Anime DVD Review: Sailor Moon Season 1 Part 1

Sailor Moon Season 1 Part 1 was released on DVD and on a limited edition Blu-ray/DVD combo and includes the first 23 episodes of the original Sailor Moon television anime series and some extras. The audio on this release includes the original Japanese audio with English subtitles and a new English dub that was produced by VIZ Media. This review will focus on the DVD release, since that is what I watched to write this review. I watched these episodes with the original Japanese audio with English subtitles.

Sailor Moon Season 1 Part 1
English Publisher: VIZ Media
Format: DVD
Release Date: November 11, 2014

Sailor Moon tells the story of Usagi Tsukino, a 14-year-old schoolgirl who is clumsy and a bit of a crybaby. One day, as she’s running to school because she’s late, she finds a black cat being tormented by a group of boys. Usagi chases the boys off and finds that Band-Aids have been placed on the cat’s forehead. When Usagi takes them off, she finds a crescent shape. Before Usagi can do anything else, she hears the bell for school and runs off. We also see that Usagi begins having run-ins with a guy named Mamoru, whose favorite nickname for her is “Bun Head” (due to the buns she has in her hair).

Later, the black cat follows Usagi home. She’s a talking cat, and introduces herself as Luna. Luna gives Usagi a brooch and explains that when Usagi says a certain phrase, the brooch transforms her into a hero called Sailor Moon. When Usagi learns her friend Naru is in trouble, she rushes over to save her. At first, Sailor Moon is overwhelmed by the situation, but she is rescued by a mysterious guy known as Tuxedo Mask.

Luna informs Usagi that she has a mission to track down the other Sailor Guardians, find and protect a princess, and to track down the Legendary Silver Crystal. It’s also up to Sailor Moon to save Earth from the forces of evil. At this point in the story, the antagonist is the Dark Kingdom, led by Queen Beryl. She is trying to get power for their great ruler, Queen Metalia. She is trying to track down the Legendary Silver Crystal, but also has her four henchmen extracting energy from humans in the meantime until they find the crystal. Her henchmen are the Four Kings of Heaven: Jadeite, Nephrite, Zoisite, and Kunzite.

Over the course of these 23 episodes, Usagi finds two more of the Sailor Guardians: a studious girl named Ami Mizuno (who is Sailor Mercury) and a shrine maiden named Rei Hina (who is Sailor Mars). This set also sees Usagi develop a crush on both Tuxedo Mask and Motoki Furuhata, a boy who works at the video arcade that Usagi likes to hang out at. This set also sees Usagi getting a second item from Luna, which is a pen that lets her transform into whatever disguise she needs in order to get into locations in order to stop Queen Beryl’s schemes.

Before I review the actual content of the episodes that appear on this set, I’d like to make it clear that I did not watch Sailor Moon during the time that it aired on American television, and prior to watching this set, I only watched the first episode online with both the original English dub on YouTube and with the original Japanese audio on Neon Alley when VIZ Media began streaming the series earlier this year. I’m also watching the episodes on this set after having already read all 12 volumes of the Sailor Moon manga and watching the first 9-10 episodes of the currently running Sailor Moon Crystal anime series. I hope that by putting all this out here that it will explain how and why I review the content of these episodes the way that I do.

The first episode basically lines up with how the story went in the original manga, and it does a great job establishing Usagi and the overall premise and ideas for the series. However, after this point, there’s only three other episodes in the set where the story came from the manga (Episodes 8, 10, and 22). The remaining 19 episodes are original stories that were written for the anime series.

After watching this set, I would have to say that the episodes based on the manga chapters are stronger and better than the original stories. This is true for both the writing and the animation. There’s a distinct look and feel to the manga stories when compared to the anime original stories, and this difference can be rather jarring when you’re watching the series by seeing several episodes back-to-back on a nightly basis. Episodes 8 and 10 are very similar to what was seen in the manga, but the story in Episode 22 has the same basic premise but new elements were added to it since the anime had diverged enough and added important elements that weren’t in the manga at that point. These added elements needed to be used in this episode in order to keep the anime series’ continuity.

Rei’s character ended up getting changed drastically in this original anime adaptation. First, a major sense of tension was created between Usagi and Rei. While they may not have always seen eye to eye in the manga, their disagreements were never this petty and stupid. To me, including this tension really damages the message of teamwork that Sailor Moon seems to be trying to convey. Also, the anime writers decided to have Rei develop an interest in Mamoru/Tuxedo Mask, which did not exist in the manga, in order to turn her into a romantic rival for Usagi. I didn’t like that change, either.

I’m also not a fan of the new romance plot that was added with Naru falling in love with Nephrite in his disguised form. It just feels wrong on so many levels.

A major problem I had with these anime-only stories is the fact that there were only a couple of mentions of Sailor Moon’s overall mission when Luna would try to remind Usagi about it. But the writers seemed to eventually give up on trying to force mentions of the overall mission into the episodes, so it gets ignored.

Several of the anime-only episodes were rather painful to watch, due to ridiculous premises. My least favorite episode in this set was Episode 20, “The Summer, the Beach, Youth and Ghosts.” Usagi, Rei, Ami, and Luna go to the beach for a training session, but we never see them train at any point in the episode! Not only that, but the main antagonist doesn’t show up anywhere in it. Instead, we get some guy who’s been experimenting on psychic abilities on his daughter and has been hypnotizing her to draw out her power. Her power goes out of control, but it’s ultimately not the Sailor Guardians who save the day; in fact, they hardly do anything. To me, this never should have been included as an episode for the series. While I understand that the anime was airing at the same time the manga was being released, the amount of anime-only episodes can feel like overkill at times on this set.

When it comes to the DVD set itself, there’s three discs included. The first disc has a Sailor Moon theme and includes the first eight episodes of the series. The second disc has a Sailor Mercury theme and includes eight episodes. The third disc has a Sailor Mars theme and includes seven episodes and the set’s extras.

There are a total of three extras on the DVD. The first is, “AX Sailor Moon Reel.” It runs for about two minutes, and includes brief clips of the various Sailor Moon related activities that took place during Anime Expo 2014. Unfortunately, the only audio is background music. There’s brief text to explain what each event we see is, but these events go by so fast that it was hard me to follow what exactly I was seeing. The last thing we see is text saying to look out for a feature on the next set, so this made me feel like this was simply a trailer to promote a feature in the next box set. In the end, I personally didn’t get much out of this particular extra.

The next extra is, “Official Announcement Trailer.” This runs for almost three-and-a-half minutes, and it shows clips from the various Sailor Moon series as well as text to explain what VIZ Media’s plans for releases were. If you didn’t get to see this trailer before buying this set, then it’s a nice thing to watch once.

The final extra is “Trailers,” which runs for almost four minutes and includes two trailers that run back-to-back to promote a couple of other series that VIZ Media holds the rights to.

There’s been a lot of talk on the internet about the video quality, especially in regards to the limited edition Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, which included complains about ghosting and smeared colors. After watching this DVD, I didn’t personally notice any ghosting. When it came to colors, I only had a complaint about Episode 20. The characters’ skin looks pink instead of flesh-colored in a few scenes.

In the end, this is a release that I can only truly recommend to fans of the original Sailor Moon anime series that can get past the changes of the new English dub. I’d also recommend this series to young girls who might have an appreciation for magical girl stories. Even though I may not personally care for the original Sailor Moon anime that much, I showed the first episode to my almost 10-year-old daughter. After we finished, she said, “That was AMAZING!” When I watched this episode with her, I saw it with the new English dub. After watching it, I have to say that Stephanie Sheh did a good job portraying Usagi and hit all the appropriate emotional marks for the scenes she did. The other dub actors also seemed to do a decent job for their characters.

While I may not be enjoying this release as much as I hoped I would, I’m still glad to have the opportunity to see this series. It’s a classic anime from the 1990’s that ultimately helped to bring more girls into anime fandom, so it’s good for me to view the whole series at least once in order to have more knowledge about this piece of anime history.

The reviewer was provided a review copy by VIZ Media

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