Sailor Moon and all the images you see in this recap are owned by Toei Animation and licensed by Viz Media
Episode directed by Junichi Satou
We’re back with the first episode of Leave it to Nephrite! After the untimely demise of everyone’s favorite woman-hating boy in a man’s suit, the show now has the uphill battle of selling us on the guy who will take his place. Sort of like how Spin City replaced Michael J Fox with Charlie Sheen and got canceled two seasons later. Okay, bad example. What about The Office? They replaced Steve Carell with Ed Helms… and got canceled two seasons later. Huh. Well at least we know this show goes on for quite some time after Jadeite leaves, but can the Nephrite episodes hold a candle to the Jadeite ones or are we doomed to villains with diminishing returns for the next two hundred or so episodes? Let’s find out!!
The episode begins on Nephrite’s first day as head of project management at Hell Corp and is giving Queen Beryl his latest proposal to acquire greater quantities of energy in the coming fiscal quarter. Unlike Jadeite who took energy from as many people as possible, Nephrite’s plan is to pick one person and milk them for all their worth because the FIRST thing you learn about investing is to put all your eggs in one basket. Apparently I’m not the only one taking the piss out of Nephrite’s scheme because Zoisite (another one of the Kings of Dark Kingdom) just floats off to the side and laughs at him.
Queen Beryl gives Nephrite her blessing, so the new guy needs to find the perfect victim for his energy-sapping scheme. Now how exactly is he going to find his golden goose? Well they DO show us how but… things get kind of weird. Apparently his deal is that he’s got Astrology powers and can actually use it to find someone whose energy potential is at its peak which sure enough turns out to be a girl in Tokyo named Rui who is an up and coming tennis player.
So what makes Rui such a perfect candidate for soul extraction? Well for plot convenience, she JUST SO HAPPENS to be best friends with Naru (to the point of calling each other sisters) which is an easy way to get Usagi into the picture; the exact LAST person Nephrite should be a mere two degrees of separation from. If only Queen Beryl bothered to listen to Jadeite before freezing his ass and sending him to the forbidden zone. Hell, even if we ignore that, can’t Nephrite use his cosmic fortune telling powers to figure out who his greatest enemies are? And he thinks he’s so much better than Jadeite! Speaking of which, the dude also has zero subtlety as his master plan involves him rolling up in a sweet ass Ferrari (presumably manufactured in the bowels of Hell Corp) and walks right in the middle of Rui’s practice to starts giving her pointers. Oh, and one of the random onlookers mentions offhand that the dude is actually the president of a new company in town. Not that the person expositing this to us KNOWS what this company does, but they do know that this guy (who presumably has just shown up in town a day or two prior) is the president of said company that does… company things.
Apparently he’s supposed to be a tennis coach (on top of being a successful business man or maybe he’s the head of a tennis coach company) and he begins to aggressively teach Rui new techniques that seem to be the tennis equivalent of Sweep the Leg from The Karate Kid. Not only that, but he puts a curse on Rui’s racket that appears to put her in some sort of hypnotic trance. Actually, I’m pretty sure I saw a Twilight Zone episode like this. Not the Twilight Zone YOU know about; the one with Forest Whitaker as Rod Serling and I think the episode in question was about an evil guitar that makes you kill yourself in a blaze of rock and roll glory. Wait, what the hell was I talking about? Oh right! Well the haunted racket seems to give her super powers as she’s able to hit a tennis ball so hard that it embeds itself into the clay court.
All of this, by the way, is in full view of Usagi whose with Naru to watch the practice and she doesn’t pick up at all on the evil vibes coming off of Fancy Pants McGee or The Devil’s Tennis Stick. In fact, it’s Naru who starts getting suspicious, and she doesn’t even have moon powers! Before we can contemplate Usagi’s relative lack of awareness much further, we skip ahead several hours to Luna using the super computer in the arcade and the voice coming out of the monitor (who the subtitles inform us is Artemis meaning this is a very convoluted way to make a phone call) informs her that there have been breakthroughs in determining the identity of the evil organization. Not HUGE breakthroughs as they just have a name (Dark Kingdom) and a vague goal (steal human energy) but it’s at least more than they had before. Luna calls together a Team Moon meeting the next day to share her findings and to start working out a plan of attack. Unfortunately, no one is all that helpful here as Rei wants to storm their stronghold immediately despite having no idea where it is, Usagi wants to play tennis because she wants to get the evil hot guy’s number, and Ami just wants to stay out of it altogether. Despite NO ONE coming up with decent ideas, Luna and Rei decide to pick on Usagi for her idea which is particularly hurtful coming from the magic cat who claims that the only reason this team has stayed afloat is due to Ami and Rei being on hand to clean up Usagi’s messes. Uh… I’m pretty sure there are seven episodes I could point to that would say otherwise; plus she’s still the only one to actually take down the bad guys at the end. Sure, Rei would probably have no problem immolate some mother truckers, but what the hell is Ami gonna do? Hope they fall down and break their neck while stumbling around in her bubble mist?
Feeling pretty dejected at the moment, Usagi could use an ego boost to lift her spirits and sure enough an opportunity arises when Naru calls her over to her house to discuss Rui’s recent change of behavior. Obviously Usagi is the first person to call when you’re experiencing emotional turmoil or dealing with a serious issue. Okay fine, she has a way of making people happy (one of the best aspects of Crystal is how well they get this across), but she’s not exactly what I would call a problem solver. Case in point, Usagi’s plan is to spy on Rui to see if the two of them can find out what it is that’s caused her to change so much. This sounds like an okay plan at first glance, but then it becomes clear that Usagi also suspects that a monster might be behind all this and hopes to take them out on her own to show up Rei and Luna for being so judgmental earlier. Just to be clear, she’s going in with no real strategy, takes Naru along for the ride (who once again DOES NOT HAVE MOON POWERS) and doesn’t even bother to tell her what the risks might be considering this may be the work of bad guys with magic powers.
The two of them see that Rui’s been working her way through all the other tennis players in the tristate area and leaving them all a broken, whimpering, mess due to her performance enhancing demonic possession. They try to confront Rui about the importance of good sportsmanship or something like that, but the pleas fall on deaf ears as the Hell Corp puppet lines up her latest shot. Apparently she doesn’t even need a ball at this point as she can just project forth a torrent of energy from the swing of her racket.
This seems to have been the opportunity Nephrite has been looking for to sap away Rui’s energy which is actually quite well realized in the way the show decided to portray it. I have a hard time believing that a single person can generate the kind of energy Jadeite was collecting with his schemes, but darned if they don’t try their hardest to sell it to the audience here. I’m no animation expert, so I’m sure there’s a very simple term for what I’m about to describe, but the whole scene turns red and the lines become jagged with each frame shifting the line placement, giving it an air of uncontrollability; like the sheer force of her energy cannot be contained and is distorting the audience’s perception of the events. I GUESS it’s a form of speed lines and it’s something that I’ve seen in other anime. However you’d describe it, it’s very effective here and is not something I was expecting to see from this episode.
Now despite the interesting visuals, I’m not sure exactly what’s going on as the latest monster in Dark Kingdom’s never depleted intern program comes bursting out of the racket… for some reason. The monsters in previous episodes were just there to oversee or personally facilitate the collection of energy, but it seems like the curse that Nephrite has put on the racket was doing its job just fine. All this monster is here for is to fight Usagi and inexplicably look like a Yu Yu Hakusho villain; that or Dark Elf Brigitte Nielsen. Luckily for Usagi, Naru is knocked out (or in a coma) which gives her an opportunity to transform and face the villain all by herself without the help of mean old Rei or Luna. It goes about as well as you’d expect as Usagi is soon turned into sports equipment.
The whole tennis ball torture scene seems like an oddly humorous and upbeat turn for this episode to take considering how dark it was getting up to this point with Rui attacking her best friend and then being forcibly drained of her life essence. It all kind of feels out of place considering the monster doesn’t even have a reason to be here. The revelry at Usagi’s torment is cut short however due to Tuxedo Hottie showing up to throw roses and kick-ass (and he only had one rose). Now normally he just shows up to say a quip and quickly caper off, but this time is different for some reason and he instead decides to stick around to fight the monster alongside Usagi. So how is going to be anything other than a momentary distraction considering he doesn’t have any super powers? Well apparently he really is Batman because he’s either developed an infinitely telescoping pimp cane, or he’s discovered the Ruyi Jingu Bang which is quite an impressive feat considering it would most likely be in China and doesn’t actually exist as it’s from a novel.
At first, Usagi is just dead weight for Tuxedo Mask to lug around, but the two of them have a bonding moment which helps get her into the swing of things and she ends up holding her own long enough for Tuxedo Mask to focus on the task at hand and blind the monster with the petals of a rose. I’m not sure how that works (you’d think the thorny stem would be the best part to blind someone with) but it does leave the monster wide open for a tiara smack down! But wait! Tuxedo Mask is… fading away? I’m not sure what’s going on, but he’s doubled over in pain and seems to be changing colors, or turning to static. I don’t know and Usagi doesn’t either which gives her cause for concern, but Tuxedo Mask urges her to continue the fight without him. Steeling herself and ignoring whatever is happening to the dapper hunk, she flings her tiara at the bad guy and knocks one more name off the Hell Corp Dead Pool.
And so the day is saved once again. Rui wakes up and doesn’t seem to be that much worse for wear (was her energy sapped or not?) and the other Scouts have arrived just in time to see Usagi finish off the monster all on her lonesome. Tuxedo Mask does his usual Batman shtick (or disappeared like Marty McFly) so we don’t get to find out what his deal is yet, but other than that things have turned out pretty well. The next day, Naru and Rui make up and have a friendly game of tennis, and since we can’t end an episode without Usagi being in physical or emotional pain, the two unfortunately get Usagi involved in their little match just as the credits are about to roll!
This episode had its moments but it definitely felt like a shaky start for the new phase of this series. I’m glad that they bothered to give Nephrite something different to do than Jadeite so that he didn’t come across as a blatant carbon copy, but the execution here leaves much to be desired. We don’t get much from Rui as a character who only has significance to us due to her relationship to Naru which feels very tacked on and pointless. Maybe it will work if Rui becomes a fixture to the Sailor Moon Universe, but I doubt we’ll ever see her again which makes it that much stranger that Naru JUST SO HAPPENS to have a friend so close that they call each other sister whom Usagi has no idea about until now. The monster as well might be one of the more generic in the series (the zombie from episode 10 is still the topper) and her presence here is poorly thought out and completely utilitarian. Honestly, the best version of this episode has been Episode 6 with the jazz musician and Kyurene who were both fleshed out rather well for characters that only appeared once. Both episodes have a pretty narrowed focus as it’s not so much about Kyurene’s scheme as it is about her hunt for the guy who has her tape. This episode does indeed have a narrow focus, but neither Rui nor the monster here have enough going for them to justify that lack of scope. A simple fix here would have been to have the monster be the coach who approaches Rui instead of Nephrite whose presence in this scheme is not really necessary and takes time away from a character who could have used that screen time. Hopefully, future episodes will do a better job if they continue to be about a single person instead of a plot against all of humanity, and there’s still plenty to like here. It’s definitely the best appearance by Tuxedo Mask yet who has a decent amount of screen time, there are some interesting visual touches here and there, and Usagi has some strong moments despite this being a somewhat lackluster episode for her in general as she seems a bit too reckless considering how long she’s been doing this job. Not one of the show’s best, but there’s still plenty of time for them to work out the kinks as they move forward with this new villain.