Monday, September 28, 2009

Sailor Moon: Another Story's Epic Foundations

Man, if you guys thought my rant on Mario strained the limits of what's supposed to be an RPG-only rant blog thingy, you're gonna LOVE what I've got today.

So, a few weeks ago, I was browsing various AMVs on Youtube, and happened across one made by Neko9, the same person who made the Parasite Eve 1 AMV I used for an example in my RPG AMVs rant last month, for the Sailor Moon anime (specifically, its 2 movies). It was a rather nice AMV,* and the way it was put together got me thinking about the Sailor Moon anime in general, and I had something akin to a revelation about it.

(Yes, I WILL get to the actual RPG later on, I promise).

Sailor Moon is, by now, a relatively 'old' anime. For a lot of people, myself included, it was part of a small group of translated animes that inducted nerds and geeks into the world of Japanimation while we were in middle and high school. I remember watching it religiously on Cartoon Network's Toonami, along with a few other shows like Dragon Ball Z, the timelessly excellent Robotech, and occasionally Gundam Wing. Back in the day, there weren't many animes readily available in pop culture to court new and eager anime fans with, and Sailor Moon was one of the most easily available and long-running series out there.

Of course, nowadays, a lot of us look back on the show with a more modern, adult view and wonder what we were thinking. I mean, the show is generally over-dramatic, silly, and hackneyed. From the vapid, annoying characterization of several of the show's cast members (you can only get so many jokes out of Serena/Usagi's bad school habits before it gets annoying, and most of the tiny little romance subplots for the Sailor Scouts are dull and go nowhere), the fights get repetitive (and so do the plots leading to the fights--how many different damn ways are there to gather people together to steal their spiritual energy or spiritual heart energies or spiritual spirit energies, etc?), and the daily bad guys CAN look pretty cool and have some neat abilities, but are usually more on the stupid side. And the general plot progression for each villain arc of the show is pretty formulaic--enemy general is trusted with gathering magic stuff and killing Sailor Scouts, enemy general fails for 10 to 30 episodes to do so, and eventually is killed and replaced with the next general up on the command tier, with there being, oh, say, 4 to 6 generals before the big baddy in charge takes over. Sailor Moon largely created the silly and exaggerated Magical Girl genre of anime, and it remains more or less the quintessential example of its more dumb vices.

So yes, a lot of us, years later now, are quick to criticize Sailor Moon, and rightly so, because the show's presentation of itself was juvenile and silly, and managed to become cliched by the very cliches that it pioneered.

The thing is, though, is this: when I stopped to think about it, as much criticism as Sailor Moon gets, I rarely hear of anyone who just flat-out hated it, who just says it's irredeemable garbage. We who watched it may often poke fun at it and groan as we look back on it, but relatively speaking, there's not nearly as much disdain or animosity as one might think for the show, who harbors serious, real spite and loathing for it. You take another big anime that was on at the time that we all watched because it was different and new, Dragon Ball Z, and you don't get the same effect. When people look back on it and recognize it for being boring trash, there's plenty of venom to be found in their criticisms for it. We look back on that and know we just watched the damn thing because there was little other anime readily available to sate our growing interests; otherwise we would have just gotten bored after 10 episodes and watched something else. There's just something about Sailor Moon and our old enjoyment of it that we can't quite betray in the same way we can turn on its contemporary peers.

Here's what I think it is, the quality that goes beyond simple rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia to keep us from actually hating the old show: if you look beyond the stupid moments, the annoying pace, modern kiddy soap-opera tones and silly have foundations for something epic, something great.

I mean, think about its basic premise: a displaced princess from a destroyed, ancient kingdom, lost to time and herself until reawakened into a warrior of justice, fights against world-threatening foes both one-dimensionally sinister (Beryl, Wiseman) AND human and interesting (Diamond/Demando, those annoying Anne and Alan blokes with the damn alien tree), accompanied by predestined soldiers to aid her, protect her, and help her to build a future queendom that unites great technology, benevolent magic, and the rulers of old together to usher in an age of peace, prosperity, and human glory. She and they utilize elements of significance both to the world and to humanity--Wind, Lightning, Fire, Ice, Water, Earth, Light, Darkness, Time, and Love. Sometimes there are times of rest between battles. At other times, the unthinkable happens--deaths of allies, the corruption of one's own child against its parents. But in the end, hope and love always triumph over those that would destroy or pervert them.

You look underneath the stupid shit like Tuxedo Mask, repetitive and stupid battles, Serena/Usagi's crappy grades, the bickering, and Rini/Chibi-Usa being annoying in general, and you find EPIC foundations. All of that stuff up there can make for a genuinely great, moving, and inspiring tale on a grand scale. Regardless of the mess they built upon it, the foundation is solid and great.

Now, to actually tie this in to RPGs to give me a transparent and sad excuse to do an anime-rant in here, the Sailor Moon RPG for the SNES, Sailor Moon: Another Story, follows the same method as the show in this regard. On the surface, the game seems largely dull in all the same ways as the show--character development for most of the characters amounts to tiny, inexplicable romances that die out almost immediately and serve no purpose, the villains' motives are barely explored and usually dumb (though to be fair, I've noted before that it's hard to find a genuinely good villain in RPGs in general), the overall demeanor of the characters is usually annoying and/or typecast, and Tuxedo Mask is, somehow, even MORE useless than usual.

But for all the boring and clumsy execution of the plot by under-developed characters, the game's also got some pretty cool ideas at its core. The general idea is that a new villainess, Apsu, is using the unique, reality-shifting power of a comet passing by near the Earth to alter Fate itself,** rearranging the events of history so that the various foes the Sailor Scouts defeated in the past did not die, and promising each villain an altered fate where they won and obtained what they wanted so long as they follow Apsu. The Scouts have to fend off old enemies, from the highest dangers like Beryl and the Sovereign of Silence/Mistress 9 to the lowest of common, single-episode grunts, all while dealing with the new band of villainesses formed by Apsu, as they attempt to right the world's fate and correct history back to its true course before the changes to the past remake them, as well. Pretty neat idea, all in all.

So yeah. I wouldn't call Sailor Moon: Another Story a good game, but I can't say it's a bad one, either, because regardless of its somewhat bland and annoying execution, it's got some solid originality and epic feel to its plot's foundation--and all in all, I feel that this is also the case with the anime itself. Regardless of the flaws in the finished product, at its core Sailor Moon was solid, creative, and epic, and it had a lot of heart. And I think that people in general could recognize that when they watched it, and still do, even if not consciously.

* No longer on Youtube, but you can find it at the profile I linked to above for Neko9.
** Now I do have to wonder, did the makers of SMAS come up with this idea themselves, or did they steal it from Illusion of Gaia, made roughly 2 years prior? Or is there perhaps some real-world mythological basis for nearby comets being able to alter reality, and I just don't know about it? I mean, I know that shooting stars are in several cultures portents of disaster, but I've never heard anything specific about their ability to warp destiny and history in any legends I've encountered, and that sort of thing sounds more like a modern idea than it does an ancient myth.

1 comment:

  1. Bullcrap! Tuxedo Mask was one of the biggest reasons I watched the show (until one vacation in Michigan when I noticed how the Sailor Scouts transformed... but that's barely important). The entire subplot of him being turned evil held me in suspense for quite a while. Dude was a badass with his throwing roses.

    Plus, the name Darren has become kinda awesome for me. A guy at my church has that name, and he's pretty cool (it's always nice to hear him sing "I'm Trusting to the Unseen Hand" and "My Cup Has Overflowed," and he makes Corn Hole games as a hobby). His son looks almost exactly like him and is a good friend to my two youngest brothers.

    Darren and Tuxedo Mask rock (Zoysight's a dude?) and Sailor Moon's plot was good for a monster of the week/day before Smallville was even concieved!