Reviews: Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon

If you thought you knew Sailor Moon...

While Sailor Moon has always been a deceptively cheerful series, the live-action version seems to push things to their extreme. Girls in rainbow wigs running around with toy cats fighting monsters in rubber suits? Don't be fooled. If you're a sentai fan, or even a fan of Supernatural Soap Operas like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Supernatural, you'll be surprised at the nuanced characters and serious storyline hidden beneath. And if you're already a Sailor Moon fan, you'll be no less surprised at the twists, turns and, at times, outright genre deconstruction this retelling of the Dark Kingdom arc brings to the franchise.

The stars are all the same age as the senshi themselves, which lends a charming giddiness to some of the performances, and they all have a great handle on their characters. The supporting cast likewise fairs well (Usagi's mom in particular steals just about every scene she's in), and PGSM manages to keep an even balance between the senshi's fantasy battles and their everyday lives all the way through the story, with human characters like Naru and Motoki never losing their relevance. When the show's not focused on a youma fight or the Dark Kingdom's machinations, it could easily be mistaken for a realistic, if quirky, teenage drama.

That's not to sell the fantasy elements short. While Sailor Moon has never shied away from giving its villains Freudian Excuses, Queen Beryl as envisioned here borders on a Well Intentioned Extremist, and it gradually becomes clear that she honestly sees herself as the hero of the story (culminating in an unforgettable gut-punch of a last line to Sailor Moon). Conversely, the Moon Kingdom and the nature of the senshi are given a much darker interpretation than usual, and all the various factions in the increasingly complex Grey And Gray Morality conflict are given ample character development and the freedom to argue their cases.

The show does require some serious suspension of disbelief and, while the effects get better over time (Rei's fire dance is a sight to behold), they're often pretty awful. It takes several episodes for the story to find its footing, and the ending's rushed. But if you can look past those flaws, the writing, the acting and the sheer enthusiasm of everyone involved more than make up for it.