Sailor Moon Crystal (2014) VS The Original
Viz media announced with a bang in May that they would be releasing the currently airing Sailor Moon Crystal and the original Sailor Moon series with a new dub cast. This was fantastic news as the old dub, despite its nostalgic value, had some weak performances. The big question on every fan’s mind while they count their pennies, is this: “Which version should I purchase?” For those with many dollars to spare there is an easy answer: just buy both! To everyone else, some vicious mental debate has begun. As three episodes have been released of Crystal so far, I would like to help mediate the inner conflict.
Ever since the preview images and character designs for Sailor Moon Crystal were released, there were cries of disappointment from the masses. What did Toei Animation do with the art style? It was ‘animation this’, ‘animation that’. It was pages upon pages of online craziness. Forget every other aspect of the production – this was enough of a problem that Sailor Moon Crystal‘s potential was ignored. As animation quality only makes up a small portion of what makes a series great, I tried to keep an open mind, “Toei Animation can’t stuff it up that badly” I thought.
It is sad to say that despite my hopefulness, Crystal gravely disappoints on the animation level. Don’t get me wrong, the character designs are not the problem. They may have long legs like something from Tsubasa Chronicle or a slender man, but their ability to remain faithful to the manga while retaining a modern vibe was refreshing – especially given how dominant the moe style character designs are nowadays. The coloring is a bit strange with a large contrast between characters and the backgrounds; high saturated characters look odd against watercolor backgrounds with fine lines; the shading is bizarre with blurry contours. The 3D transformation sequences have been scoffed by blogs all over. The 3D does not meld very well with the 2D. It is as obvious as the robots of the Zoids franchise. This makes the transition from the previous shots jaunty and unappealing. That being said, perhaps Japan has taken the world’s feedback into account, because the transformations of Ami and Rei look a lot better than Usagi’s. Or maybe it is just the coloring which makes the 3D blend more effectively. But the worst part of the animation is the quality of movement. The characters move like robots – clunky and awkward – and there are plenty of stills to go around. In this respect, the original Sailor Moon beats Crystal. Yes, and it was made twenty years ago!
The lack of believable movement is insanely dissatisfying considering the advancements animation has made over the past two decades. Where is the torso rotation when Usagi runs? Why do the characters become off-model when they turn their heads? Where is the body language? Crystal looks half decent in fight scenes, but the strongest animation is in the opening sequence. Why doesn’t the entire show look like that? The 1993 version is certainly not perfect in this regard either, but it still does better than Crystal. Since Toei was going for a water color look with the backgrounds, it seems far more appropriate to match the character designs to them. Usagi Drop or Chiyahayafuru are two examples of series that do this. This seems like the sort of style Crystal was, or should have been, aiming for. The only way Crystal improves on the original animation is the pristine polish of the picture. It is clear and vibrant. The end.
Production values aside, Crystal does a good job. Sailor Moon’s story is not overly complicated, but interesting and somewhat unique in the realm of magical girls. Here, the screenplay keeps close to the manga which means there is a lot of filler cut out. To demonstrate the quantity of waffle, Rei is introduced in episode 10 of the original, and we have already gotten past at least 5 filler episodes by watching Crystal. Hallelujah! Sailor Moon was the show that made a lot of magical girl tropes famous: transformation sequences, catch phrases and a sense of episodic repetitiveness. These quirks can be tiresome after a while but are also strangely charming. It relies heavily on its characters, which are unforgettable.
The score for the original Sailor Moon by Takanori Arisawa (War of the Worlds, Digimon) had orchestral pieces, and they were relatively dark and set the mood well. Yasuharu Takanashi (Hell Girl, Shiki) for Crystal takes the same approach but adds an extra layer of mystical to it with choir ensembles. It continues having wispy, fantasy-like overtones, even in lighter moments. “Moonlight Densetsu” by DALI is a must-hear for any new Sailor Moon fan, but that does not mean Crystal’s songs are bad. On the contrary they are incredibly catchy and fun to listen to. “Moon Pride” by Momoiro Clover Z certainly does the energy of the series justice. The ending song, “Gekko”, is more subdued and fits the darker aspects of the story. What has been released of the new English dub so far is excellent. The most notable improvement is of the baddies, Jaedite and Queen Beryl, who were overacted in the original. Usagi by Stephanie Sheh is remarkably close to the original Japanese without sounding irritating. Let’s not forget the faithfulness to the Japanese version by retaining original character names.
So far, the confused artistic choices for Sailor Moon Crystal are the only things holding it back from being absolutely amazing. With various plusses and minuses, neither the 2014 or 1993 version live up to the standards of its competitors. Other animation studios like I.G, BONES, Madhouse, Sunrise or Kyoto Animation better display what Sailor Moon Crystal could have been, but sadly isn’t. Both series are entertaining, but the pacing in Crystal is a lot faster than the original, which makes for a more gripping story. The gift is a lot nicer than the wrapping paper in this instance. The deciding factor at this stage about which version is worth the purchase comes down to personal preference: Are artistic problems or filler more frustrating? Neither series is perfect, which is a shame considering that Crystal had the potential to be close. However, this setback certainly hasn’t made anyone forget Sailor Moon. Hopefully it will stay that way.
Hernandez, P. The Internet Reacts To Sailor Moon Crystal. Kotaku. http://kotaku.com/the-internet-reacts-to-sailor-moon-crystal-1601014716
McNally, V. (2015). How Sailor Moon Crystal Has Failed Me, And What It Could Do Better. http://www.themarysue.com/how-sailor-moon-crystal-has-failed-me/
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