For one of my earlier 12 Days posts, I talked about Sailor Moon, my issues with Crystal and why I think the franchise has diminishing returns in 2014. So as a fan of the franchise who’s spent a lot of time with it this year, I wanted to dedicate another post to something I really loved about it. Namely, one of the highlights of my re-watch of the original series this year, made possible by Viz’s re-licensing of the series and streaming all the episodes on Hulu.
The “Rainbow Crystals” arc, starring Zoisite as main villain and featuring the Senshi and Tuxedo Mask squaring off with him to find the mysterious Silver Crystal, is one of the highlights of the first season of Sailor Moon. Each of the “rainbow crystals” that, when combined, makes up the Silver Crystal, is hidden in a normal person who has obtained special powers from it. Each of these people gets their own backstory that resonates with the Senshi and their story (one is a love interest for Ami, one for Makoto—but they’re not all boyfriend material, I swear!) It was entirely anime-original, and it provided ample room for the talented creators on its staff to play around and show off their original voices, so it’s one of the places I go to when extolling the virtues of the Sailor Moon anime to newbies. And one of its best episodes was directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara, of Revolutionary Girl Utena and Penguindrum fame.
In this episode, “Loved and Chased: Luna’s Worst Day Ever,” the Crystal-bearer isn’t actually a person, but a huge fat cat named Rhett Butler. He’s in love with Luna, and rescues her when she’s chased by a horde of alley cats. It’s kind of fitting that this would be an Ikuhara-directed episode, since his original work likes to blur the lines between humans and animals/objects, and their roles (see: Nanami as a cow). I’m not sure if it was his creative choice to put a cat in a human role, but it definitely fits. A good chunk of the episode is the characters taking forever to realize this, as they chase after his owner, thinking she’s the Crystal bearer. When they figure out it’s her cat, she completely disappears from the story, Rhett Butler taking center stage.
There are a lot of weird, surreal set pieces in here, another Ikuhara staple. The original Sailor Moon anime gets trippy on the visuals a lot of the time, but there’s a noticeable uptick in episodes with Ikuhara at the helm. Here’s an example:
One of my favorite sequences is this episode is when Zoisite chases Luna and Rhett Butler through the sewers under Tokyo. After complaining repeatedly about how dirty he’s getting (Zoisite, you fop, I love you), he founds out the fuzzy things he’s pressing against are (really cute) sewer rats, and he shrieks as they surround him. It’s not just because I adore Zoisite that I love that scene. It’s the sort of silly physical comedy that Utena used so well with Nanami in the curry episode, so another great shape of things to come.
I could go on talking about how it relates to some of Ikuhara’s later work, as that’s a lot of the fun of dissecting his early Sailor Moon episodes. (Ikuhara would go on to oversee the second half of Sailor Moon’s R season and the whole of the S season, where the comparisons become more palpable.) Yet this episode is such a wild ride on its own. The episodic nature of a lot of Sailor Moon’s “filler” arcs gave the creators room to flesh out characters by focusing on one each and putting her in a new situation. And “Luna’s Worst Day Ever” tells us a lot about its title character, how as sage of a mentor to Usagi as she is, she’s kind of defenseless and fearful on her own. How she’s stoic and poised but easily-flattered. It also has a lot of fun with Rei, who gets mad at the other Senshi for attacking the transformed Rhett Butler because of how they’re interrupting his and Luna’s “moment.” As brusque as she can be, Rei has a big heart deep down, one that BELIEVES IN KITTY-CAT LOVE.
Really, that’s the Ikuhara sensibility best personified by this and other of his early Sailor Moon episodes: Over-the-top theatrics and humor combined with strong character moments and symbolism. It’s what made his future works masterpieces, and what makes Sailor Moon so much fun.