Now available on home media after a long out-of-print status in the United States, Sailor Moon - Season 1, Part 1 presents the first 23 episodes of the famously beloved anime series across a six-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack release. The series follows the adventures of Usagi Tsukino (Sailor Moon) as she discovers that she has special magical abilities that can be used to help defeat the baddies of the world, including the evil Queen Beryl, who wishes to control the hearts and minds of all. (... and all the while, Usagi must remember to continue to do well with school. Ahhh!)
Upon a unexpected visit from a talking cat by the name of Luna, Usagi begins to learn of her gifts and helps to save the day as Sailor Moon: a justice-seeking guardian of love. The series begins as an episodic show with a monster-of-the-week format, but it still delves into these characters with adequate character-development and good storytelling. The show is a joy to behold for it's entertaining episodic nature as well as for the development seen on the show during it's incredible run.
As the original season of the series unfolds, there are more Sailor Scouts becoming recruited by Luna and Sailor Moon meets the already famous Sailor Venus. The team eventually becomes: Sailor Moon, Sailor Mars, Sailor Mercury, Sailor Jupiter, and Sailor Venus, all of whom work together to help save the world from evil and protect the dreams of the world. Each donning a unique look and unique abilities (such as Sailor Moon's famous 'Moon Tiara Action!' move), a number of unique attributes helps to set apart each member of the team while also serving as a reminder of each character's strengths and importance to the whole.
There is also the addition of a mysterious hero named Tuxedo Mask who helps save Sailor Moon during her early missions, while she continues to find her own footing as a legendary hero. Who is Tuxedo Mask and how will he fit into the series storyline? This question (and more!) unfolds during these early season one episodes.
Graced by wonderful animation (some of the best cell-based animation ever made), creative storytelling, and memorable characters, Sailor Moon is a definitive anime creation from the 1990's and one of the most iconic series in the history of the anime medium. Many anime fans became anime fans on the heels of seeing this wonderful series for the first time. It holds up just as well now as it did decades ago, and is essential viewing for any anime fan.
So now the important question is... how does the newly available Blu-ray release hold up? Find out below.
The video quality of this release is bad. There you have it (in a nutshell). For those who wish to know why: read on. VIZ Media have really dropped the ball with their Blu-ray release of the classic anime series Sailor Moon. The presentation is rife with compression artifacts, poor telecine reversal (which resulted in ghosting, where shadow detail can sometimes be seen following characters and motion on screen), and has been altered with boosted color and dramatically bad DNR (digital noise reduction), which eliminates fine detail in the art. It's disappointing, period. Making matters even worse is the fact this a SD-upconversion which actually isn't native HD at all. Nor does it even remotely look HD or have the usual benefits possible with a HD upconversion. The Blu-ray discs, in fact, suffer from poor compression, digital tweaking, and other anomalies which makes the presentation look worse than a typical well-produced DVD set. On a more positive note: at least it's in the O.A.R. of 1.33:1 full-frame (as opposed to the widescreen-cropped atrocity done to Dragon Ball Z by Funimation for those season set Blu-ray releases).
The word about this release from the beginning was that it would be a upconversion. So there is actually no surprise there. Toei, the Japanese company which owns the rights in Japan, are not producing any more Blu-ray releases which are remastered from the original film negatives. Everything they release in "HD" in Japan is now simply a upconvert, even if the source was naively available on film. Knowing this information, one could reasonable presume that the announcement of Sailor Moon on Blu-ray from VIZ Media was actually good news even if it meant the show wouldn't look as good as it could have looked. However, as it turns out, these matters are more complicated than that.
Previous DVD releases (prior to the newer remastered releases) had some of the same issues with color reproduction apparent here. Similarly, older masters displayed the terrible degraded VHS quality present on the former US DVD releases from ADV. Those masters were absolutely awful and previous home media sets available for Sailor Moon in the US represented an outdated presentation which was rife with a number of issues... issues that were even worse than what is found on this VIZ Media release. In that sense, some fans might immediately be pleased by the "upgrade" offered by VIZ. Technically speaking, the Blu-ray release of Sailor Moon: Season 1, Part 1 is still the best available in North America to date.
However, a remastered version of Sailor Moon exists. This is a newer restoration which was met with favorable responses and which led to an even greater Italian DVD presentation which used the JP restoration as the source, but was further corrected by making the image progressive rather than interlaced (as is standard for most DVD sets). These JP and IT DVD editions represent the best that Sailor Moon has ever looked on home media - and due to Toei's stance on no longer producing HD sets from scanning the original film negatives (which are also rumored to no longer exist, though no confirmation seems available), it's possible these are DVD sets which represent the best image Sailor Moon will ever have worldwide.
The question then becomes: why didn't VIZ get these masters? Why did they not use the newly remastered presentations (which would have been excellent candidates for upconversion)? The transfers on these foreign editions are practically untouched and have no DNR, color boosting, and ghosting. The PQ on those releases is clean and free from previous damage seen on earlier DVD editions. Why did VIZ get the shaft?
From the sound of things, VIZ worked with the master that was given to them by Toei. Which begs another set of questions: why would Toei send VIZ shoddy masters to work with when a newer remastered version exists and why didn't VIZ complain about the shoddy quality they were given when better editions are already available elsewhere? Why is a old master floating around in the licensing world - which by appearances was then color-boosted, DNR'ed, and poorly compressed by VIZ (who did an outsourcing job to another company for the creation of these Sailor Moon Blu-ray's, if that has anything to do with some of the problems)?
To make matters even worse for this release - the DVD discs included in this set (and available separately) are incorrectly pillarboxed. If viewing on a 16:9 HDTV, one will see black bars on the sides (as is normal). However, if viewing on an older full-frame television set, viewers of Sailor Moon will discover that Set 1 has black bars on all sides of the screen for the DVD. It wasn't supposed to look that way at all. That is simply an authoring error made during the production run.
Fan-response was negative from a small but vocal part of the Sailor Moon fandom. In a recent interview, VIZ responded to complaints by essentially saying that there were no issues with the Blu-ray presentation and that future sets will look the same. They also noted that the DVD discs were incorrectly authored and that future DVD sets will correct the problem. However, no plans are in place for a disc exchange or re-pressing for purchasers of the first set who might be hoping to get corrected discs. So if you purchase the DVD edition of Season 1 - Part 1 and only own an older 4:3 television set, you're essentially stuck with defective discs.
I hoped the PQ on this Blu-ray set would fare a lot better than it ultimately does. Having seen some of the Hulu Plus streams, I thought some of the issues noticeable on the streaming version were probably inherent to the fact it was on a streaming service: occasional drops in quality and poor compression issues, for starters. Unfortunately, all of the same issues are present on the Blu-ray edition: which, frankly, looks barely any different or "better" than the streaming release of the show. That's certainly a disappointing realization given the cost these sets carry. I have seen other upconversion efforts (such as Funimation's Fairy Tail sets) which impress and there is certainly room for a HD-upcovert to offer nicer improvements than what is available here.
If there is a silver-lining to the technical presentation of Sailor Moon, it comes in the form of the audio presentation. Sailor Moon has had some awful sounding DVD releases in the past: audio sounded tiny, thin, wobbly, and hallow from some of the earlier DVD editions if one watched it with the original Japanese audio. The outdated audio presentation's of the past incarnations sounded horrible. Thankfully, VIZ presents Sailor Moon with remastered audio that is miles better than previous releases in North America.
The dialouge is very clean, clear, and easily understood. Music sounds rather pleasing and more effective than one would expect given a more limited dynamic range. The source of the audio is naturally older, but the efforts done to restore the audio worked wonderfully and the Japanese language presentation has never sounded better. The Blu-ray also contains a rather splendid DTS-HD Master Audio Mono presentation that has the benefits an audio-enthusiast would associate with splendid lossless audio.
Not only does the Japanese audio itself sound better but VIZ has created a new English subtitle translation for the entire show. These subtitles appear to be more accurately translated, timed, and presented. Many fans have already noted that the new translation is even more faithful to what the show's Japanese dialogue is. It's a joy to realize that VIZ made an effort with these subtitles.
Strangely, subtitles are locked on the Blu-ray release (which is probably do to the typical fears of reverse-importation Japan licensors impose on North American companies), though the subtitles are not required on the DVD edition (or on the steaming release). As a number of anime fans like to watch directly in Japanese, it's worth noting.
Another big draw for the audio department (perhaps the biggest draw of all for some fans of Sailor Moon) will be the newly produced English dub. While many Sailor Moon fans probably have a element of sentimental attachment to the older dubs (as it was what introduced many fans to the show, myself included) the show was never completely dubbed. DiC didn't bother dubbing some of the early episodes of the show and made some major changes to the script. And as those later seasons featured a few different VA's in prominent roles, there was a shift problem there as well. Then there's the fact that the final season of Sailor Moon never even received a US release before: no English dub had ever been created for that final season outing. So automatically the VIZ dub wins if going on faithfulness to the original form.
My primarily viewing of the show was in Japanese with English subtitles (in my opinion, Sailor Moon sounds best in Japanese), but for those who insist on watching the show dubbed, this new dub option (presented in DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo) might be enough reason for some fans to want to purchase the set. I'm sure for some viewers it is a relief to know that there is finally a dub option available that will cover the full span of the Sailor Moon franchise.
First of all, the best extra is the fact that the set comes packaged in a beautiful chipboard art-box for the limited edition version. This shimmery, glossy package has been designed to hold both Part 1 and Part 2 of Season 1 of Sailor Moon. Future sets and seasons are expected to follow a similar design and release pattern. Inside of the set, there is also a rather nice booklet featuring an episode guide for the full season and artwork from the series.
There are a few video-supplements on this release:
Sailor Moon: Announcement Panel (14 min.),
English Dub: Behind the Scenes (13 min.)
Official Announcement Trailer (3 min.)
Fan Reactions (4 min.)
AX Sailor Moon Reel (2 min.)
Clean Opening and Closing (OP/ED) themes
Galleries featuring artwork (some of which is the same as in the included booklet)
Trailers promoting other VIZ Media releases.
Sailor Moon is a classic: it remains one of the greatest anime creations of all time. It's a wonderful show for anime fans of all ages and it's filled to the brim with great action, adventure, and characters. Anyone who considers themselves an anime fan should see this amazing series. While the presentation of the Blu-ray suffers by having poor video quality the set's new English dub, a translation effort that is more accurate, and the remastered Japanese audio are all impressive attributes of the release.
Considering the series is finally going to be made available in the United States in a complete form (season five will become available for the first time in North America), the release also feels worth recommending just based on those merits and because of the strength of the series itself. Even though this is a flawed release, the series is worth recommending and for some potential buyers the positive aspects of the set will outweigh the negatives. Consider both elements and decide on a purchase accordingly.