History was the theme, in several respects, when VIZ Media put on a premiere for its new, dubbed restoration of Sailor Moon R – the Movie at the Ace Hotel theater in January. The venue was once a palace of United Artists, and it retains all the grandeur of Hollywood’s golden age, feeling far more like an opera house than a simple cinema. This extra-sized Moon adventure is reportedly the first anime to ever screen at the theater, too; which feels extra appropriate given how the movie has sat with something of an asterisk beside it in this iconic shojo franchise’s canon.
First released in Japan in 1993, it was brought to the US as Sailor Moon: The Promise of the Rose seven years later in a truncated and censored form. This iteration not only dubs the project with VIZ’s current Sailor Moon cast, it also restores the more provocative elements, along with a bonus short film, “Make Up! Sailor Soldier.” History even factors into the unusual love triangle at the center of the movie, as power couple Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask are bedeviled by an alien threat from the past.
A framing scene reveals that Mamoru (Tuxedo’s alter ego) made a friend as a boy whom he assumed later was imaginary. The two shared the kind of simple love only children can enjoy. This boy, Fiore, promised Mamoru that he’d one day return with the most precious flower he could find in the universe. When this alien visitor does come back, many years later; he finds Mamoru on a date with Usagi (the girl otherwise known as Sailor Moon) – and his innocent, childish affection immediately twists into a jealous obsession. Fiore kidnaps Tuxedo Mask, and brings him to a weed-infested asteroid he’s claimed as a base. To rescue Usagi’s paramour, she and her trustworthy Sailor Soldiers will have to battle through hordes of hideous plant monsters in Fiore’s service.
“Make Up! Sailor Soldier” then sees the often-insecure Usagi in her civilian identity, eagerly eavesdropping on some young fans at the mall as they’re talking about which Sailor Soldiers is their favorite. The fun little farce is actually a handy primer for any newcomers–cutely summing up what these heroines are all about in just a few minutes. While the main attraction may be a deluxe episode by itself, its pairing with this vignette makes the whole feature an easy jumping-on point to mythos.
The plot with Fiore is quite emblematic of the series on the whole, too. Many of the past cuts snipped out scenes of violence, and this restored version brings an intensity to even the most colorful fights against botanical beasts. Series creator Naoko Takeuchi’s distinctive approach to the sexy underpinnings of cosmic adventure is on full display, as well. Any time flowers appear, their sensual symbolism is entirely unmissable. And when an increasingly frustrated Fiore insists on referring to Mamoru as a “friend,” it’s clear to everybody–including Usagi–that his meaning isn’t strictly platonic. Indeed, the tension of their triangle has more in common with Fatal Attraction than Chihayafuru.
VIZ’s dub also brings an infectious sense of fun that’s been a lot rarer to find in anime since the early days of Toonani. A post-screening Q&A made evident that that cast definitely is in on the joke. This is an adventure that’s never afraid to reach for the highest peaks of emotion, but it also keeps a healthy self-awareness, and a delightful sense of camp humor.
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Featured Image Credit: VIZ Media