Sailor Moon remains one of the most iconic anime series, because of its timeless nature as a mahou shoujo series – there were certainly magical girls before it (such as Mahou Tsukai Sally/Sally the Witch), but Sailor Moon really helped codify and popularize the trends within the genre (such as the Power Rangers-esque team dynamic and the use of specialized attacks unique to each member of the team). For Sailor Moon Crystal, the most recent show, it provides a reboot of the franchise and a 21st-century invigoration; anime diversified greatly after the 1990s, after all, and Sailor Moon now sees a reboot during the new millennium.
The first episode of Crystal opens with a dream sequence, wherein the camera zooms in on the galaxy for each successive frame before focusing on Earth’s Moon and the Moon Kingdom residing upon it. This is a bucolic, peaceful scene, one where Serenity and Endymion spend their days blissfully; the first episode of the original Sailor Moon series didn’t open with this, instead going directly to introducing Usagi Tsukino, the primary protagonist of the series and the reincarnation of Serenity. By starting off this way, this episode of Crystal gives a tantalizing glimpse into Usagi’s regal past and simultaneously reintroducing the world of the anime to a new generation – Usagi’s introduction in the subsequent shots make it clear that a classic series returns to the small screen. Speaking of Usagi, her formal introduction doesn’t show her face; in a way, the anime doesn’t have to show it, because it becomes abundantly clear who it is in the opening scenes, with her bumbling through her day to school.
Here we have screenshots of Usagi running to school and encountering Luna for the first time; this happens within the first few minutes of the episode, a nod to the original series. Luna’s memorable moon-shaped symbol ties her to the Moon Kingdom that once flourished; as I mentioned in my commentary for Sailor Moon‘s second episode, the moon represents the Buddha and his all-encompassing nature. The original series had numerous references to Buddhism, if one looks at it through a Buddhist lens – it’s all about the forces of good cleansing the world and fighting the forces of negativity (exemplified by the Dark Kingdom and Queen Beryl), a symbol of the constant struggle of humanity. With Luna, we get our first glimpse into this world of duality; in Buddhism, the human world is typified by dhukka (translated as “suffering,” but more encompassing than that word may indicate), and Sailor Moon Crystal (like its original forebear) shows us the road to salvation can be achieved through dedication. Also, note the bright colors and kinetic activity of these shots – Usagi lives in a world yet unaffected by the Dark Kingdom’s machinations, which is bright and cheerful.
By contrast, the Dark Kingdom lives in a dark, menacing place; it represents corruption, the sort of negativity one might encounter in the universe. This becomes all the more pronounced when Naru’s mother gets replaced by a youma – no one is safe from machinations of Queen Beryl and the Shittenou (her four most important disciples) as they search for the Legendary Silver Crystal which apparently currently resides on Earth. The youma in question takes over the mother’s life (if briefly, before her demise at the hands of Sailor Moon) as the owner of a jewelry store; this emphasizes the fickle nature of the cosmos, as people can be seduced by all sorts of material goods. The Dark Kingdom relies upon humanity’s fascination with the material to trick them into giving up energy – the world is a strange and sometimes frightful place, and people can become pawns in a power play if caught unawares, as seen here.
Usagi’s transformation into Sailor Moon comes with the assistance of Luna – she becomes the first bastion of light and positiveness in a world now threatened by the Dark Kingdom, and it’s up to her to battle Jadeite’s youma by herself. Well, “by herself” isn’t accurate here – Mamoru Chiba makes his debut appearance as Tuxedo Kamen here, showing how the world has two protectors now (technically three, when counting Sailor Venus, but she has yet to appear). This encounter/battle provides probably the most important value of the series – that of teamwork and cooperation. Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Kame offer the first example of teamwork as a positive; they do not exist in a hierarchy, instead relying on each other to defeat the forces of badness. The youma, on the other hand, relies upon subordination and hypnosis – the women seen in the emply of said youma do not have free will at the moment, as they are being controlled by an external source. This really cements the dichotomy of the two sides of this fight; Sailor Moon may be scared initially, but she gets by when she realizes she is not alone in the fight, and can handle herself in her first out-and-out bout with forces she initially didn’t even know exist.