Sailor Moon: Top Ten Episodes

I’ve been on a Sailor Moon bender lately. I first fell in love with the 1992 anime series in 1996, post college, when I was working at a soul-killing temp job and living for my nightly dose of the weirdly-dubbed episodes that were then newly airing on U.S. television. Last year saw the debut of a reboot, Sailor Moon Crystal; I watched enough of Crystal to realize it was a limp and charmless copy of the original (the characters are poorly defined, and worse, it’s not funny), which then sparked a renewed craving for the pure, uncut glory of old-school Sailor Moon.

Sailor Moon centers around Usagi Tsukino, an adorably scatterbrained eighth-grade girl who discovers she’s a reincarnated super-powered princess from the moon. She fights an unending slew of villains and demons and miscreants from all over the galaxy with the aid of her four fellow reincarnated Sailor Soldiers: brainy Ami (Sailor Mercury), temperamental Rei (Sailor Mars), brawny Makoto (Sailor Jupiter), and glamorous Minako (Sailor Venus). Chief among Usagi’s non-Soldier allies are a talking cat named Luna and her much-older reincarnated boyfriend, Mamoru Chiba, who has his own secret identity: he’s Tuxedo Mask, a cape-wearing masked dandy who hurls roses as projectile weapons. A beautiful example of giddy, silly escapism, Sailor Moon is gonzo and hilarious, as well as boundlessly charming and often poignant.

Out of the two hundred episodes that make up the show’s five-season run, it’s tough to single out ten for special attention. There are two chief types of Sailor Moon episodes: cute, quirky stand-alones where nothing much happens apart from subtle character development, and big, epic game-changers. In my choices here, I’ve tried to draw from both categories. In the interest of balance, I’ve also tried to spread out my picks across all five seasons, though that seems a little unfair; while I could happily choose all ten of my favorite episodes just from the glorious third season, season four is a gloppy mess. I struggled to find an episode from that season worthy of a spot on this list.

Season One: Sailor Moon

Episode 33: “Enter Venus, the Last Sailor Guardian”

In the show’s first season, the nefarious Queen Beryl of the Dark Kingdom scours Tokyo for a magical silver crystal that will bring her unimaginable power, while the crystal’s true owner, average Japanese schoolgirl Usagi Tsukino, begins to regain her memories of her past life as Princess Serenity of the Moon Kingdom, all while fending off attacks from Beryl’s henchmen and sundry demons. There are so many pivotal episodes in season one that it’s hard to pick the best place to dive in. Should I go with the pilot, in which Usagi discovers her powers and transforms into Sailor Moon for the first time? The first appearance of Tuxedo Mask? The introduction to Sailor Mercury, or to Mars, or to Jupiter? Strong arguments can be made for any of those episodes, but because space is at a premium here, we’re going to jump all the way ahead to episode thirty-three with the arrival of Minako Aino, aka Sailor Venus.

In the Dark Kingdom, Kunzite and Zoisite plot to eliminate Tuxedo Mask, constant protector of Sailor Moon. All four of Queen Beryl’s sexy, evil henchmen—Jadeite, Nephrite, Zoisite and Kunzite—have their moments, but icy, powerful Kunzite and flirty, spiteful Zoisite are the most fun to watch. They’re also lovers, which marks Sailor Moon’s first—but far from last—foray into depicting same-sex relationships (U.S. television skirted around potential controversy by hiring a female voice actor to dub Zoisite’s dialogue and crossing their fingers that young viewers wouldn’t notice his lack of curves).

Ever resourceful, Zoisite disguises himself as Sailor Moon, down to the short skirt and long ponytails, then lures Tuxedo Mask into a trap and stabs him in the back. When the Sailor Soldiers rush to Tuxedo Mask’s aid, Kunzite captures them. They’re all saved by the timely arrival of Sailor Venus (who has her own talking cat, Artemis, in tow). Here’s an example of how the show’s slow, slow build works to its advantage: Over the past thirty-odd episodes, viewers have known Sailor Venus by her other secret identity, famed masked crime-fighter Sailor V, whom Usagi has idolized from afar. (Prior to creating Sailor Moon, Naoko Takeuchi created the manga series Code Name: Sailor V, which featured Minako as the protagonist. In some ways, Minako is the prototype for Usagi; it’s no coincidence they share a slew of common traits. Both have long blonde hair, both own talking cats, and both—excuse me, ladies, I mean this with love—are complete dingbats.) There’s a sense of triumph to Venus’s arrival: Finally, at long last, the gang’s all here.

Episode 34: “The Shining Silver Crystal: The Moon Princess Appears”
At Queen Beryl’s urging, Zoisite sets another trap for Tuxedo Mask. And by “setting a trap”, I mean Zoisite saunters up to Mamoru and says, “Oh, hey, I know about your secret identity, wanna fight to the death in this abandoned skyscraper?” and Mamoru says, “Sounds cool, sure, mind if this underage schoolgirl who’s been following me around comes with us?” During their battle with Zoisite, Usagi and Mamoru are forced to reveal their secret identities to each other for the very first time. And then Zoisite, the gorgeous little stinker, stabs Mamoru in the back (again), mortally wounding him.

Mamoru is saved from certain death by Queen Beryl, who whisks him off to the Dark Kingdom and heals him for her own nefarious reasons. Said reasons almost certainly involve sex, because for all his flaws, Mamoru is hot and Beryl is not blind. Distraught, Usagi weeps for her wounded once-and-future boyfriend. Her tears reveal the all-powerful silver crystal, and she transforms into Princess Serenity of the Moon Kingdom for the first time.

So! A whole lot of important stuff happens! Instead of going into it, though, I’m going to digress and say a few words here about Mamoru/Tuxedo Mask, a character who manages to be both awful and amazing, often at the same time for the same reasons. Mamoru is never better (or worse, depending on your perspective) than he is during the first half of the first season, in which he’s a blisteringly obnoxious college student who makes a point of relentlessly, senselessly antagonizing Usagi whenever their paths have the misfortune to cross. He mocks her hairstyle, he makes fat jokes, he harangues her for her poor grades. He’s awful. And then, soon after this episode, they fall deeply, madly in love and start dating. I’m just going to throw this out there again, in case it slipped past anyone: He’s in college, she’s in eighth grade. Oh, sure, they’re reincarnated star-crossed lovers, but in case anyone feels like offering that up as a defense, remember that Mamoru also briefly dates Rei—who, like Usagi, is in eighth grade—during this season. So, yeah, Mamoru is the worst. He’s also sort of hilarious, and a wee bit awesome. I can’t explain it.

(In Mamoru’s slight defense, at least there’s nothing lecherous about him; in fact, he generally recoils from displays of affection, like he’s mortally embarrassed about having a preteen girlfriend. As well you should be, Mamoru.)

Season Two: Sailor Moon R

Episode 50: “Usagi's Crisis: The Tiara Stops Working”
Season two—known as Sailor Moon R; the “R” is for “romance”—doesn’t have as many big, game-changing moments as the first season; with the exception of Chibi-Usa (more on her later), there are no major character introductions. The start of season two is a clean reboot from the climax of season one, in which, spoiler alert, everyone dies in horrible and violent ways (the Sailor Soldiers get crushed and smashed and burned; it’s traumatic. Luckily, everyone gets better). At the beginning of Sailor Moon R, the Soldiers and Mamoru once again have no memories of their past lives; once again, Usagi goes through the process of reuniting all her friends and rekindling her creepy and inappropriate romance with Mamoru.

The first part of Sailor Moon R centers around two cute young aliens, Ail and An, who arrive on Earth for the purpose of feasting on all that sweet, sweet earthling energy. In this episode, Usagi and an amnesia-stricken Mamoru battle Ail and An’s latest creation, a buxom demon named Hell Ant, while gallivanting around a newfangled virtual reality arcade. The greatest thing about all this is the hopelessly convoluted and misshapen love quadrangle that forms between heroes and villains: Usagi and her school rival An are both in love with Mamoru, Ail is in love with Usagi, An and Ail are in love with each other, and Mamoru is busy being a jerk to lovesick preteen girls. Since he’s lost his memories of being Tuxedo Mask, Mamoru has also developed another alter ego: His subconscious brain has decided he’s the Moonlight Knight, a dashing, rose-hurling sheik. It’s loopy.

Episode 86: “Saphir Dies! Wiseman's Trap”
The second half of Sailor Moon R moves away from innocent romantic hijinks with cute alien preteens and drifts into darker territory. Take a deep breath; this is going to get messy.

So… apart from being the reincarnation of a moon princess and a prince from Earth who fell in love thousands of years ago, Usagi and Mamoru are also Neo-Queen Serenity and King Endymion, the future rulers of Crystal Tokyo, a paradise-on-Earth in the 30th century. Future Usagi and Future Mamoru are the proud parents of a tiny, tyrannical, pink-haired daughter, Chibi-Usa, who travels back in time to the present day to live with her very young mom to… I don’t know, make Sailor Moon appeal to a younger demographic? The whole point of Chibi-Usa escapes me. Sailor Moon generally handles cute with a deftness that prevents it from being cloying (talking cats Luna and Artemis, for example, are downright adorable, probably because they’re both solemn and brainy), but Chibi-Usa is cute in the worst sense of the word. She’s awful. Let’s not even get into Usagi’s jealousy over Chibi-Usa’s bond with Mamoru and the quasi-incestuous vibes that accompany it.

Anyway, the latter half of season two finds Usagi and the gang battling the Black Moon Clan, residents of the Planet Nemesis from the 30th century who travel back in time to cause widespread havoc. The Black Moon Clan is led by Prince Diamand, who is under the control of a creepy, shadowy figure known as the Wiseman. This episode focuses on Diamand’s beautiful younger brother, Saphir, who attempts to expose Wiseman’s evil schemes and gets flat-out murdered for his pains. There’s never a shortage of big character deaths on Sailor Moon, but when it comes to the good guys, the deaths rarely stick—there’s almost always an eleventh-hour resurrection to save the day. Not so for poor Saphir; he’s gone for good.

Notable in this episode is the presence of Black Lady, an evil, adult version of Chibi-Usa, who’s been brainwashed by the Wiseman. Slinky and devious, Black Lady is the only tolerable incarnation of Chibi-Usa.

Season Three: Sailor Moon S

Episode 92: “A Beautiful Boy? The Secret of Haruka Tenoh”
Now we’re getting somewhere. The first two seasons are delightful, but Sailor Moon S (“S” for “super”) is the show at its very finest, and it’s all thanks to the lesbians. Season three sees the arrival of Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune, a pair of powerful, sophisticated badasses who breeze into Tokyo and kick up a cloud of widespread sexual confusion amongst their younger counterparts. In the first two seasons, you can make a case for picking any of the original five Soldiers as your favorite—Usagi is good-hearted and hilarious, Ami has an edge beneath her mild-mannered-genius exterior, Rei is a Shinto shaman with psychic powers, Makoto hurtles into misguided romances and roughs up evildoers with the same level of vigor, and Minako has her whole cool past as Sailor V—but if, after watching this season, your favorite Sailor Soldier isn’t Uranus, well, I don’t really know what to do with you.

This episode features the first appearances of Uranus and Neptune in their civilian identities, overachieving high school girls Haruka and Michiru. Haruka is a champion racecar driver and track star; Michiru is a world-class violinist and artist. As Uranus and Neptune, defenders of the outer galaxy, they’re cold, ruthless, and sometimes downright mean; as Haruka and Michiru, they’re easygoing and charming. They’re also incorrigible flirts, both with each other and with whomever happens to be around at the moment. And yes, they’re lovers. (In the U.S. version, they’re “cousins”, which, since Haruka and Michiru are physically affectionate with each other, doesn’t so much negate the gay vibes as add some incestuous ones.)

In this episode, Usagi and Minako first encounter Haruka at an arcade and, assuming she’s a really hot guy (she has short hair and often wears a boys’ school uniform), immediately develop mad crushes on her. They spend the episode trailing her around like lovesick puppies, until they happen to notice she has, like, breasts. “I don’t remember saying I was a boy,” Haruka tells them dryly.

Episode 109: “A Time of Shock! True Identities Revealed to One Another”
Uranus and Neptune’s mission in Tokyo is to track down talismans hidden inside the pure hearts of three unidentified humans. Joining the talismans together will form a grail powerful enough to save the world from looming destruction. As removing the talismans will kill their human owners, this mission puts Uranus and Neptune at sharp odds with soft-hearted Sailor Moon and the rest of the Sailor Soldiers. Also in the mix is Professor Tomoe, who, with the aid of his coterie of buxom evil scientists, searches for the heart talismans himself to ensure the world’s destruction.

Basically, a whole lot of people get their hearts ripped out during this season. One per episode, pretty much. This is much less fatal than you’d assume. Also, in the Sailor Moon universe, hearts are made of sparkly crystals, so it’s also less gory than you’d assume.

Anyway, by the middle of the season, Usagi, Rei, Ami, and Makoto have each had their hearts ripped out by villains searching for the talismans. Minako’s exclusion from this group leaves everyone questioning whether or not her heart is truly pure. Minako becomes hilariously, gloriously creepy and bitter about this, slitting her eyes and hissing and muttering under her breath: “If they don’t realize how pure I am, the enemy really isn’t that formidable.” “But, thinking about this, is Minako really pure?” ponders her loyal feline companion, Artemis.

Sure enough, eventually the villains target Minako. In the process of defending Minako from an attacking demon, Michiru and Haruka are forced to transform into Neptune and Uranus in front of Usagi, thus revealing their secret identities (it must be taken on faith that all Sailor Soldiers are wholly unrecognizable, even to each other, after they’ve transformed). The younger Soldiers are devastated to discover the cool, sexy older girls they’ve idolized are… well, not exactly their enemies, but certainly not their friends.

Episode 110: “Death of Uranus and Neptune!? Talismans Appear”
Hey, you know those three talismans hidden inside pure human hearts? You know where two of them are? Villainous scientist Eugeal figures it out first: Neptune and Uranus have them. Eugeal lures them into a trap and launches a full-out attack. Neptune dies in a hail of arrows while saving Uranus; a world-class badass to the end, Uranus shoots out her own heart to give her talisman to Sailor Moon before she dies.

(Oh, they’re fine. They’re alive and well by the end of next episode, but their deaths—or “deaths”, really—are still wrenching. The owner of the third talisman, just FYI, is the impossibly elegant Sailor Pluto, guardian of time, who makes infrequent but always welcome appearances throughout the series.)

Episode 115: “Shadow of Silence!? The Pale Glimmer of a Firefly”
Chibi-Usa becomes best friends with Hotaru, a frail and sickly young girl who keeps collapsing from unexplained seizures. When Uranus and Chibi-Usa are attacked by one of Professor Tomoe’s demons, something awakens within Hotaru, and she obliterates it with a single blinding glance. Hotaru, it turns out, has a slew of deadly secrets: She’s the daughter of Professor Tomoe, she’s possessed by an evil alien entity, and, oh yeah, she’s the much-feared Sailor Saturn, destroyer of worlds, soldier of death and ruin. Her rebirth on Earth means destruction is nigh.

Sailor Uranus seems to share my estimation of Chibi-Usa:

I have a whole lot of favorite episodes from this season, and no room to accommodate them all, so quick honorable mentions go to “Cold-Hearted Uranus? Makoto in Trouble”, in which Makoto develops a crush on Haruka and then spends the rest of the episode explaining to her friends that she’s not switching teams, she just admires strong women; “The Kindness of a Man! Yuichiro, Heartbroken by Rei?”, in which Rei’s devoted slacker suitor Yuichiro assumes she’s dating Haruka; and “The Bond of Destiny! The Distant Days of Uranus”, in which Haruka reflects upon meeting and falling in love with Michiru. It’s a damn good season, that’s what I’m saying.

Season Four: Sailor Moon SuperS

Episode 148: “Shadows of the Great Evil! The Trio is Cornered”
As mentioned earlier, season four (Sailor Moon SuperS—I guess that stands for “SuperSuper”?) is pretty awful. If you’re not a big Chibi-Usa fan, huge swaths of it come close to unwatchable, because it’s all Chibi-Usa, all the time, while the original Soldiers take a backseat. The cute factor has been cranked up to eleven: You think the talking cats are cute? We’ll give you a talking kitten! Winged unicorns! Sailor Moon has angel wings! Everything’s pink! The world vomits ribbons and glitter and sparkles! And there are no cool lesbians anywhere to be seen, Uranus and Neptune having breezed out of town at the end of last season.

SuperS’s one redeeming factor: the Amazon Trio, a trio of super-sleazy villains—Tiger’s Eye, Hawk’s Eye, and Fish Eye—who run amuck, causing chaos and injecting a little life into these treacle-filled proceedings. Anyhoo, in this episode, Fish Eye falls in love with his assigned target, Mamoru.

It took me about twelve episodes to sort out that Fish Eye is male, by the way; he has a soft voice, and he cross-dresses, but the show consistently refers to him with masculine pronouns. Anyway, he’s baffled by Mamoru’s love for Usagi and schemes to win his heart (or, failing that, to kill him or whatever). When all his efforts prove ineffective, Fish Eye sits sadly on a bench in a downpour, miserable and heartbroken… until his sworn enemy Usagi drops by and lends him an umbrella. It’s the beginning of the path to redemption for the dastardly Amazon Trio.

Season Five: Sailor Moon Sailor Stars

Episode 184: “A Night for Just Us! Usagi's Pinch”
And then we have Sailor Stars. Hoo boy.

The show got weird in its final season. I mean that in a good way, I think, mostly. It jettisons Chibi-Usa, and the winged unicorns, and all of the terrible, gloppy stuff that sank season four, and that’s surely a good thing. Neptune and Uranus are back in town, the younger Sailor Soldiers are now in high school, and all is well with the world. Except… Mamoru’s no longer around, because he left to go study overseas. Unbeknownst to Usagi, he never made it there—he was murdered en route by the evil and all-powerful Sailor Galaxia. Oh, sure, he comes back to life in the final episode, but Usagi spends an entire season unaware that her boyfriend is dead (she just assumes he’s too busy to answer her letters). It’s strange and sad.

The Sailor Stars—Sailor Starlights, actually—are a trio of famous male pop stars (Seiya, Taiki, and Yaten) who transform into female Soldiers in black leather fetish gear. In Mamoru’s absence, Usagi begins a tentative affair with Seiya. There’s a certain not-displeasing shaggy, ramshackle charm about this whole season; it’s a little lighter, a little looser, a little broader and raunchier than before. Again, I think I mean that in a good way, though it’s hard to be sure. It’s different.

Stuck alone in her house all night while her parents and brother are away, Usagi becomes nervous about a rash of neighborhood burglaries. Seiya volunteers to stay over as her bodyguard. Concerned that Seiya might tempt Usagi to be unfaithful to Mamoru, Ami, Makoto, Minako, and Rei decide to keep them company; Taiki and Yaten come over as well, probably just to be jerks (Taiki and Yaiten, by the way, are relentlessly, hilariously unpleasant and awful). And then Haruka and Michiru drop by, because everything’s better with them around. Chaos happens: Haruka and Seiya snarl insults at each other (“I heard Haruka doesn’t like men,” Usagi whispers to her friends. Michiru corrects her: “Haruka doesn’t like popular men.”), a roving live television show arrives at the front door, a demon attacks, and the episode devolves into a big and surprisingly effective gag about how the living room is far too small to accommodate a gaggle of ten transformed superheroes.


it wouldn't let me be anonymous ;_; said…
After seeing that Haruka is your favorite, I have to ask if you'd ever be willing to do a top ten for Utena. Better yet, if you'd be willing to do an episode-by-episode review of Utena.
Morgan Richter said…
I've actually never seen Utena, though looking at clips on YouTube just now, it does seem exactly like something I'd watch. I'm going to investigate it further. Thanks for the tip!
I know this is an old post, so I'm not sure if you're still reading these comments, but if you are: I think the best Super S "episode" is the special with Haruka and Michiru:

(I know it's not really an episode, but check it out if you haven't seen it yet!)
Morgan Richter said…
Yes! Anonymous Sailor Moon Fan, I'd seen that Super S special, and it is damn good. Probably the best (most entertaining, at least) thing about Super S. Thanks for posting the link.

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