Sailor Moon fans have it pretty good these days. Over two decades since their original Japanese theatrical release and U.S. TV broadcast, the Sailor Moon movies are finally screening nationwide in U.S. cinemas. After the success of the R premiere last year we’re being treated to screenings of all three films, which is a delightful opportunity for Sailor Moon fans old and new alike to see everyone’s favorite soldier of love and justice on the big screen. These movies enhance the show’s already gorgeous aesthetics, boasting expressive character animation, vibrant color design, and beautiful backgrounds that still look stunning today. With the exception of the CG asteroid in R that appropriately looks like something out of a mid-90s Sega Genesis game, these films don’t show their age. Though they aren’t just pretty to look at. While Toei animation had a reputation of churning out repetitive franchise films from the 80s through the early aughts, with the Dragon Ball films being notoriously inconsistent in their quality and originality, these Sailor Moon films are cinematically ambitious and tell stories worthy of their movie monikers.
Both the R & S movies explore how we share, express, and return love, contrasting our selfless Sailor Guardians with their selfish foes. Fiore and Kaguya both lay claim to Mamoru and the earth respectively. They believe they love them more than anyone, so they deserve to be with them more. They’re jealous that others are spending time with and interfering with them being together. Fiore tries to kill Sailor Moon because he views her as a competitor for Mamoru’s affections. He thinks that Mamoru couldn’t possibly care about someone else, so she must be manipulating him, trying to steal him away. He’s so deluded that he ignores what Mamoru wants, convinced he’s saving his friend when he’s the one who’s actually hurting him. In contrast, Kaguya contradictorily loves the earth so much she wants to freeze it when doing so will fundamentally destroy what makes the earth what it is, which Sailor Moon attempts to explain to her to no avail. Both villains’ obsession for possession manifests in murderous madness and manipulative machinations, culminating in Kaguya’s plan to freeze the earth to rid it of all other life and Fiore finally deciding to blow up the earth because “if [he] can’t have Mamoru, no one can.” Neither villain wants to share what they love, and after resenting that they can’t be together with them decide to simply be alone. Ultimately, their love is expressed and defined by their hatred.
Love for Fiore and Kaguya is something to be kept, whereas for the Guardians it’s something to be shared. What the villains want to dominate the Guardians try to protect. The villains are so obsessed with what they want that it doesn’t matter if their love is unrequited; they’ll pettily sacrifice their objects of desire just so no one else can have them. Meanwhile, the Guardians are never willing to sacrifice their loved ones but don’t hesitate to sacrifice themselves for their happiness. This pair of movies contrasts this well in their respective central love triangles. In R, Fiore puts his own happiness first above Mamoru’s when he tries to kill Usagi. In S, Luna places her own wishes aside to help Kakeru find happiness. Even though she loves him and wants to be with him, she knows that he’s in love with Himeko, and she doesn’t try to inject herself between them. Instead, she encourages him to find happiness together with Himeko and works to repair their estranged relationship. In both movies, the Guardians are willing to risk their own lives and well-being to save the world. Usagi consistently refuses to put her friends in danger. Though her friends fight to protect her, she fights for their happiness and doesn’t hesitate to use the power of the Legendary Silver Crystal to save them despite knowing cost could be her life. In comparing the Guardians and their foes, the films thoughtfully dissect what it means to love someone, showing that acts of selfless love make people happier than those motivated by selfish desires.
While both films address these themes, R considers them more poignantly in the context of the series. R intertwines its themes of love and loneliness in a story that affects all of the characters and best encapsulates its heart. Fiore and Mamoru’s friendship was born out of mutual childhood abandonment, becoming not just each other’s first friend but their only companion. Similarly, the Sailor Guardians were all aloof outcasts before Usagi met them and brought them together as a group of friends. The fact most of the cast was alone at some point in their pasts is emphasized, as is Usagi’s role in bringing everyone together. Towards the climax, Chibusa assures Luna that everything will be alright because “Sailor Moon is like a mother to us all,” aptly describing how Usagi serves as a guardian for the other Guardians.
Usagi can be childish, but she’s also compassionate. Her friendliness towards the other Guardians, unconcerned by their reputations and insecurities, changed their lives for the better. The flashbacks during the scenes climax highlight how she’s doting, encouraging, enthusiastic, and optimistic. She’s a nurturing anchor for the Sailor Guardians that encourages their growth and happiness, protecting them from harm and inspiring them to protect others. She doesn’t save lives just by fighting monsters, but also by being kind to people in need of a helping hand. What makes her such a powerful hero is how her love inspires love in others. Even after Fiore has tried to kill her and her friends, she kindly assures him he doesn’t have to be alone anymore. In doing so she saves his soul from being consumed by hate, and he returns her good deed in kind by reviving her. At the heart of R is a story about what makes Sailor Moon a hero and what she inspires in the people around her. In turn, it becomes a story about why Sailor Moon is so beloved, both by her friends and by fans all around the world.
While S explores similar ideas, its focus is narrower. R was a story about Usagi and what she meant to the people around her, while S is more of a character piece about Luna learning what it means to love someone for the first time. Luna is rarely a focal character in the series proper which makes the film a welcome chance to explore and underdeveloped character. It’s particularly nice to see the friendship between Usagi and Luna be addressed and reversing the mentorship roles by letting Usagi be the one who comforts and gives Luna advice to help deal with her love woes. It’s a charming tragicomedy with a cute ending, but it seems more suited to be the plot of a tv episode than a theatrical film. Luna’s one-sided infatuation is easy to sympathize with, but hard to take seriously when she herself keeps reminding viewers that she’s “just a cat.” It’s easier to become invested in a story that threatens the lives of Usagi and her best friends, people she cares about so much she’d die for them, but it’s more difficult to care about whether Luna will get together with some guy she just met, or help him get together with a girl we just met as becomes the case. It’s still an enjoyable story, but it doesn’t have the same emotional desperation and urgency R has.
Moreover, while the central conflict of R involved and affects all of the characters, Luna’s story is mostly isolated from the rest of the characters. While there are attempts to tie the storylines together, such as Kakeru possessing the crystal Kaguya needs, Kaguya causing his illness, and her threat to blow up the earth putting Himeko’s space mission in danger, their resolutions are separate events. Kaguya isn’t effected by anything Luna does to help Kakeru, and Kakeru’s illness isn’t cured just because Kaguya is defeated. Of course, Sailor Moon’s powers are what make both Princess Kaguya’s defeat and Luna’s human transformation possible, essentially resolving both storylines together. That said, because these scenes take place in different locations, sequentially instead of simultaneously, and involve so little crossover with the other characters they come across as separate events rather than one cohesive emotional climax.
The Kaguya plot narratively serves a thematic purpose through the selflessness versus selfishness contrast, but functionally feels like an excuse to give the Sailor Guardians fight scenes to justify their presence in a story that ostensibly only needed Luna and Usagi. It’s still entertaining, but the story is a lot more fragmented as a result. This is best reflected in Usagi’s choice to use the Legendary Silver Crystal in both films. Until that moment in R, Usagi spent much of the runtime distressed her friends were being hurt protecting her while being unable to protect anyone herself, so using the Crystal was the one thing she could do to ensure both the earth and her friends’ lives would be saved. In S, it comes across like Goku deciding to use the Spirit Bomb in a Dragon Ball Z film, in that it feels included just because it’s the only move that’s big enough for a cinematic climax. The story up to this point hadn’t been building to this decision, so the moment doesn’t feel as desperate, dramatic, or deserving.
Despite some weaknesses, S is still a ton of fun, and both films are full of the heroics, humor, and heart Sailor Moon is known for. They use the opportunity of telling a standalone stories to expand on ideas and characters underexplored in the series itself while emphasizing what fans love about the series at a scale and stakes worthy of cinematic scope. R and S make a great double feature in this regard. They emphasize different strengths of the series while being grounded in similar themes, making for unique experiences while still undeniably being Sailor Moon stories. As a Sailor Moon fan who’s gotten into the series in more recent years thanks to Kodansha USA’s re-release of the manga, Sailor Moon Crystal, and Viz Media’s redubbing of the original anime, it’s been a delight to have my first experiences with these films be in these theatrical screenings accompanied by other passionate fans. When I left the R theatrical screening last year, I felt compelled to immediately watch more Sailor Moon, and I feel the exact same way coming out of this double feature. Luckily, with SuperS in theatres later this week and new Crystal films coming out in 2019, I’m not going to run out of opportunities to see the Sailor Guardians on the big screen anytime soon. I highly recommend seeking out these films if you haven’t seen them yet; they do a great job encapsulating what makes this series so lovable and why it remains so beloved after all these years.