Sailor Moon Crystal Set 1
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Sailor Moon Crystal Set 1 Limited Edition (BD/DVD combo pack)
Usagi Tsukino is a little clumsy and a crybaby, but she's also one spirited eighth grader. One day she meets Luna, a black cat with a crescent moon mark on her forehead, and transforms into the pretty guardian of love and justice in a sailor suit, Sailor Moon! As a chosen guardian of justice, Usagi apparently has a mission to protect a princess, and to find her fellow Guardians and the phantom Silver Crystal. Meanwhile, Queen Beryl of the Dark Kingdom sends her subordinates to the town where Usagi lives. They cause strange events to occur there, all in an effort to acquire the tremendously powerful Silver Crystal... Can Sailor Moon and the other Guardians successfully find the phantom crystal, and protect the princess...!?]]>
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But I'm here to talk about Crystal. Oh- Sailor Moon Crystal! First announced 4 years ago during the Summer of 2012 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Sailor Moon franchise, it would be a full two years until the final product would grace our screens via a number of internet streaming services. Immediately touted as a fresh adaptation which would adhere closely to the original manga and utilize the latest technologies to bring the story to life, the as-yet untitled project quickly became the most anticipated anime in recent memory. Indeed, the new series generally succeeds in both of these areas. Individuals like myself who have worn out their various copies of the manga over the years will appreciate the almost religious adherence to the source material along with the generally gorgeous animation. Though not without the occasional deviance, most episodes play out like a 1:1 adaptation of each issue or "act" as they are called. Gone here are the filler episodes of yester-yore. Gone are the "Rainbow Crystals" and all other plot elements fabricated for the classic series in order to increase the episode count. And yet this is mostly a good thing. What we are left with is pure story and a heaping amount of action.
One aspect I found particularly fun is that instead of being bombarded with (albeit beautifully animated) stock animation sequences, we're now treated to a mixture of real-time combat along with the attacks we all know by heart. This was something I found sorely missing from the original and have found immensely satisfying in this new incarnation. That's not to say Crystal has arrived without its share of controversies. In example, the new senshi/guardian transformations are rendered in cell shaded CGI to give an overall 3D effect. It's mostly lovely but also a jarring departure in style from the rest of the series. Another chief complaint is that without the copious amounts of filler episodes we're accustomed to, our main characters have less time to believably develop as both individuals and close friends. It's true, the supporting character-focused episodes are sorely missed. And despite the fact that we're still given a strong grasp of each senshi's background and personality traits, I can't help but feel my emotional investment in these characters still stems in large part directly from my history with the original show. Perhaps the main flaw of Crystal, however unusual, is that it's almost *too* plot focused. Events move at such a fast pace that it's somewhat to the detriment of all characters not named Usagi Tsukino. But only somewhat. At the end of the day it's important to remember that this is her story and thus she takes center stage. Rightfully so.
Now on to the elephant in the room. After the initial premiere of each episode in the first season, some viewers were quick to point that certain shots looked rushed or at times even slightly unfinished. Unfortunately in the world of anime production deadlines take precedence over all else. Delivering the episode on time is understandably #1. Because of this the final product can indeed suffer. This affects all animated series, especially a special effects-laden extravaganza like Sailor Moon Crystal. To be clear the premiere versions did not look terrible. In fact no matter how you look at it Crystal is a gorgeous show. But in the age of HD displays even minor errors can stick out like a sore thumb to astute viewers. Fortunately I'm happy to report that what you will see on this blu-ray release is a drastic improvement over anything currently streaming online.
Prior to the blu-ray release Toei went back to each and every episode with a fine toothed comb to give this series the final polish it so richly deserves. Countless shots have been re-animated and dramatically refined. Unfinished visual effects have been corrected and replaced. A show that has become infamous over the past two years for its wonky character close-ups now shines even brighter under scrutiny. Don't take my word for it, there are comparison guides galore across the web which can give you an idea. Truthfully though it's mainly in motion that the improved visuals really shine and there's no better way to experience that than on HD blu-ray. This is the finished package with an excellent transfer. Any complaint that I may have had from an animation quality standpoint has gone right out the window.
Audio is presented in uncompressed 2.0 stereo for both the original Japanese and the excellent English dub. For a stereo track it's a powerhouse, but I must admit to being slightly disappointed with the lack of a 5.1 option that takes fuller advantage of blu-ray's capabilities. Not worth subtracting a star because what's here is truly excellent - however it does feel a bit like a missed opportunity for such a new production. My one minor quibble with this set.
Set one comes housed in a beautiful foiled-embossed chipboard box that looks absolutely stunning in person. Also in the box is a very nice series guidebook filled to the brim with detailed character and item designs, background layouts, interviews, episode summaries, and more. Definitely worth reading all the way through. Finally, we have a set of glossy character cards for each senshi, Tuxedo Mask, and Princess Serenity. This is a true collector's piece that reflects the look and design of the Japanese blu-ray sets. Speaking of those Japanese sets, at around $75 per set they were relegated to a mere 2 episodes each. Insane. This made the entire first season a cost prohibitive venture for most. But here we receive the first 14 episodes in their entirety for a fraction of the cost. That's the entire Dark Kingdom story arc!
Bottom line: Sailor Moon Crystal is a great show for both longtime fans of Sailor Moon and newcomers. Fans won't be disappointed with the deluxe treatment Viz Media has provided in this gorgeous blu-ray release. The transfer is excellent and the limited edition packaging is some of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Get the box set now as once it's gone, it's gone forever. This release comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.