rate, Usagi both refuses to give up and to fight Galaxia, rejecting Galaxia’s definition of what it means to have the “courage and pride of a guardian” in favor of her own Super Friendship Powers. She believes there’s still a “fragment of hope” left in Galaxia’s heart, some piece of her who still loves this world the way she once did. And so Usagi strips herself down to her barest self (metaphorically and literally!), pushes through the Chaos and grief, and reaches out to what remains of Galaxia herself.
And, of course, Galaxia reaches back.
The two purge the Chaos from Galaxia’s body, dispersing it out into the galaxy to live in everyone’s hearts side-by-side with Hope. Galaxia points out this means new conflicts will arise, but Usagi encourages her to believe that people will listen to their better halves and not give in to Chaos. Wishing to right her own wrongs, Galaxia shoots off into the Milky Way with the many star seeds at her side, planning to restore them (and their physical forms) to their proper worlds. Granted, all those worlds are dead and full of phages, but if it means Siren and Crow are reunited, I’ll still tag that as a happy ending.
This means the star seeds that belong to our world can be restored as well, and so Usagi’s friends, boyfriend, and plot device return to her in sparkly shoujo glory. Princess Kakyu’s back, too, so our battered Star Lights are having themselves a pretty good day as well. I think we all know what reaction gif I have to use now:
With the galaxy saved, C.C. disappears as arbitrarily as she arrived, Kakyu and the Lights return to their home planet, and Usagi and her friends go back to their dual lives as students and guardians. She and Mamoru make out beneath an alarmingly large moon as we bookend the series by having Usagi echo her early introductory monologue and the ORIGINAL OPENING THEME, YAAAAS, plays us through the end credits.
And that’s, um… it, I guess. The end!
The Sailor Stars and Gripes Forever: A Retrospective
Okay. So. I think if you’ve been following along with me then you’ll know I was pretty lukewarm about Stars, and while I mostly enjoyed this finale, my overall feeling is one of disappointment rather than satisfaction. As I’ve said before, I don’t like writing negative reviews–I don’t think they accomplish much beyond provoking conflict and raining on other people’s parades–but I’ve been recapping this show for two solid years now and I can’t just skip this retrospective or lie to you and pretend I thought it was all great.
That said, I have no real, like, “moral” problems with Stars. There are some things I wish it had done better in terms of Big Ideas or Social Commentary, but I don’t think it’s promoting anything actively harmful, either. I know it’s a pretty popular season among Sailor Moon fans and I don’t begrudge anyone their enjoyment of it. I’m glad you liked it! I wish I’d liked it as much as you did! And I have no interest in spoiling that for you.
So if you love Stars and don’t want to read about someone who didn’t love it, then this is your chance to close the tab and go read something else. We can part ways for now and geek out together like a pair of proper Mooninites when my series retrospective goes up. No hard feelings, I promise.
Still here? Then buckle in. If I have to explain why a story didn’t work for me, then I’m going to take the time (and word count) to explain it as clearly as I can.
Let’s start with what I did really like, which was a handful of standout episodes and character beats–Iron Mouse’s ridiculous farewell episode, Siren and Crew’s frenemyship, HaruMi’s death scene, Minako’s little story arc–as well as the Big Bad and the central idea/argument she helped represent. I think Stars’s heart was in the right place in terms of the story it wanted to tell, and I think that it, like SuperS, did a nice job of using the antagonist as a foil to show why Usagi, for all her flaws, is still worthy of being The Hero.
I finished Star Driver (an Igarashi original project that I kiiiind of adored) a day before finishing Stars, so I can’t help but draw comparisons and parallels, but I think Igarashi is personally very interested in challenging traditionally masculine ideals of strength, and that he uses Galaxia and Usagi to help explore that. Galaxia is the Traditional Masculine Hero, the lone ranger who’s so physically strong she saves everyone on her own…which then leads to isolation, despair, and eventually the dehumanization of others. There’s a fine line between “to protect” and “to own,” between helping someone and trying to control them, and it’s a lot easier to cross that line when you’ve never had to be protected by someone else.
Contrasted with Galaxia, Usagi freely admits that she’s “not that strong” and often needs or just plain wants help from others. Even when she saves the day, she does so in part because of the faith others have put into her, and uses that as her strength. I think Stars, like much of Sailor Moon, very neatly reverses the Classic Hero Ideal, showing how acknowledging one’s own weaknesses and relying on others is its own kind of strength, because it keeps you empathetic and respectful, seeing others as people instead of objects to be acted upon.
Sailor Moon has always been a pretty smart story in terms of how it takes traditional feminine ideals like communication and cooperation and “weaponizes” them, showing how they can be used to defeat “evil” just as well–and sometimes more effectively–than traditional masculine ideals. I love that about it, and I’m glad Stars continued that tradition in its own way.
Unfortunately, Stars fumbles a whole lot in the execution. You’ve already heard me grumble about Chibi-Chibi the Plot Device, how Seiya was the only Star Light who received a distinct personality despite a ton of “character building” episodes, all the wasted thematic potential, forced drama, and repeated story beats, so I won’t go into detail about that here. Instead, I want to talk about how Stars undercuts its own central message about the importance of others by kind of…ignoring all those others.
With the exception of Minako and maybe Haruka and Michiru, none of the guardians get much in the way of character-focused episodes or anything resembling their own story arcs this season. The Inners’ interactions center almost exclusively around the Star Lights and Usagi, and outside of a few cute touches here and there, they tend to act as a sort of Hive Mind, to the point where many of their lines seem interchangeable.
But hey, at least they had lines–Pluto and Hotaru were brought back so they could do almost nothing, and poor Mamoru and Chibiusa were written out altogether. Sailor Moon‘s greatest strength is its ensemble cast, and dropping that in favor of focusing exclusively on a few new characters caused the season to lose a lot of its variety and energy.
That’s not even taking into account the larger Mooniverse, which the series had built up over the course of four seasons only to ditch here completely. Naru, Umino, Motoki, Unazuki, Chibiusa’s friends, Rei’s grandpa, MY SWEET DOPEY TEDDY…heck, did anyone in Usagi’s family other than her mother even make an appearance? I get that the Moonies’ dual lives would naturally cause them to become somewhat insular, but to have it happen so totally and swiftly feels more like poor writing than a gradual, organic development.
This lack of a supporting cast coupled with the season’s halfhearted star target stories also gives Juuban (and the world at large) a generic quality, robbing the alien threat of a lot of its tension and stakes. I know others have criticized S and SuperS for spending so much time on one-off characters, but I think this is one of Sailor Moon‘s greatest strengths: That unlike so many other superhero shows, it treats those being attacked like real, layered humans instead of just random, faceless victims.
In a show that so strongly promotes empathy and redemption, it’s vital that it focus on the people the Moonies save as much as it focuses on the Moonies themselves. In past seasons, we knew who Usagi was fighting for, and had real, specific reasons why we wanted the city and its people to be saved. This season, though? Seeing Juuban covered in darkness with generic citizens getting starvested? There’s no human connection there, no sense of the subjects Usagi protects as opposed to the objects Galaxia controls, and that’s a disservice to the very message Sailor Moon and Stars itself were trying to convey.
The thing is, for all that, I really don’t think Stars is a bad standalone Sailor Moon season. It doesn’t have a lot of high points but it doesn’t have a lot of low points, either. It’s consistently decent, mostly fun, sometimes annoying, occasionally moving, and flirts with some worthwhile ideas even if it doesn’t always follow through with them. Overall I probably enjoyed it a little more than parts of SuperS and Season One, and maybe more than R as a whole. As a standalone season, I’d be feeling mostly positive about it and ready to see what Igarashi could do with the next arc, now that he’d had some time to get his feet under him.
But there’s the rub, because Stars isn’t a standalone season–it’s the final season, and Episode 200 is supposed to be the series finale. That, more than anything, is why Stars has left me feeling so discontent. It’s like the anime staff didn’t get the memo, because outside of the size of the threat (Stars definitely upped the ante with a galaxy-destroyer, I can’t deny that), nothing about this season feels like The Last One at all.
Instead of focusing on its central (and supporting) cast, providing them with satisfying story lines to grant them significant growth and wrap up their individual arcs, it ignores and homogenizes them in favor of a bunch of newcomers. Even our “miracle romance” gets shafted so we can cram in a way-too-late-in-the-game love triangle. There’s no tying these events into the founding of Neo Tokyo, no setting us up for the future we know will eventually arrive.
I get that the scouts are still in high school with long (long!) lives ahead of them, and so there’s only so much in the way of a “conclusion” that you can do here, but this season should have, at the very least, led to a significant paradigm shift. We just found out the galaxy is full of Sailors, and it has absolutely no effect on our characters or their lives. Everyone just goes home and the status quo is completely restored. So what changed, really? What makes this an appropriate moment to turn the final page on our story?
I have no idea. And that’s what’s got me so bummed by Stars. I wanted to leave the last episode of Sailor Moon thoughtful and satisfied and Full O’ Feels the way I did at the end of S and SuperS, and I didn’t get that, and that stinks. I don’t want this two-year adventure to end with a grouchy post. That, more than anything, is why I decided to wrap this project up in a week (or two) with a flourish instead of leaving us here with a thud. Hopefully this long-winded critique hasn’t driven you all away, and you’ll be back to enjoy a far more positive stroll down Newbie memory lane. Punny titles are, of course, guaranteed.
This, That, and the Other
- Our final episode title is the obscurest of Stars references yet: Ad Astra Per Aspera is my home state’s (totally awesome) motto, meaning “To the Stars Through Difficulties.” How could I resist?
- Watching the Star Driver and Sailor Stars finales right next to each other led to an unexpected realization: Igarashi sure does like him some naked ladies. He’s actually pretty good about not sexualizing them in either episode, but the back-to-back nudity-riddled finales struck me as kind of hilarious.
- Even HaruMi, Queens of Coolness, thought the Star Lights’s sunset transformation was A+ 100% Awesome.
- …Wait, did Usagi seriously never realize that Seiya had romantic feelings for her? HOW?! Just HOW?!
- Hark! A finale point! Lackluster finales aside, these recaps have been a blast, and reading all your reactions (new and nostalgic) has been a ton of fun, too. Feel free to chime in with your own thoughts, and let’s chat about it again soon, okay?