Sailor Moon is the longest series I’ve ever watched, and the source I was using, for whatever reason, stopped supplying dubbed or subbed episodes after around #160, so I haven’t seen the end. Still, it wasn’t bad, although I would have liked Sailors Uranus and Neptune to do more than stand around telling the other Sailors how they weren’t prepared for the enemy.
In a series that length, there are a number of episodes that are “mission critical,” so to speak: they set up or resolve major plot arcs. Those are special and require a careful touch.
As a writer I was more interested in the episodes that weren’t special, because it was obvious to me that they followed a careful formula.
That makes sense to me. When you have a series of that length people tune in for the characters, not the plot per se. It’s like visiting a group of your old friends every week: it’s not what you do that’s important, but the fact that you are doing it as a group of friends. So the real trick is that the characters have to personify their characters: they have to do what they always do, because those are the things that made you like them, right?
So, let’s write an episode of Sailor Moon. Ikimasho (Let’s go):
Scene One: The Sailors – Usagi, Rei, Ami, Minoru, Minako, and Chibiusa – plus Mamoru are hanging out in some public place where they are having a meal/studying together/just hanging (pick one). Usagi and Chibusa quarrel over who gets to sit with/walk alongside/feed (pick one) Mamoru. Minako pines for her ex. Ami is very quiet. One of them (choose randomly from Rei, Minoru, Ami, and Minako) suggests they get together later to do this week’s Activity: go to a show of some kind/attend a school event/go shopping/attend a local festival (pick one). Ami (if she does not make the suggestion) wants them to study, but she is persuaded by the others. Usagi and Chibiusa quarrel about who is going with Mamoru and they stick their tongues out at each other.
Scene Two: The Dark Kingdom speaks to the Major Protagonist for the story arc, whoever it happens to be this arc. The Major Protagonist has to bring them the Silver Crystal/Heart Crystal/Dream Mirror from the Target For Today, who is usually not one of the Sailors but is usually someone they know, so the Major Protagonist summons the Minion for this arc and threatens them with Something Bad in case of failure. The Minion in turn summons this week’s Puppet, some kind of powerful entity with a catchphrase but otherwise limited vocabulary and some kind of power.
Scene Three: Everyone is at the Activity of the week: The Sailors, the Target for Today, and the Minion. There is interplay among them, where everyone interacts with the Target for Today, befriending him/her. Usagi and Chibiusa are distracted as they quarrel about who is going to hold Mamoru’s hand and they stick their tongues out at each other.
Am I the only one who thinks the Chibiusa/Mamoru thing is more than a little creepy? Got some incipient Electra Complex going on there.
ANYWAY, we focus on the Activity for a few minutes and it’s modestly cool for a few minutes in whatever way that Activity is cool. This is the calm before the storm.
Scene Four: The Minion isolates the Target for Today in a quiet spot not far from the Activity and steals their Silver Crystal/Heart Crystal/Dream Mirror. This will be fatal for Target for Today unless the Minion is thwarted, so, just in the nick of time, the Sailors find them.
If this is Sailor Moon S, Sailors Uranus and Neptune show up, too, telling the other Sailors they can’t handle the Minion and the Minion that Uranus and Neptune won’t let them get away with it. They then step back from the rest of the scene.
OKAY, the Sailors having caught the Minion for today, they suit up and recite their catchphrases. In response, the Minion unleashes today’s Puppet. The Puppet says its catchphrase and whups up on the Sailors, who have been standing around doing nothing since they recited their catchphrases. The Sailors – except generally Usagi, who dodges attacks and cries about being outnumbered – get neutralized/tied up in some way as the Target for Today slumps toward the floor or ground, on the verge of death.
A rose wafts to the floor/ground. It’s Tuxedo Mask – HOORAY – here to rescue the Princesses in Peril. (Yes, that’s how it works. In a supposedly epic feminist work, it’s really annoying that the Sailors are all Princesses in Peril in nearly every episode.)
Tuxedo Mask releases the trapped Sailors. They unleash their powers on today’s Puppet, neutralizing it. Once neutralized, Tuxedo Mask has to remind Usagi to use her powers. Oh, yeah. Forgot about that…AGAIN. For the ONE-HUNDREDTH time. She uses the power du plot arc. Puppet is defeated and disappears in a puff of black smoke. Silver Crystal/Heart Crystal/Dream Mirror is restored to Target for Today, reviving them. Everyone happy!
If this is Sailor Moon S, Sailors Uranus and Neptune disappear with a final sarcastic comment from Uranus. Yeah, I would love to write dialog for Sailor Uranus.
Scene Five: The core Sailors and Mamoru are hanging around somewhere with a grateful Target for Today. If the Target for Today is male, Makoto flirts with him, unsuccessfully. The Sailors vow to do better next time. Usagi and Chibiusa quarrel about who gets to marry Mamoru and they stick their tongues out at each other.
I think you can see this structure in a lot of the episodes, right? I mean, yes, it’s virtually plug and play. No, it’s not an especially good STORY.
But this formula gets the job done in terms of what it’s supposed to do in the context of Sailor Moon, the TV series, right? There’s a lot of action/conflict, so it’s exciting. It has a familiar rhythm: you know what you’re going to get when you tune in to Sailor Moon this week, and this episode delivers it.
And more important, it lets you spend time with the gang. Each of them has their own personality and the formula allows them to express it. When you watch it, it’s not unlike you’re the quiet one, Sailor Alpha Centauri, sitting quietly in the corner while you hang out with your friends.
For once a week, it works. It keeps you coming back for next week. That’s what an episode in a series is supposed to do.
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.