Sailor Moon Crystal Episode 2: Ami – Sailor Mercury

Episode 2 opens with Class 2-5 at Juban Middle School. The entire room is filled with students, and each of them is gaping in wonder at the chalkboard. Every available inch of the board is covered in what appears to be Precalculus. It’s too blurry to see if all the equations are correct, but given who’s writing it out, I’m willing to believe it. It’s a short, silent girl with blue hair. She comes up to teacher’s desk to receive her graded test. The subtitles read, “Ami Mizuno, perfect.”

The scene changes to outside the school. Ami is slightly hunched over a book, twirling a pen as she works. We don’t see her face yet; she’s absorbed in her studies. Two male classmates saunter by as they leave soccer practice, gossiping obnoxiously about our newest main character. The pen stops mid-twirl the second Ami hears her name. The boys mention how she’s always studying, and that she’s rumored to have an IQ of 300. Since the highest measured IQ in real life is supposedly in the low 200s (a quick Google search offers no definitive answer), I’m taking that story with a grain of salt.

There’s no doubting Ami’s intelligence, though. There are plenty of visual cues in her design; those huge glasses, small frame, stiff posture, and the presence of a book are stereotypical enough to get the message across. There’s also her blue hair, which is such an overused trope that it’s easy to take for granted. Not only is it a reference to Ami’s latent powers – water is blue, after all – but her personality as well. Unlike temperamental redheads or energetic blondes, blue-haired characters are typically shy and introverted. Having cooler, calmer personalities allowed them to do more thinking and introspection. Characters like Ami (and Evangelion’s Rei Ayanami, among others) popularized the concept, though it certainly isn’t limited to anime. Take a closer look at Violet Parr in The Incredibles sometime. Or Spock, for that matter. The idea is much more common than you might think.

Ami demonstrates one more quality: loneliness. It’s not fun being the shy, smart one; people think you’re being arrogant and standoffish, but you’re just not used to social interaction. It kills self-confidence and drives you into further isolation. Everyone feels like that at some point, regardless of personality. The guys notice that she’s heard their gossip and leave, because an apology would require more maturity than they can muster. The damage is done, of course; the pained, bitter expression on Ami’s face sums it up perfectly. I’m still not a fan of the new series’ doll-like eye designs, but the animators manage to capture her sadness surprisingly well. Ami is on the verge of tearing up, but she never quite makes it that far. She regains her stoic façade long enough to observe Usagi and her posse chatting nearby.

After the opening theme, the scene shifts to a familiar castle in a snowstorm. Jadeite, the monster-summoning baddie from the first episode, is being chewed out for not getting the Legendary Silver Crystal. We’re finally given a good look at Queen Beryl, the main villain of the first arc. Her eyes are shrouded, but her pale skin gives her an almost corpse-like pallor. Her muscular arms, full lips, and mass of red hair suggest otherwise, though. But it’s her open hand that draws the most attention. The fingers are long and graceful, each topped by what looks like a razor-sharp nail. It could easily be mistaken for a claw, and that’s the point; Queen Beryl’s beauty hides something far more unnatural and dangerous. Or it could be an animation error, as the hand looks too large in proportion to the rest of her body. Either way, Jadeite doesn’t waste time with excuses. He states that he’s of the Four Kings of the Dark Kingdom, which is a double-whammy of foreshadowing and danger. Not only will there be more evil on the way, but the number four is associated with death in several Asian cultures. Jadeite summons another monster and tells it to find the Crystal. He does this despite knowing the existence of Sailor Moon, a bumbling heroine who killed his last creation single-handedly. You’d think he’d do the dirty work himself after that kind of embarrassment, but anime logic dictates otherwise.

Back at the Tsukino household, Usagi drops face-first onto her bed. She’s weary after a long school day. You’ve got to wonder what Luna is thinking; this whiny, pouty girl is destined to be a superhero? As far as we know, she hasn’t spent any time as Sailor Moon since the showdown in the previous episode. Judging by her reaction, she clearly has no interest in fighting again. Instead of lecturing Usagi about laziness and responsibility – she’d probably just tune it out – Luna gives a little exposition. The Evil (and that’s capitalized in the subtitles, without the Dark Kingdom specifically named) are “spirits that are not supposed to exist in this world.” It doesn’t really provide any insight into their nature or how and why they’re suddenly showing up in Tokyo. What exactly are they trying to accomplish? Are they supposed to be aliens? Creatures from another dimension? Can they be reasoned with? What are their weaknesses? Do they have to be killed? Even YuYu Hakusho explained this stuff better. Luna just tells her to find allies and save their princess. In a bout of not-so subtle foreshadowing, Usagi assumes Tuxedo Mask and Sailor V are on her side.

Luna has a better idea, though. As our heroine slumbers, the cat handles the real legwork. Apparently, she can open up some kind of pocket dimension that contains a staircase and a magical computer. You’ve got to wonder about a computer designed for cat paws; how does Luna get any work done on that thing? Also, is this how she’s able to find other Sailor Scouts? In the first episode, she states that the moon-shaped mark on her forehead is what helps her search. Does that mean the mark lets her access this pocket dimension? Or does she use both? Also, the data displayed includes name, photo, birthdate, astrological sign, age, and blood type. That’s really specific; if Luna knows all this, shouldn’t she be able to find where these people live and just wait for them to come home? And if she knows that information, then why does she explain things to Usagi in such a vague and roundabout way? It would be much easier to say, “Hey, there’s a girl nearby that we need to recruit. Her name is Ami. She’s at your school, and she looks like this. She always eats lunch alone, so meeting her in private shouldn’t be hard.”

The next morning at school, the latest tests results are up on the bulletin board. Ami, as usual, has a perfect score. Umino (yes, they haven’t forgotten him yet!) mentions that she’s attending the Crystal Seminar, a supposedly high-profile local study program. There’s also talk of her mother being a doctor, which is an early reference to Ami’s interest in earning of a medical degree. Someone makes an offhand remake about their star classmate’s lack of friends and, speak of the devil, Ami is shown standing alone at the end of the hallway. She stares at the crowd warily, but backs off. She’s barely off school grounds before she runs into Luna, who pounces from a tree and gets up close and personal. It’s a good thing Ami isn’t allergic and doesn’t scare easily. Usagi takes the opportunity (seriously, why didn’t Luna just tell her about the potential recruit?) to meet and befriend the other girl. Their hands touch for a second, and Ami gets a vision of Silver Millennium. If this were a more cynical anime, she’d probably panic, back away, and refuse to be anywhere near Usagi again.

Instead, she’s merely flustered and gets talked into playing at the arcade. We’re treated to the familiar images of the Sailor V video game, as well as Usagi’s feeble attempts at playing it. Once Ami gets behind the controls, however, it becomes apparent that academics aren’t her only forte. Her fast reactions, pattern recognition, and knack for strategy let her dominate a game she’s never played. This is a clever way to demonstrate the difference between Usagi and Ami. The former doesn’t bother with planning, and is easily distracted and overwhelmed by emotions. The latter approaches combat in terms of tactics and analytics; she understands all the tools and powers she possesses, the limitations of her foes, and the necessity of precision over raw power. For the first time, Ami cracks a smile and allows herself have fun. She plays well enough to win a special pen, prompting Usagi to shake the arcade cabinet until it spits out a second one. Because vandalism for the sake of jealousy is totally heroic. The girls become friendly enough to be on a first-name basis, but Ami realizes she’s running late for the Crystal Seminar and leaves.

The seminar is just as ominous and dehumanizing as you’d expect. Drab, gray cubicles seemingly stretch on forever. The overhead fluorescents are off, leaving only the computer screens as the only light sources. Mouse clicks and keystrokes break the deathly silence. Then there’s the instructor, whose shadowy visage and narrowed eyes mark her as the episode’s monster in disguise. She gives Ami a Crystal Disk, promising that it’ll help her achieve her doctoral ambitions. It’s worth noting that the object in question is actually a CD; along with the flat-screened desktops, this is the first direct evidence that the series is set in the current time. Ami starts the program and is hypnotized within seconds. Apparently, the monsters in this show have the same modus operandi: enchant an everyday object, gain control over people, and build an army to search for the Legendary Silver Crystal. Fair enough, but why would they need to use a special CD to spread the spell? Is the magic limited to small objects? Why not infiltrate a major ISP or social media platform and distribute it from the source? It’d certainly reach more people. If the goal is to create an army of brainwashed humans, then why bother with just the brightest students? Wouldn’t the removal of their free will hamper their judgment and supposed intellectual superiority?

It’s certainly done something to Ami. She looks fine – she’s even smiling as she uses her new pen at the library the next day – but that changes as soon as Usagi offers an afterschool ice cream outing. There’s a flashback to the evil instructor lecturing her about studying, and her eyes glaze over in a surprisingly creepy animation. She shuffles away in an obvious zombie-like stupor, leaving Usagi to wonder what happened. She notices the Crystal Disk on the desk (you’d think Ami wouldn’t be so careless regardless if she’s brainwashed), and takes it home. On the way, she notices the instructor handing out Crystal Seminar pamphlets at the train station. Ami is apparently so into the program, she’s allowed them to use her likeness for the advertisements. Rather than using the paper to learn more about the seminar, she crumples it up and throws it over her shoulder…and right into Mamoru’s face. Gee, where have we seen that before? Is this going to be a once-an-episode kind of thing? He’s still wearing his impractical tux and sunglasses, too! He’s understandably miffed about being treated like a trash can, but he’s focused on something more important: the fact that Luna can talk. Usagi grabs the cat and frantically runs away, yet Mamoru doesn’t bother chasing them. He just stands there and stares. Why? If you were confronted with a talking animal, would you just let it get away? Maybe he didn’t want to mess up his suit.

Usagi makes it home and tries to figure out what the Crystal Disk really is. She pops it into what looks like a pink Samsung laptop (hooray for more technology updates), only to find it looks like a normal study and quiz program. Unsurprisingly, Usagi knows none of the answers. Instead, she just types randomly…and it cracks the code. Seriously, she button mashes (much to Luna’s incredulity) until the hypnotic message starts playing through the speakers. What kind of evil spell is this? Who designs a brainwashing program that can be defeated through randomness and sheer stupidity? What happens when someone at the seminar gets too many questions wrong? Do they accidentally activate the message before they’re hypnotized? That’d be pretty awkward. Is the instructor banking on the students getting perfect scores to become fully entranced? Also, Usagi seems to be completely immune to its effects. Is that due to her super powers, or did she just break the program that badly? Whatever, Ami needs to be rescued.

Getting inside the Crystal Seminar is trickier than it looks, however. Since there are armed guards at the entrance, Usagi needs a disguise. Apparently, the pen she “won” at the arcade is imbued with the power to change her appearance. Now, is it the pen itself that has the magic, or could any object be enchanted to do the same? Also, does it just change clothes, or can it alter bodily features as well? It’s not explained. Usagi decides to change herself into a doctor, even though it wouldn’t make sense to do so. When you have the ability to change into any outfit you can imagine, why would you choose something so out of place? Usagi tells the guards there’s a medical emergency in the building, and they let her go in. Wouldn’t that just raise the alarm that something bad is happening, thus alerting the rest of the security team? Also, this is supposed to be a place for people to study; she could’ve just pretended to be a newly-recruited student and walked right in. Depending on the extent of the transformation power, she could’ve posed as the evil instructor and done some reconnaissance. But hey, Usagi looks cute in the nurse’s outfit, so the fans probably won’t complain.

Meanwhile, Ami has gotten worse. Her eyes have this sickly green shade, and she doesn’t notice how much the instructor is pressuring her. When she is demanded to solve the questions faster, she can barely murmur an apology. Apparently, Ami is so intelligent that the evildoers plan to use her to conquer Japan. Though it raises the question of how effective a brainwashed strategist could be. The instructor notices Ami’s special pen, causing the poor girl to look up from the monitor and remember Usagi’s words. When the pen is flung across the room, she actually gets up from her chair to retrieve it. That’s telling of how much Ami values it; her newfound friendship and fond memories are enough to (at least partially) break the spell! Amazing what a little humanity can do. If that’s all it takes to overcome the brainwashing, the monster’s plan would’ve fallen apart before long. Ami briefly struggles to get away, and gets a well-timed assist from Luna. Usagi pretends to be a doctor and confronts the instructor, though she only succeeds in making her angry.

Knowing that the jig is up, the instructor drops the disguise and assumes her true, monstrous form. She’s not as scary as the first – there are no fangs or corpse-like flesh – but the gigantic claws and green skin tone are still intimidating. That goes double for the dozens of paper sheets she can telekinetically throw around the room. To her credit, Usagi doesn’t completely panic; she briefly hesitates to transform in Ami’s presence, and then does so anyway. Sailor Moon bravely stands up to the monster, yells at her for hurting Ami…and frantically dives for cover against the monster’s deadly paper barrage. She even tries her ultrasonic crying attack, but the enemy is immune to it for some unspecified reason. Our heroine gets hit head-on by a torrent of paper and gets pinned to a wall. The monster doesn’t waste time; she busts out her claws and goes straight for the kill, prompting Ami to finally kick the brainwashing spell and trigger her latent super powers.

The new Sailor Mercury transformation hasn’t changed much from the 1992 version. By no means is it as extravagant as Sailor Moon’s, but it has its own charm. Mercury’s power is water-based, and the sequence has a distinct skating theme. After waving her pen around and spouting CGI liquid, Mercury glides around with the grace of a figure skater. She does a quick spin, enveloping herself in water and sending a ripple through the floor. After a few lingering shots of her costume and the formation of her tiara, Sailor Mercury is ready for combat. Her phrase, “Douse yourself in water and repent” and accompanying pose are way more intimidating than Sailor Moon’s antics. Rather than attack directly, Mercury fills the room in fog to disorient the monster. I used to dislike Ami’s lack of a direct attack, but I appreciate now. Keeping enemies confused and leaving them wide open is a much smarter tactic than trying to overwhelm them with sheer power. Especially when you don’t know the extent of their capabilities. Unfortunately, Sailor Moon isn’t ready for the finishing blow; she’s still trapped against the wall, requiring Tuxedo Mask to swoop in the nick of time and carry her to safety. One Tiara Boomerang later, and the day is saved. Tuxedo Mask vanishes (thankfully without doing his silly parkour from the previous episode), and Jadeite is revealed to be observing the scene nearby.

As the sun sets over Tokyo, Usagi and Ami walk home and chat about what happened. If Jadeite were a competent villain, he’d attack them right there and then. Or at least follow them to find out their civilian identities. He should certainly know who Ami is, given how much time she spent under the evil spell. The girls probably don’t even realize they’re being watched. Instead, they talk about how the pen Ami won from the arcade turned out to be her transformation trinket. Apparently that was Luna’s plan, even though it makes no sense. Luna already knew Ami was a potential recruit; why did she go through the process of planting a magical object inside an arcade game? Does that mean whoever beats the game is Scout material? Why didn’t she just give Ami the pen in the first place? Whatever, Usagi and Ami are best friends now. They walk off into the city, happily planning their next move. In a candlelit shrine nearby, a young woman scowls into the darkness.

Gee, I wonder who that could be.

Thus ends the second episode of Sailor Moon Crystal. Though it primarily serves as Ami/Sailor Mercury’s introduction, it was done in an interesting way. Now that I’m older, I appreciate the subtle ways in which the characters are conveyed; when a show can explain so much about its cast with minimal exposition, you know they’re doing it right. Unlike Usagi, Ami is a more realistic take on the pressures of being a young, intelligent student. The subtext is rife with commentary on the high standards and expectations of the Japanese school system, though the extent of Ami’s character development is still unknown. Hopefully the next episode will keep the momentum going.

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