Sailor Moon Eternal: The Movie (2021) Review

IN THE NAME OF THE MOON…


 

Sailor Moon, the magical “Pretty” guardian of the Moon who fights for love and justice. Based on the original manga creation by Naoko Takeuchi, the story follows the adventures of a schoolgirl named Usagi Tsukino as she transforms into Sailor Moon. Leading a group friends / comrades known as the Sailor guardians, Usagi battle against the various evil forces who are seeking her legendary Silver Crystal (the source of her power) and the destruction of the Solar System. While the manage was highly praised, most viewers found out of this magical girl with 90s era anime series (i.e., Sailor Moon), which ran for five seasons (200 episodes) and had three feature films released. In 2014, Sailor Moon was revived for a new audience, with the release of Sailor Moon Crystal, a remake anime series that reimagined the original anime series. Since its release, Sailor Moon Crystal has covered the three seasons, the Dark Kingdom arc (1-14), the Dark Moon arc (15-26), and Deathbusters / Infinity arc (27-39). Now, Toei Animation and director Chiaki Kon present the fourth season of Sailor Moon Crystal, which is presented within the format of a two-part feature film in the release of Sailor Moon Eternal: The Movie. Does this “double feature” anime film fight for love and justice (in Sailor Moon’s name) or is it just a flashy and unwarranted endeavor that never gets off the ground?

THE STORY


It’s April in Tokyo and the cherry blossoms are in bloom; finding the Japanese capital in a festive mood, as the celebratory the largest Total Solar Eclipse of the century. As the new moon appears, obscuring the sun, and gradually dims its lights, Usagi Tsukino / Sailor Moon (Stephanie Sheh), Chibiusa / Sailor Chibi Moon (Sandy Fox), and Mamoru Chiba / Tuxedo Mask (Robbie Daymond), receive a vision from a winged Pegasus horse named Helios (Brian Beacock), who is in search of a chosen Maiden who bares the Golden Crystal in order to save his kingdom of Elysion from darkness. At the same time, a mysterious circus troupe called the Dead Moon Circus appears in town, with the circus’ ringleader Zirconia (Barbara Goodson) sending forth the Amazon Quartet, consisting of CereCere (Cassandra Lee Morris), PallaPalla (Xanthe Huynh), JunJun (Erika Ishil), and VesVes (Erica Lindbeck), to hatch a nefarious plan to scatter nightmare incarnations as Lemures across the city in order to size the “Legendary Silver Crystal”, and rule over the moon and Earth. Calling upon the other Sailor Guardians, including Ami Mizuno / Sailor Mercury (Kate Higgins), Rei Hino / Sailor Mars (Cristina Vee), Makoto Kino / Sailor Jupiter (Amanda C. Miller), and Minako Aino / Sailor Venus (Cherami Leigh), Usagi and Chibiusa fight against the Dead Moon Circus’s forces and help Helios’s from his imprisonment from the Dead Moon’s master, Queen Nehelenia (Laura Post). New enemies to face, old allies return, and beautiful dreams must be saved, with Sailor Moon and the other guardians facing their toughest challenge yet.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Yes, yes…. I’ll be the first to admit that I do like Sailor Moon. It wasn’t just first anime series that I’ve watched (I think the first one was Ronin Warriors), but did see it when I was younger and became one of top tier series as a sort of “introduction” to anime during the mid to late 90s (alongside Dragon Ball Z, Pokémon, and Digimon). I wouldn’t go so far to call me a “Moonie” (a hardcore Sailor Moon fan) and I haven’t read the original manga, but I do like the series; finding the story / character to be interesting, compelling within the whole “magical girl” anime niche. I first grew up watching the DiC English dubbed and probably love those ones the most, for I like the voice cast and the reworked soundtrack. Plus, I still prefer the more English character names better, especially comparing the names like Serena and Darien vs. Usagi and Mamoru. While DiC only covered the first two season of the series (Sailor Moon and Sailor Moon R), I was super excited when Cloverway / Pioneer picked up the English Dub for Sailor Moon and did the next two seasons (Sailor Moon S and Sailor Moon Super S), but more focused on S series, which covered the “Infinity” story arc as I love introduction of the Outer Sailor Guardians and the season being built up for Sailor Saturn’s awakening. To this day, Sailor Moon S is my favorite season of the series. I was always super bummed that Sailor Moon Stars (the fifth and final season) wasn’t dubbed into English (until very later on), I actually bought the original DVD Japan release that had English subtitles to finally see the ending conclusion to Sailor Moon. Then years later, Sailor Moon Crystal came along, and I fell back into watching Sailor Moon all over again. I did like the new updated style of animation and how each season was shorter compared to the original (I definitely think that 40 episodes per season was a bit much) and I do have to admit that the original series had a lot of “filler” episodes. Sailor Moon Crystal, however, is a more condensed iteration and, while everything comes a bit faster, it gets more to the point in both story and action. I, for one, like Sailor Moon Crystal. As a sidenote, around the time of when Sailor Moon Crystal arrived, Viz Media, went back and redubbed the original series, including Sailor Moon Stars. Of course, I have all of them.

This, of course, brings me back to talking about Sailor Moon Eternal: The Movie, a 2021 action fantasy anime feature and the continuation of Sailor Moon Crystal franchise. While I was totally thrilled over Sailor Moon Crystal’s interpretation of the “Infinity” / “Deathbuster” story arc (love the whole awakening of Sailor Saturn in the version), I was curious to see if this new series continue further into whole “Dream” arc of Sailor Moon Super S. To my surprise (and almost to everyone), it was announced that the “Dream” arc would be a part of the Crystal series, but not in the traditional episodic fashion…. rather in feature film as a two-part film endeavor. Definitely very curious, but that didn’t bother me as the Super S’s narrative was probably my least favorite of the Sailor Moon Saga and my only favorite part (of the originals series) was first several episodes in Sailor Moon Stars, which dealt with Queen Nehelenia’s return, the reappearance of the Outer Guardians, and the birth of Eternal Sailor Moon. Beyond that, I wasn’t too interested in Sailor Moon Super S. So, regardless of how the unorthodox approach for Crystal, I was looking forward to seeing what Sailor Moon Eternal: The Movie was ultimately going to shape up to be. Of course, it looks some time for this project to materialize (due to production and delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and I was wondering how it was going to be released. Soon after that, an English dubbed trailer was released, which showcased the feature’s presentation, and it announced that the film was going to be released on Netflix for those North America. Naturally, I was very excited to see this movie and I decided to watch it during the first weekend it got released in the US on June 3rd, 2021. However, my work schedule got busy and pushed my review back for this movie for quite some time. Thankfully, I’ve finally caught up and now have some time to share my thoughts for this new Sailor Moon Crystal movie. And what did I think of it?  Well, I liked it. Despite a few problems with the film’s condensed storytelling, Sailor Moon Eternal: The Movie is a beautifully anime film endeavor that’s visually stunning and a solid addition under the Crystal brand.

Sailor Moon Eternal: The Movie is directed by Chiaki Kon, whose previous works include directing several episodes for Sailor Moon Crystal as well as When They Cry and Golden Time. Given his background in being a part of the Crystal remake, Kon seems like a suitable choice to helm an anime project like this; approaching the “Dream” arc storyline with a same type of stylish bravado and appeal to what made the Crystal endeavor likeable / popular. In this regard, Kon definitely succeeds as he makes Eternal a great continuation to what Crystal left off at; presenting the Super S’s storyline from the original anime in the guise of an updated reimagining….as well as adapting said story into a film structure. The result is something ultimately works. Yes, there are hiccups that the movie format of the “Dream” arc can’t overcome (more on that below), but what’s presented definitely works; finding Kon’s efforts to match the precedents of what past Crystal TV seasons set, while establishing a new visual appeal towards this double feature film. As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t too interested in the whole “Dream” arc in Super S, but I did find the movie’s style of storytelling to be compelling and maybe even slightly better in a few areas than in the original anime series. Still, looking beyond those points, Kon still retains a lot of mantra identity and colorful background aesthetics of what makes Sailor Moon…. well Sailor Moon. The bad guys are still outlandish and eccentrically “over-the-tope” evil, the transformation sequences are still fantastic to watch, the iconic attacks are still engaging, character banter is still amusing and fun, and the story of love and justice is still just as compelling and entertaining as it was in the 90s. This, of course, what makes Eternal both familiar and different at the same time; creating the right amount of nostalgia, while staying true to being a remake.

Perhaps one of my favorite parts about Eternal is the film’s inclusion of the Outer Sailor guardians who were completely absent (beyond a special credited episode) from Super S. They did, however, come back at the beginning of Stars to fight Nehelenia, but were never shown in the entire 40-episode span of the Super S. So, to have them involved in Eternal feels great and love how they were reintroduced at the beginning of Part 2. Also, unlike the censorship that American audiences saw with the release of Sailor Moon, Eternal stays tried and true to the film’s characters of Haruka and Michiru (Uranus and Neptune) on their romantic relationship, including their mannerisms and wardrobe attire. Plus, we finally (yes, finally) get to see Sailor Saturn’s transformation. Hotaru has always been my favorite character and Sailor Saturn is my favorite Sailor guardian. I totally geeked out when I saw that.

Like what has come before in the Sailor Moon lore (both in the original anime and in the Crystal remake), the story in Eternal focusing on such universal themes of love and friendship, but the script also is able to tackle a few other issues by examining personal struggles of several characters of going from teenage years to adulthood, which is found within most of the Sailor guardians characters. Combined with the message of loyalty, self-worth, and togetherness, Eternal does find a good rhythm by highlighting the fear of inner nightmares and racing towards beautiful dreams…..it’s just all wrapped up within a vibrant anime world of magical girls.

In terms of a visual presentation, Sailor Moon Eternal is perhaps the best-looking Sailor Moon iteration to date. While the Sailor Moon Crystal series brand has certainly updated the animation style (still not the hugest fan of how “lanky” all the Sailor guardians look like. Just seems a bit odd to me), Eternal is giving more of “film” budget, which means that the detail and visual aspect of the feature is giving a bit more “oomph” in almost every scene. The result is something strikingly beautiful as literally every sequence (be it a quiet character dialogue moment or a bombastic action scene) is crafted well and intricately detailed in stunning animation. I mean the various Sailor guardian transformations and their special attack animation have never looked so clean and detailed. The animation style and rendering is truly gorgeous and definitely adds some visual flair to Eternal’s color palette and appeal. Interestingly, the film’s cinematography was done by two people, with Shigemitsu Hamao and Takashi Yanagida handling those cinematics aspects in Eternal, which does come across in a very positive way. Again, I can not stress enough beautiful this anime movie looks like. Lastly, the film’s score, which was done by Yasuharu Takanasahi, who had previously done the music for the Sailor Moon Crystal series, creates a palpable musical composition for Eternal. The movie definitely speaks to the updated iteration of Crystal, but also carries its own thematically charge melodies and pieces that make for a great anime film soundtrack.

Unfortunately, Sailor Moon Eternal does have a few faltering steps that draws criticisms within both its undertaking and in its execution. Perhaps the biggest one (the one that I sort knew right from the get-go) was the simple fact of the narrative being compressed within the storytelling structure of a film. The Crystal remake series had already condensed down the original Sailor Moon anime from a 40-episode season story arc into roughly a 13-to-14-episode presentation; getting more to the point and moving at faster pace than to its predecessor. The problem is even further expanded upon in this movie, which sees the entire “Dream” arc storyline compressed within a double-feature film concept. Thus, with the two movies combined having a runtime of roughly 3 hours in total, there’s a lot to unpack within that particular timeframe…. from character arcs (both major and minor), battle confrontations scenes, exposition moments, and the resolution of the story. This is where Sailor Moon Eternal falters the heaviest as the presentation struggles to fully allow the narrative it wants to tell (in a nutshell) “breathe” and to flow correctly. This is mostly found within the Part 1 of the presentation, which has more of an episodic chapter feeling, but is trimmed down for character-built moments that last 15 minutes or shorter. It’s clear what the movie wants to say, but can’t expand upon those ideas because of its limitations of a feature film.

This criticism also expands upon in Part 2 of the presentation, which moves rather quickly and starts to feel quite rushed as it tries to bring everything together to reach the climax / resolution of the story. Certain events feel quite short and don’t have the complete resonating feeling that the original anime series was able to achieve…. or even what the Crystal TV series had done. This is clearly represented when the first appearance of Eternal Sailor Moon, which only last for a few minutes. It’s a bit anti-climactic and I was kind of wanting to see more, especially since the Crystal TV series puts a larger emphasis on its battles and focusing on presenting a better overall “bigness” or “grandiosity” in its execution.  Thus, the entire final confrontation with the Sailor Guardians against Queen Nehelenia feels very rushed and (again) could’ve been easily expanded upon. Heck, I kind of felt like the project should’ve been presented like the rest of the Sailor Moon Crystal series….as an anime TV season, which could’ve allowed for the narrative to explore more character and storytelling elements properly. Even at the very least, Sailor Moon Eternal could’ve benefited from having a Part 3 installment; acting more of a limited series. That’s just my opinion. In addition, with the entire “Dream” arc being framed within a feature film endeavor, creates problem when its trying to explain of what’s going on….in the exposition format. Yes, there is plenty of exposition dumps in Sailor Moon Eternal and, while its good for helping explain the narrative a bit more, it becomes a bit too tedious as there is numerous exposition dumps scattered throughout.

As a minor criticism, Sailor Moon Eternal is, for lack of a better term, meant for the fanbase and not so much the casual viewer / streamer out there. Yes, it kind of easy to piece together who are the heroes and villains of the story, but the movie isn’t made exactly for the non-initiated of the Sailor Moon lore. The installment picking up after the events of Sailor Moon Crystal: Season III, the film wastes no time to get right into the story, which may confuse those non-fans of the popular anime series. Who’s who, why is Chibusa important, why such a large emphasis on Sailor Saturn’s reawakening, the importance of the Outer Guardians, and a few other aspects. Again, I kind of figured this was going to be the case as movies that are based TV series (be it a continuation of the original story or in a self-contained narrative for the film) is mostly meant for the fans, and not so much on non-fans. Basically, if you’re looking to find out what Sailor Moon is all about, Eternal isn’t the movie for you. Just a very minor quibble.

The voice cast for Sailor Moon Eternal is actually really good, with most of the acting talents that voiced the characters from both Sailor Moon Crystal series and the Viz Media’s English dub of the original Sailor Moon series returning to reprise their character roles. While the longstanding debate over the original Japanese voices over English dubbed depends upon the viewer’s preferences, but I usually like watching the English dubs more, especially since the dubbing acting / lip synching has gotten better over the years. Naturally, the film’s main protagonist character of Usagi Tsukino / Sailor Moon headlines the feature, with voice actress Stephanie Sheh (Your Name and Bleach) playing the role. Personally, I prefer the other voices Usagi / Serena better like Terri Hawkes from the DiC dubbing production and Linda Ballantyne from the Cloverway dubbing production. Still, Sheh is committed to the role as she’s done both the redubbing of the original anime series (under Viz Media) as well as Crystal series, so definitely knows the character of Sailor Moon inside and out. For that, I think she did another good entry for Eternal.

Likewise, the characters of Chibiusa and Mamoru have always been solid in their respective roles in the Sailor Moon saga, causing relationship to clash, romance to blossom, and allies found in the heat of battle. Naturally, the voice acting is also solid once again; finding voice actress Sandy Fox (The Asterisk War and Aldnoah.Zero) and voice actor Robbie Daymond (Final Fantasy XV and Spider-Man) to be great and definitely lend weigh to their respective characters in the movie. Naturally, both Chibusa and Mamoru have the important roles to play in Dream arc storyline, which is showcased in Eternal and does offer some compelling moments, especially in show character growth moments in Chibiusa’s personal journey.

In supporting roles, the Inner Sailor guardians help bolster Usagi, Chibiusa, and Mamoru during Eternal in which these characters get their moments to shine, especially in the part 1 endeavor by showcasing them in their dealings with the Amazon Trio’s tricks as well as aiding in the fight against Nehelenia’s Dead Moon Circus. Much like before, the voice talents of Kate Higgins (Blaze and the Monster Machines and Boruto: Naruto Next Generations) as Ami Mizuno / Sailor Mercury, Cristina Valenzula (Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir and RWBY) as Rei Hino / Sailor Mars, Amanda Celine Miller (She-Ra and the Princess of Power and Boruto: Naruto Next Generations) as Makoto Kino / Sailor Jupiter, and Cherami Leigh (Temple Grandin and Pokémon) as Minako Aino / Sailor Venus, are spot on and I do like the voices for these particular characters, especially since they voiced them (their respective characters) for quite some time.

As I mentioned, I love how the Outer Sailor guardians returned for Eternal and their inclusion is a welcomed one indeed. Plus, I felt like the voice talents of Erica Mendez (Erased and Hunter x Hunter), Lauren Landa (Attack on Titan and Street Fighter V), Veronica Taylor (Pokémon and The Slayers), and Christine Marie Cabanos (Beyblade Burst and Fate / Extra Last Encore) in the roles of Haruka Tenoh / Sailor Uranus, Michiru Kaiou / Sailor Neptune, Setsuna Meioh / Sailor Pluto, and Hotaru Tomoe / Sailor Saturn respectfully. All the Outer Sailor guardians get their moments (character / dialogue scenes) during Part 2, and all are presented / acted well. I love it!

The only voice talent that did not return for Sailor Moon Eternal was Chris Niosi, who provided the voice for Pegasus / Helios in the Viz Media dubbing of Sailor Moon Super S. He is replaced for this movie by Brian Beacock (Sword Art Online and Zak Storm), who I actually thinks does a great job in the part. Definitely carries the same sounding voice that Niosi did and has a good fit for voice of graceful winged horse in Pegasus as well as the human form of Helios.

Sadly, the limitations of Sailor Moon Eternal makes several characters rather generic, reducing their involvement in the story, and not as well-rounded as they were in the original Super S / Dream arc series or what could’ve been to expand upon in the Crystal brand name. The ones that suffer the most are the Amazon Trio (Tiger’s Eye, Hawk’s Eye, and Fish’s Eye), the first main troupe of the Dead Moon Circus before the Amazon Quartet. Eternal basically reduces their involvement tremendously; making the trio of characters more like side-kick bad guy characters rather than the main threat that the original anime series presented them as. Even their somewhat redemption arc from Super S is completely omitted, which was disappointing. On the plus side, voice actors John Eric Bentley (Days of Our Lives and Baki), Michael Yurchak (Club Dread and Beerfest), and Erik Scott Kimerer (Accel World and Raiden V) return to reprise their roles of Tiger’s Eye, Hawk’s Eye, and Fish’s Eye respectfully. It’s just a shame that the Amazon Trio’s screen presence in Eternal is minimal. As for main antagonist of Eternal, the character of Queen Nehelenia is also reduced to a more generic villain. Of course, voice actress Laura Post (Persona 5 Royal and Dino Girl Gauko) does great job in voice such a wicked character by chewing through dialogue lines with ease, but the character is rather flat and comes across as just another evil that wants power / dominion overall, which (again) disappointing as the original Sailor Moon series revealed her backstory (one that was quite compelling for a bad guy) and almost had a redemption notion in the first few episodes of Sailor Moon Stars. Thus, Queen Nehelenia in Eternal is rather stock-like main villain and that’s it.

Faring better in the villain category than those character in the grouping are the members of the Amazon Quartet, who seem more of the focus of Eternal’s bad guys. This foursome received a lot of screen time in the film and are such as fun and mischievously evil as their original anime counterparts. Plus, have the returning voices of Cassandra Lee Morris (DC Super Hero Girls and Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir) as the flower master CereCere, Xanthe Huynh (Persona 5 and Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day) as the ball balancer Pallapalla, Erika Ishii (Deathloop and Destiny 2) as the acrobat Junjun, and Erica Lindbeck (ThunderCats Roar and Pacific Rim: The Black) as the beast tamer VesVes, are great and definitely make the characters fun. Also, the character of Zirconia, the ringleader of the Amazon Quartet and servant to Queen Nehelenia, makes her appearance in Eternal and who is once again voiced by Barbara Goodson (Akira and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers). The character is still a bit shallow, but I think this merely designed for both the original anime series and for this Crystal remake iteration. Still, for better or worse, Zirconia is a good (yet serviceable) bad guy character. I always still find it out that the Cloverway / Pioneer release that the character had a male voice rather than a female.

Additionally, other side characters, including actress Michelle Ruff (Akira and Bleach) as Usagi’s cat Luna, actor Johnny Yong Bosch (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Akira) as Minako’s cat Artemis, actress Debi Derryberry (F is for Family and The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius) as Chibiusa’s cat Diana, and actress Wender Lee (Akira and Cowboy Bebop: The Movie) as Queen Serenity. These players in Eternal are more secondary minor characters, so, with so much time spent with the main cast, these characters get limited screen time. Still, I do think that they were voiced acted correctly, especially since all had previously worked on Sailor Moon before….so they understand their respective minor characters accordingly.

FINAL THOUGHTS


To protect the world, and those we hold dear…. beautiful dreams will be reborn eternal in the movie Sailor Moon Eternal: The Movie. Director Chiaki Kon’s latest project takes the entire “Dream” arc from Sailor Moon Super S and presents it within a double feature presentation; highlighting the events of the Sailor guardians as they battle against the Dead Moon Circus and freeing Helios. While the endeavor does struggle when it comes to plotting out its fully narrative within the condensed time restriction of a movie as well as numerous exposition dumps and some characters that gets pushed to wayside, the film itself is a fun return to the Sailor Moon property, especially thanks to the feature’s visually beautiful animation, a story that’s both familiar yet still refreshing to follow, Kon’s direction, and solid voice acting. Personally, I liked it. As I mentioned, I wasn’t a super big fan of the whole Super S / Dream arc in the original anime, but I was quite impressed in how this two-part movie translated the story into a comprehensiveness (though still compressed) narrative. Plus, the animation is visual great, and I love it, while the movie’s journey is still a Sailor Moon endeavor …. “In the name of the moon” ….and all other fanfare moments in-between. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a solid “recommended” one; finding the project to fun and great to fully experience on whatever platform you view it on as it great to catch up Sailor Moon and all the rest of the Sailor guardians in their fight for love and justice. With the conclusion of Eternal, all eyes look to what Sailor Moon Crystal will do next? Will they go back to a more traditional episodic TV season for adapting Sailor Moon Stars or will they continue the trend and present it as a feature movie. Whatever the case, I’m looking forward to seeing how Crystal shapes Stars to be. In the end, Sailor Moon Eternal: The Movie is a feel-good adventure anime double feature film that is worth the wait and will surely delight all the “Moonie” fans (both casual and hardcore) out there; reinforcing the ideas of falling in love, kicking justice butt, cherishing friendship, and beautiful dreams to make for a compelling anime movie to get lost in everyone’s favorite magical girl series.

3.9 Out of 5 (Recommended)

 

Released On: June 3rd, 2021
Reviewed On: September 29th, 2021

Sailor Moon Eternal: The Movie  is 160 minutes long and is rated TV-14

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