Sailor Moon Crystal, or how Nostalgia will Eat us Alive

6 Jul

By: Stephanie Weirich

Reach for it you crazy dame.

Reach for it you crazy dame.

Well hey there guys!

I know, I know, it has been a while. A damn long while. And while I could give you a long and poignant description of the many difficult things that befell me and caused that long absence, I’d rather just get down to what I do best, which is talking about anime like a fucking champ.

So let’s do this damn thing!

As I’m sure you’re all aware, this week brought us the arrival of Sailor Moon Crystal, the much rumored about, often disbelieved, much anticipated reboot of the beloved “Sailor Moon” anime. Now, when I say much anticipated in conjunction to Sailor Moon, what I mean is full on hyperventilation, holy fuck I can’t even, I will die right now if I don’t get this thing, please dear god, I need this, etc and so forth level of anticipation from the Sailor Moon fan base. Shit is INTENSE y’all. And rightfully so, I would say, though I’m not personally a huge fan (if we’re talking about a 80’s-90’s Kunihiko Ikuhara joint, I’m a Revolutionary Girl Utena gal myself).

But you know you're always number one in my heart baby.

But you know you’re always number one in my heart baby.

Regardless of my own personal take on Sailor Moon, it is a phenomenon and I will take nothing from that. It is THE seminal magical girl anime, the absolute definitive series. It is responsible for the exponential and frenzied growth of the entire magical girl genre. It’s also one of those shows that hit when anime was making a name for itself on our shores and thus it’s one of those rarefied shows that got many anime fans into anime. I personally know quite a few people who grew up on Sailor Moon and know all of the Sailor’s transformations by heart and will gladly act them out for you (SERIOUSLY, ASK THEM). As such, it is also one of those few series that has had staying power within the collective consciousness of one fan base and it is incredibly beloved, hence all of the frothing at the mouth and the ringing of hands that occurred in the anime blogosphere leading up to the release of Sailor Moon Crystal. And again, I completely understand this. It’s all achingly familiar to me as someone who gets all sweaty palmed, fluttery hearted and crazy eyed just thinking about the next Evangelion film being released eventually.

Even after all of this fuckery

Even after all of this fuckery

So now we’re here, and it’s here and people are watching it and reviewing it. I’ve watched it, though this will not be a strict review. This is more a review of the reviews (INCEPTION). See, the thing that I’m finding is that this show is almost universally being touted as exceptional. Amazing. Magnificent. Excellent. A whole lot of adjectives all amounting to this thing being fucking awesome and totally worth the years of teasing and waiting. It’s a breathless torrent of near reproachable positivity.

But here’s the thing. Sailor Moon Crystal is not actually good. It is a derivative mess with poor pacing, poor dialogue, a truly obnoxious performance by the lead voice actress and a narrative that relies on its audience knowing how this will all go. It is not the worst anime I have seen (because I have seen School Days), but it is not even close to being worthy of the absolutely glowing reviews it’s receiving.

Seriously, fuck you School Days.

Seriously, fuck you School Days.

I know, I know, I’m a real Debbie Fucking Downer who just wants to jump on the hate bandwagon when something comes out that other people love that I don’t. And I’m sure that this one post will attract many people who will say I am exactly that, and so be it. But I am not here to rain on your parade, really. This piece isn’t ultimately about the quality of Sailor Moon Crystal. Ultimately, what I’m talking about is why we can’t have an actual, measured discussion about the actual quality of Sailor Moon Crystal. And the reason we can’t do that is because of nostalgia.

Like I mentioned above, the original Sailor Moon was a juggernaut of fandom, rolling over all in its path. It is a series that has been writ large across the imaginations of an entire generation. There is simply too much passion, too much love for the property, for it to not breed a highly protective form of nostalgia around it and all discussions about it. This is a franchise incredibly near and dear to many people’s hearts, and so they have inflated its value and quality to a near mythic level that is impossible to approach, let alone criticize and we are seeing that now in the reviews for Sailor Moon Crystal that have been cropping up.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and it is a feeling that is especially familiar to those of us who came of age in the 90’s. We’re the target audience for all things nostalgia, whether that be Ninja Turtles, Rainbow Bright, Transformers or Sailor Moon, we’re dying to eat up anything that reminds us of our simpler childhoods. It’s most likely a reaction to the swift and remarkable way our world has changed in our very short lifetimes, though that’s just a theory. What can be said is that nostalgia destroys our capacity to be objective. Whether or not that’s good or bad is a personal decision, but it does not make it any less of a salient fact.

How warm are your fuzzies on a scale of 1 to SCALDING

How warm are your fuzzies on a scale of 1 to SCALDING

Because nostalgia inflates the inherent value of something within our mind, it also inflates its importance to us. Our loving of something like Sailor Moon, something that we discovered in the heady and idealized days of our youth, ties it intrinsically to our very selves. Our love for it, our fandom, becomes a deeply important part of our very identity (this is especially true for people who actively participate in Sailor Moon fandom, i.e. cosplayers, fan fic authors, etc). And thus, we cannot handle the idea that something that is so much a part of us could possibly be bad. As a reaction to this very notion, we set about mythologizing this thing that we love, turning it into that hallowed masterpiece that is beyond reproach. And now, if this thing that we love is thought to be less than great by someone else, we don’t just take it as someone not agreeing with our taste, we take it as an insult to our very selves, because this thing is not just something that we love it is very much a part of us and our identity.

In a sense, this is also a way of justifying our very rabid fandom. We’re very afraid of people laughing at what we love, especially us anime fans because people laugh at the things we love all the fucking time. People think the very thing we gravitate towards is childish and not worthy of being taken seriously. This makes us an especially prickly and defensive bunch when it comes to what we love, particularly if we think we’re being attacked by others within our community. And again, I’m not here to attack anyone for loving Sailor Moon.

What I am saying is that we need to recognize our biases. We need to recognize the impact our nostalgia has on the conversations we’re having and the perspectives we’re presenting when we talk about or review anime. We do not need to justify our fandom to anyone. We do not need to justify ourselves and the things that we like to anyone. We just need to be honest with ourselves about the things we like and why we like them. We just need to say “Hey, you know what, this thing might be cheesy, and it might have plot holes, and it might just stroke the part of my brain that remembers being a kid and staying up all night eating Fun Dip and watching anime, but that’s all right”. We need to realize that just because someone doesn’t like what we like doesn’t mean they’re insulting us and our very identities personally. Unless they specifically tell you that’s what they’re doing, at which point they’re a real dickbag and you shouldn’t hang around them. Tell those assholes to kick rocks. But with everyone else, we need to give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re merely disagreeing with us and that’s ok. And we need to recognize that it is ok to like things that aren’t great on their own, but are great to us because of how they personally make us feel.

We need to be able to do this because we can’t talk about anime as art before that happens. As long as we’re attacking anyone that disagrees with us we do look childish. We do look like a fandom that is not worthy of being taken seriously. We also look like a fandom with low expectations that doesn’t deserve to have quality series because we don’t expect them to be great on their own. And this is my ultimate point regarding Sailor Moon Crystal. At the moment, because we’re unable to have an honest discussion about the quality of Sailor Moon Crystal that is divorced from our nostalgia, we’re not able to talk about it as a work of art and we’re not able to say that the fans of Sailor Moon deserved better.

Really, you guys deserved so much better. You deserved a show that would reward your intense fandom. A show that didn’t feel like a semi-cynical cash grab. A show that didn’t feel as though the creators thought they could cut corners narratively because you would watch it anyway. You deserved a show that was excellent on its own merits and not just because “it’s a Sailor Moon show!”.

I cannot stress this enough, but anime IS art. It is a culturally and socially relevant art form in its country of origin and it has made its mark on an entire fan community spread out across the globe. It is important. It is something worth talking about and dissecting and analyzing and obsessing over. It deserves to be taken seriously. We should be having conversations about what anime means and how it can be improved. We should be talking about how these shows we love can reach the potential they hint at. We need to be able to discuss this for the overall betterment of the art we consume. But we cannot do that until we move past our more protective instincts and the nostalgia that has created them. It’s time to start looking at the bigger picture. It’s time to start expecting more.

Presented without comment.

Presented without comment.

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11 Responses to “Sailor Moon Crystal, or how Nostalgia will Eat us Alive”

  1. Artemis July 6, 2014 at 6:43 pm #

    As a big Sailor Moon fan myself back in the day, I’m certainly not going try and say that it was a good show. Entertaining, absolutely, and I think it definitely had some good individual moments, but as an overall product, I don’t think there are many anime critics out there who would ever call it subjectively excellent. Honestly though, I think it’s too soon to be able to judge the new Sailor Moon series in any real capacity, seeing as we don’t have much idea yet about a lot of things – e.g. how well/poorly the pacing will be presented, whether or not any substantial changes will be made to the dialogue, etc. I’m all for being gung-ho with first impression posts and all that, provided that people are aware that ‘first impressions’ means just that.

    • entropypieplate July 6, 2014 at 6:53 pm #

      I feel as though, in many ways, you’re a much more level critic than others and I agree that it had a few good individual moments. Unfortunately, I’ve stumbled across far more reviews that are leaning towards wildly positive as opposed to thoughtful or measured. I’m also primarily interested in using the nostalgia cloud surrounding Sailor Moon Crystal as a jumping off point to examine nostalgia as a force within fandom as a whole. This is something that I’ve been wanting to write about for a while now, and Sailor Moon Crystal and the reaction that I’ve seen occurring online was just the most accessible and relevant example that I could use. It’s merely the impetus for a larger discussion I would like to have.

      • Artemis July 6, 2014 at 7:06 pm #

        I think that’s fair enough – it’s perhaps often the nature of not just anime fans, but fans of anything at all really, to confuse nostalgia with genuine excellence. We can at times be a very sentimental bunch. That said, I don’t think slamming Sailor Moon Crystal based on just the first episode is any less biased than raving about Sailor Moon Crystal based on that same first episode. (Not that I’m accusing you of slamming the new series. I’m just assuming that some people will, and quite possibly simply as a knee-jerk reaction against all the rampant nostalgia that’s currently going on.)

      • entropypieplate July 6, 2014 at 7:16 pm #

        That is extremely true. It’s probably because I spend time in several fandoms that I’m having this reaction to nostalgia which is why I’m wanting write about it a bit more. I think I’ve reached the saturation point with fans defending things based upon wholly personal feelings and then deciding that it’s ok to rip into other fans who happen to disagree because the miasma of nostalgia is too thick to cut through. I’m not really interested in slamming Sailor Moon Crystal because it’s not something that’s so egregiously bad to warrant it. I’m merely wanting to address the knee jerk reactions that come about through nostalgia, and maybe address the knee jerk vitriolic counter reactions. Overall, I want to be able to move past both polarities to actually get to the meat of the matter and get to the stuff we should be talking about in regards to anime as art. I was, perhaps naively, hoping that by using this as an example, it would more readily engage people to discuss the effect nostalgia and bias has upon discussing the anime (and other things we happen to be fans of) we love constructively. Because ultimately, being able to critique something honestly is how we continue to create better art.

      • Artemis July 6, 2014 at 7:23 pm #

        “Because ultimately, being able to critique something honestly is how we continue to create better art.”

        I couldn’t agree more. And personally, I see honest critiquing of anime (or whatever else we happen to be fans of) as a reflection of our love for the medium. Anyone can slam something that they don’t even like to begin with – it takes a lot more to slam something that they really do.

        And oops, I completely forgot to say this in my first comment, but welcome back! 🙂

      • entropypieplate July 10, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

        I completely agree with this. I think the first time around I focused pretty heavily on things that I liked, but not really on the flaws or issues with those things. I’d like to branch out and attempt to bring a more objective eye to both those things I like and things I’m not crazy about. Though I admit, I have trouble curbing my snark when it comes to things I don’t like. I just have too much fun dragging things some times, but I’m working on it.

        And thanks! It’s nice to be back. Here’s hoping I can avoid dropping off the earth again.

  2. hecker July 7, 2014 at 12:21 pm #

    Some quick comments on nostalgia and fandom in general: As a former reader of science fiction and (American) comics I saw this first-hand, with people holding in high regard work that by latter-day standards was mostly pulpy, incoherent crud written by the yard by woefully under-paid writers in an disrespected genre. A number of things were needed to break the spell, of which I think the first and most important was informed criticism by people who knew the genre, were clear-eyed about both the flaws and the virtues of the work being done in the genre, and were vocal in demanding better. That’s one reason I’m glad to see you posting again.

    In the cases of both SF and comics it was also important to develop new distribution channels, which in turn led to new audiences beyond traditional fandom, which in turn led to new works that could be successful appealing to those new audiences. SF and comics would be much less interesting genres if all that was churned out were endless reworks of space operas and superheroes respectively. I’m not a hardcore anime fan nor otherwise an expert on anime, so I have no idea when or if this same process might happen with anime. (Or maybe it’s already happening, but just in fits and starts?)

    • entropypieplate July 10, 2014 at 2:09 pm #

      Oh man, I think you’ve touched on something really important and often overlooked when discussing the evolution of any genre, and the correlation you’ve drawn between science fiction, American comics and now anime is excellent. I do think that every genre or art form, particularly when it begins gaining traction with larger audiences ends up in this strange place where there’s a very real tension between “original” fans and new fans, and that much of the animosity and proprietary vitriol hurled at new fans is deeply tied to a very real sense of nostalgia based ownership, i.e. they liked it first, for so many years and so they know what it’s really all supposed to be about while new fans are just jumping on a bandwagon. Over time this factors seem to work themselves out or at least balance out a bit, but the time that takes varies. With anime, it’s been such a strange journey to watch. To go from tape trading in the 90’s to internet only fansubs to now simulcasting is pretty incredible. Unfortunately, this leads to some strangeness within the fan community between these different camps of fans. This doesn’t even begin to address certain strange trends in the fandom community such as the people who consume huge amounts of anime but then insist that it’s stupid and not worth taking seriously, or the ones who don’t want anyone outside of the otaku community to ever find out about anime.

      The hope is that because anime in the West is still so niche, and still a relatively new commodity here, that a lot of this nostalgic based worship will inevitably die out, particularly as my generation grows up and hopefully leaves behind its total devotion to nostalgia based works. As far as what will happen with the actual source, the Japanese creators, that’s tougher to tell. The Japanese as a culture are very, very attached to the idea of nostalgia, hence why so many shows revolve around the concept. But my real hope is that people who grew up with anime and engage with it honestly and critically will go on to be inspired and create even better art due to that.

      Oh, and thanks for the comment! It gave me a lot to chew on!

      • hecker July 12, 2014 at 6:04 am #

        Your point about the journey from “tape trading in the 90′s to internet only fansubs to now simulcasting” reminds me of something else: People often over-value things based on their scarcity and how difficult they were to obtain. Almost all food tastes great to someone who’s starving, and someone who’s gone to great lengths to be able to watch an anime is at risk of rationalizing that it was better than it really was–otherwise they’d have to accept that their effort was just wasted. Newcomers like me who can marathon four-season series in a week using an all-you-can-eat Crunchyroll subscription are spoiled in comparison. And calling someone spoiled is not usually a compliment.

      • hecker July 12, 2014 at 7:02 am #

        One point re your question “what will happen with the actual source, the Japanese creators”: If it’s like what happened with superhero comics in the US, one problem is likely that a lot of current creators are self-consciously fans in a way that the original creators were not. That can lead to at least two problems:

        On the one hand, creators try to recapture the freshness and impact of works they experienced as new fans. But just as you can only watch a Sailor Moon anime for the first time once, you can only create a Sailor Moon anime for the first time once.

        On the other hand, when people try to subvert or “deconstruct” past works in order to create new ones, their efforts are compromised if what they know and love is primarily those past works and the genre in which they’re embedded. For example, this is what I think happened with Puella Magi Madoka Magica–To my mind it’s primarily a response to the magical girl genre itself, and less a commentary on the society in which that genre arose and flourished–which I think weakened the power of MM as a work of art, at least to people like me who are outside the core fan community.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. !an Exclamat!on | …But I’m a 90s Bitch - July 16, 2014

    […] good friend wrote a fantastic piece on the Sailor Moon reboot and nostalgia that I highly recommend! In it, she discusses how nostalgia can cloud our vision and hinder our […]

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