CardCaptor Sakura Blu-Ray

Welcome to April everyone! In March I made quite a few contributions to make up for the lack of traffic over the last year, so I’m hoping to bring some more new stuff now that April has arrived. I decided to take a little break from all of the Moon-related posts and do a review of the CardCaptor Sakura collection. On August 5th, 2014, NIS America released the entire series on Blu-Ray in amazing 1080p greatness and I definitely made sure I had my set preordered long in advance. I actually ended up viewing this entire boxset before the actual release date (isn’t that crazy?), so this review has definitely been a long time coming. Whether you have always been an avid fan of the show or simply remember watching it on TV when you were a child, there are some very good reasons why you should open your wallet and shell out the funds to purchase this collection. Read on below to find out my true thoughts!

The Premium Edition set (featured above) contains Blu-Rays of Episodes 1-70 (the entire series) in both Japanese and English. Special features include standard extras on the discs such as all Creditless OP-ED Themes and other Anime series’ Trailers, and a special Episode + Clow Card Guide artbook, all housed in a nice boxset. Just for clarification, the English dub included here is not the Nelvana version aired in America and not the Madman version dubbed for Australia. It is actually a later re-dub done by Animax, perhaps being the most uncut English dub out there. FYI, the US dub was heavily edited and marketed differently as Cardcaptors in case you would be looking for that. The DVD Editions were released separately and divided by season into Set 1, Set 2, and Set 3.

My review is based on the Premium Edition Blu-Ray set, so without further delay, here is why I think this Anime classic is worth your time and money:

The video-quality is absolutely stunning

Before I get into it, I do want to say that I did my homework and prowled the Internet for thoughts on these topics and came back with very mixed reviews. I’ll try my best to be as objective as possible henceforth as I did come across valid points all around. First of all, I personally think this project is what the term ‘digital remaster’ was created for, much similar to Disney’s track record of releasing AMAZING Blu-Ray remasters of their classic animated movies. We can thank Geneon (my former favourite Anime distributor) for getting the ball rolling in Japan by obtaining these results for us several years ago when they released their Japanese Blu-Rays for CCS. When Anime started making its appearance on the Blu-Ray format a few short years ago, the first titles to get the high definition treatment were more modern day Anime shows produced in widescreen format. The obvious reason for this would be that upscaling the video becomes a lot easier as very little enhancement has to be performed on the footage. The Japanese Blu-Ray releases for the series Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex is an example of this where the already-amazing DVD footage was simply scaled into high definition size. This works out so easily because most modern animation is no longer hand-drawn onto cels, but completely rendered digitally. Unfortunately, the standard definition transfer to high definition process is not so easy when we go back to the 90s to revisit the classics. LESSON TIME! In traditional animation the characters were drawn onto stencils, which were then laid over backgrounds and then finally captured by film in a photographic manner (obviously a long and grueling process when you consider an average of 30 frames per second). Since this process entailed the physical work of arranging the animation by hand, the frames would often capture dust, hairs, prints, and maybe even fall out of alignment at times. The film was then transferred either onto a computer in digital format, or directly into whatever the most common formats were for that time; Japan liked LaserDiscs, but VHS was a more universal standard.  These now obsolete formats would not typically show any of the trasnfer artifacts of animation because even though at the time those formats were praised for their high quality, in this day and age we refer to them as low quality or below standard definition. This changed when the era of DVDs arrived and started to obliterate film media in favor of digital media. In the very beginning, most DVD releases were simply more transfers of the original production film to DVD or even the VHS film back into digital format.  The reason I’m taking the time to explain this is so that I can illustrate the many ways the footage gets corrupt during all these transfers and ages in its own right. Thankfully, as the digital age progressed, it became possible to edit video digitally and clean it up to look a lot better, eventually producing these high quality R2J DVDs. The 2000s became a great time to relive a lot of old titles in what we now call standard definition, until years later when high definition would be introduced. Now, the thing to take not of here is that whether we talk LaserDisc, VHS, or DVD, they all have one thing in common: 480p/i at 29.97fps (more or less). High definition meant a few changes: 1) a bigger frame size, either being 720/1080p/i, 2) possibly more frames per second, increasing to 30fps, 50fps, and even 60fps, and 3) a firm goodbye to fullscreen video and a big hello to widescreen only. At first, it seemed that only productions created in high definition would see the light of Blu-Ray treatment, but soon upscaling became a quick trick of the industry. Upscaling works really well when your video already has the right coloring, framerate, and widescreen dimensions, but what happens when all you have is old lackluster, interlaced, ghosted, aliased, fullscreen standard definition video? You get the bullshi North American Sailor Moon Blu-Ray collection; a bad quality source, barely acceptable for DVD that has simply been upscaled and mass produced. The end. Of course, in that example there are levels of politics involved, but when upscaling to high definition it is important to obtain the highest possible quality video source because upscaling is only a trick that makes the images bigger. Okay, lesson time is over and back to reality. In this case, rather than stick us with a grimy upscale, Madhouse (the animation studio behind CCS) unearthed the original film the show was produced on in the first place and re-transfered the entire series directly into high definition. This is what makes this a remaster and not just an upscale, because film is a manipulative medium that can be rendered into any format or size, where else digital video can only be manipulated in so many ways. Since the studio was able to provide the original film for direct transfer, CardCaptor Sakura has never looked so beautiful. The lines on the characters, the detail in the background, the ease of motion and playback is absolutely stunning. This is a process that was absent in the North American Sailor Moon Blu-Ray release because the animation studio claims they do not have the original source anymore (which seems very unlikely to me, but you never know given that 23 years have past…). Now, some video experts criticize that the animation now lacks it’s original age factor because there is no grain or depth to the footage, but I don’t see this as a bad thing. I like the idea that the show looks smooth and almost new. The colors or vibrant and gorgeous, and the onscreen text is very sharp and pristine. If you ask me, this release couldn’t have received better treatment. I, personally, never heard of NIS America until this set was announced, so I had my doubts since I’m an old school Geneon, ADV, and FUNimation kind of guy, but this studio handled the mastering really well. I don’t really know what else to say to convince you that the work that went into this project’s revival was absolutely outstanding, but I hope my long lesson above did the trick!

We really needed an uncut English dub

CardCaptor Sakura is one a few Anime shows that were hacked and slashed when they sailed over to America. To name a few: Sailor Moon, Dragonball, Pokemon, Digimon, and of course, Cardcaptors. I won’t really destroy these titles because they represent my childhood and I wouldn’t change that, but because of all the heavy editing, these shows were almost entirely different from the original Japanese Anime they once were. Episodes were banned, genders were changed, music was replaced, scenes were redrawn, and storylines were altered, all to make them into children shows geared towards American viewers. This is all fine and dandy, but has obviously enraged die hard fans of the original respective Anime titles because the English versions are so far gone from the true essence of each show. When DVDs came into circulation, uncut and dual audio releases became very popular, especially since more modern Anime are dubbed uncut to match the original footage. Some of these older shows eventually received new uncut dubs, while some still have yet to. NIS America promised a brand-new uncut dub for this set, but actually did not deliver on that promise exactly. Instead, the dub audio track used here allegedly from a dub Animax did for places like the Philippines. For some reason, people are not happy about this, but I don’t know why! I really like this version of the dub. Let’s focus on the good thing here: it is uncut, so we get all of the Japanese names and references, as well as some pretty damn accurate casting. I’m not a fan of the whiny girl voices they often use in Anime, but that’s basically how the girls sound in Japan so I get this decision. If you remember Cardcaptors then you will have some adjusting to get used to because Sakura, Kero, Tomoyo, and the whole gang will sound a lot different. However, I don’t see the crime here considering how accurate the voices are in comparison to the Japanese track. Only negative thing I will say here is that BECAUSE NIS America must have obtained this dub on the sly, it is only available in Mono and that is very noticeable. It sounds especially weird when you switch from the rich Japanese soundtrack to the English one and get only the one channel of audio. Another odd thing is that it seems some scenes (like the ones involving any homosexual relationships or feelings) were not dubbed, so instead you hear silence while subtitles appear onscreen to fill in the conversation. I never really encountered this before, but I like how NIS handled it. I think it would have been weird to suddenly switch to the Japanese vocals for a few minutes. I should also mention that some people are pissed that Animax did not make the effort to dub Tomoyo’s songs and opted to have her sing in Japanese. I see where this warrants some concern, but I also respect this decision because Anime fans can be very critical and would have bashed the lyrics of the singing. Considering the characters live in Japan, I don’t think it’s weird if the Japanese songs (whether performed by the characters or not) remain the same, especially given that the English voice actress for Tomoyo sounds identical to the Japanese one. Anyway, I feel that the dub is pretty good and even though there are minor things that aren’t perfect, I feel content finally hearing the story as it really is.

The product design is basically flawless

I always like to talk about the physical feel of a product considering it is a form of memorabilia when you think about it. Again, this is my first time hearing of NIS America, so I was quite skeptical about how they would handle this release. To my surprise, I have to hand it to them: this thing look great on my shelf. They opted for a more unorthodox size of boxset, making it a little taller than any Blu-Ray box I’ve seen (it’s probably the same height as a DVD collection). Though, I get that 9 discs is no joke, especially when you put them all in one case. The design element is very nice and especially the pressing on the discs, which are all holographic and feature the Clow-circle. All artwork used look brand-new, some of which I recognize from the Geneon releases in Japan, but some of it might be new. The artbook is another added treasure that you can’t go wrong with. It basically is an Episode Guide, but every time a new Clow Card is introduced, it features that as well. The end of the book contains some really nice artwork of Sakura and production credits for your knowledge. The entire set is very sturdy and heavy duty, so you won’t feel like you were robbed of anything. Content-wise, the menus feature some slight animation that must have been put together by NIS and I think it’s great. It’s good to see all versions of the OP-ED Themes are included without credits too. There are a variety of viewing options, ranging from Japanese with subtitles, English with partial subtitles, full subtitles, or none. CONTRARY TO FALSE STATEMENTS, NO THIS SET IS NOT HARD-SUBTITLED. It’s just that you cannot turn off the English subtitles when you view the episodes in Japanese (unless you manually switch them off via whatever player you’re using). The translation is pretty accurate and I appreciate that the different episodes switch between English and Romaji subtitles for the songs. Overall, excellent job from this production house for pulling this off!

This is a classic journey you will never want to forget

I’ve discussed a lot of things pertaining to the release itself, but now it’s time to talk CardCaptor Sakura. Fans all around the world will know about Sakura and Shaoran, the cutest little couple in the Anime world. I never was a huge fan of the show when I was a child because I was more into other shows, but revisiting this story was a treasure. I had once watched the show uncut, but I largely forgot how cute and passionate this adventure was. I feel like given the age of Sakura and her friends, it should be a obvious that they are relatively young and yet they have to deal with really mature problems. The cuteness of this show is what makes it stand apart from most other series because everything is innocent, even the approach to love. There is a lot of intricacy within the storyline, especially between Sakura’s parents and their secrets, as well as the relationship between her brother Toya and Yukito. Largely, there is something there for any audience member of any age to latch onto given the array of ages among the characters.  You have to appreciate Japan for always touching on homosexuality in Anime somehow, and I really must say the idea of how normal and bashful it is definitely appeals to me. There is also another golden taboo I noticed when Toya falls in love with his significantly older teacher, but then moves onto loving a boy. Like I said, leave it to Japan to make that seem average. You can never go wrong the magical girl element of the show and the wide array of magic brought into the story. I actually went out and got some cosplay Clow Cards for myself after watching the show because they are SO COOL. Yeah, I know that’s embarrassing, but I like them. Even the elements of evil in this show were never too ominous or evil, giving a very childish vibe to the series. I feel like the focus here was to present a show about growing up and being a mature role model, and this is definitely Sakura by definition. She showcases the importance of friendship, loyalty, hard work, and love. How can you go wrong with all of that? Kudos to CLAMP for giving us a timeless adventure to remember forever.

I must say that out of all of the Anime I’ve recently been able to relive in high definition, this collection is by far the most impressive. If you were a fan of this show back in the day (even a little bit), this is such a worthwhile investment to have in your collection as it is the best way you will ever see and hear this series. Head out and grab it while it’s still in print! Meanwhile, here are some of the Creditless OP-ED Themes to wow and amaze you.

Sailor Moon Crystal – Acts 1 & 2

It’s been a long time coming, but finally I’m starting my complete review lineup of the new TOEI Animation Anime Series Sailor Moon Crystal. In a couple of weeks it will have been a year since the remastered version of the 90s Anime was announced. The newly-animated reboot features a closer adaptation of the Manga created by Naoko Takeuchi, strictly following a pattern of one chapter equaling one episode, thus rendering this version of the show a lot shorter than the original 200-episode series. Crystal is streamed  through a variety of online services like Crunchyroll and Niconico, and airs a new episode every other or third weekend of the month (depending on the number of weeks per month). In other words, since the series began broadcasting last summer, it’s been a slow ride for fans waiting to watch each episode, but so far the story has completed the first arc of the series (the Dark Kingdom plot) and is now in the second arc (the Black Moon Clan plot). At the moment, the series has only planned for 26 episodes, but hopefully once the show begins its TV serialization, us fans might be lucky enough to see the other three story-arcs re-animated. As it is a modern tradition in Japan, the studio has began releasing individual Blu-Ray volumes containing two episode each per disc. While the sets include many special bonus collectibles to entice fans to buy them, the episodes have also been corrected to fix any animation errors in the web-stream versions as the studio had to rush them to meet release deadlines. In order to do justice with my reviews, I will be evaluating the series via the Blu-Ray releases only. Enjoy!

The Limited Edition set (featured above) contains Acts 1-2 on Blu-Ray in Japanese without any subtitles. Only special features on the disc are the Creditless OP-ED Themes, but there are a bunch of physical collectibles included, such as a bracelet and charm, a music box that plays an orgel version of Moon Pride, a 28-page character artbook, and an OP-ED storyboard artbook. The set is very pretty, but very pricey for only two episodes. There is also a Regular Edition Blu-Ray, or the DVD Edition as well. Please note that the Blu-Ray discs are Region A encoded, meaning they will work on North American video-players, but the DVD is Region-2 encoded, meaning it will only work in Japan or an a Region-Free player. For those wondering, VIZ Media has already licensed Sailor Moon Crystal in North America and does plan on dubbing/subbing the series, though no release dates have been confirmed.

Over the last half year, Crystal has been met with heavy praise, but also heavy criticism. As always, I try to be as objective as possible and explore both sides of things, therefore this review will include a list of GOOD Things and BAD Things for your consideration. I will also review each episode separately.

Act. 1 USAGI -SAILOR MOON-

I think at this point it goes without saying that I’m a big-time Moonie, so it’s a huge deal for me to see this series revamped and brought back to life. During my first run-through of the episode, my jaw was on the floor and I don’t recall blinking, so I definitely had to re-watch it to actually be aware of the events. From the beginning, the intro sequence (which is absolutely beautiful by the way) paints the tone of what is to be expected in this new Anime; there is a moonlight legend and that is what’s going to be most important in this version of the show. The start so far seems very familiar with Usagi waking up late and literally falling down the stairs; that’s a win for the good old days right there. I love the little details included here and there, like when she put the pin in her hair under her buns; I mean, who has not wondered how she gets them to stay up there in place all day? When Usagi meets Luna, it becomes abundantly clear that this series will be just as brazen as the Manga, considering she steps on Luna and kisses her too. I laughed. It is nice to see Usagi’s house again, her bedroom, her mother, the new and improved Ms. Haruna, geeky Umino and, of course, Naru. Evidently the story now takes place more into the future as the settings are very modernized, and I really like this. Seeing the energetic streets around Naru’s home is so refreshing, with chatter, cars, fancy buildings, etc… This episode makes it all seem like a fresh and clean start. At the point where Usagi meets Mamoru for the first time, it is abundantly clear that comedy is not the goal of this series as much as it was in the 90s; the music sets the tone for more meaningful moments. I find the script it much more realistic, especially when Usagi asks herself, “Why the hell is he wearing a suit in the middle of the day?” It clicked for me that the mission here is to have things make more sense, and so far TOEI is doing a good job of that. I was worried about how they would keep the CROWN Arcade current, but alas the Game CROWN Cafe is born. They definitely made the game machines more futuristic and really pimped out that Sailor V game. Seeing Usagi get kicked out of her own home over her bad grades brought back so many memories and I really enjoyed the loyalty kept in that scene. We get to the classic first transformation scene, but I will touch on that more below. I’m a little sad that Keiko Han didn’t also reprise her role as Luna here, but one can only ask for so much. Also, it’s a shame she didn’t shit-out the brooch in this series like she did in the 90s. Boring… Let’s talk about the newly-designed enemy: HUGE changes here because the setting is no longer some random parallel demon universe, but actually a castle base up in the Arctic. Jadeite looks really childish in his redesign, but I’m assuming that it might be that way in the Manga too. It was interesting to hear the monster-of-the-day actually mention she tied up Naru’s real mother in the basement, because one really had to wonder what happened in the original Anime. I like the glass tube she uses to collect the energy, and it makes more sense to me to summon the human slaves from their homes, though they got there REALLY fast. I think above everything, my favourite moment in this episode is when Sailor Moon runs outside of the jewelry store to see the man whose words encouraged her to fight. When she stared up at the moon and saw Tuxedo Mask, my heart melted. I feel there is more love in this story than in the original, and I endorse this 100 percent. I absolutely love this first episode and it made me fall in love with Sailor Moon all over again.

Act. 2 AMI -SAILOR MERCURY-

So right off the bat it appears Crystal is going to waste no time as Ami is introduced even before the Opening Theme plays; I’m personally okay with this though, because there really was never much of a gap between the three initial guardians meeting for the first tie. I like the clarification that these students are learning English because I feel like I now believe that they go to school and actually learn. I’m beginning to notice that questions are finally being asked and answered. For example, Usagi gets home from school and asks Luna if she intends to live in that house with her forever, and I like that because in the 90s Anime it was just a given. Though, one thing that floors me is the underground communications center in the arcade that is just there… Who installed that place? Who pays the electricity bill? Who cleans the dust? And who taught Luna computer linguistics? Also, why is Ami’s school uniform so frumpy and her hair so messy? I thought she was perfect all around… A lot of interesting things to wonder about still. Moving forward, I really like this rendition of Usagi meeting Ami for the first time. It reminds me of the way PGSM handled it, which was very cute and showcased the softness of Ami’s character. Okay, so although I didn’t like the way Usagi’s brooch came into existence in the first episode, I like the way the pens were received in this one. I am really digging the new age technology. I even noticed the computer desktop was running at least Windows 7. On an outside topic, can I just say how much I loved all of the memes that hit the Internet regarding the infamous ‘Usagi on the computer‘ moment? Goodbye floppy-disk; hello CD-ROM! Goodbye old CPU; hello purple laptop! Just beautiful. Unfortunately, I was sad that there wasn’t even some sort of special animation during Usagi’s Moon Power transformation. Blah much? The battle scene that follows is more or less the same as what we’ve seen before, so no complaints there. I like that Sailor Moon uses her ultrasonic-waves attack again because that was just so short-lived in the original series. As for Mercury Power Make-Up? See my thoughts below. There was a nice cute moment when Tuxedo Mask rescued Sailor Moon from sudden death. Overall, it is a very familiar episode, but definitely very modernized. Alas, the episode is not even over and we’re already catching a glimpse of Rei at the Hikawa Shrine. DEFINITELY no time wasted here! I’m beginning to notice a pattern here: every time the Ending Theme starts, I smile and wipe a tear from my eye because I’m just that happy about this series. I’m on-board so far!

Things you will like.

  • The accurate adaptation of the Manga: There are definitely a ton of similarities between this episode and the first episode of the 90s Anime, which shouldn’t be surprising since the series is based off a Manga. However, after doing research I came to realize that TOEI Animation did a really impressive job paralleling almost every frame of animation to every frame of the Manga. Although I have never much been into the Manga nor have I read all of it entirely, this should finally please some audiences who have long argued that the original Anime deviated too much from the actual story and included too many random fillers. The acting rumor is that Crystal only became possible with the blessing of Naoko Takeuchi, her official condition being for it to honor her works in the way the original Anime did not (according to her opinion). For those who may not have known, Sailor Moon was an unusual case where the Manga was not well developed before the Anime series began; they basically took place at the same pace. This more likely is due to the fact that Takeuchi started her series with the two Codename: Sailor V serializations and due to that popularity, the Sailor Moon Manga and Anime were birthed at roughly the same time. This often created a conflict where TOEI Animation would end up producing episodes based on what Manga chapters Takeuchi finished, but would then hit a stump waiting for her next chapter to publish. Obviously the studio had deadlines to meet, so they would then proceed to make up their own episodes with side-stories to fill the gaps. I think that when you look at it from Takeuchi’s perspective as a creator, it doesn’t come as a surprise to know she was not a fan of the Anime as it ended up quite differently from the Manga, making it less of an adaptation and more of an interpretation of her works. WELL, Crystal should make her really happy considering that (according to expert fans) it follows the Manga perfectly. There is, however, a serious void created by this and I touch on that below.
  • The return of the real Sailor Moon: Hands-down, this Anime would not be worth anything if Kotono Mitsuishi did not reprise her role as Usagi Tsukino. I had no idea that Mitsuishi was so developed and starred in so many roles, but I’m not surprised because she is TRULY talented. I might argue she’s one of the best voice actresses ever mostly because she puts so much emotion into her roles as if she is actually that character. She did this so well in the original 90s Anime that it is hard to imagine anyone else doing justice to Usagi. Granted, I still liked ANZA, Marina Kuroki, and Sawai Miyuu for their respective interpretations of the role too, but for Anime there is non other that Mitsuishi. So far in these episodes, her performance is on par and it is most definitely the same voice she once again lends to the character, which creates all kinds of nostalgia, especially when she yells, “Moon Prism Power Make-Up!” The only criticism I will give is that in the 90s Anime, the quirkiness of the animation allowed for the theatrical voice of Mitsuishi to be better believed, but here we get such a polished drawing style that at times you might think Usagi looks too pretty to sound so much like a dork. Thankfully, despite the style chosen here, she is a pretty guardian, but is also the same old ditz we all once loved so much. It will take some getting used to, but by the will of God we have Kotono Mitsuishi to guide us through it.
  • The brand-spanking-new Moon Prism Power Make-Up: There has been very negative feedback regarding this topic, and I’m not going to even try to entertain why people don’t like it because I’m all for it. I’ve included the new transformation sequence below so you can watch for yourself and be your own judge. So, TOEI Animation decided to throw their budget into the transformations and theme songs by implementing some CGI into the series, and it seems like fans aren’t on-board with this. “Why,” I ask. They did this a lot with the Digimon series and more titles from what I’ve heard. I think those elements of the show are the most important (at least I grew up liking those parts a lot) and I feel like every effort should have been put into them, as so the company did. I absolutely love Sailor Moon’s transformation. Some argue that TOEI knows nothing of CGI or how to properly colour, but I think it was epic. I loved the the beauty of the angles and lighting used in conjunction with the perfect music. It was everything I would have ever wished for as an upgrade to what we saw in the past. I like the fact that she’s using the original brooch to transform; I can’t understand why the 90s Anime featured such an ugly down-played brooch instead. The upgraded pose and speech are also pretty well done. I couldn’t ask for better. The only huge disappointment? I wish we received bedazzled attack sequences too, and that is not something we got in this episode (and will not get anywhere else in the series either!). If we run with the fact that Sailor Moon uses nearly a different attack in each chapter of the Manga, then it makes a little more sense to not go all out, and like I said before, one can only ask for so much. I am just very happy with what I got to see so far.
  • The new and fresh soundtrack: I want to profess my love for the original Sailor Moon soundtrack and all of the amazing music of Takanori Arisawa (a huge talent we lost way too soon). I am a gigantic fan of the Sailor Moon Music Collections and I still listen to them all the time. This being said, what we get in Sailor Moon Crystal is NOTHING AT ALL similar to what we were used to back then. This isn’t surprising at all given that music, much like film and animation, evolves so much so often. The question is, “Do we like it?” The answer, to me, is yes. While I liked the sassy, adventurous, classical, and instrumental ways of Arisawa, Yasuharu Takanashi gives us a different take on Sailor Moon that is much needed to suit the new animation. The initial Anime featured plenty of goofy melodies that paved the way for all of the comedy in the series, but here we get a more serious rendition with themes of justice, romance, and struggle. Some have argued that the music is a tad generic, but I would fire back saying that music in general these days is generic and less articulate than what it was in the 90s. I actually enjoyed the prelude, guardian themes, battle tracks, and ballads a lot. I’ve heard that the music especially resembles that of PreCure, another Anime series Takanashi has composed for, but I haven’t really seen it, nor do I plan on it. Maybe this would bother me if I did see the similarities firsthand myself, but it’s not uncommon for a composer to reuse concepts, especially if they worked well in their favor previously. As for the theme songs… it took a while for the Opening Theme Moon Pride (featured below) to grow on me, but I blame that mostly on Momoiro Clover Z because I hate them. Yes, let’s get five chicks who can’t sing and make them represent one of the most successful and globally popular shows on Earth. Kudos there TOEI. At first I found the song way to girly and hyper active, but upon listening to it a few times without the vocals, I learned that voices can go a long way. On the other hand, the Ending Theme Gekkou (also featured below) I really like, except that (once again) these horrible singers took it into the wrong direction. It was a treasure to find out that this song was composed by Akiko Kosaka, the great musician behind the songs of the Sailor Moon Musicals and some themes from the old Anime, like Moon Revenge and Tuxedo Mirage. If only there was another group performing both songs, I’d say everything in the music world is perfect, but who knows, maybe they will grow on me… MAYBE. As an aside, you can find out where to purchase Moon Pride / Gekkou here and snag the Crystal Original Soundtrack here.
  • The polished artwork pieces: While I have much to say about the animation below, I must say that some of the still art in the show is just absolutely stunning. If you look through this review, you will see that Crystal abandoned the short video-clip ‘Subtitle’ and ‘Eyecatch’ sequences in favor of these beautiful silhouette illustrations. Some might call it another cop-out, but I have always liked the silhouette usage in the original Anime series and I’m glad they kept that idea for the Ending Theme as well. At the end of each episode is a ‘To Be Continued’ still featuring French words, while the ‘Eyecatch’ shows the English logo for the series (all images pictured in this article). On an aside, I even like that the Japanese Crystal logo hast the English words in it too. I appreciate these small details as it tells me TOEI made some effort to acknowledge that this show will become internationally viewed. Outside of the actual episodes, there are a few good pieces that TOEI has unveiled for the series, starting with the first-look image. I liked the idea of the animation being similar to the Manga because they could have chosen some other random style we’d all really hate. Additionally, I really am in love with the Blu-Ray cover-art pieces (except for Mars, which you will see in the third review article). A lot of fans have been criticizing the proportions of the limbs, back, and breasts of the guardians, but I think that this is just the style of the show. After all, let’s be honest… Naoko Takeuchi’s drawings are all random and all over the place as she scarcely ever sticks to a standard, especially with her characters’ long and lanky limbs. Oh no! Shoot me, for I have dishonored our great leader… If Sailor Moon fans can mock TOEI Animation’s work, I don’t see why we can’t have issues with Takeuchi’s either. Fans have gone on to create ‘fixed versions‘ of the artwork to show how flawed the official artwork is; I get this, and I understand it. However, I feel like if we stoop this low level with Crystal, then we can go on to mess with the 90s Anime, and this is what no one seems to realize: fairness. We have to accept that there is a reason why the artists made the decisions they did, and quite frankly I don’t see why we have to poke at everything. I do agree we could be given better, but considering the alleged low-budget aspect of Sailor Moon Crystal, I really do like what I see. This Blu-Ray cover is absolutely flawless and as soon as I got a hold of it, I started using it for every profile I have online. I wish to see more of it outside of just the home video releases and with more of the characters.

Things you might not like.

  • The clearly low-budget animation style: While I sang the praises of Sailor Moon Crystal above, I must now shift gears into reality and acknowledge some of the heavy criticism the show has met with. I’ll start with the animation… Now, around the time of the premiere, it became a known fact that TOEI outsourced the show to other smaller animation studios (TOEI Philippines being one of them), meaning that the priority for this project isn’t high on their list in comparison to whatever other shows they’re mastering at the moment. Outsourcing often results in less than acceptable results because you are depending on lesser-equipped studios to complete goals at a topnotch level, when really they won’t care to achieve those results. I promised I would only judge the polished Blu-Ray material, but I have to touch on the fact that the online web-stream is really the first impression the audience will get. Also, consider only the die-hard rich fans will explore the home video option if the first impression does not live up to the standard. Episode one is pretty consistent, but there was a huge issue with the eyes in episode two that really made people cringe. It made everyone look at the overall quality of the animation and revealed that the characters are really lanky in many shots and disproportionate. Now, to be fair, the proportions in the original Anime were all over the map too, but the series was filled with comic relief to back that up. This is a 2014-2015 production and should really be showcasing innovation in the field of animation, and unfortunately as each episode premieres, it looks like less and less effort goes into the art. Another interesting thing I found was that it does not seem that TOEI is working on the episodes well in advance, because the end previews are so lackluster and you get the idea that things were rushed. While I am immensely grateful for the Blu-Ray releases fixing the errors, it’s sad that so many things need to be fixed. Episode two showcased a lot of changes made to the character’s faces and hair, which tells me that there is no definitive style guide for the animators to follow, which seems really unorthodox. It has been confirmed that not only is the show relatively low-budget, but the response has been very negative because of the animation quality primarily. The show will be hitting TV broadcast next month in an effort to gain sponsors who will shell out money as income for TOEI, and it is my deepest hope that this move will allow for a better quality product. Again, heed my point… the initial web-stream is sad, but thankfully the studio is making every effort to fix the mistakes afterward, which is why my review here is generally good.
  • The fast pace of the show: Now, if my first point was a big reason why the critical response to Sailor Moon Crystal has been bad, then this is an even bigger reason: people are afraid of how fast everything is going. I mentioned before that this version of the Anime has been closely following the Manga. Well, it turns out that the winning point that I thought would please everyone is another big issue for the community. The Manga, being a comic book, is quite fast-paced and devoid of any fillers. When you’re reading, your imagination and speed of reading tends to slow down things for your mind to process and build a story. Apparently, you can’t just copy that recipe into a show, which I would have never known until watching Crystal. In these first two episodes you don’t really feel the brunt of this too much because Usagi only had a few random adventures prior to meeting Ami in the original Anime, but work this math out… The 90s Anime contained the Dark Kingdom saga into 46 episodes, and Crystal contained it into 13 and a half! THAT’S CRAZY! Think how condensed the entire thing is, especially with the episodes being less than 30 minutes and even shorter omitting the Opening/Ending Themes, transformations, and previews. However, this is what Naoko Takeuchi wanted: an exact adaptation of her works. The Manga contained the entire first season plot into 13 episodes, and so Crystal more or less did the same thing. I feel like fans are failing to realize that you get what you ask for. When Sailor Moon Crystal was announced, every idiot online was harping about wanting an accurate retelling of the Manga; well, it doesn’t get more accurate than a frame-by-frame copy. The obvious side-effect here is that without any filler episodes, there is little room for character development. We don’t see the bonds between Usagi and her friends here as we certainly did in the past. The whole thing is very rushed and kind of leaves you less emotionally connected to what you’re watching. On the other hand, I argue that this is one of those things where it’s not as disastrous as everyone claims it to be. Let’s be honest, we all know exactly what is going to happen in the story and exactly what to expect at the end. Do we need to spend countless episodes establishing what we already know? I highly doubt a slew of oblivious new fans are watching this series, and even if they are, they have the Manga, classic Anime, musicals, and live-action to reference from if they need more depth. I’ll admit that I would have rather seen TOEI use the full 26 episodes on the Dark Kingdom (which is what we all expected), but in light of a non-existent budget, I completely get why they would try to shove the Black Moon Clan in there as well (on the off chance the show doesn’t make it past 26 episodes). You see, as much as you all bitch and complain about hating Crystal for these shortcomings, if you focus your energies into seeing the positive things, maybe we will see the whole series revamped and not just two out of five seasons. Think about that!
  • The less than amazing Mercury Power Make-Up: In the second episode we get to see Sailor Mercury’s transformation; now this I wasn’t too impressed with to be honest. I feel like in the 90s Anime Sailor Mercury’s transformation was always the least exciting, and to me this is a huge injustice because there is so much one can do with the element of water. Thankfully, we were blessed with Ami’s First Love where she got some special treatment that rectified her boring transformations. As for Crystal, I realize that I have not yet reviewed far enough to show the other guardians’ transformations, but once again hers is the worst out of the bunch. There’s no action of any kind or major use of water the way that Mars uses fire, Jupiter uses lightning, or Venus uses light ribbons. Also, there is a lot of time spent lighting up the Mercury sign on her forehead… Big fail here. I wonder why she, the most popular one, gets such blah treatment?
  • The average audio mix: Don’t get me wrong, I did very much enjoy the sound quality and mastering of sound effects, music, and vocals in these two episodes. However, in this age of high definition entertainment (and lets take a moment to say thanks for the 1080p goodness we’ve been lucky enough to receive), why is there only a 2.0 audio track??? I’m shocked! I can’t even begin to understand why a technologically advanced and wealthy studio in nerdy Japan would not give us a surround sound mix on an HD production. It baffles me considering just the other day TOEI started re-rendering some of the old Sailor Moon Music Collections from the 90s in a new high-resolution format. The tracks have been reproduced into topnotch above-CD quality versions and are now on sale here. A part of me suspects that with the original Anime being re-aired in Japan soon in high definition, TOEI is gearing up to enhance the audio as well. So… why the average treatment in Sailor Moon Crystal? Is it that low-budget? I’ll admit this is not a crushing issue, but it really bothers me because most modern-day Anime is capitalizing on the full HD experience and giving 5.1 and sometimes 7.0 audio tracks. My very sensitive ears can tell that Crystal would sound so much more grandiose with more channels of audio to fool around with. With only two channels, you can’t really appreciate the new music or the freshness of the voices and sound effects. I’m praying someone out there agrees with me and maybe unveils a better track for the North American release, though I somehow doubt this will happen.
  • The lack of behind-the-scenes material: This point relates a little bit more to the actual Blu-Ray releases because I should probably talk about that a little bit. The sets are quite expensive and while, yes, they come with nice collectibles and pristine design elements, is it worth the price paid for just two episodes? Definitely not. I must say that in a digital age where (usually) most aspects of production are recorded for reference, there is a huge lack of bonus material on the discs. The bare minimum is the Creditless Opening and Ending Themes. Where are the voice acting sessions? The secrets behind the animation process? Interviews with the key production players? The press releases? Some kind of speech from the creator? Maybe Japan isn’t into things like this, but I feel like there needs to be more incentive for people to want to buy these sets. I reviewed the North American Sailor Moon Blu-Ray release here, and while my review was not that great, the studio did a good job of providing a lot of extra content and the sets include many episodes with dubbing and subtitles for a much lower price. Considering that the web-stream is subtitled on most of the sites hosting it, would it have killed TOEI to add subtitles to the Blu-Ray sets given the subtitles are already translated and prepared? Of course being the greedy company that they are, they are probably expecting that to make a good profit off the future English dub and sub sets bound to be released by VIZ. Apparently if you purchase all of these Limited Edition sets, you can redeem for a collector’s box that will house all of the sets in the end, but prepared to spend close to $1000 in the process, easily.

Well, I think I’ve written quite a lot here for my first review of the series and most likely the following articles will be much shorter given that I won’t have to introduce some of these concepts again. I hope my words shed some kind of light on the way you will or do view this series. As always, if you really love the show and all it has to offer, please support the official releases and pay for the content as it gives to the people who worked hard to make it for you. I realize the Internet makes it so easy to download things, but the entertainment industry cannot survive on just piracy. That’s my inspirational speech of the day, and I hope you have enjoyed my words! Here are some treats to tingle your senses until next time:

Sailor Moon Blu-Ray

Dear people! I am INFINITELY sorry about the lack of posts in all these MONTHS. Life has been so hectic, but the time has finally come to begin updating and moving forward. I’ve been making oodles of changes to my personal life as of recently and now I should definitely be able to keep this gig going! All of that being said, today I’m reviewing none other than the long-awaited original Sailor Moon series Blu-Ray, which will be releasing next week on November 11th. For those that pre-ordered the set eons ago (like myself), Rightstuf shipped out orders early so some of us do have our copies already. I didn’t really get a chance to go in-depth yet (screenshots, watch the entire series, check out the DVDs, etc…) as I only just received it just today, but based on what I have seen already I definitely have a quick take on everything below. Enjoy!

The Limited Edition set (featured above) contains Blu-Rays AND DVDs of Episodes 1-23 (Part 1 of Season 1) in both Japanese and the new English dub, features a bunch of cool extras on the discs, contains a special Episode Guide artbook, and a boxset to hold this set and Part 2 (releasing in February 2015). For those who immediately pre-order the Limited Editions as they are made available, an exclusive Gift With Purchase is included additionally (the one for this set is already Out Of Print). There is also a Regular Edition planned for November 25th, or the DVD Edition as well.

Obviously I purchased the Limited Edition so my review will cover all of the bases. I think the quickest way for me to do this is make a list of the GOOD Things and a list of the BAD Things. Here goes:

Things you will like.

  • The physical package: Right off the bat, VIZ did a pretty good job with the design and authoring. I remember back to when VIZ was new to the North American market and they had just released InuYasha on DVD, it was like a young child discovered Photoshop and they bought the designs from him. The artwork was featured atrociously and the DVD menus had parts of the images that were not even masked properly. HOWEVER (years and years later), much improvement has been made as this set boasts perfection. Our friend Marco Albiero is responsible for all of the new and improved art we see here, but kudos to VIZ for using it well. Overall the package is shiny and pretty and the Episode Guide artbook is very great quality. The prints on the disc and even the dummy inserts in the boxset are very well done. No failures here, especially to whoever decided to make the space to hold the entire season. The Blu-Ray menus on each disc are also unique and well done too. HOWEVER, I did pop in the DVDs and was surprised to see that all the effort died right there with static boring menus… I guess the budget runs low somewhere? Overall, you can tell they put their best foot forward on making it a set you will WANT to own physically.
  • The new English dub: There are good things and there are bad things; let’s start with the good. It is such a great thing to know that after two decades, some people in the world feel it is a justice owed to us that this series get an uncut dub. People have asked for this for over 15 years and now everyone can shut the hell up because it is happening. I can see that VIZ took the effort to cast well as opposed to casting favoruites, as you don’t really see the common vocal cast they use for every freakin’ Anime dub. The great thing here is that we can once and for all put to bed what DiC did to us by giving accents and swings to the characters that did not fit the Japanese original at all. Naru is no longer Molly from the South, Umino is no longer Melvin the nerd-monster (he’s just a normal nerd now), and Beryl is more of an evil woman than an evil Queen ruler, which I think is VERY true to the character. It was interesting to hear the choice made for the Dark Kingdom characters, especially Zoicite; in short, I really like all of them. The enthusiasm in the acting is no joke and the sync is FLAWLESS so you can basically believe that is the real character. While we finally get to hear things like ‘make-up’, ‘bun-head’, and ‘Juuban District’, the dub is not without some fatal flaws, which I will cover below.
  • The extras: When a movie or TV-Show is prepping for home video release, these big media giants have to factor in this big question: “Why would someone who has seen this already want to pay money to see it again?” Golden answer: “Because on top of the fact that they liked what they say, they get to see extras that were previously withheld.” HENCE, THE VALUE OF EXTRAS! So we get the traditional Clean Opening/Ending, which I actually much appreciated now having in 1080p. I’m pretty sure these versions are not those that were transferred from the LaserDiscs so it’s great to get a new source. Aside from these, we get a few convention videos and a load of press-related videos regarding the release. Overall, this is pretty cool to see how fans reacted to the news of the revamp. I think my favourite extra is the Behind-The-Scenes dub recording. There was a lot of insight into how dubbing is done and how it was planned for this series. I thought it was interesting to know the cast were contracted, but not told who they would be voice-acting until they showed up for recording! The clip mostly features the voice actors Stephanie Sheh (Sailor Moon) and Robbie Daymond (Tuxedo Mask). Can I just say that if you do not know who this guy is, make sure you find out because he is SUPER cute and his voice is AMAZINGLY sexy (P.S. he has dimples!!!). Of course, for those that need it, there are also art galleries on the discs and trailers for other VIZ wonders. So far, all extras are in high definition, which wins them points. It would have been nice to get some other things from the Japanese side, such as interviews and commercials, but I don’t fail VIZ for this since the release is really all about us. Though, a dubbed 1080p Sailor Moon Crystal Trailer wouldn’t have hurt!
  • The completion factor: Now, even though I will go on to list the bad points below, perhaps the best reason to overlook everything and just BUY IT ALL is just simply that any fan will treasure this collection and go back to it. This is probably the end of the line for Sailor Moon and it will most likely not be remastered and re-released again, so why not opt for the final product? One thing that is very fulfilling about this release is that fans will get everything: all of the episodes with the previews and summaries in tact, all of the extras that we didn’t get before, the best artwork to date, the dual language satisfaction that was missing, and the best possible quality we are ever gonna see or hear. 5 sets and 3 movies, hopefully all the same way! I can’t wait, and the best part is that it all leads up to Sailor Moon Crystal‘s release!

 

Things you might not like.

  • The new English dub: Despite the best efforts made by VIZ, I cannot blame any other companies for the following points that HAVE TO be made. For starters, while I like the cast arranged, I don’t understand Luna at all. I definitely did not expect or want the voice that DiC chose, but I didn’t want a regular street woman voice either! Honestly, the voice behind Luna in the Japanese animation and live-action series has always struck me as an elderly woman’s voice. Even Luna‘s persona seems like an elderly woman (DESPITE HER HUMAN FORM LOOKING YOUNG). I don’t doubt the vocal talent on this actress, but for this role I have to say I am disappointed. Watching more and more Episodes, a lot of things are growing on me, but not this. Aside from this, the only other fact about the dub that is sad (yet DEFINITELY expected) is the name pronunciation. It could just be that some names are not deigned for us English-speakers to say, but it isn’t easy hearing ‘Ooo-Soggy’ all the time. The worst one is ‘Jade-ite’. I don’t get it? That’s all I will say because I don’t want to venture into hater territory. I just thought that maybe there would have been some degree of care put into the adaptation of the various names that will appear in the series, but when people start blundering up easy ones, then hope kinda goes out the window. This being said, perhaps these are no reasons to call the dub horrible, but it does point out there was some lack of care that went into this process. Tsk tsk tsk.
  • The video quality: EVEN THOUGH I KNEW IT, I STILL LET MYSELF SHED A TEAR. This is one of my biggest weaknesses in life, where I allow myself to get high hopes and than someone comes along to destroy them. No exception here. I don’t blame VIZ as much for this as I blame TOEI, considering the people are just working with what they were given. The bottom line we all have to remember (myself included) is that this is NOT a remaster. I feel like maybe because I just watched CardCaptor Sakura on Blu-Ray the other day, I fell under the impression that I would be amazed the same way here, but that project was definitely a remaster and this one is definitely not. What we have here is just an upscale and that’s that. I definitely feel like you can tell that in many parts VIZ attempted to do hardcore filtering, but that’s when you realize it doesn’t work out all the time. The regular scenes look a lot better than they ever have, though it seems to vary by episode as some have scenes with way too much grain and colour deficiencies. Overall, the vibrancy is great, and the bitrate during high-energy scenes is pretty damn good too. Where you’ll fall to pieces (like I did) are the parts we all like the most, like the Opening and Ending Themes, the transformation sequences, and some of the small clips here and there like the series summary that starts each episode and the eyecatch in the middle. It’s just not as perfect as I hoped for. BUT, this being said, it’s not disastrous because (like I said before), you work with what you’re given and the big picture here is that we’re getting the series on Blu-Ray 22 years later. My only wish was that VIZ did more surgery on the footage, such as cutting useless frames between scene switches and filtering through some messes. Oh well.
  • The audio quality: I don’t mean to be a nit-picky bitch here, but yeah I have to comment on the audio too… I think I had high expectations here as well given that it’s a BRAND-NEW 2014 modern-day dub. So why is the mix so muffled and hushed? I think the only good answer here, which follows in agreement with what I said above, is the age of the original track provided. Definitely the vocals were captured well, but the final mixdown is odd in that the voices are very much placed over the background music AND sound effects instead of in unison. I was about to go ham on this topic when I realized the background audio on the English track is ACTUALLY BETTER than the Japanese track, which is even more muffled. Honestly, what draws attention to this is that the Blu-Ray menus boast background music tracks from the series in FULL SURROUND, and then you play an Episode and your speakers are less enthusiastic about their job. Surely there has to be a way to upscale the sound quality, but like I said before, oh well.
  • The translations: Can I just say HOW MUCH it bothers me that during the Opening Theme (posted below), the ENGLISH subtitles say “Gomen-ne” and “Shinjiteru-no”? This is that thing of underestimating your audience and assuming that the only people that will be watching are Anime-obsessed frequenters. W-R-O-N-G. I have to say that Sailor Moon is on a different level in that it has so much global popularity and a hell of a lot of ‘American’ recognition that it doesn’t depend on JUST Anime fans for success. Since Sailor Moon Crystal came out, a lot of my friends who know NOTHING of Japanese Animation have been watching because Sailor Moon was a part of their Canadian upbringing. The moral of this story is that it’s really wrong to assume that everyone will be familiar with those words no matter how common they seem to be. Please, if you guys at VIZ can build a time machine and go back to before you started shipping these sets out, please use “I am sorry” and “I believe”, and cater to the mass audiences because I know a few rednecks that will be buying this set and texting me to ask what a ‘Gomen-ne’ is, to which I will say, “I’m sorry,” and they will respond to with, “Sorry about what?” Yeah, take that run-on sentence.

Now, all of the negatives being said, I’m in no way discouraging the sales and purchase of this series. While I like my Sailor Moon Center, I do not condone laziness and cheapness, and I think that anyone who really wants to support the series and industry will buy the sets. I just merely felt like putting some truths out there so that no one will fall into the same boat as me and get high hopes over what does not exist. I do not regret the money spent because I am a die-hard fan, and even with the flaws I mentioned, one thing is for certain: we now have the series in high definition and when all else fails, there is the original Japanese language track and subtitles to honor what Japan gave us. Although there is room for improvement, VIZ did not fail and I definitely love that I lived to see the day this series received a revival. If video and audio quality are not big factors to you, and you really couldn’t care rat’s ass about dubbing imperfections, then seize the day and get your copy now!!!

Just for clarification, VIZ Media has licensed the entire original series from beginning to end, meaning that into the next year they will be dubbing and releasing all 200 Episodes and 3 Movies along with the Specials (we hope) onto Blu-Ray/DVD. Apparently this license also covers Sailor Moon Crystal (the new series currently still being developed and streamed online) when it finishes its initial run next summer. This is MORE than a dream come true for us true Moonies out there and I cannot wait to get my hands on all of it. For your sampling pleasure, please see the Creditless OP-ED Themes and a Trailer from the set below.

Update

A little after I wrote this review, it became apparent that there is a lot of unrest within the Sailor Moon community regarding the video quality of this release. VIZ Media has since then been pressured to issue statements regarding the poor visual rendering we fans have been given. According to them, the masters provided by TOEI Animation are to be considered the highest available quality and ONLY masters available from the head animation studio. A lot of fans brought into question the R2J DVDs released by TOEI this past decade which boast SUPERIOR video quality and why those masters have not been provided to this market; according to VIZ, TOEI has stated that those masters simply do not exist anymore. It really does not make any sense given the current Italian and French DVD releases are using the R2J quality, but TOEI insists they have provided the best possible quality masters to VIZ. While this in itself is VERY infuriating (because it’s obviously a lie to withhold the better masters for Japan’s potential Blu-Ray release), VIZ has been taking a lot of heat too for their horrible quality control and video filtering. Episodes from the next Blu-Ray released have been streamed online and many users have taken screenshots of horrible artifacts left throughout. Well, it takes two to tango, right? It’s beginning to look a it sad for us North American Sailor Moon fans once again.