Sailor Moon and all the images you see in this recap are owned by Toei Animation and licensed by Viz Media
Episode directed by Yuji Endo
We’re back with another episode of Silver Millennium’s next top model as we once again have to watch Usagi fail to win a contest that is obviously set up by the Dark Kingdom for nefarious purposes. You’d think she would catch on at some point. Anyway, now that we are several episodes deep into Nephrite’s rule, I have to say that I’m still pretty lukewarm on him as a villain. He has a solid premise behind him (focus on individuals rather than groups), but in terms of execution it has been very much hit or miss. The last episode had a pretty decent transformation for the victim of his plot, but the monsters behind these corruptions have been bland across the board. Will this episode be the one where they finally manage to balance an interesting villain with the standard Sailor Scout shenanigans, or will the show continue to not live up to its true potential, at least until Nephrite is out of the picture? Let’s find out!!
The episode begins with Usagi doing what she always does which is to get INCREDIBLY involved in some sort of hobby or interest that she had no prior knowledge of or inclination towards. She’s like a pop culture goldfish; chasing whatever trends tickle her fancy until she forgets about it half an hour later. This time around it’s about a very accomplished photographer who is still in middle school and JUST SO HAPPENS to go to an all-boys academy that’s close to Rei’s all-girls academy. She desperately requires this guy’s autograph… for some reason, and tries to rope Ami into going with her who is too busy solving some silly looking equations (how hard is it to write REAL functions to have the characters work on?) to indulge Usagi in her latest obsession.
As is ALSO often the case, Usagi is the last one to jump on the bandwagon as reporters are accosting the poor kid outside of his school for interviews and questions about his art which he frankly doesn’t seem all that happy to talk about. Fortunately, this turns out to be one of the times where Rei ISN’T a total jerk (just like Usagi, she doesn’t have to be unpleasant all the time) as she seems to be aware of not only his fatigue but Usagi’s less than respectable intent to bum rush the kid for an autograph for no other reason than fame chasing, and stops Usagi and her friends dead in their tracks before they start harassing him. It’s not clear what Rei’s connection is to him, but after her and Usagi’s arguments about the merits of idolizing celebrities, we cut to sometime later where the kid (whose name is Kijin Shinokawa) is doing what he does best which I guess is to take pictures from ridiculously dangerous vantage points with cameras that have ridiculously large lenses.
The dummy here nearly falls to his death but is saved from a watery grave by the helping hand of the Fairy God Mother F**ker himself; Nephrite. Sure enough, this poor sap is his latest victim and has the camera cursed which causes him to become… a lecher? That’s it? I get the feeling this isn’t going to be one of Nephrite’s more memorable victims. We didn’t get enough time with Kijin yet to understand his malaise towards life (or at least towards the press) for his transformation here to carry any weight. Was he upset that he can’t talk to girls he likes? Does he resent his talent for tasteful photography because he would rather be shooting Playboy models? None of this is clear and so his transformation into someone who REALLY wants to take pictures of girls has no thematic resonance. Well for whatever reason the kid is now a pervert, he somehow manages to set up an open photoshoot for women to come in and have their picture taken by the GENIUS PHOTOGRAPHER! Guess who’s the first one to fall hook, line, and sinker for it?
Usagi has dreams of fame and fortune yet again with no real plan other than to hope it works out with as little effort on her end as possible. In fact, she’s so enamored with her new goal in life (becoming a model) that she barely registers that Luna has created FaceTime; a feat much harder than you would expect considering this is set in the nineties and she has paws which means no opposable thumbs. I guess I can’t blame her considering how little use the Scouts get out of their additional arsenal, especially when they’re introduced in filler episodes. Remember Ami’s super computer? Yeah, these new communicators are gonna start collecting dust after this episode. Anyway, Usagi starts to share her newfound dream with anyone who will listen including Ami, her brother, and her mother; all of whom shoot her down rather harshly to the point that I’m about to start rooting for her to succeed! The only sympathetic ear she gets is from Matoki at the arcade who continues to be Usagi’s beacon of hope in a sea of jerkwads and bossy cats. Unfortunately, Mamoru is hanging out at the arcade as well but is actually the closest he’s been to being nice; from calling her Usagi instead of Bun Head, to dealing out practical if harsh advice.
Now the episode takes a weird jump here as we go from the arcade to what has to be several days later as Usagi is standing next to her mailbox waiting to see if she gets confirmation that she’s moving on to the next level of the competition. We’re given no idea what she did at the entry-level of the contest (did she go to Kijin to get her picture taken? Did she mail headshots?) but apparently it was good enough as the mail man brings about the news of her advancing to the next stage of the competition. The next stage by the way is the swimsuit competition which SHOULD be raising a whole lot of red flags considering the contestants include underage girls and is being run by a freaking middle schooler. None of this seems to have given pause to the other contestants however, of which there look to be HUNDREDS (further putting forth that this is a scam where EVERYONE gets “chosen”) including Naru and Miss Haruna. On the plus side, at least this episode gives us a chance to see the latter in a bikini.
Luna seems to be the only one aware that this is like the ninth or tenth contest Usagi has been in that has to be run by the bag guys and she gets her confirmation when she observes one of the photoshoots while Usagi is getting ready for her own. First of all, this giant fool that’s drooling over his own sense of self-importance as much as he is over the jail bait showing lots of skin is EXACTLY the kind of person I would not trust with pictures of me doing ANYTHING. Second, his master plan doesn’t make much sense as he takes their pictures, but instead of exposing film to light to make a record of the scene, HE DISINTEGRATES THE MODELS WHERE THEY STAND!!
FOR WHAT PURPOSE!? WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH HIS ART!? Nephrite’s schemes work best when the victim’s transformation feels like a natural extension of their own flaws, weaknesses, or obsessions. Here, he took a shy kid and turned him into a women-melting weirdo who bears no resemblance to the character we know nothing about. They managed to make a character with no characteristics feel out of character! HOW DID THEY EVEN DO THAT!? Well, I guess Luna now has everything she needs to confirm there are shenanigans at play and will now need to try to convince Usagi to contact the other Scouts which she eventually does after a stern talking to. Luckily for her, this distraction holds her back long enough to miss the photoshoot but gets her there just in time to see her best friend and he teacher evaporate into mist. I’m sure they’re fine!!
Rei and Ami still haven’t arrived yet, so Usagi has to keep the goofy photographer busy until they do. Her plan is to give one of her patented warrior for justice morality speeches, but this one comes off a bit half-assed and unconvincing as the moral of the story seems to be to NOT take pictures of all the girls and to be more selective. Okay… so the mark of a true artist is access to the best resources, or is she saying that exclusivity is the mark of quality? Should he have been turning away women who didn’t meet some arbitrary standard of beauty? See, this is what happens when your villain has no real motivation and is just being destructive. The REAL message should have been ‘don’t blow up women with magic cameras’, but I guess that’s not really a universal coda to live by. Anyway, the distraction doesn’t last very long and so she’s forced to transform into Sailor Moon and take the baddy on by herself. She actually does pretty well all things considered and manages to dodge all of his camera blasts before jump kicking the crap out of him!
After that feat of Bruce Lee magnificence, Kijin falls to the ground unconscious and the camera drops into the pool where the monster comes oozing out Swamp thing, though they look more like a Katy Perry action figure. She starts shooting the disintegration beams at Usagi again and Luna helpfully explains to her that the monster is trying to “photograph. HOW DOES SHE KNOW THIS!? Also, I don’t recall pictures being taken by a beam; though I guess for those who fear cameras suck out your soul then this would be pretty horrifying which I guess is the point of any monster worth their salt. Usagi tries to continue dodging the attacks (emitted from an eye in the monster’s hand instead of from say… A CAMERA!!) but she soon finds herself defenseless and staring down the barrel of her own demise. Luna, the () that she is, jumps into action right in the nick of time and takes the blast instead, getting herself sealed inside a picture. This buy’s Usagi just enough time for Ami and Rei to FINALLY show up and start attacking the monster with their usual array of techniques. And thus, the day is saved as they once again kick her butt with bubbles and paper before Usagi throws her tiara! No wait; instead, the monster just breezes past their moves and turns Mercury and Mars into photographs. MOON SHOCK!!
Damn! This fight is kind of a mess overall, but I will give it credit for having actual stakes for once! Usagi is now all on her own against the monster, barring a possible appearance from Tuxedo Mask, and she doesn’t have a clue how she’s going to beat it! Sadly enough, Tuxedo Mask doesn’t show up with his badass pimp cane, but the monster is relishing in her victory for so long that it gives Usagi a chance to come up with an idea. She positions herself against a wall and waits for the monster to fire. When it does, she jumps in the air and SURPRISE!! The wall is a mirror which means the monster took a picture of itself… by which I mean the gooey laser blast thing gets reflected back at her.
The monster is severely weakened, but for some reason has not been turned into a photograph which isn’t all that much of an issue considering Usagi has her deadly tiara handy and vanquishes the foe with ease; releasing all those captured in their trap. Nephrite by the way is keenly aware that yet another one of his minions has bitten the dust, and it only gets worse when Zoisite pops his beautiful head in to see if the loser needs any help. Preferring to keep his dignity intact, he rejects the offer and has Zoisite go about his business, though it seems clear that things are gonna go the way of Jadeite if he doesn’t get his stuff together.
For now though, the day is saved and Kijin is finally back to normal and decides to quit photography… for some reason. This all ties into whatever the moral of the story is, and it just makes things more confusing. He’s going to stop photography because he realizes that a woman’s true beauty is not just in their looks and he will resume his career once he figures that out or whatever. Okay… that’s fine, but it’s also weird when you think about what had already happened in the episode. The way they represent someone not recognizing inner beauty is by NOT being selective about whom to take pictures of. So the episode isn’t saying that being biased isn’t a BAD thing; you just have to be biased about the RIGHT thing. Apparently there’s supposed to be a standard of inner beauty that people MUST meet to be considered beautiful. How is that a better arbitrary standard than physical attraction!? I don’t know what the hell is going on here, but it doesn’t matter because the episode is finally over, and we end it on Usagi who’s sleeping away this whole event like a bad hangover.
This is one of the more uneven episodes I’ve covered so far as it has some pretty strong moments, but they’re almost perfectly balanced out by some REALLY bad ones. The victim of Nephrite’s machinations is poorly defined which makes it completely pointless for him to have a fall from grace like all the other victims. We don’t spend any meaningful time with him to establish a personality beyond “meek” and yet the episode expects that to be enough to base a villain around and it ends up leading to a really half-baked moral. The monster here is pretty well designed, but their powers make no sense and have nothing to do with photography which could have been represented in almost any other way than as weird beam thingies. The show really does seem to waste its monsters (who aren’t lazily designed), which is a shame considering how well some of the monsters from Jadeite’s reign were realized as damn near three dimensional characters. I like that Usagi had to beat the monster through her wits instead of pure luck (or assistance from the others) and I did end up rooting for her at around the middle of the episode, but that was only because of how bafflingly nasty her friends and family were to her when she was talking about entering the contest. I’ve criticized Usagi almost every time an episode like this pops up about her trying to become a StarTM without putting in any of the hard work or effort, but I also don’t think the way it should be dealt with is condescending and mockery. It has a lot in common with Episode 7, but where that was a never-ending ride of misery and confusion, this at least had some bright spots peppered throughout. This isn’t going to be one that I will remember fondly though and hopefully the show can pick up some steam before we eventually get to Sailor Jupiter.