The localisation of Sailor Moon has always been a complicated situation, as this recent fantastic article over at ANN describes so accurately, both the passion and frustrations in seeing a beloved property treated in the unique way that only Sailor Moon has been. However, it has somehow been more of an issue for the United Kingdom; the original and infamous DiC dub of Sailor Moon had its debut on UK televisions back in 1999, where it bounced around from Fox Kids UK to ITV/GMTV, with only the first two seasons being aired before it was taken off the network. The series was released on VHS and DVD via MVM; however because it was the DiC cut only, it did not sell well and nearly bankrupted the company. Since then, aside from a brief blip of Crystal episodes on Crunchyroll, and the Japanese YouTube channel showing the original episodes for free during the pandemic but no language options, the UK has sorely been lacking in uncut Sailor Moon content. We have merchandise sold here, and we can grab the gorgeous special editions of the manga from Kodansha Comics, but the anime itself has never been made commercially available – until Netflix made a surprise announcement. Not only did they secure the rights to the two Eternal Movies that came out earlier this year in Japan, but they also made them available across the globe. As a long-term Moonie, I was very happy to see this news, and did not hesitate to check it out on launch day, despite my mixed feelings on the Crystal series as a whole. But how do the movies hold up?
Usagi is Sailor Moon, hero and guardian of Earth alongside her boyfriend Mamoru (Tuxedo Mask) and her fellow Senshi Rei (Sailor Mars), Ami (Mercury), Mina (Venus) and Makoto (Jupiter). Chibi-Usa (Sailor Chibi Moon) has been training hard with the Senshi to become a full guardian but now it’s time to return home to the 30th century. However, a solar eclipse happens and brings with it a new enemy, the Dead Moon Circus. Can the Sailor Senshi defeat the new evil and find a way for Chibi-Usa to return home?
The Dreams Arc of the manga, which this 2-part movie is based upon, is very important to Sailor Moon fans, as the original anime adaptation (called Super S) is notorious for being completely different to the manga. The 90s anime never exactly followed the manga 100% of the time, but Super S was rather infamous for its disregard for its source material; not only did the 90s anime take the series into a more comedic and younger-skewed direction, but also lacks the Outer Senshi, makes no mention of the Amazoness Quartet’s true identities and not to mention that Chibi-Moon gets her weak-powered reputation the most from this arc. So, having a more faithful adaptation of this story is a dream (pun intended) for long-time Sailor Moon fans, and the good news is that even if that if you’ve seen none of the anime (original or Crystal) you can still just jump straight into this movie, as long as you’ve read the manga up to this point (which is midway through Volume 8 up to the end of Volume 10 in the original print run).
Long-time manga readers will be pleased to know that all the plot events from the arc are covered in these films; a few minor character beats and comedic lines have been cut, but all the iconic moments such as the princess upgrades at the climax and extremely beautiful moments from the manga (such as the Serenity and Nehellenia mirror image) are left intact. The movie itself is very much in the same vein as the Crystal series itself, which means that story flaws and rapid pacing that existed in the manga are present here with little to no changes. This is a shame, as there’s plenty of opportune moments that could have benefitted from a script tweak here and there to make it flow better. Twice Usagi is shrunk to the size of a child and each time this has little dramatic weight and is fixed quickly. Mamoru and Usagi are twice captured in the second movie, which could have been reduced to just once to save time. Ironically, the most changes are in the first film and actually help in minor ways. For example: there’s a small change in dialogue for Jupiter’s section where she does not realise that the herbal shop is run by the Dead Moon Circus, which makes her return to the shop later all the more believable and not like a very silly idea. Also Venus’ arc in the manga was originally broken up with a section to deviate to the Outer Senshis’ story, but wisely in the movie they conclude Venus’ arc and use the sudden turn into danger as part of the first film’s climax, with the Outer Senshi opening up the second movie.
Both of the Eternal films do not feel like movies, instead they feel more like a collection of episodes spliced together, not unlike the feeling of watching the recap anime films that are common (think along the lines of Madoka Magica films Beginnings and Eternal or the recent Code Geass trilogy), so there’s no arcs, set structure or continuous flow. This means that the Eternal movies have the same issues as those films; because they’re too busy checking off plot points and getting to the end, there’s no breathing space or weight to any of the twists and turns that the story takes. We don’t care about Mamoru’s deteriorating health, or if Chibi-Usa will ever get home, or about Elysion, because the movies move right onto the next plot point before the characters can even finish their sentences. That’s not to say that nothing in the film works however. Rei’s arc is easily the strongest as, both in plot and atmosphere, it’s presented very well, and her internal struggle is very relatable. The comedy in the first film also works as the cast feels very at home with each other. The circus villains work with the arc’s themes, as all the Senshi are growing up and starting to doubt their identities and who they want to become, and ‘running off to the circus’ is often a way of escaping adulthood and responsibilities, so having them as the villains makes sense. Long-term fans will also be pleased to see that the gender fluidity of Hawk Eye, Fish Eye and Tiger Eye has been retained, with Hawk Eye even getting ‘them/they’ pronouns.
I was fully expecting to hate the English dub; as someone who grew up with the DiC dub and its edits, alongside with Cardcaptors’ English dub, I expected to immediately recoil from the new version out of habit and immediately switch to Japanese, as we’ve not been exposed to VIZ’s dub at all in the UK. However, I’m pleased to say that the voices felt very natural for the characters and it’s full of professional, well known actors who have all expressed love for the property, so the new dub washes over you very quickly. They also sound very much like the Japanese actors at many points; I laughed at one particular moment when Chibi-Usa and Usagi’s comedy screaming sounds just like the original voices.
The score is provided Yasuharu Takanashi, who has provided the music for all of Crystal so far, with theme songs by Momoiro Clover Z, Anza and Yoko Ishida, who have all sung vocal tracks for Sailor Moon before. Overall, aside from the covers in the end credits, the vocal tracks aren’t as memorable as the older Sailor Moon songs, and the score is very epic but there were quite a few scenes where they felt empty or lacked the power needed to elevate them.
Toei Animation produces these movies and it’s very similar to the third season of Crystal with obviously a higher budget, but I was hoping for a bit more ambition and care in regard to cinematography or framing. It gets better in the second film, but overall, you won’t be watching these films just for the visuals. At least the transformation and attack animations are beautiful, but they also use the same choreography as the 90s anime (except for Twinkle Yell and Moon Gorgeous Meditation, with the latter being done by two people this time, whereas the 90s anime had just Sailor Moon herself).
I cannot stress enough how wonderful it is to finally have Sailor Moon anime legally available again in the UK, even though it’s not the best version of the story, but as a result anyone who has never seen Sailor Moon is probably not going to be convinced as to why it’s so beloved with these films. If you already love Sailor Moon and just want a quick burst of magical girl fun, then having it streaming on Netflix is the most convenient way of doing so. As a pair of films, they’re merely passable but I hope more than anything that they open the door to more Sailor Moon anime being made legally available in the UK sooner rather than later.
Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Eternal: The Movie Parts 1 & 2 are now streaming on Netflix; available in Japanese, English, Spanish, French and Portuguese dub with English, French, Arabic and Polish subtitles.