Live-action Drama/Manga/ Merchandise/Music/ Fandom
Reviewed by: Orange Skirt (recurrent contributor)
Title rating: Although a kid’s show in Japan, I’d put it at a PG, what with the fighting, terminal illnesses, and Motoki’s turtle fetish.
- 49 televised episodes (2003-2004), complete
- 2 straight-to-DVD, hour-long specials (2004, 2005), complete
- 1 straight-to-DVD stage show, (2005), complete
- 14 manga volumes (reprinted in 2003-2004), complete
- 11 CDs, 6 singles
I’ll refrain from going into a long speech about how I’ve been a fan of Sailor Moon since I was a kid, blah de blah de blah. All I’m going to say is that if we had met in first grade, and you had wanted to play Sailor Moon with my friends and me at recess, we might have gotten into a fight over who was the biggest Sailor Moon fan. And let’s be honest – I might have made you cry.
Jump forward to the year 2003, six years after the anime and manga have ended. …What’s that? A new version of Sailor Moon? A live-action television series? I’m there! And thus this was the show that single-handedly pushed me to get Bittorrent.
Chances are those of you who haven’t seen Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon (PGSM) have at least seen a few pictures or screen captures. You probably laughed and compared it to Power Rangers – which, frankly, is valid at certain points, but I wouldn’t joke about that. What we got could have been so much worse.
This incarnation of Sailor Moon retells the very first story arc, which was covered previously by Acts 1-14 of the manga and the first season of the anime. In short, a school girl named Usagi Tsukino meets Luna, a talking cat, who tells her that she’s Sailor Moon and she has to find and protect the Moon Princess with the help of her fellow soldiers. They’re also the only ones standing in the way of Queen Beryl and the Dark Kingdom, who gather energy to try to take over the world. Just for kicks, there’s also Tuxedo Kamen, a mysterious jewel thief with his own motives who helps Sailor Moon whenever she’s in trouble.
That’s the gist of the story, anyway. Whereas the anime was a loosely based, elongated version of the manga, the live-action version uses the source material as a jump-off point. The enemy remains the same, and all the characters are accounted for, but even halfway through the series the plot spins off, keeping you guessing until the very end. There are a few things you know have to happen, but then a certain episode leaves you with tears in your eyes because you can’t believe they actually did that. That’s the sign of a good adaptation.
Small changes were made to update the franchise; for example, the group’s arcade headquarters has become a karaoke parlor, but Motoki still mans the desk, and this time with an adorable pet turtle named Kamekichi. Luna and Artemis are no longer real cats but plush toys, and are at times CG animated. (Notably, Luna’s original voice actress, Keiko Han, reprises her role for the live-action series.) There are also several new characters, including a brand new senshi and a new villian.
The largest changes are in characterization. In particular, the carefree Minako Aino (Sailor Venus) of the anime is now a serious girl, fully focused on her mission as a soldier…when she isn’t busy with her career as a fabulously popular idol. Seeing Minako finally achieve her dream in this adaptation becomes bittersweet, however, considering the equally tragic circumstances they wrote into her character. Build them up to knock them down, I guess. Princess Serenity, in the same vein, does an awesome 180 when she finally shows up. Her anime and manga counterparts would have been more interesting had they also made things violently explode in their wakes.
Apart from that, the acting in this series isn’t really a strong point. There are a few moments of brilliance here and there, and some do a better job than others (Minako’s hilariously flamboyant manager, I’m looking at you!). A lot of things were a pleasant surprise, even though I watched it mainly for the plot and everything else came secondary. The special effects, costumes, and use of the “ballet fu” fighting style would be strange in a lot of other shows, but work well together in this one. For instance, Queen Beryl is dressed to the nines in a huge red wig and sparkly purple dress, but she’s Queen Beryl for God’s sake. If she can’t get away with it, who can?
The original “Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon” manga, written and drawn by Naoko Takeuchi, was first released in Japan in 1992, where it ran monthly in Kodansha’s Nakayoshi Magazine. The series came to an end in 1997, collected in a total of 18 tankoubon.
To coincide with the debut of the live-action series, the manga was re-released in 12 deluxe tankoubon (bunko editions, maybe?), with more pages per volume. These reprinted editions come with new covers and color pages – not to mention retouched, and in some cases, redrawn art, as well as slight changes to the dialogue. The side stories (Chibiusa’s Picture Diaries, the Exam Battle stories, Lover of Princess Kaguya, Casablanca Memory) are collected in two volumes, in addition to the 12 that contain the main story arcs. Fans will also be excited to hear that the “Parallel Sailor Moon” doujinshi, drawn by Naoko Takeuchi, and previously only available in the Materials Collection artbook, is included in the second “Short Stories” volume. Gasp!
Now for some bad(ish) news: as of the fall of 2007 (or there-around), the Sailor Moon manga is going out of print. But will this mean panic in the streets? Not likely. It will make the books harder to find overseas, for sure, but in Japan stock has always been fairly plentiful, especially at used bookstores. Hoard if you must, but don’t book a plane ticket for next week.
On a related note, the original “Codename wa Sailor V” manga, which centers on Minako’s past as Sailor V, was also reprinted in late 2004. It’s been subjected to the same changes as the “Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon” manga, minus the stickers that the first run editions of the Sailor Moon manga included, and has been collected in 2 tankoubon (condensed from 3 tankoubon). And yeah, it’s probably going out of print, too. (Ed note: Man, did I ever like the Sailor V manga. Why don’t I get stickers?!)
It would save time to just list all of the items that don’t have the PGSM logo printed on them. This series was a marketing dream come true, to say the very least. All of the predictable merchandise was sold – Sailor Moon’s Moonlight Stick, her brooch, the transformation cell phones, Luna and Artemis plushies, costumes, dolls – but there was also much, much more. The actresses themselves advertised stationary sets and make-up kits during the commercial breaks, and everything from underwear to bicycles could be found with Sailor Moon characters printed on them. Since the show stopped airing, however, the merchandise is harder to find (read: no longer available in vast quantities on Japanese toy store shelves), so auction sites will be your best friends if you want to hunt down specific items.
For a television show that lasted less than a full year, the final tally of soundtracks is impressive in numbers, if little else. That being said, there are, essentially, two types of compilations: “Koro-chan Pack” albums, and “DJ Moon” albums. The latter contain short dramas, background music, and a few character songs thrown in for good measure, while the former exclusively feature character singles.
Apart from a few gems, the background music for this series is average. Unless there’s a certain track that you need to have, you’ll hear enough of everything during the episodes themselves. The vocal tracks keep in the tradition of the anime, with each actress singing her respective character song. The one difference is that while music from the Sailor Moon anime was sung by trained voice actresses, the girls of the live-action series were not hired for their singing abilities. In a way, it’s endearing – the actresses are playing average girls, and when they sing in their karaoke HQ, that’s the impression they give off. It’s obvious they aren’t professionals (even the one playing a professional), but if you can ignore the admittedly annoying times when notes are off-key, the songs themselves are fun, catchy, and perfect for your own karaoke sessions with your group of non-professional friends. (Your professional friends will be too busy making money to sing with you.)
As a final word of warning, it’s far from necessary to buy every single soundtrack – the repetition of songs is ridiculous. If you only buy one album from this series make it the Complete Song Collection, where all of the character singles are included on one CD.
The Sailor Moon fanbase has always been fairly stable. Loyal fans of the series lingered after the series finished, and after it gradually stopped airing on television overseas. When rumors started swirling about a live-action series, old fans came back, the loyal fans got hyped up, and some new fans were drawn in. During the original broadcast, there was tons of press and tons of demand. New sites were started up, main-stays were updating, and everyone had a grand old time.
After the series concluded and the DVD specials were released, there was nothing new to get excited about. The biggest of the big sites stayed around, but many have gone un-updated and offline since (most notably Shingetsu, which went offline at the same time as A Sailor Moon Romance, one of series’ largest fanfiction archives (Ed note: NOOOOO!)). Now, it seems like it’s down again to the same loyal fans, with a few new true-believers thrown into the mix. A little sad, but we’ll always have the memories…and the excessive print-outs.
So, where to go now? Genvid (a.k.a. The Sailor Moon Soapbox) is still chugging along, years after PGSM debuted. I mention it first because besides being a biased member of the forums for a few years now, it’s one of the few sites to have been, and continues to be, consistently updated. Other great resources include Sailor Dream, Moonkitty.NET, Juuban District, Three-lights.net (currently rebuilding after going offline for a while), and Kirari-PGSM.net. I admit to shamelessly getting the images for this review from Sailor Dream. It’s cool – right?
|Overview: In a purely objective sense, it’s hard for me to rate this series. I tend to not compare Sailor Moon to other shows, because if I’m rating a show on a scale of how much I love it, Sailor Moon scores very high, even though it contains many flaws that I would loudly point out if we were talking about any other show. But I will say this: overall, PGSM isn’t my favorite version of Sailor Moon, but it was highly entertaining, especially in a group setting, and its originality didn’t render it unwatchable, which could easily have happened. I recommend it, and give 3.9 stars out of 5.|
Lianne: It definitely takes a few episodes to get used to the format, giant wigs, etc., but this show is surprisingly good – proof positive that good writing can carry almost anything. Just try it. 3.75 stars out of 5.