The Animation Art of Sailor Moon: Ikuko Itoh – Episode 139

Episode 139Try for the Best of Japan! The Worries of a Beautiful Girl Swordsman

       

Observations:

  • We’ve got a huuuuuge jump down in quality, especially in writing, from episodes 124/125 to episode 139. Itoh’s animation is decent, but this is a filler-budget episode, so it’s not great.
  • I was honestly dreading when I’d have to cover this episode as it is one of my least favourites, but I can’t exactly skip it. A general trigger warning is in effect here, for mental, physical and emotional domestic abuse, as well as some subtextual sexual abuse via Tiger’s Eye.
  • Much of what I’m going to be discussing today is just what an utter failure this episode is at delivering its message. You will not be surprised to learn that this was writer Mutsu Nakano’s only episode.
  • Fuyumi Akiyama (Miharu’s mother) was played by Shiho Niiyama (1970-2000), who would later return to play Seiya/Sailor Star Fighter. The voice she uses for this character isn’t far off from her “Fighter” voice.
  • This episode is clearly chock-full of references to the Samurai genre, but they’re lost on me since I’ve never been into that. I can’t comment on the English dub since I’d given up on it by this point, but I hope they still weren’t pretending the series wasn’t set in Japan by this point.
  • The first scene of the episode is done in a very different style. Miharu’s opponent doesn’t even look like he lives in the same universe. The colours are also very muted, creating the effect of an old movie. Most of the other scenes have a VERY strong blue/turquoise/green colour scheme.
  • I love that Miharu also refers to Ikuko Tsukino as “Ikuko-mama.” It really emphasizes that Ikuko’s character is meant to be a mother to everyone, and how that influences Usagi’s personality as another kind of “mother to everyone.”
  • I had no idea Usagi’s bedroom was so large. Where did all her stuff get moved to, anyway?
  • Once again, the characters’ emotions are conveyed through their eyes. Notice how Miharu’s expression changes from shock, to sadness, to resignation all in a few seconds.
  • Luna is present in the kitchen scene, but doesn’t have any lines in this episode. Ami and Minako are also absent here, and Pegasus only appears in stock footage. You can kind of tell that Nakano didn’t write anything else, because the combo of Rei and Makoto is one that is rarely used otherwise. I did like seeing Rei and Mako hanging out together, but my biggest complaint about the SuperS anime was the sacrificing of so many characters, even the Inners, for the sake of way too much Usagi/Chibiusa/Pegasus (who have never been characters I particularly like).
  • I used to like the Amazon Trio, but as I got older and became more aware of the sexual assault subtext in every one of their episodes, they make my stomach churn now. In this episode, neither Hawk’s Eye nor Fisheye points out that Tiger’s Eye is hoping to seduce a CHILD. Hawk’s Eye & Tiger’s Eye are horrified when Fisheye does the same, which is a really creepy double-standard. But “creepy” is how I would describe the Trio in general.
  • The message of this episode was perhaps to communicate to Japanese children that “tough love” parents only want the best for them. Fair enough, it’s common knowledge that Japanese parents are strict about academics. But the behaviour of Miharu’s mother goes way, WAY beyond strict. It bothers me so much that Usagi and Chibiusa were horrified by Fuyumi’s behaviour at first, but Usagi backed down so quickly. No. Fuyumi was smacking her child around with a wooden sword. That is not tough love. That is abuse.
  • Miharu, for her part, knows that her mother is going too far, and seems to be trying to justify it by remembering how kind her mother was when she was a small child. Poor little thing.
  • The scene where Usagi and Chibiusa are screaming at the door goes on much too long. Screams “padding” to me.
  • Fuyumi pulls the “You wouldn’t understand our family so don’t butt in and I’m not going to explain my methods to you” crap. Screw off, lady. You just beat your child in public, and you’re letting her camp out under a bridge alone. You don’t get to pretend it’s a private family matter.
  • Tiger’s Eye’s outfit is really, really weird. Someone spent hours designing that thing.
  • I really enjoyed the moment when Miharu detected the evil presence of the Dream Mirror “coffin” opening behind her and reacted to it. One of the only good aspects about this episode is how proactive Miharu is.
  • A Japanese culture joke that doesn’t translate properly is when Tiger’s Eye misreads the name of a famous samurai. What he’s referring to is Furigana, which is often used in children’s literature to help clarify how to pronounce kanji. The green book he was reading apparently lacked the clarification.
  • When Tiger’s Eye is bragging, the Toei logo appears behind him. Usually, Sailor Moon fans would only see this logo at the beginning of the three movies.
  • “There isn’t a mother out there who doesn’t think dearly of her own child.” Oh, gosh. Ouch. Usagi uses this statement as a justification for Fuyumi’s actions, and it’s yet another failure of this episode to deliver its message. This line is actually pretty much a catastrophic failure, because it fails to take into account that there are mothers out there who don’t genuinely care for their children. Far too many of them, in fact. And this message is just dangerous, because it’s telling children that may have abusive, neglectful, etc parents that their mothers are thinking kindly about them after all. It’s the type of idealistic thing Usagi might say, but there’s a limit to idealism.
  • The scene where Tiger’s Eye leads Miharu away to a secluded place, then blames her for being trusting of him, just about killed any liking I had for his character left. This is the type of thing an unrepentant pedophile might say, and considering that far too many people will blame the victims/survivors of rape and sexual assault, no matter how young they are, he is just emblematic of everything that is wrong with rape culture.
  • On a positive note, Ayatoriko is a pretty entertaining Lemures, and surprisingly cute for a Spider-Lady thing.
  • I also really liked the animation of Fire Soul, depicting that huge tornado of fire Sailor Mars is using. It’s one of the final times we see the first season attacks, and in fact, this episode had the final use of Supreme Thunder in it.
  • I also like that Miharu got up and started fighting back almost right away. This is a kid who has been pushed around by everyone around her, but nothing’s going to keep her down. In many ways, the battle against the MotD is the best part of the episode.
  • I love the smug expression on Rei’s face when she comes up with a way of tricking Ayatoriko. I have no idea why she thought challenging her to a 6-step ladder string trick would work, but somehow it did, and Ayatoriko’s reaction is priceless. Also check out Sailor Moon’s dubious expression in the corner.
  • The animation is also just genuinely better in the fight scene, especially with all the funny expressions and reactions the 4 Senshi have.
  • Aaaand then the final scene ruins it again. I enjoyed seeing Fuyumi get her comeuppance, but I don’t like that we were supposed to swallow Usagi’s belief that Fuyumi was just a strict mother trying to get her daughter not to be so obsessed with her dream of being the best swordswoman in Japan. She could have TALKED to her daughter about it, instead of trying to physically crush her dream.
  • So, as you can probably tell from my commentary, I do NOT like this episode. I dislike most SuperS episodes, but this one especially. I don’t blame Ikuko Itoh for this episode’s failure, I blame its writer, Mutsu Nakano. This thing never should have gone to air with all of its abuse issues. Miharu is an adorable VotD and I genuinely like her, but the message of this episode is an absolute mess.
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