Sailor Moon Sailor Stars
Original run: 1996-1997 (Full show ran from 1992-1997)
Native Language: JP
Genre: Magical girl
Episodes: 34 (Full show has 200)
Sailor Moon Sailor Stars is the last of the five seasons of Sailor Moon, and has the distinction of being the only one of the five that was never actually aired in the US. Because of this, it was the focus of much discussion as the internet started to come into common usage, and was one of the major targets of fansubbers at the time- my first experience with fansubbing actually came when a couple of people in our high school anime club brought a VHS tape of fansubbed Sailor Stars episodes into the classroom. Looking back on it, after having watched the whole thing, it has become fairly obvious to me that this season of the show had zero chance of ever making it on American television, even though it was broadcast in full in Spanish-speaking countries, Italy, and in other places besides. It is a real shame that this season was never broadcast, as it is actually one of the better ones of the show, as it both redeems a previous arc, and the one that takes up the majority of the season is both good and doesn't overstay its welcome.
So, here's the situation. The girls have finally graduated up to high school, and even the usually thick-as-a-brick Usagi managed to buckle down and pass her entrance exam. All of the girls except Rei will be going to the same school Makoto finally gets a school uniform that can fit her, and things are good all around, with the little ding that Mamoru Chiba will be studying abroad, so Usagi will have to go without her boyfriend and Tuxedo Mask. However, someone breaks Nehelenia of the Dark Moon out of her self-imposed seal, and urges her to take revenge on the Sailors. While Sailor Moon and her friends manage to overcome Nehelenia once again, thanks to the return of Sailor Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, and Saturn, this victory is soon followed up by the arrival of Shadow Galactica, a fearsome group of enemies who have already devastated numerous worlds- their very arrival causes the death of Mamoru Chiba, depriving the Sailors of their most constant ally. Even with all of the solar system's Sailors on hand, and the arrival of a new group of Sailors, the Starlights, they may not have enough strength to win, as the driving force behind Shadow Galactica's ,arch across the stars is none other than Sailor Galaxia, the mightiest Sailor Soldier to have ever lived.
This season of the show marks the departure of Ikuhara as director, who was responsible for overseeing both Sailor Moon S and SuperS. Perhaps the most important thing that this season did was give us a proper, closed conclusion to the Dead Moon arc, and the finale we got for Nehelenia in this season might well have redeemed a fair part of SuperS, had it actually been included in that season. However, as much as it would have worked in the prior season, it is also well-placed in this one, as it actually foreshadows how Sailor Moon is going to approach the events of the Shadow Galactica arc that follows immediately afterwards. this conclusion doesn't last too many episodes, to it doesn't intrude too much on the main arc of the season- there are no points where the main arc feels especially hurried.
Until the end, the villains of this series offer a return to the insidious secrecy of villains form earlier arcs of the show. Howeve, in this case it is further enhanced by one single fact: While earlier villains operated in secret, or used monsters that could pass as or disguise as human, Shadow Galactica manages to one up such concerns by being able to turn literally anyone into a monster in their service (though Usagi can restore them). Another aspect of this is that their plan is actually rather novel for the series. In all of the seasons prior to this one, dealing with the Sailors was merely something that intersected with the plans of the enemy, the Sailors being obstructions that resisted their real plans. However, in this season, the target of the villains of both arcs is the Sailors themselves. Sailor Galaxia herself manages to actually remain menacing throughout the series, due to the fact that the writers seemed to have agreed on a single, simple rule- whenever she gets out of her chair, someone is going to get killed.
It's also worth talking about the Sailor Starlights, as at this point it has been quite some time since entirely new sailors have been introduced, the last time being Uranus, Neptune, and Saturn back in Sailor Moon S. While they are very much their own team, their dynamic does actually resemble that of Usagi, Ami, and Rei back in the early parts of the first arc of the show. Seiya (Sailor Star Fighter) is a bit goofy, a bit snarky, but can get very serious when the chips are down (but is slightly less book-dumb than Usagi), Taiki (Sailor Star Maker) is the reserved, intellectual and mature one, and Yaten (Sailor Star Healer) is the dedicated one with the short temper and occasionally clashes with Seiya. Aside from some of the English WTFery in their attack names that's really par for the course in the show (Star Gentle Uterus? Really?) they are still very welcome additions to the series.
What this season is actually very good at is managing its moods. while there is a bit more comedy in this one than there was in Sailor Moon S, it definitely does not descend wholesale into the sugary sweetness that characterized a fair chunk of SuperS. So, while there are scenes such as a point where Usagi's group, Uranus, Neptune and the Starlights all cram into Usagi's suburban dining room to fight a single monster, the show never makes an excessively light tone about the overall situation of the show itself. It is a fairly balanced season in that regard. The finale, while perhaps not as inspired as the one for Sailor Moon S, is a worthy capstone for the show, as it shows three importan things- the Starlights' dedication to the mission, how far Uranus and Neptune really are willing to go if it means a chance of saving the Earth, and the true extend of Sailor Moon's strength and mercy.
While there are a number of new music pieces for the show, as there have been a number of new characters and groups added, Moonlight Densetsu is no longer used as the opening theme, and there are no remixes of it to be found throughout the while season. However, Moonlight Densetsu is used once more, as the series ends much like many of its early episdoes began. Usagi telling herself like she is- while she's a rash, and a bit of a crybaby, at the end of the day she is also the soldier of love and justice, Sailor Moon. Cue Moonlight Densetsu once last time, to close out the whole series.
Sailor Stars is a worthy cap for the end of the Sailor Moon series, ensuring that it doesn't end on a sour note, as a number of series have done over time. It is probably the best-paced season of the series, contains a number of very good new characters, and ends on a good note. There's really not much more one can ask.
Overall, I would say that Sailor Moon isn't a show for everyone, whether on aesthetic or structural. It is, for better worse, rather formulaic in its episode structure owing to its super sentai heritage, but it is still regarded as being one of the classics of anime and is responsible for redefining an entire genre from the ground up. It still remains beloved by many even now, perhaps with good reason. In Japan, it was a pioneer, and in the US it was an action show aimed at girls, something that still remains rare as hen's teeth.
And sometime when I've managed to see the upcoming remake, I might just review that, too.
(Sailor Stars intro)
(One of the more standout reasons for Starlights not making it to the US would likely have to do with the Starlights themselves- while they are naturally female, they disguise themselves by becoming physically male, and then shift back to female when transformed. While not to over-praise Japan, I merely stated the above in the first paragraph becase numerous other countries seem to be more open about accepting more divergent ideas and visual content about what is allowed in "kids" animation- for example, Italy ran the Fist of the North Star TV series entirely uncut, and there remains a large Italian fanbase for the show.)