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Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon : A crazed fan’s review

With the release of the long-awaited Sailor Moon Crystal, I take a look back at some of Sailor Moon’s previous incarnations, starting with the live action series, or “PGSM”.

As those of you who have read my Dresden Files article know, my first reaction to hearing of a TV series adaptation of something I like is generally met with a weirded-out face and a long-winded rant about how people just need to leave things well enough alone. So you can imagine what my reaction was when I learned there was a live action Sailor Moon series. I think my phrasing was something along the lines of, “Oh. Hell. No. This will be atrocious. Awful. Terrible. WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!11one”, along with some words not suitable for polite company. I figured it would be a bit like a J-drama, and whilst I love the cheesy acting and deliciously clichéd, uh, everything, I couldn’t bear seeing my beloved childhood series – my gateway to adulthood obsession – turned into one.

So of course I watched an episode. And of course I spent the entire thing cringing at the cheesiness and flapping my hands at the dodgy CGI effects, and of course as I headed home I vowed to the friend who introduced me to it that I would never watch another episode because it was terrible and awful and horrible and just no.

Minxie as PGSM Moon, photography by Pouncy
Oops.

Yeah. That vow lasted roughly an hour, before I was online and searching for episode two. I kept telling myself it was because it was so bad, that I just had to keep watching to make fun of it more, but really I wasn’t fooling anyone. It was cheesy and ridiculous, and they had rubber-suited stunt people as MoTD (monster of the day) so it was like watching Power Rangers but with adorable Japanese schoolgirls in sailor uniforms instead of adult-size people in multicoloured catsuits and helmets, and for some reason nearly every time they had a transformation sequence the time of day drastically changed (did it really take them that long?!) but it did so much stuff I liked. And that, dear readers, coupled with the fact the five young ladies playing the sailor senshi were immensely likeable and had great on-screen chemistry with one another, is what kept me hooked through the ridiculous and occasionally phallic baddies they had to fight.

This series made me laugh, made me cry, and gave me a whole new obsession for Sailor Moon. By the time I discovered it, Sailor Moon had been off the air for quite some time, and though I still liked it, it wasn’t as large a part of my life as it had been when I was younger. Watching PGSM brought back all the love I had for the series, as well as the magical girl genre, and has become my favourite incarnation of the Sailor Moon world (aside from the musicals, which I will go into in a later article).

There are a number of subtle (and not-so-subtle) differences between the live-action show and the anime. The first difference I noticed, and one that I really appreciate, is that the senshi look like perfectly normal Japanese girls until they transform.

Scanned from Bandai photobook
Perfectly normal. Why yes, that is a plushie Luna. (c) Bandai

I always felt, whilst watching the anime, that it was odd that the villains never seemed to immediately twig that the senshi they fought against had exactly the same hairstyle as that group of girls who seem to be around each other all the time. It just rubbed my suspension of disbelief the wrong way, magical girl anime or not. PGSM negated that by virtue of having the girls look normal, though Usagi’s ubiquitous odango (dumpling/meatball) hairstyle is still present, if muted-down, giving the show a greater deal of reality, talking cats and masked crime-fighters notwithstanding.

The senshi uniforms look much the same, though with clear resin brooches in lieu of opaque brooches. Sailor Moon’s hairstyle features flatter, doughnut-like buns instead of the incredibly spherical ones in the manga and anime, and Sailor Mars’ hair is a flat black instead of the purple-hued shade she sports in the anime and manga. Tuxedo Mask’s outfit remains relatively unchanged – I imagine it would be very difficult to overhaul a tuxedo and cape look after all – though Prince Endymion’s outfit switches from black to creamy white and embroidered.

(c) Bandai
(c) Bandai

The Shitennou and Beryl have slight changes, the most changes happening in the appearance of the Shitennou. Each have a distinct outfit and colour: Kunzite is gold, Zoicite is white/silver, Nephrite is red, and Jadeite is blue. Unlike the anime, it is Zoicite whose hair is white; Kunzite’s is dark, closer to anime Nephrite, whilst Nephrite sports bright red spikes. Hair-wise, Jadeite remains the same. Instead of the Negaverse as in the US release of the anime, they are of the Dark Kingdom.

Endymion and the Shitennou (c) Bandai
Endymion and the Shitennou (c) Bandai

Alongside the four new characters introduced, both allies and enemies of the senshi, there were some changes in characterisation to the main five senshi in this series, and though somewhat controversial within the fandom, they are changes I enjoyed seeing.

  • Tsukino Usagi/Sailor Moon : Unlike in the anime, Usagi is not a massive crybaby who is entirely incompetent. She gives off the impression of being very naïve and bubbly. She tries her hardest, and believes in her friends.
  • Mizuno Ami/Sailor Mercury : The series does not play up Ami’s intelligence as the anime does, indeed it is only really mentioned in her introductory episode. Instead the series focusses more on her insecurities and shyness, and how she works to overcome them with the help of the others.
  • Hino Rei/Sailor Mars : She is a much more level-headed character than her fiery-tempered anime counterpart, and is closer to Usagi. She is stubborn, perhaps in deference to the anime, and sometimes distant, but does not tend to berate Usagi with quite the same strength.
  • Kino Makoto/Sailor Jupiter : Makoto is portrayed as more closed-off than her anime counterpart, mostly due to her history. She also makes a point of not being interested in any kind of romantic encounter, again due to her past.
  • Sailor Venus/Aino Minako : In my mind, Minako’s characterisation is the biggest shift in character. Unlike the anime, she is not a bubbly, happy-go-lucky, boy-obsessed schoolgirl, but instead an introverted, duty-driven pop Idol.  The series introduces her as Sailor V, and follows her eventual reveal as Sailor Venus, and all that entails.

Personally, I really like the changes of character; it makes Usagi a more relatable character to me, and Minako’s stoic nature and drive are a perfect balance to the rest of the girls. In a way, they are more believable characters, which I think is a hard thing to get in a magical girl anime-turned-live-action.

The plot-line of PGSM is, as far as I understand, a retelling of the first arc of the manga, but as many series tend to, it veers off-course and tells the story in a whole new manner.  It has greater focus on the girls and their relationships with each other and the past, as opposed to simply focussing on them as magical girls who have to fight evil.  I feel it is a very emotion-driven series, approaching issues such as bullying, personal identity, and peer pressure; many issues that young girls face every day. In this way, I feel sometimes it can be easier to connect with this series than with the anime.

In true J-drama form, the series has both a “Special Act”, in which the cast are reunited to fight evil once more (and which stars one of my favourite characters in a main role), and “Act Zero”, in which I am certain they were handed a blank script and told to have fun. Although in a way Act Zero tells the tale of how Minako became Sailor V, it is also full of in-jokes, and utter silliness. It is wonderful. In addition, they also had a stage show (Kirari Super Live!), which is also magnificently silly, but definitely worth a watch, especially if you are a fan of the Shitennou through the series.

In closing, if you enjoy cheesy sentai, and you like Sailor Moon, you are in for a treat, but beware; it will almost certainly make you cry in places.

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