Sailor Moon R The Movie: Promise of the Rose
Director: Kunihiko Ikuhara
Original screenplay: Sukehiro Tomita
North American voice cast: Stephanie Sheh, Robbie Daymond, Ben Diskin, Carrie Keranen
North American premiere: January 19, 2017 (United States); March 1, 2017 (Canada)
It’s the distinctly ’90s thrill of electric guitars and percussion that comes to mind first when I think of the Sailor Moon R movie released 14 years ago. “Moon Revenge,” performed by Peach Hips (the unit name given to the original Japanese voice actresses), is not the kind of song one forgets easily. As news of North American screenings, helmed by Viz Media, trickled through my feed last month, it was “Moon Revenge” that played in the background, the soundtrack of some of my best memories of the series.
Nostalgia like mine will likely have driven some fans to their closest theatres to see the film, eager to see a remastered, high-definition version. For others, it might be the first time they’ve heard of the Sailor Moon movies, unsurprising considering the different experiences many of us had with the show in the 1990s and early 2000s. Viz Media’s rerelease of the original anime with a new dub has certainly brought in a new generation of fans, and their screening of the first film will likely draw in more.
Watching the film myself was an exercise in testing the limits of that nostalgia, seeing where it was carrying me through, and asking myself if the new English voice cast still captured what I had loved about this movie when I first saw it almost exactly ten years ago. This is not to say the film was bad or that the new cast was awful at their jobs–on the contrary. The Sailor Moon R film is my favourite of the three that Toei Animation produced in the early 90s, and to this day, I don’t know that I could really tell you the exact reason why.
It’s a fairly short movie, just over an hour running time, and focused on the relationship between Mamoru and a childhood friend Fiore. We learn that Fiore is actually an alien and that his own young interaction with a kind five-year-old Mamoru, newly orphaned, was the catalyst for Fiore’s own journey back to Earth. Twelve years after Fiore bid goodbye to Mamoru, Usagi Tsukino and friends are visiting a garden greenhouse for the day, bickering and enjoying each other’s company. Fiore arrives in a whirlwind of pink petals to invite Mamoru to come with him and his new friend the Xenian (Kisenian, for those familiar with the old dub) Flower. Usagi isn’t quite on board with this, and Fiore doesn’t react in the most positive way, unleashing a series of events that culminate in a meteoric climax–literally.
I remember that I was absolutely enthralled by this movie when I first watched it, introduced as I was to the post-R pieces of the series by my college roommates. Mamoru’s backstory had intrigued me as a kid, and I never really felt like I got all the answers I wanted off Cartoon Network’s version of the show. Promise of the Rose provides at least some of those answers, as we learn about Mamoru’s earliest memories, the kindness and self-sacrifice that he would continue to display throughout his life, and the two relationships with two people that influenced him most, Fiore and Usagi. Chiba Mamoru gets a lot of flak in the Sailor Moon fandom, but I’ve always liked his character because of the way he reworked the hand he’d been dealt. This film retains the qualities that have always endeared him to me, checking off one of the boxes I had wondered about in anticipation.
Equally important too was the way the senshi would be portrayed through the new voice cast. Viz Media chose to precede the movie with a short film called Make Up, Sailor Guardians!, a bit of a review of the five senshi’s backgrounds and roles. It was my first time hearing the new cast, as well as hearing Viz’s choice to keep all of the Japanese character names. I hadn’t expected it, but as I much prefer the Japanese names to Serena and Darien, I was rather pleasantly surprised by this. My one nitpick is the choice to shorten “Mamo-chan,” Usagi’s pet name for Mamoru, to “Mamo.” It feels abrupt and comes across as even more infantalizing than the original nickname. As for the voices themselves, I must admit that I wasn’t as sold on Stephanie Sheh’s take on Usagi as I was for the other voice actresses’ work on the senshi. I especially loved Amanda C. Miller’s smooth and strong Jupiter voice, and Cherami Leigh is playful and confident as Venus.
The art made me feel similarly. It was a little strange seeing this movie, already well loved in ’90s quality, so crisp and clear on my HDTV screen. There was no noise, no unclear spots, things that you just got used to before the series rerelease. Certainly, I appreciated it–Viz’s production team did a marvelous job brightening and sharpening the original film, bringing details out that I had missed over the years of watching older quality versions. It would be wonderful to see the S and Super S movies in the same quality, and I’ll definitely hope for them to roll out soon.
But I suppose fans familiar with the film might be wondering about “Moon Revenge” just as I did. The sequence is an iconic one, powerful enough that my first viewing elicited goosebumps. Viz keeps the original Japanese song, and I don’t know that I could have accepted anything else. I won’t spoil the sequence for those who might be new to this movie, but the scenes did call back for me the memories of seeing them for the first time on a small laptop, unable to look away and hoping against hope for a happy ending.
It’s the same feeling that has kept me around for Sailor Moon for so long, on top of the decade-long friendships I’ve made because of the series. The R film made me smile at the end of an almost unbearably day, gave me the comfort that I needed. It’s still the same story I fell in love with in 2007, more high-definition maybe, but just as full of heart in that earnest Sailor Moon way.