Amongst Japanese media franchises, Sailor Moon is a cultural icon in which the popularity of the anime and manga stretch well beyond its country of origin. The series became a cult favorite when it was introduced to America in the mid-1990s, despite syndication in generally poor time slots, and (what many did not know at the time was) a rather poor, juvenile English dub and a horrible hack job that omitted episodes and drastically changed key story elements, including toning down a number of major factors.
Only the first series and part of the second were initially dubbed into English and aired in the United States. The remainder of the second series, and the third and fourth were eventually dubbed and aired in America on Cartoon Network, which meant fewer edits, but there were still cut episodes and rather weak English dubs. To add insult to injury, the fifth and final series was never dubbed in America, and before long, the show disappeared from American television altogether. Attempts to bring the show back, and the associated manga on which it was based, had been largely unsuccessful, until fairly recently.
In Japan the show remains popular, having spawned a live action adaptation, movies, and even musicals and stage shows! More recently in Japan, a new anime adaptation, Sailor Moon Crystal, began airing, which follows the original manga (comic) more closely than the initial anime adaptation we know and love does.
2011 finally saw a complete release of the manga in America, and in 2014 at anime conventions, it was revealed that the series would FINALLY be re-dubbed into English, from start to finish, with no omitted episodes, and a consistent voice cast from beginning to end. Furthermore, this would be the complete show, including the fifth series, Stars, which was never aired in America before.
At last, Viz has released their first Sailor Moon set… but purists have been fast to attack the release for inferior picture quality due to questionable remastering techniques. How does the show hold up today, and are these rumors and issues true? And perhaps most importantly, should you buy this set?
For the unfamiliar, Sailor Moon is a series about Usagi Tsukino, a clumsy and lazy but friendly and likable teenage girl attending middle school in Juuban, a suburb of Tokyo. On the way to school one day she encounters a mysterious cat, who later comes to her, warning her of the impending dangers in the world. The evil Queen Beryl has sent her generals out to capture energy from humans, in an effort to bring back their demonic master. Usagi becomes the heroine Sailor Moon, who fights and does battle with these enemies, making more friends along the way, some of which are other Sailor Soldiers. As the battle continues, Sailor Moon is aided by the mysterious and handsome Tuxedo Mask, but contemplates whether he is friend or foe, and what his motive is. This battle rages on throughout the first series; the first half of which is found in this Blu-ray set (the second half of the first series was just released in February 2015).
Sailor Moon is unlike many animes in that it is only LOOSELY based on the original manga; the basic characters and overall plot are similar but things happen in radically different ways and orders; this is as opposed to a series like Dragon Ball (Z) where the anime is just a direct adaptation of the manga, albeit with filler added in where necessary. Sailor Moon (anime or manga) is compelling and interesting for all ages because of the designs and personalities of the characters, and a simplistic yet effective story. At times it feels like there are a few too many “filler episodes” and it does descend into a repetitive “monster of the day” formula at times (this is true across all five series), but that does not keep the show from being enjoyable or a lot of fun. There is a nice mix of humor, action, character development, romance, and suspense. No matter who you are, it is highly likely you will find SOMETHING to enjoy about Sailor Moon (people have called this a “little girls” show at times, but I am a 30 year old male and it is one of my favorite series).
That said, the show is showing its age in a few areas. The biggest flaw of the anime is that it lacks many of the more dramatic and deep undertones of the original manga. This is perhaps truest of the villainess Queen Beryl, who had a much more tragic back story in the manga; she is a rather heartless and one-dimensional character in the anime by comparison. A new version of the show called Sailor Moon Crystal is airing in Japan, which follows the individual manga chapters more closely, but both versions of the show have their own strengths and weaknesses. I cannot fault either too harshly; in either event the good of each series outweighs the bad.
The Blu-ray includes a new English dub track; this is NOT the same dub that aired back in 1995 on American television. Fortunately the new dub rectifies many of the problems of the old one; some may be nostalgic and yearn for the old American voices, but this new dub is an improvement overall. For those of you purists, an original Japanese audio track is included with English subtitles. Audio quality largely bests that of earlier Sailor Moon releases. A large box packages the set, with room for the Season 1, Part 2 set to fit when you get it; the booklet include contains many colorful pictures, episode descriptions, and character profiles; it covers the ENTIRE first season and not just the first half that these discs represent. This is great for when you get the second set to complete the first series of the anime.
It is also worth noting, in the set’s favor, that episode previews are intact, as are the correct intro/outro sequences for the episodes. There are also a handful of features on the third disc, mostly dealing with Sailor Moon fandom and the revival and redubbing of the series; these extras are fairly redundant and you probably will not watch them more than once.
Unfortunately, any review of this set has to come to the glaring flaw that everyone’s reviews are addressing – the picture quality. It has been stated that Viz Media did not have access to the original Japanese film masters for this set, however the real culprit behind the poor picture quality here is questionable remastering techniques. The show is featured in its original aspect ratio with no cropping (a welcome change from FUNimation’s so-called remastered Dragon Ball sets). Sadly, that is about the only positive thing I can say. Rather than a thorough restoration, the show has been slathered heavily with digital noise reduction, one of the most controversial and largely ineffective means of remastering a show or film. This has made the show look murky and overly soft; elements of the animation bleed together and the colors look dull and faded; only marginally better than the DVDs. There are all kinds of graphic anomalies and video noise types on the screen, which look atrocious. The picture quality here does not meet the standards for a high definition presentation, and comes off as a huge disappointment, especially considering the fantastic remastering Viz did on their Ranma ½ Blu-rays (a show older than Sailor Moon!)
Price is another issue; this set is far too expensive for half a season which has gotten a poor remastering job. I would recommend either waiting for the price to drop drastically or just get the DVDs; they are cheaper and the HD presentation here does not justify the extra cost. That said, though, the set is still cheaper than older, inferior releases of the series, many of which have circulated in bootleg form for years. If you do not already own the series in some shape or form, the new dub track on here is nice, but you may as well just get the DVDs.
I love Sailor Moon, but it pains me to say that this is an inferior release of an excellent, classic anime. A classic like this deserves more respect, and this weak remastering job does a disservice to a show that I have loved my entire life. Get the standard DVDs; the Blu-ray does not justify the cost unless you can get it for a bargain price. As big a Sailor Moon fan as I am, based on the image quality brought on by questionable remastering techniques, I cannot recommend this release.
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