The 2014 series Sailor Moon Crystal, the second attempt at an anime adaptation of Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon manga, met mixed reactions from fans. It was a more faithful adaptation of the manga series than the beloved ’90s anime adaptation, but its central characters, the guardians of Earth (also known as the Sailor Senshi), looked off. Sailor Pluto suddenly had lighter skin. The CGI transformations where the characters change into their superpowered forms felt outdated. And the muted tones lacked the bright, colorful prettiness fans remembered from the ’90s.
By season 3 of Sailor Moon Crystal, the CGI transformations were gone, and the art style became less rigid and more playful. Now, five years later, season 4 of the series, presented on Netflix as the two-part film Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Eternal The Movie, feels like a culmination of everything the creators learned from Crystal’s original missteps. And it brings fans closer to the heart of what makes Sailor Moon great.
Sailor Moon Eternal follows the Dream arc of the manga, where the mysterious Dead Moon Circus arrives in Japan during a solar eclipse. Their ruler, Queen Nehelenia, wants to take over the world by trapping humans in nightmares, claiming the throne to the kingdom of the moon — known as the Silver Millennium — and ruling over Earth, which she believes is rightfully hers. But the titular character, Sailor Moon (or Usagi), her destined love Mamoru (also known as Tuxedo Mask), Chibiusa or Sailor Chibi Moon (Usagi and Mamoru’s future daughter, who’s traveled to the present day — yes, that’s a thing), and her trusted friends and allies the Sailor Guardians (named after their respective planets), have something to say about Nehelenia’s ambitions. At the same time, the Sailor Guardians meet a human-turned-unicorn-pegasus named Helios, who’s looking for something called the Golden Crystal, and has eyes for Chibiusa.
While the original ’90s anime took liberties in adapting Takeuchi’s manga, such as completely changing Queen Nehelenia’s backstory, Sailor Moon Eternal is essentially an exact retelling of the Dream arc. But even people who already know the manga may find the animated version fascinating, given the chance to see things that are new to the animated Sailor Moon universe, like Sailor Saturn’s full elaborate transformation sequence. The film often seems rushed, though, with a total runtime of only 160 minutes, compared to a typical 260-minute season of Sailor Moon Crystal. Instead of a cohesive film, the two-part movie often feels like a series of episodes strung together, which to be fair, is how it’s laid out in the manga.
Some of the charm from the ’90s anime is still there, though. This is in part due to the return of Chiaki Kon, the series director for season 3 of Sailor Moon Crystal, and Kazuko Tadano, who helmed the character designs for the first two seasons of the ’90s anime, as well as 1993’s Sailor Moon R: The Movie. As she did with Crystal’s third season, Kon brings in a directorial style that allows for dynamic, beautiful scenes. With Tadano’s character designs, Sailor Moon Eternal helps create the best version of Crystal by giving the characters fresh looks in line with the incredible fashion the ’90s anime is known for, like Sailor Pluto’s mesh tank top and black shorts. But she also displays the characters in a way that makes them look fun.
Luckily, there are plenty of swoony romantic scenes and funny moments to make up for the sense of something missing. The films easily switch between comedic and serious moments. As Usagi and Mamoru compete for the “put on a brave face so my partner doesn’t worry” award, some of the other guardians wish for their own romantic partners. In one scene, Rei (Sailor Mars) vents about wanting to run her grandfather’s shrine “more efficiently,” and Mina (Sailor Venus) offers a solution with literal stars in her eyes — a “free husband helper.” Makoto (Sailor Jupiter) and Mina go on about how they want their own boyfriends, but even as they’re swooning over the idea, they immediately become stoic when they’re reminded that the villains may be making a move. “It’s about time,” says Sailor Mars. “Bring it on, we’re ready,” says Sailor Venus, as all the girls serve up a fierce glare.
The villains aren’t the only ones creating internal battles for the characters, though. As they’re fighting villains and trying to save the world, another monster is creeping up — impostor syndrome! As the film progresses, all the inner Sailor Senshi (associated with the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter) are attacked by the Dead Moon Circus, who prey on their false fears and real insecurities.
One of the best examples is seen with Sailor Venus, who struggles with insecurity as the leader of the inner guardians after she loses her ability to transform. Her crisis escalates as the other members of the team keep bringing up older, definitively cooler outer senshi who joined the team in the prior season, but have since disappeared. When Sailor Venus is attacked, the villains create a false dream scenario where she can save kids trapped on the top of a building, which turns out to be a trap. But ultimately, her talking-cat sidekick and best friend, Artemis — here seen animated in human form for the first time ever — helps her reclaim her self-worth and power. While Sailor Moon’s storylines often revolve around romantic love, moments like these, about different types of love are presented as being just as important. In a fantastical, dreamy film about fighting heinous villains, what makes the Sailor Moon franchise special is the creators’ ability to ground it in real-life, everyday issues.
This story arc was also adapted into many Sailor Moon fans’ least favorite season of the original anime (though that season, styled as Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon SuperS, holds some sway with Chibiusa stans). But in this newer adaptation, the film holds up with the rest of the franchise and does the manga justice, in a way that will let Sailor Moon fans swell up with moon pride. Newcomers to the Sailor Moon franchise may enjoy this two-part movie, but they’re bound to find it confusing. There’s enough information to piece together some of the story, especially since it introduces a new villain — but ultimately, jumping in here is exactly like starting a show in the fourth season.
But for fans, this return to form is business as usual. Sailor Moon, the character and the show, reveals that when the characters’ powers are channeled together, they become unstoppable, because true power comes from community. At its heart, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Eternal The Movie is about overcoming evil with the power of love and friendship. And there’s nothing more Sailor Moon than that.