When I reviewed the Sailor Moon series almost exactly a year ago, I did so based only on its first three seasons. Sailor Moon, Sailor Moon R, and Sailor Moon S were the parts of the franchise most people talked about, so I figured it was enough to form an opinion and ASSUMED whatever happened in seasons 4 & 5 would be more of the same, and I could just catch up with them whenever. Well, it turns out that Sailor Moon SuperS and Sailor Moon Sailor Stars are very different from the rest of the series. So different, that I figured it was only right to make this post as an addendum to my review.
The franchise’s greatest struggle, in my opinion, is that it’s an episodic, monster-of-the-week type show that still wants to tell an intricate story. The vast majority of episodes are effectively filler, but the more interesting episodes among them are those that kick off substories of their own, spark character development, or lead into bigger developments that push the overarching plot forward. Such as episodes in which a major bad guy is defeated and replaced with a new one. Season 4 has the least of this in the entire series, leading to a plot that is exceptionally stale. Where many episodes contribute frustratingly little to the series as a whole.
Its new villain is Nehelenia, Queen of the Dark Moon. Effectively a “dark” version of Sailor Moon’s origin story, who is trying to break into the world so she can exact revenge upon the Moon Kingdom. To do this she uses the evil Zirconia; an old hag who commands a circus whose performers are all warped monsters.
This kicks off the usual routine of weekly episodes wherein the Sailor Guardians foil Zirconia’s plans and beat one of her monsters. It’s familiar, yet ends up feeling different than it did in prior seasons. While this formula served the show well in the past, the aforementioned lack of plot and character development, as well as the shortage of memorable moments in general, make the repetitive structure feel like a grind to sit through. You still get to enjoy the characters and the presentation, but the lack of effort is upsetting.
Two factors serve to worsen this issue further.
Firstly, Nehelenia is kept far in the background. To the point of not getting much build-up at all. Prior Sailor Moon villains have been outstanding, but Nehelenia never makes much of an impression. That makes it much harder to engage the viewers. Zirconia isn’t developed much either, so most of the heavy lifting is put on her underlings, who are just okay. They are passable for minor bad guys, but with 39 episodes and only one point in the story where this cast is switched out, their likability is stretched thin. Compare that to Sailor Moon and Sailor Moon S which had strong overarching villains, with a diverse cast of henchmen that regularly replaced one another as the main rival for the Sailor Guardians.
The second issue is that SuperS takes a big step back when it comes to the main cast. The introduction of the Outer Guardians in Sailor Moon S completely changed up the dynamic of the group in a good way, with Uranus and Neptune being fan-favorites for good reason. These characters are inexplicably absent now, which doesn’t feel right. In their place we get Diana; a third cat companion who is absent from so many episodes that I legitimately believe the author forgot about her.
In short, the season is kind of a trainwreck that’s only barely made passable because we’re already invested in the characters. I had some fun and would still charitably give the season a 6/10, but even those who want to experience everything Sailor Moon may want to pop in the summary movie instead.
Reaching that conclusion left me severely demoralized and considering if I even still wanted to watch Sailor Moon Sailor Stars. I went back-and-forth between wanting to try it out, skipping it entirely, or just watching the summarized OVA, but I eventually decided to just go for it and… wow…
The first 6 episodes of Sailor Stars feature more storytelling than some prior arcs did in their entirety. It bizarrely revisits the Nehelenia storyline once again, but this time expands on her character. It also gives the Sailor Guardians a quest that strengthens their bonds, has them go through personal development, and pits them against a legitimate threat. The Outer Guardians are back in full force and we don’t need to deal with any middlemen this time. Instead getting a straightforward battle against the powerful Nehelenia.
It’s only a brief prelude to the rest of the season, yet manages to feel like a redemption of sorts.
After Nehelenia’s story is concluded, we move on to a new and even bigger threat. Probably the most existential the story has gotten in a while. An all-out war between Sailor Guardians from across the cosmos threatens to consume Earth. Thus Sailor Moon and her friends forge an uneasy alliance with the Sailor Starlights—a mysterious group on a mission of their own—in order to oppose the overwhelmingly powerful forces of the evil Sailor Guardians. I really like this concept of each inhabited star system having its own cast of guardians, some of whom have since turned to villainy; an appeal that Sailor Stars knows how to capitalize on.
The new villainess, Galaxia, is visible throughout the story, and her influence is tangible. Her cast of underlings is also diverse and frequently changed up, which keeps even the episodic storylines fresh. In fact, I think Iron Mouse may well be my favorite sub-villain in all of Sailor Moon. The final battle that eventually comes from this is also exceptional. Truly had me on the edge of my seat.
Sailor Stars also scores points for how it shakes up the main cast. The Outer Guardians are back, but Diana and Chibiusa are out, alongside Mamoru who’s been a staple of the series since its very inception. His absence is shocking to say the least, but this becomes an interesting plot point and opens up room for the Sailor Starlights to shine instead. Sailor Moon actually begins to develop an interesting relationship with Starlight-member Seiya, which is afforded a lot of potential because Chibiusa’s absence no longer guarantees the future outcome.
To say that I was impressed with season 5 is an understatement, though I will admit that my amazement is partly due to season 4 being so underwhelming. The build-up to Galaxia can’t compare to the borderline-cosmic horror of “The Silence” or even the classic Queen Beryl, from whom Galaxia takes more than a few pointers. She’s also just yet another evil overlord, menacingly sitting back and giving out orders until the final battle. Whereas Sailor Moon R and Sailor Moon S made great strides to deviate from this trope.
The problems don’t end there. The newly-introduced Chibi Chibi does have more plot relevance than Diana did, but is annoying to have around and isn’t a strong replacement for Chibiusa. The cast also doesn’t get any new powers at all and a few of the plot developments are shamefully rushed through. In particular, it would’ve been nice to get more screen-time for Saturn to develop her relationship with her father, which is bizarrely glossed over in spite of being a central element in Sailor Moon S.
I’d rank Sailor Stars as my third-favorite season, narrowly beating out Sailor Moon R. That is an issue though, because in spite of its qualities and salvaging of season 4’s Nehelenia, I’d still say that ending the series on Sailor Moon S would have been the better choice. S brought more to the table and executed its ideas far better. It easily rivaled Sailor Stars in terms of stakes, while also feeling more emotional and concluding on the best ending of any season. Sailor S is exciting and its new ideas are frequently good, but outside of the Nehelenia mini-arc, none of it ever felt as amazing as seasons 1 & 3.
Since watching it also kinda necessitates sitting through season 4, there’s no way to tackle it without sullying the fantastic conclusion that Sailor Moon S offered. This leaves fans to decide if they want to have a fantastic conclusion while knowingly leaving part of the series unfinished or watch the whole thing and get a “mixed” experience.