If I ever get around to writing a list of most pointlessly depressing sequels and follow ups, Happy Kiss is most definitely ending up on it. From start to finish this was pretty uninspired and pointless, and this final might as well not exist.
I should have realised that final episode or not, this anime never had anything more to say than tell someone they aren’t unhappy and then sing a bit before zapping them into a bath and everything will be solved. That’s literally what we watched for 12 episodes and the final boss fight doesn’t vary from this routine at all except that the song takes longer and the boys use their magic sticks as pseudo microphones while the tin soldiers dance. It’s a little depressing to be honest.
And while the student council and Kyotaro’s group now seem to all be getting along, we kind of realised that there wasn’t any reason for them not to be other than stupidity in the first place. Where earlier seasons of this franchise had a little bit of cleverness to them and some amusing observations, outside of the first two episodes, this iteration delivered nothing other than formulaic drivel. On the bright side, at least it is over now. At least until we get the ‘Cute High Earth Defense Club Happy Kiss Super Love’ spin-off which almost sure to be the next cash grab for the franchise.
While I’m kind of used to this show trivialising things, particularly motivations, finally finding out the cause of Ata’s deep rooted resentment was even more vapid than I had suspected. Cute High Earth Defense Club Happy Kiss has one more episode and then I will fortunately say goodbye to this one.
The whole season has seen Ata glaring daggers at the more or less oblivious Kyotaro and really I’ve just wanted him to get over it from the start. However, if it had at least been based on some kind of rel trauma or slight that might have made it bearable. But no. Instead it turns out Ata is just a petulant child blaming others for his own shortcomings and interpreting everything as a slight so that he can continue to feed his petty hatred. And while this in itself may have made for an interesting character exploration, it hasn’t been explored. It was screamed at us during an over the top boss fight and then resolved in more or less an instant, except that it isn’t because Kyotaro once again ran off and left Ata.
Really this continuation continues to be pretty vapid and pointless with characters who have ended up fairly uninspired. The one hope is that the return to Karls’ home might make for an interesting final episode at least, but I won’t hold my breath.
Things are going to get tricky here because seasons 1 and 2 were the only ones playing on TV with their fun English dub when I was growing up. It wasn’t until much later that I was able to watch S, Super S and finally Stars and then I had to switch to subs so all the character names changed. One of those fun parts of my early anime journey in the 90’s really. That isn’t to say there wasn’t some benefit to this given a few of the characters weren’t quite as squeaky in Japanese, but some characters actually sounded even more over the top. And I’m not sure how, but Usagi/Serena crying certainly seems even more ear-splitting in the original soundtrack. For the sake of review consistency, I’m going to try to stick to the English names for characters.
Sailor Moon S is kind of where Sailor Moon peaked for me. Outside of the first season, it was always my favourite and the reason for that lies squarely at the feet of the newly introduced Sailor Scouts and Rini’s new friend, Hotaru.
We’d previously met Pluto, but not like this, and Uranus and Neptune are a fantastic pair for so many reasons. Okay, we’ll overlook the fact that the pronunciation of some of the attacks is so poor that my friend and I had to look up what Uranus’ attack actually was because the version we managed to find didn’t put subs in for when they said English words and no matter how many times we listened to it we were convinced the word ‘chicken’ featured somewhere in there and that didn’t make a lot of sense. Turns out it is ‘world shaking’ and not ‘chicken’ and really that sounds like a much better attack, but all of that just added to our ongoing obsession with this show.
It is odd that Uranus and Neptune work so well, given they are essentially taking on much the same role Tuxedo Mask had in season 1. They aren’t necessarily the scout’s allies, tell them that they are not and that they have their own agenda, and yet the almost never allow real harm to befall the scouts. Their actions are motivated by a goal they have to achieve but they don’t actually just tell the other scouts what it is. The parallel between their role and Tuxedo Mask in season 1 is further emphasises by Uranus’ not so subtle advances on Serena. Now, we kind of know she’s just teasing given Haruka (Uranus) is totally devoted to Michiru (Neptune). Which is where the English dub becomes a little dubious (I saw it much later when it was finally available on DVD), and realised that they changed these two into cousins. It seems kind of ludicrous given how close these two are and how important their relationship is to the entire narrative being constructed here, but I guess they really wanted to keep pretending that only kids were watching and that somehow seeing two female character in love would somehow be harmful. Because, watching them have their hearts ripped out apparently wasn’t.
I will never understand censorship.
What I think makes Uranus and Neptune work so well in the role, as compared with Tuxedo Mask who became more of a running joke, is that you could actually believe that these two would burn Sailor Moon if they had to. They were cold enough and desperate enough that they might just have let her die. Whereas, there was never any doubt that Tuxedo Mask was a goody-two-shoes. Even when brainwashed he couldn’t bring himself to actually hurt Serena.
This kind of character, still technically a good guy, and yet ruthless in their devotion to their cause, was thrilling and added an edge to a show that might otherwise have just given us yet another iteration of the same old story.
When we throw Hotaru’s character and plight in as well, we see that Sailor Moon S really was trying to step things up. This isn’t just monsters or fights or magical powers. This was a real human drama and an ongoing one. Previously characters with issues had been introduced, some magical menace would pray on them and Serena would zap it with her wand and all would be well. Hotaru’s loneliness and isolation was an ongoing theme and there was no magical and quick fix. Without spoiling the season finale, while there is an ultimately magical fix, it doesn’t exactly just make everything all better. There’s a lot of pain here and it is real human emotion that is being explored.
Which of course brings the conversation around to the villains of the piece, the Death Busters. And yes, they look every bit as ridiculous as Beryl and her minions and Prince Diamond and his. Actually, the fashion probably got worse. However, the viciousness of the monster of the week was certainly stepped up in this season. While the same sorts of patterns were followed, the stakes always felt higher and only one or two of the passing villains were so absurd that they drew out laughter rather than a desire to see them vanquished (the car one is memorably terrible).
However, the Death Busters have a plan that seems a lot more together than either Beryl or Diamond and even though ultimately it amounts to once again destroying the world, these characters seem like they have so much more chance at success. Maybe it is because instead of living in some cave under the ice, or being a thousand years in the future, these characters are working in a laboratory and seem to be taking the whole evil plot thing far more seriously. Doesn’t assist their general poor sense of fashion or the fact that the professor’s glasses do that weird thing evil anime character glasses do where they glint in total darkness.
If I was to throw any complaint at this season, it would be directed at Sailor Moon herself. Early on she fails against the villains and then for reasons she just gets a new compact and rod. Previously it made sense that Serenity had sent weapons back in time, but if there was a more powerful version of the basic tools, I have to wonder why she didn’t get them initially or why they weren’t ever mentioned. It is very much plot convenience, or a desire to sell new accessories. Plus, the heart rod always drove me crazy because if we thought Serena’s attacks took a long time to power up before, be prepared for the new dancing and spinning Sailor Moon. Also, Serena is such a klutz, I always wondered how she didn’t trip over her own pig-tails while powering it up.
But, I’m not just mocking the convenient power jump. The biggest issue is that Serena lost a lot of her bite in this season, and that is a trend that would continue to plague the next two seasons as well. She’s growing up, but that means she’s becoming less interesting. Less wailing and whining and ditching and more responsibility and wise, kind words of calm. It might make her a better person but it doesn’t make her as fun to watch in action. The other scouts also get seriously side lined and while they each get a story line devoted to them, ultimately they could have been ditched from this altogether and we could have just had Serena, Rini, and the new Sailor Scouts without much adjustment of the narrative.
Still, this is definitely a solid season of Sailor Moon and for those working their way through the 90’s version of the series for the first time, this season is one to look forward to.
If you are still with me in reliving the classic Sailor Moon seasons, I’d love to know what you thought of this one so leave me a comment below.
Well, the one thing I consistently liked about this anime, the song they use when transforming the monsters back, was butchered this weak by the geriatric versions of the cast. I’d call it quits but I’m thinking there’s only like two episodes left.
There was something that could have been quite funny about this episode. The situation is so inherently ridiculous and while the boys transformations are funny enough, having the old versions of them transforming could have been pretty laughable. Instead, this all feels very lazy. From the slap dash and fairly uninspired interaction in the bath before that serves as a clumsy lead in to the theme of the episode, to the presidents rising anger, everything is all just kind of obvious and lacking in any kind of depth. And while over the top and obvious can work, here is just seems like we’re going through the motions because we can.
I’ve mentioned before that the dialogue was something I really liked about the first season of this franchise, but with the exception of the first couple of episodes, Happy Kiss has just not delivered anything even close. The characters have inane conversations and they are just inane. There isn’t any subtlety or interesting points to pull apart. The villains are poorly thought out and realised and not even in a parody kind of way. They are just badly done. The only light shining here is that we finally broke formula at the end of the episode so maybe something vaguely interesting might happen next week.
As a child and teen of the 90’s I grew up with Cardcaptor in my life, and even with the terrible English dub and the butchered theme song this anime was close to my heart. How does the reboot/sequel of 2018 match up to nostalgia’s fierce hold?
Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing sometimes. As much as I believe Cardcaptor Sakura is a must watch magical girl series, even I have to admit that when I look at it episode by episode, the original is no longer really to my taste as an anime watcher these days. For every truly brilliant moment in the series, it offers a lot of banal day to day activities of cute girls and their friends just going about their lives. And how many times did we watch Sakura prepare her roller blades for school?
What that means is, a lot of the criticisms I have of the new Clear Card series, aren’t really all that valid. Because Clear Card is a genuine successor to the original. The technology is updated with the kids now having smart phones and the equivalent of a go-pro, but this really is a direct follow up of that original series. And in that sense, it could be counted as a success, though I have to wonder if a few opportunities weren’t missed here.
In 22 episodes, we see Sakura capture a fair number of cards. However, most of these captures take less than a quarter of the episode they appear in. Some of them lasting mere moments before we’re back to cooking, or eating lunch, or flower viewing, or talking, or brushing hair, or any of the hundreds of ‘filler’ activities Cardcaptor finds for the heroine to do. And I get that for those who love the slice of life feel of Sakura living her daily life that there is a real appeal here because the group of friends are always charming and at least it is clear what Sakura is seeking to protect. And yet, for me, these are the moments that are tolerated as a setting, a background and a motive, while waiting for the actual ‘meat’ of the series. And the meat here is very lean.
Part of the problem comes from an as yet unresolved story. We still have so many questions about what is going on and what significance certain things have (such as a gift Sakura receives in the second last episode), and that means that what little there is of the story about magic is completely unfinished. It makes it hard to evaluate the story on its merits when it is served out in tiny increments inbetween activities that don’t really appeal and then the final act is completely absent. The only thing I can really say is that the plot was probably the most disappointing aspect of this anime.
Even if it had finished, essentially this feels like a third iteration of a story we’ve seen and enjoyed more when those of us who are fans of the original were actually the target audience and when anime options were a little harder to come by. Oh no, the cards have all turned clear and now Sakura has to capture weird powers again to make Clear Cards. How odd. How bizarre. How identical to the capturing of the Clow Cards and then the transition into Sakura Cards.
Speaking of, doesn’t it feel like a step back for her to not have Sakura Cards now?
However, with so much down time in the plot, it did give the audience ample opportunity to appreciate how much prettier the visuals were this time around. So much attention given to falling flower petals, gusts of wind, and girls’ hair. Don’t get me wrong, it is gorgeous, particularly the magical aspects of the show, but really some of the attention to the aesthetics could have been given to the pacing and story-line and I’d have been doubly impressed.
The other part of the anime that does shine quite brightly are the characters. Admittedly, they work better when you have nostalgia working in their favour. During Clear Card they do not develop or have any kind of noticeable growth. But if you enjoyed where they ended up at the end of previous seasons, spending some time with Sakura, Syaoran, Tomoyo, Toya, and the short cameo by anime original Meilin is actually pretty fun. And probably the stand out moments of Clear Card are getting to see Sakura and Syaoran in a relationship. Not learning who they are or finding out about the other, but just in an actual relationship. Now if they could just learn to communicate and not keep secrets from one another we’d make anime history.
New comers to the cast are adequate though their roles become obvious fairly quickly and like the plot in general, not quite enough time is given to developing these. The end result is that you feel like these are great characters who’ve been more or less abandoned by the script and left to their own devices and you feel just a little bit sorry for them. They had so much potential to be memorable and interesting characters but never quite get beyond their introductions. At least Kaito looks fantastic.
But what it comes down to is that Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card tries to have its cake and eat it too. It wants to appeal to the nostalgia factor and the fans of old. The call backs to the original series and the parallels in many of the stories certainly scream that they want us to recapture the magic of our youth. Whether it is the upside down penguin or the date at the aquarium, the memories are there but the problem is it just makes me want to go and watch the original rather than continue along with this.
At the same time, the anime seems to have wanted to reach out to new viewers but it doesn’t offer them anything really to go on. Sakura is who she is because of everything we’ve seen her go through. And as mentioned before, none of the characters really learn anything or grow during this season. So for new viewers you are seeing an already fully developed character go through the motions of her daily life and for the most part it isn’t very compelling. If there was a decent enough threat or villain, you can get away with it. Not ever story needs to be an origin or coming into power story. But if you have an already developed hero you have to give the audience something to anticipate and in this case the only thing that could be is Sakura learning something as she would strive to overcome this latest challenge, and yet there’s nothing. She simply goes about her business and collects the cards when she needs to.
It makes it difficult to recommend this series. While I didn’t dislike it, looking back I wonder if my time would have been better spent on a retro viewing of the original series as I still haven’t actually reviewed it and I’d probably have enjoyed that more. As cool as Syaoran is in his handful of scenes that he gets, I don’t know that it provides enough mileage to make up for everything else this series seems to lack.
But I’ll turn it over to the readers and ask you how you felt about Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card.
Quite literally there is nothing final about this final episode. Other than the reveal that the cloaked figure is in fact, well the person we all knew it was, nothing is revealed and nothing is actually finalised. And yet, that is the end of this season with no announcement for when a follow up might occur.
Anime that don’t end are a dime a dozen, but Cardcaptor had previously given us some fairly epic endings even when the story was ongoing. Clear Card throws that trend to the wayside leaving us completely without satisfaction. Unless you are satisfied by watching yet another lunch with friends, some pensive musing, and then a fight sequence that gets time reversed out of existence.
Of all the things that could have happened in this final episode, leaving me feeling like we were totally cheated out of an ending wasn’t one of them. I hadn’t expected everything to be tied up neatly knowing there was no chance of that after last week, but I expected something more than this. Instead Eriol is still out of contact, Syaoran still hasn’t actually had a conversation with Sakura or substance, Kuro and Yue are keeping secrets from Sakura, we still don’t know what Toya is up to, and other than the villain wanting to activate some taboo magic (something we already knew) nothing is confirmed in this episode at all.
I guess we get a pretty light show at least.
Anyway, series review will be up next week and maybe we’ll find out if there’s more of this to come.
While this isn’t the worst episode of this anime, that isn’t exactly a resounding recommendation as we continue to get no plot development and a formulaic approach that has already worn out its welcome.
It is festival time at the school and the club have to come up with a compelling activity because… reasons. Something about the student council being annoyed at them if they don’t. Given the council are annoyed at them anyway I’m not sure why. Something about their attendance was mentioned, but they would be at school anyway even if they did nothing. So no compelling motivation really other than festival episode.
Then we get a series of set ups and punch lines that most revolve around putting the boys in positions that could be deliberately misconstrued for amusement purposes I guess. Maybe someone found it amusing. What really drives the nail into the coffin on this episode though is that even the villain realises he serves no purpose and doesn’t fight. At all. He stands, waits for them to transform, and then they change him back. Done. No fight at all.
With a 22 episode count (according to MAL), this is the second last episode. And while it certainly seems things have gotten climactic, there seems to be far too much left for this to all fit into one more episode.
The villain has been established, and help from Eriol firmly cut off. We’ve done the standard steps leading up to a final confrontation with the protagonist holding something the villain wants. And while we still don’t know exactly why he wants the cards or why he wants to use the thing he stole from the magicians, we all know it is clearly tied to Akiho and that it is likely he’ll turn out to not be that bad a guy after all. Besides, it has been a firmly established truth that villains don’t make good tea (there’s a compelling argument for you).
Meanwhile, this episode finally answers the question of whether Sakura’s father has a clue what his children get up to and it does it in a slightly adorable way. In fact, its so cute the conversation between the father and Toya, that you almost forget that Sakura’s father decided his daughter could handle whatever it was when she was in grade four and left her to her own devices. There’s parenting with style for you. While it might have worked out due to the magic of sweet protagonist plot armour, there are so many ways this approach could have backfired.
We also get a super adorable moment with Sakura and Syaoran. And that by itself could make this whole season worth watching because who hasn’t wanted to see Syaoran with butterfly wings?
Our favourite pig-tailed transforming heroine returns in season 2 of the classic Sailor Moon anime and this time we have aliens, time travel, and once again the potential end of the world. If you missed my review of season 1 it can be found here.
Review (Spoiler Warning):
There are fewer things more satisfying than a sequel to something you are desperately in love with, and as a young teen, I was very in love with Sailor Moon. Unfortunately, Foxtel (or it might have even been a Galaxy pay-TV service at the time), simply replayed season one over and over again. So when they finally aired season 2 and there were episodes of Sailor Moon available that I didn’t already know word for word, I was ecstatic. You know what they say though about high expectations.
As a result, Sailor Moon R became one of my least favourite in the franchise (though it would be a considerable time before I’d finally get to see future seasons). It wasn’t until I became an adult anime watcher and rewatched Sailor Moon through, that a lot of the charm of season 2 became really apparent. I’ve now rewatched it many, many times, and I’ll admit some of my favourite moments from Sailor Moon in general come from season 2. But equally, some of my least favourite moments come from this season.
So what is season 2 about?
That’s hard to say straight up because there are two quite distinct arcs in season 2. The first has two aliens coming to Earth to harvest energy for a tree that keeps them alive. That sounds kind of cool but as a kid I mostly just wanted these two characters to go away. Alan and Ann have a weird dynamic where you can never tell if they are siblings, lovers, or just co-dependent. They also both developed crushes on the Serena and Darien leading to a really weird temper tantrum fuelled by jealousy.
When you throw in the fact that these two don’t really do anything for the majority of their arc other than sit around and have Alan play a flute before some weird monster shows up, rinse and repeat, it doesn’t make for compelling viewing. On top of that, the story is trying to get us back to the status quo that was kind of destroyed at the end of season 1.
The scouts and Darien have all lost their memories. They don’t remember being scouts or anything that they did. So a large part of the Alan and Ann story has Luna waking Serena up and then the other scouts. But Darien doesn’t awaken. Serena, with all her past life knowledge plus the memory of their most recent shared experience, pursues him fairly relentlessly and tries to force her emotions onto him, but he doesn’t remember her at all. It’s a bit awkward and uncomfortable and that’s even before the Moonlight Knight appears.
Don’t even get me started on how lame that guy is. Even in my early teens I didn’t have any patience for his particular brand of bull.
However, this is one of the parts I did appreciate more watching as an adult. Alan and Ann still come off a bit creepy and possessive, but their overall motives made a lot more sense to me and I almost felt some genuine empathy for them, which made swallowing their arc a lot easier. Even if a lot of other things about this series of episodes makes for some cringe worthy viewing.
Once that arc wraps up though, we get into the real meat of the series when Rini, Serena and Darien’s child from the future literally drops in and is there to steal Serena’s crystal so that she can go back and rescue her mum (who of course she doesn’t know is Serena because we’re still going with the ridiculous line that they look different when they are transformed even though that is clearly not the case). Rini however doesn’t come alone. She’s pursued by members of the Black Moon Clan who for various reasons have declared war against the earth. And hey, while they are in the past they may as well take steps to make winning the war in the future easier.
While the villains by and large suffer similar issues to Beryl’s minions in season 1, I couldn’t help but feel that most of the characters were a bit more fleshed out in terms of their personal motives. The relationships they had with the rest of the members of their clan also seemed more established. So while they still served the villain of the week role, they were quite a bit of fun to get to know over the course of the series, and some of them even lived through it.
And this brings us to my very second anime crush, Sapphire. As the younger brother of Prince Diamond he realises something is wrong with what they are doing in terms of actually meeting their original objective. Unfortunately, someone tries to kill him before he manages to tell his brother what he knows and he is forced to flee. This sequence was fantastic and while Sapphire had a pretty limited screen time, he left a lasting impression on me. Even more so than Nephrite back in season 1. He may have betrayed Beryl when he fell in love with Molly, but he was still a bad guy. His death was heart-breaking more because it left Molly in tears than because I felt bad for him. Sapphire is very different. And Sapphire’s death is truly tragic.
However, we can’t discuss Sailor Moon R without discussing Rini’s presence. She was so incredibly annoying. I loved that she could use hypnotism and that was how she got into Serena’s house as her ‘cousin’ and I loved Luna P. But Rini’s character kind of irritated me at every scene. The number of times she’s lose her temper or have an argument with Serena and run off alone, only to get attacked again, was just ridiculous. More importantly, by the time she decided to tell Serena and Darien the truth, you were kind of wanting the bad guys to squish her flat.
Which is possibly why Rini’s transformation to the dark side as Wicked Lady worked so well. Again we see events very much mirroring season one when Darien was taken in by Beryl. Only this time we see Rini step up and she actually plays the role of the villain so incredibly well. Admittedly this did lead to the awkward sequence of the grown up child trying to cling on to her future father and even as a teen that made me do a double take, but I think most people will admit Wicked Lady was a great addition to this story.
We also get to meet Sailor Pluto, the first of the outer scouts that we meet as the guardian of time. Again, her presence in this season is pretty small but the impression she leaves is quite favourable which serves her well in future seasons when she, and the other outer scouts, will have a much larger role to play.
But what really captured me about season 2, even when I wasn’t such a huge fan of it way back when, was the vision of the future it presented. It was so incredibly bleak and I couldn’t help but wonder about the sequence of events that will lead the world there. For a young mind, there are so many possibilities for imagining opened up by this series as it plays with time and space.
Still, the beating heart of any Sailor Moon story is Serena and season 2 Serena has a few issues. The first is that she spends the entire first arc pining after her boyfriend. The second is that even after Rini drops in from the future, Serena continues to be a bit of a brat and really, two brats are too many. Thirdly, she’s unreasonably dense at a number of moments in the series, failing to pick up critical clues. And finally, after accepting things she suddenly becomes this amazing, forgiving and nurturing person in the space of about five minutes. I’m all for Serena growing up but they could have eased us into that a bit.
That isn’t to say that Serena doesn’t have a few shining moments. Her fight against Rubius is brutal, it is really quite horrific (particularly for a teen viewer) when she’s kidnapped by Diamond, and she actually does accept her role as a scout and the Moon Princess so much more readily in this season.
The other scouts start getting pushed to the periphery of the story where at times they seem important and at others they seem to just fill up space on the screen, and this is a trend that tragically continues into future seasons, but with so many other characters getting screen time it would have been hard from them. They do all get at least one moment just for them throughout the season, but at times they do start to feel unnecessary.
Overall, season 2 is riddled with issues, and yet it retains a lot of the fun of season one. It improves upon the villains, the settings are cool, and there are some great fights. While we will have to wait for season 3 to get something that surpassed the original series, season 2 still hits a spot for Sailor Moon fans, new and old alike. And if nothing else, you can always turn it into a really cool game of eat a malteaser when…
I’d love to know your thoughts about Sailor Moon R.
As a female teenager of the 90’s I was well indoctrinated in the notion of girl power and looking for strong female role models in media. This isn’t a bad thing as even now there’s a definite imbalance in the various types of roles and the frequency of them available for males and females in stories. But one thing I found to be a problem then and now is how male characters are treated so often in these kinds of shows.
Though, the standout performer from the nineties was definitely Buffy. Great show with great characters, both male and female. Everyone had their strengths and weaknesses and the plot exploited and promoted these as required. Sure, the show ultimately revolved around the female heroine, but the overall balance between the characters and genders was actually relatively well maintained.
Yesteday, I posted a review of the original Sailor Moon anime and while reviewing it, I realised I kind of brushed straight past Tuxedo Mask and Darien. At the same time as I was drafting that post I watched an episode of Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card and part of me realised that of the two shows that both hit the screen during the 90’s, Syaoran really did beat Tuxedo Mask in terms of being a character rather than a plot device.
Now, it might be unfair to look at a magical girl anime and judge it based on its construction and treatment of male characters, particularly as the attention and focus is undoubtedly on the magical girls themselves. And in that regards, Cardcaptor Sakura is an anomaly in the first place, given it doesn’t have a group of magical girls but rather has one cardcapturing heroine who doesn’t even get a transformation sequence because her costumes are sewn by her best friend. But still, I really do want to look at some of my issues with Tuxedo Mask and some of the reasons why Syaoran is a much better character.
Let’s start with Tuxedo Mask. He comes off as this cool mysterious guy at first who shows up to save our heroine when she’s inexperienced and afraid. The metaphorical knight in shining armour, although lacking the armour because who doesn’t want to fight in a tuxedo. His weapon of choice is a rose though if we actually look at the first season there are perhaps four times in the entire season run when those roses hit anything (Zoisite’s face, a couple of ice crystals, Beryl’s chest). Mostly they hit the ground between Sailor Moon and whoever she’s currently fighting. He then gives a pep-talk. Not joking. He’s usually standing up high (a window ledge, a lamp-post, whatever) and literally talks down to Sailor Moon and the villain and gives a speech about how she can do it and then he either stands and watches or just kind of whisks himself away.
And then he repeats this. Over and over again. While one could argue that his interference in the fight is what gives Sailor Moon her opening to attack, one could also argue that if she’s capable of turning the enemy into moon-dust after his pep-talk, she probably was before hand. And if the heroine still needs a speech to get going sixteen episodes in there’s probably an issue with the heroine of the story.
This is kind of damning in itself in terms of his character because it really does paint him as a plot device. A standard act to be deployed during each and every battle. His only motive given early on is to find the Moon Princess but what is he planning to do after that? He wants his memories back but that’s about all he’s after. His story has no real bite or purpose outside of himself. But it gets worse.
Tuxedo Mask is ultimately captured by the enemy, becoming the damsel in distress to be rescued. Then he’s brain washed and becomes the enemy that has to be saved. However, even as an enemy, he kind of sucks. There’s a strong argument that deep down he still loved Sailor Moon which is why he could never let Malachite’s plans succeed, but ultimately he spends more time saving Sailor Moon and threatening to fight her in the next episode then actually fighting her. It is all a bit pathetic.
So season one Tuxedo Mask is a bust. Then we progress through the seasons. Pretty much in each and every season there’s some reason why Tuxedo Mask can’t be present or useful during the final battle before season 5 literally just disappears him during the first episode only to be rescued right at the end of the season. His character is so incredibly disposable and actually becomes a hindrance to the writers as they need to think of reasons why he wouldn’t be fighting side by side with Sailor Moon. They painted him as this amazing guy who could fight shoulder to shoulder with the Moon Princess but then they wanted an anime about an amazing female soldier who defeats her enemies without the guy involved. It’s a little contrary.
Even if we look at Darien, Tuxedo Mask’s alter-ego, we see a character who has connections only with Rei and Serena. Serena he teases until their identities are revealed and Rei just kind of hangs around him. In later seasons, Darien interacts with almost no-one outside of Serena or Rini (Chibi-Usa). He’s kept to the side of the plot, has limited development, and has very little impact on the rest of the cast.
Syaoran, on the other hand, isn’t held back by any of these issues (of course he has a few of his own). To start with, he is introduced into Cardcaptor as a rival rather than a mysterious guy who might support the heroine. This gives him his own goals and motives from the beginning and also a reason to interact with the heroine. Sometimes the two clash, okay, they clash a lot, but given they are both inherently good people even when bickering they aren’t actually out for blood.
From a power point of view, Syaoran was always incredibly useful. Whether it was tracking down cards or using elemental magic, he was in the fights from the moment he appeared. And while Sakura ultimately gets an edge over him to become the one who gets to keep the Clow Cards, Syaoran is in it to win and works incredibly hard. He has an existence outside of Sakura making him a much stronger and more interesting character than Tuxedo Mask could ever hope to be.
Furthermore, where Sakura is learning about magic and the cards from the ground up in a crash course that has been forced upon her, Syaoran has been studying and preparing for this most of his life. While there are certainly things he doesn’t know, he is still a kid, he brings a wealth of knowledge and know-how to the story that is desperately needed.
He also integrates with the entire cast and is the linking character for others. Mei-rin’s existence makes no sense in the anime outside of her connection to Syaoran. And yet, even though she was an anime original character, she brought so much into the story. Sakura’s school friends get on with Syaoran, her brother teases him, and he and Kero have a fairly rocky relationship. He stands as a character in his own right outside of his connection to the heroine.
Having a male character who is competent and strong doesn’t take away from Sakura. She’s still able to become the heroine of the story. She’s determined, hard-working, a little naive, and ultimately she is the one the cards end up with. But the writers knew they didn’t have to compromise on the male character to make the female shine.
Because that is a worrying trend. For some reason stories where the female is the strong lead seem to attract weak and cowardly male characters who seem just a little bit pathetic (that’s a broad generalisation and I know we can find examples of decent male characters in some of these stories, but there is a trend). What is concerning about this is it insults both the male and female characters and the viewers. It implies that the female can’t be strong in a world where males are competent. And it also just make the male characters look kind of sad.
While Sailor Moon Crystal breathed a little more character into Tuxedo Mask, it can’t paint over the glaring flaws in his narrative. Meanwhile, Syaoran just goes from strength to strength in Clear Card, his only real flaw being that he keeps trying to act alone rather than talking to Sakura – which is kind of a standard flaw for anime characters in general.
Cardcaptor Sakura didn’t take the path of sacrificing a male character for the sake of making a female lead look stronger. It gave us a world way back in the 90’s where the girl could win the day, and the guy, and the guy didn’t actually have to be anything less than what he was.
I’d love to know your thoughts on these two characters, or any other male characters in magical girl anime, so please leave me a comment.