On Monday night I went to see Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon: The Musical – Le Mouvement Final at the local Regal Cinema that was showing it. There were only two screenings, Sunday noontime and early Monday evening, and my family was busy on the weekend so Monday won out by default. Our friend Brandy said she would join us, and it turned out she was as much a Sailor Moon fan as a young girl as I was in graduate school (there’s a bit of an age difference). Brandy came in handy afterwards, since she was much more well-versed in Sailor Moon lore and, as she handily explained, this musical is a very truncated form of the last story arc from the original Sailor Moon anime.
Truly, there was something for each of us at this show. Barbara enjoyed the musical because it was some good old fashioned Japanese culture for her, which I know she misses a great deal; Barbara also used to tutor Brandy in Japanese, so they both were laughing at parts that did not make it through the subtitled translations. Haruna was excited about seeing an anime-based musical, given her strong interest as both an otaku and as a participant in school musicals. She decided to cosplay as Sailor Jupiter (thanks to an old costume of Brandy’s – see how indispensable she was?) so the entire thing felt almost like a comic convention to her.
As for me, it was great to get in touch with my Sailor Moon fandom impulses all over again. I found it especially gratifying to see the Sailor Stars when they finally give up being boys and put on their go-go dancer outfits. I mean, I didn’t realize they would look like that on a real human, but the thigh-high boots and the hot pants and the bustier halter tops all pointed in that direction. It just wasn’t so obvious when it was drawn on transsexual manga heroines, I guess, but it’s ridiculously sexy in an over-the-top way.
My forgotten favorite past as a Sailor Moon otaku came back to haunt me in other ways throughout the screening. I knew Sailor Saturn had a very sad story but never knew what that story was exactly because I tuned out before she even arrived on the scene. (Brandy filled me in later, and we agreed that what happened to her was tragic.) Early on, I noticed how long a neck Sailor Moon had – Hotaru Nomoto, the actress, cuts a swan-like figure that borders on giraffe-like, though I’m thinking now it makes sense – after all, long necks are how Naoko Takeuchi drew her Sailor Scouts. And while watching the musical, I was reminded of how much I love the Eternal Sailor Moon outfit! I love the wings, I love the staff, I love the color scheme and the move away from seifuku-style costumes. I actually used to own a small statue of Eternal Sailor Moon from my much younger otaku days, but I hadn’t thought of that in literally decades. (And now I want an Eternal Sailor Moon statue again. Just saying.) Also, one thing I was very disappointed about afterwards was that the Sailor Moon Sailor Stars theme was never played in the musical. They play a little bit of the Moonlight Densetsu theme, which is undeniably a classic and the one that comes to mind for all fans, but the Sailor Stars theme is an incredible song in and of itself. Back in the day, I even bought a CD just so I could get a copy of that song and listen to it repeatedly.
The performances were solid throughout, though there were some clear standout numbers. The Wandering Lights number was great, as was the number that introduced the Sailor Scouts in their fighting togs. The pop metal of Galaxia’s first song was a lot of fun, the duet between Usagi and Mamoru was especially beautiful, while Sailor Moon’s singing right after she turned into Eternal Sailor Moon had a surprising force that we don’t hear from her anywhere else. Far and away, though, Princess Kakyu’s singing was streets ahead from everyone else – everyone else were doing just fine for a musical, but Princess Kakyu (played by Asami Okamura) seemed to be performing opera with her voice, it was both astoundingly beautiful and a solid serving of cognitive dissonance.
There was excellent use of the stage, with its huge staircases being employed in different ways for different scenes. The fight scenes were fun and athletic without being campy, even with the audio special effects. And the lighting was very impressive, with different tricks to convey everything from Sailor Scout powers to strange flashbacks (in the case of Chibi Chibi) to the Lovecraftian scariness of Chaos. Yes, I was seeing Lovecraftian echoes in this musical, and I saw it again with the candle-carrying cultists during the desert planet sequence. I’m not sure if the HPL homage was intended, but I like to think it was.
I was fine with following the story for the most part, but towards the climax there was a bit of a speed bump when Sailor Moon and her remaining allies talk about fighting versus not fighting, as well as maintaining hope and not giving in to anger, and it was just a big metaphysical WTF for me. And while the remainder of the musical remained highly enjoyable, there was now this weird kind of philosophical question mark that hung over it and which caused me some bemusement. Sailor Moon decides not to fight in the sense of giving in to violence and anger (very Jedi), but she does decide to fight in the sense of hanging in there (Brandy explained this to me, helpfully using ganbatte as a reference), which I get… But does that mean she defeated Chaos by embracing the cauldron and everything in it, both good and bad? And why did this cause a rebirth? And if Sailor Cosmos is the future of Sailor Moon, isn’t it truly sad and even depressing that everybody agrees that the present day Sailor Moon – as Eternal Sailor Moon, I assume – is the best ever Sailor Guardian of all time? Shouldn’t we be improving ourselves from one life to another, isn’t that the hope of reincarnation, that we move closer to an ideal of some sort, one lifetime at a time? Is Sailor Cosmos just going, “Yup, that was my best lifetime, and I can’t ever top that, so… I’m off the hook in that regard.”
Okay, I’m being a bit sarcastic here. But that definitely threw me off, as did the significance of the happy ending since it seems to just be a press of the reset button and a promise that they’re going to reincarnate over and over again anyways. Talk about pulling up stakes.
The show was long, but we didn’t realize how long – aside from the weird pseudo-philosophical parts (I don’t even know if it should be called that, but certainly it expressed a kind of ethos towards happiness and saving the universe), the musical ran at a brisk pace and kept us all riveted throughout. Once the story ended on a happy note, though, the show didn’t end: we were treated to the various performers doing more musical numbers in-character, which was just fabulous and absolutely gratifying. Barb said this was something you see in Japanese theater, a chance for those in smaller roles to get more of the spotlight and show their stuff. Mamoru was especially charismatic in those post-story numbers, and no surprise – turns out the actress, Yuga Yamato, is a takarazuka legend! And indeed, with the entire cast (except the voice of Chaos) played by women, I was wondering if this was officially takarazuka or simply had that feel to it.
On a depressing note, Monday night the four of us were roughly half the audience in the theater. I was initially worried that the place would be packed with cosplayers and otaku and we wouldn’t find a seat. But there were only two other people already in the theater when we arrived, and one more person showed up before the show started, and that was it. All three were gone once the story part of the musical ended, so they missed out on some really good stuff. On the bright side, realizing the four of us had the place to ourselves meant we were loudly talking to the screen and each other. We even pulled our phones out to look up stuff on the internet regarding the musical, the name of performers, and various Sailor Moon tidbits. As we left the cinema, Barbara asked someone at the box office about Sunday afternoon’s show; he looked it up in the computer and said only four percent of tickets were sold to that show. So I’m thinking maybe sixteen to twenty-four folks?
Such a small audience for such a wonderful show is sad, though part of the problem may be lack of promotion. We only found out about it on Saturday because Barbara wanted to go see Jumanji; when she discovered this and told me, I checked with Haruna and we all agreed we HAD to go. But we could have missed out on it, too, and that would have been an otaku tragedy. This was one of the best nights in a movie theater I have ever had in my life, it just made me feel happy, positively incandescent, to witness something that was so beautiful and upbeat and (to my foreign ears, at least) completely unironic in its celebration of heroines and the fans who love them. I wouldn’t say it made me feel young again, but it did put me back in touch with the young otaku who was dazed and dazzled by just how emotionally invested one can be with a magical girl series and all its characters. I want to feel that way more often, but for now the memory of this Sailor Moon musical will keep me buoyed in the days and weeks ahead.