Sometimes bullying works. The beloved shojo manga series Sailor Moon grabbed a hold of ‘90s kids with no mercy, exposing them to the colorful world of teenage sailor guardians on a quest to defeat evil, ogle at a hot, mysterious boy and become best friends. It’s a recipe for success with endless possibilities. With such a strong foundation built between the manga, anime and movies, Toei’s announcement of the 2014 reboot caught the attention of many.
To commemorate the iconic shojo manga series Sailor Moon’s 20th anniversary, Sailor Moon Crystal was released as a more accurate adaptation of the source material in comparison to the beloved anime series of the 1990s. However, instead of being on television, it would be available online. Despite the hype, fans were displeased, noting inconsistencies with the animation and disappointment with the reliance on the manga, which suspended the malleability of Sailor Moon’s world in favor of being an identical adaptation for the small screen. Lopsided eyes, hands clipping through objects and wonky linework sat alongside poor character development and a lackluster romance plot. For this reason, fans waited with baited breath for the fourth season of Crystal, which would cover the manga’s Dream arc.
Toei must have heard the complaints of the inconsistencies with the episodic format and instead opted to follow up the better received third season of Crystal with a two-part film, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Eternal. This condensed format works very well for Eternal, albeit with a few sacrifices.
For the uninitiated, Eternal sounds ridiculous. The main conflict centers around the Dead Moon Circus arriving in Japan. When their leader, Zirconia, sends the Amazon Trio to get inside the minds of the Sailors to take them down, Sailor Moon (also referred to as Usagi), her love interest Tuxedo Mask and their future daughter Chibiusa (who time travels to the present day) have to battle with their mind games. There is also a pegasus named Helios who is infatuated with Chibiusa, who is simultaneously struggling with her feelings for Tuxedo Mask despite knowing that he is her future father. In other news, this is not a film for casual fans who haven’t at least seen the original series.
The biggest improvement of Eternal is the overall quality and balance it brings to the series that has been known for filler episodes due to the original anime airing alongside the manga’s production. It made for an impactful legacy, especially through the development of the relationships between the guardians and secondary characters, but it does get bloated. Crystal, which only had 39 episodes across the first three seasons, had the opposite problem of too few episodes to develop key relationships and underwhelming payoffs to conflict. Eternal is not perfect by any means, and the first 15 minutes are confusing with abrupt scene changes and introductions of conflict. One wayward glance can mean a lot of context lost. The quality is there, and more care is taken to pad intense scenes with humor, but it nonetheless feels rushed at times.
But one thing Eternal gets right is the romance. The film showcases the chemistry between Usagi and Mamoru properly, a glaring mistake that the first two seasons of Crystal failed to rectify, despite claiming to be a proper manga adaptation. Likewise, the other guardians explore their desires to have their own relationships, both platonic and romantic.
Where the film shines is in its approach to dealing with insecurities that come with adolescence and womanhood. The Dead Moon Circus’ main point of attack is digging deep into the guardians’ minds to make their fears seem real. Sailor Venus, after losing her ability to transform, begins to question her ability to defend her friends and her city. Sailor Mercury is confronted with her fear of everyone rejecting her, including her own mother. Even Chibiusa struggles with wanting to grow up to be as beautiful as her mother, rejecting Helios’ insistence that she is the maiden he seeks. These are humbling reminders of the guardians’ humanity, creating conflict beyond a few villains.
Unsurprisingly, the actual fights with the villains fall flat. As mentioned before, the pacing is wonky. Conflict is resolved rather quickly without much build up before moving onto the next battle, and it feels underwhelming especially since the iconic transformation sequences actually look decent compared to Crystal. For first-time viewers or casual watchers, it will be difficult to understand the film without being able to fill in the gaps left by the few sacrifices the films did have to make. Nonetheless, Eternal still tries to include pieces of each character’s backstory to at least arouse the curiosity of those first-timers.
With all this being said, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Eternal is a much-appreciated adaptation of a beloved arc that needed an accurate adaptation without sacrificing the charm of the original ‘90s anime. The groundwork for the conflict, the guardians’ relationships with each other and the world-building is present with minor improvements to be made. The two-part film will satisfy fans old and new, bringing an added depth to the guardians’ sisterhood that reminds us of how insecurities lurk in even the most powerful of people. It’s nothing the power of friendship can’t fix.
Director: Chiaki Kon
Writer: Kazuyuki Fudeyasu
Stars: Kotono Mitsuishi, Hisako Kanemoto, Rina Sato, Ami Koshimizu, Shizuka Ito, Misato Fukuen, Kenji Nojima, Junko Minagawa, Sayaka Ohara, Ai Maeda, Yukiyo Fujii, Ryo Hirohashi, Taishi Murata, Shoko Nakagawa, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, Naomi Watanabe, Nanao
Release date: June 3, 2021 (Netflix)
Jade Gomez is Paste’s assistant music editor, dog mom, Southern rap aficionado and compound sentence enthusiast. She has no impulse control and will buy vinyl that she’s too afraid to play or stickers she will never stick.