Series Review: Sailor Moon Sailor Stars
Every big series needs to go out with a bang, and there is no grander way than pitting the power of love and justice against the greatest form of evil in the galaxy.
Throw in some sugary cuteness, gender-bending, heroic deaths and unexpected nudity and you’ve got yourself a series you’ll never forget!
Naoko Takeuchi, creator of Sailor Moon, worked on the last part of the manga, the ‘Stars’ arc, roughly around the same time as Toei began producing the Sailor Stars anime series. The series aired on Japanese television from 1996 through to early 1997. While the anime series carries many elements from the base story of the manga, it vastly deviated in its nature of progression, plot points and character spotlight. It greatly expanded on elements of the manga, like the enemies’ depiction and longevity, which was always a little lacking, though on the other hand it dropped a lot of the bigger story facets that had greater complexity in the finale.
To describe Naoko’s manga in comparison to the anime, her pacing of the story was always relatively brisk with next to no fluff to over-pad the story. Some might say the whole arc was a little rushed in its desire to reach an end. Her ‘Stars’ story is very short; events occur rapidly with character deaths mounting up in fast succession as the plot drives Sailor Moon towards her final confrontation. Also, the tone of the manga is a lot darker and more intense in stark contrast to the upbeat manner the anime has through most of its series run.
Trying not to spoil anything too much with regards to the manga, I personally wasn’t that fond of how the ‘Stars’ arc panned out in that form. For how short it was, it was over-saturated with characters – most of whom quickly became excess fodder, and then there was the revelation about Chaos which seemed too desperate to tie together the whole Sailor Moon story from start to finish; lastly, the galaxy cauldron, which was just too hokey on top of everything else. It could even be said that it was a tad convoluted in its approach.
The anime didn’t seem to want to burden its viewing audience with expressly over-complicated ideas, so it takes bits and pieces of the manga story and makes something fluffy albeit hard hitting in its approach. It skims down the rather bloated cast of characters the manga had – a fair few of these taken from the enemy team (Sorry, Sailor Heavy Metal Papillion!) and gives more time and focus to the remaining villains to make them more rounded characters. In fact, some of the villains are even treated with a little more sympathy. It was great to see the bad guys get more attention, rather than the manga treatment of them appearing for a couple of pages of one-dimensional characterisation before being blasted out of existence.
The villains are not the only ones with a role improvement. The Sailor Starlights were a trio of bit part characters in the manga (as a sort of representation of other sailor soldiers in the galaxy), whose contributions to the story were very limited. In the anime, they were promoted to main character status, with particular Seiya (aka Sailor Star Fighter) getting more plentiful screen time.
The Sailor Stars anime picks up from where Sailor Moon SuperS ended, bringing back Queen Nehellenia to wreak her vengeance on the Sailor Soldiers for the opening six episodes. New big bad, Sailor Galaxia, frees her from imprisonment inside a mirror (something that did not occur in the manga), for purposes that are not truly revealed until later in the series (after Nehellenia herself has been dealt with). The anime gives Nehellenia a happy conclusion to her story, as things then move swiftly into the main, new arc that takes up the rest of Sailor Stars.
While a fair bulk of the main arc follows the same pattern as past seasons with ‘monster of the day’ episodes, it doesn’t have quite as much filler. The latter part of Stars’ focuses on propelling the story forward into the last battle, which takes a number of episodes to reach its dramatic climax.
The main villains of the show are a group known as Shadow Galactica. Lead by Sailor Galaxia, their goal is to steal star seeds and conquer the Earth as a part of their universal domination. Galaxia, in her golden armoured sailor uniform, is an imposing figure. Her powerful presence is even more cemented by the fearful reactions of her underlings, who seek to do her bidding so as not to come under her eerily stoic wrath and be wiped out of existence. Her personal minions and main precession of regular villains include the cute albeit devious Sailor Iron Mouse, the first to be assigned to finding ‘true’ star seeds – crystals that reside within every living thing and emanate light and power. Of all the Sailor Animamates, as this group of subordinates are collectively known as, I like Sailor Iron Mouse the most, mainly for her kooky humour, cuteness and artfully evil personality. And her outfit is so sweet and poufy! Then there is Sailor Aluminium Siren, with her risqué design reflecting a beautiful albeit deadly lady. Though portrayed as rather ditzy and food crazy, when it comes down to the dirty business of star seed steeling, she is brutal in her approach. Teaming up with Siren is Sailor Lead Crow, in her own sexy attire, who despite finding her partner a pain at times, has a bit of a soft spot for her and tries to keep her inline so not to enrage Galaxia. Crow is a no-nonsense figure who can’t stand failure, and is a dominant personality amongst her Animamates. And lastly, is Sailor Tin Nyanko, who is a bit of wily back-stabber, and likes to position herself to claim all the glory. The outfit she wears reminds me of some sort of amalgamated dominatrix gear. Out of the four, she is probably the cruellest in her general attitude towards her enemies and supposed allies alike.
The majority of the usual main cast return from the previous series, though Chibiusa (Sailor Chibi Moon) leaves after the first six episodes. This was a personal delight for me after putting up with her petty bickering and bratty antics for the last three series, I was glad to see the back of her – and I probably wasn’t the only one – the Western audience weren’t quite as enamoured with her as the Japanese fans. The only version I really liked of this character was when she turned to the dark side as Black Lady (Wicked Lady to anyone who saw the original English dub). After pretty much stealing the spotlight from Usagi (Sailor Moon) during the Super S season, it was just nice her to disappear and give the attention back to the main ‘Moon’ to carry the series.
Also disappearing from the series for the majority, is Mamoru, good old Tuxedo Mask himself. And as terrible as it sounds, I was kind of happy he wasn’t around. Gasp! Did I just say that? But let me explain myself here! We’d already pretty much played out the extent of his and Usagi’s romance at the forefront of the series, and to be honest, for his appearances in the anime he was next to useless anyway compared to his manga counterpart. He spent most of the time relegated to the background to support Usagi and her companions, mostly emotionally if anything, so his being flown off gave Usagi some breathing room to both miss him and actually do other things instead of gushing over him on-screen. Even while she still pined for him, those times when she was sat writing letters to him were moments of seeing Usagi being dedicated and sentimental of her romance, but also proving she was grown up and independent enough to not always be latching on to this fated love of hers. At times I wasn’t always so struck on this destined couple malarkey, reincarnated to meet again; it was sweet and all, but with how the two characters clashed so terribly in the early episodes, it seemed a little bit more unrealistic in comparison to how the manga played it out, which wasn’t quite as mean-spirited either! But pay no attention to me huffing over it; it played a solid backbone of the story whether or not you love, liked or loathed their relationship dynamics – a harmless, gushing representation of the truest form of love crossing through the ages. If only we could all have such fairytale relationships. Yeah, I’m sure I’m going to get some stick for stomping on poor Mamoru, but don’t get me wrong, there were many cute moments between the pair that worked well with the story that I wasn’t always so against them together.
It was great also to see the return of the ‘Outer’ soldiers, Haruka (Sailor Uranus), Michiru (Sailor Neptune), Setsuna (Sailor Pluto) and Hotaru (Sailor Saturn). Their appearances are rather sporadic, with Haruka and Michiru popping up a fair number of times throughout the series, while Setsuna and Hotaru only appeared at the beginning and ending parts of the series. It was sad that the ‘Outer’ group never got transformation sequences even with their upgraded powers. Particularly, I enjoyed Haruka and Michiru’s banter laced with cheeky innuendo that occurred many a time when they appeared, though they really should have got more screen-time overall as a group.
Having previously mentioned their promotion from secondary character status, the Sailor Starlights, consisting of Seiya (Sailor Star Fighter), Yaten (Sailor Star Healer) and Taiki (Sailor Star Maker), are humanoid aliens who arrive on Earth posing as idols under the name ‘Three Lights’ while searching for their missing princess, Kakyuu. The characters are given more time to be more credibly fleshed out, Seiya most of all, whose personality is somewhat altered from a more collected figure into a more playful, cocky and carefree character. The others are not so far removed from their original manga personalities with Yaten as rather cold and sharp tongued and Taiki as the calm and intelligent one.
Of course, one of the biggest discussion points with the Starlights comes from the big change made between the manga and the anime with their civilian identities. In the manga, they were simply women cross-dressing as men, while in the anime, they ARE men in civilian form, though transform to women when they become the Starlights. This has become huge hot topic of debate and controversy since Sailor Stars hit television screens, and even Naoko was not impressed by the alteration to her characters. Many a fan have wondered whether the anime was depicting that the Starlights were actually both genders, male as civilian and female as sailor soldiers. It has even become a well liked proposal with being so divergent. Though saying that, there were a number of times within the anime itself that implied that the male forms of the Starlights were nothing more than disguises – almost something similar to Sailor Moon’s disguise ability from the first season, though using a more advanced alien technology. This is evidenced in Seiya’s third person reference to not being able to be ‘Seiya’ for much longer, as well as Princess Kakyuu’s reaction to their civilian form. It’s never really given any definite confirmation, so it is open to interpretation.
One of the biggest recurring elements of the Sailor Stars series is the interactions between Seiya and Usagi, which depicts an unrequited love story. Some have found it a fun relationship and have supported the addition of the drama it brought, while others have vehemently protested that Seiya’s affections are pushy and he treats Usagi’s emotions with flippant disregard. Their relationship, in the show’s light-hearted approach, is played as both a joke – with Seiya as the bold admirer put in comedic situations as he riles Usagi over her steadfast declarations of love for Mamoru – and a foil of exploration for both characters, with both sensing familiarities in each other related to the people closest to them. It also shows Usagi’s loyalty to her true love while at least being a little flattered by the attention despite only really seeing Seiya as a close friend. And with Seiya, what goes from him showing affection through teasing feats becomes something much more deep rooted that he wants profoundly to protect a fragile Usagi in Mamoru’s absence. It’s not necessarily a simple case of Seiya egotistically trying to claim Usagi, but rather reading an immense sadness from Usagi in relation to Mamoru – and having not met his rival, he doesn’t seem to understand the reality of their relationship (and may even think that Mamoru has abandoned her with going abroad), and wants to prove he is the right man for Usagi (or woman! Whichever!). Of course, when it comes down to it, Seiya is just incredibly naive and is a little too forthright to always understand the fragility of Usagi’s emotions regarding Mamoru. Of course, later in the series, he begins to understand the depth of Usagi’s love for her beau, and regardless of his own feelings, accepts that he cannot win her heart and only wishes they could have met sooner. Aside the romancing, there are plenty of entertaining scenes of mayhem between the two; though this also includes some truly meaningful scenes that address the deeper aspects of the world they live in and beyond.
The ‘Inner’ soldiers Ami (Sailor Mercury), Rei (Sailor Mars), Makoto (Sailor Jupiter) and Minako (Sailor Venus), have frequent appearances throughout the series, though not quite as much as they had done in previous series, and don’t actually fight as much as their sailor alter-egos throughout the series, playing second fiddle in respects to the Starlights who were widely showcased. It was a little surprising as they had been such a prominent support cast behind Sailor Moon, but it’s not unrealistic to have the newer characters take the forefront for how the story pans out.
And we can’t forget about cute little Chibi Chibi, whose role is one of the biggest changed between the manga to the anime. She still plays an important part within the series, and unlike other child characters that have appeared, she is completely endearing and a wholly welcomed addition to the cast, with her innocence belying her hidden powers. And her little heart-shaped hair buns are heart-meltingly adorable!
Before I completely forget, I should mention this series features Sailor Moon in her final anime upgrade as Eternal Sailor Moon. Sailor Moon’s ‘Eternal’ attire is quite a standout change with its pink poufy sleeves and triple layered multicolour skirt – though I wouldn’t say I’m completely enthralled by the outfit; the wings are, well, a bit goofy in some respects. But really, if you were going to give Sailor Moon a grander outfit to reflect her becoming more powerful, certainly this choice of design did the job. To note, the other soldiers got a similar outfit upgrade in the manga (minus the wings), though here it is completely omitted (like the ‘Planet Power’ upgrade that never happened in the anime during the Infinity arc. Not that they had an upgraded outfit to go with it, but worth mentioning!)
With the anime making dramatic changes to the narrative, the experience of Sailor Stars is something completely separate from its manga counterpart. The anime clings to much lighter themes, though is not without heart wrenching moments that may bring a tear to the eye. Some may prefer the more intricate and mature story of the manga and the way it rounds out the series, though the anime does an earnest job of retelling the story in a profound albeit more simplistic and entertaining way. There are so many enjoyable episodes, including one where Usagi is trying to practice softball and does so very badly, as well as the one where Usagi has a showdown with the enemy inside her own house and is knocking off crockery with her own wings, and Aluminium Siren admonishing Uranus and Neptune for standing on a table in their shoes during the skirmish.
Sailor Moon Sailor Stars is my personal favourite series of the entire five season run. The animation was a lot more consistent in quality and gave a more beautiful presentation. I really enjoyed that the story was taken in a new direction with the enemy being sailor soldiers as well, and the fact that Usagi and friends were now growing up and dealing with being in high school, and Usagi herself was explored more independently while connecting with new characters, including Seiya with all the complications and humour that came from their interactions.
It’s sad that up to this point Sailor Moon Sailor Stars never really had much focus in the West due to a lack of an English dub. Over a decade ago, it was a lot harder to get hold of copies of episodes, and you had to hope some wonderful soul out there had subbed the episode so you could understand what was going on. With how the internet has grown since then, it is a lot more accessible now to see the series, subbed by numerous kindly folk out there in multiple languages. Though, with Viz Media now re-dubbing the Sailor Moon series, Sailor Stars is finally going to see an English voice track. Whether or not you like English dubbing, it’s still a positive for the series and its outreach to a new generation of young anime enthusiasts.
It’s definitely a series you should take your time to watch if you haven’t seen it, whether you’re a dedicated Sailor Moon fan or just enjoy magical girl series. It won’t disappoint with its balance of cuteness, action and comedy. And if you haven’t heard the Japanese opening theme, it’s different from the previous series. Please take the time to listen to it – it’s very catchy!
Images, Music & Characters © Toei & Naoko Takeuchi
Thanks and credit to go to the original author who posted the full song on YouTube