From being frivolous and lighthearted like its 14 year old lead to its pervasive gaze upon society’s bleakest corners, Sailor Moon has won the hearts of not less than three generations of followers since it first aired, and for good reasons. But for something spanning five seasons and 200 episodes, it goes without saying that not all episodes are on par with the best of them, the ones that explicitly showcase what made the anime a classic. As it celebrates its 25th anniversary this month, here in this post we’ve compiled a group of ten such entries that we think belong to the best of the best Sailor Moon has to offer.
Without further ado, let’s proceed-
- Episode 70 – Battle of the Flames of Love! Mars vs. Koan (Dir. Konosuke Uda)
The Black Moon Clan arc gave us a handful of well-written redemption stories for its antagonists, particularly for the Ayakashi Sisters. Koan was the youngest and the first of them to get purified by Sailor Moon’s silver crystal.
After being handed the mission of capturing Chibi-usa by Rubeus, with whom she happens to be in a one-sided love, she heads to the Hikawa shrine disguised as a cosmetic saleswoman.
- The first highlight of this episode is the conversation that follows between the girls on what it means to be loved as a woman. The gist of this exchange was simple, but it is the peaceful, unceremonious mood of the scene which makes it so endearing. No fights, no heated arguments, no saving-the-world-from-evil, just three ordinary girls talking about ordinary things, unrestrained by their duties for once.
- After Koan’s about to take her leave after finding Chibi-usa, she meets Yuuichirou, who refuses to go down without protecting his companions. This scene is full of action, and great comedic timing.
But it plays as a good contrast between the love lives of both Koan and Rei. Much like how Koan’s feelings for Rubeus are not reciprocated, Yuuichirou spent a lot of time in a similar situation until Rei started to open herself up bit by bit. In a way, Koan had showed the same loyalty he did despite how she was treated. And that is reason enough why we can feel her rage and frustration when Rubeus outright orders her presumably useless self to kill herself. The fight sequence that follows is extremely short yet visceral, and in the end Sailor Mars took it upon herself to restore Koan’s self-worth, because she knew what it is like to not end up with the person one loves; (she gave up Mamoru to Usagi) and the animators here did a great job at portraying all the emotions.
Overall, this episode is a good insight (like many other Sailor Moon episodes) that more often than not, has it not been for circumstantial elements, our heroes and villains might have found themselves on the same side, as companions.
I know you intimately, even if we haven’t ever met!
- Episode 172 – Moon Power of Love: End of the Nightmare (Dir. Junichi Satou)
I think that everyone, no matter how many troubles he may have when he grows up, ought to have a happy childhood to look back upon. – Jean Webster
Long before Satou was healing the hearts of his audience, he was doing the same for nihilistic super-villains.
There are a number of reasons why this episode is on this list, but let us get the obvious one out of the way first, which is its gorgeous and evocative visual imagery.
Among Sailor Moon’s adversaries, Queen Nehelenia and Sailor Galaxia had predicaments easiest to relate to as both the corruptions in their characters arose from the most basic human flaws. For Nehelenia, it was the wish to resist change of any kind. She was more than willing to embrace solitude for all eternity if that meant preserving her beauty. This episode invokes a lot of emotions as she takes down the last of the sailor scouts, namely Saturn and Chibi-Usa. Kotono Mitsuishi nails her role in a scene where Usagi grieves as Chibi-Usa turns into sparkles and disappears.
But even as Nehelenia readies for her final blow, Usagi simply refuses to fight, because she thinks her opponent’s actions are justified after spending so long in darkness and without any friends and it’d be fine if she (Usagi) got killed if that meant her own friends survived. It is in rare moments like these that we realize why despite so many well-written characters in this story, Usagi is indeed the best to fit in the shoes of the Moon Princess.
Eventually her power of empathy frees her fellow scouts and Mamoru, and Nehelenia is made to remember her true wish as a child before she succumbed to self-obsession. And it turned out she only wanted friends. And our heroes send her back for a second chance at life.
Compare this with the ending of SuperS, episode 166, where there is no redemption. Usagi saved the day, but Nehelenia went back to her own void, her kingdom of solidarity. She chose her own fate. She didn’t want to be saved.
Ikuhara directed that episode, and the consequences of that arc were well in accordance with his views we’ll see in his later works, that reality doesn’t allow for second chances and in the end the best we can do is accept our shortcomings and broken lives and live with them. Which of the two was a suitable end for our villain may be a matter of discussion, but both of these episodes serve as a duo that shed light upon the major storytelling devices of Satou and Ikuhara in years to come.
- Episode 141 – Storm of Love: Minako’s Grand Two-Timing Plan (Dir. Takuya Igarashi)
Minako-centric episodes have always been a delight. Here we had two of our villains trying to seduce their target, without knowledge of the other and that they’re basically going for the same girl. And Minako can’t decide which one she really wants to go on a date with so she opts for both of them. Hilarity ensues.
What makes this episode great is that it deals with sensitive relationship issues yet never preaches at the viewers. We know what Mina is doing would be wrong under normal circumstances, and yet we cheer for her to succeed in simultaneously dating two guys at once. We know both Tiger-eye and Hawk-eye to be evil in their objectives, and somehow we’re still convinced they barely did any wrong here, and all of this because overall it’s a ridiculous amount of fun.
Aside from being an entertainer, Sailor Moon has always been an educational show, in how it treats its characters, and how the characters treat each other; and convincing the viewers that even a deliberate two-timing may not be ill-intended speaks volumes in favor of that. After all, we should remember the girls are only learning to adapt to this strange world, notwithstanding the alien invasions, and they need a lot of different perspectives as well as experiences to find their places in life.
- Episode 125 – The Shining Shooting Star: Saturn and the Messiah (Dir. Konosuke Uda)
With just a little bit of courage, people can really be soldiers. With feelings for other people, anyone can become a messiah. No matter how much you change, please don’t forget that there are people who care for you. – Tsukino Usagi
As far as structural and thematic integrity is concerned, Sailor Moon S was arguably the strongest season of the franchise, and the Mistress Nine arc its culmination.
A number of plot elements are at play here. Up to this point in the show, we had encountered Hotaru’s mysterious relationship with her dad, Professor Tomoe, the budding intimacy between Chibi-Usa and Hotaru, the delirious effects of having an abusive childhood, and most importantly, the ideological clash between Sailor Moon and the Outer Senshi. And all these elements converge here into a splendid display of emotion and excitement.
- A classic example of selling your soul to the devil in exchange for a second chance at life with his daughter, Tomoe’s true objective was clouded by his thirst for power. Not until it was too late to save Hotaru from the evil clutches of Pharaoh 90 did he realize his wrongdoings. His final moments of reunion with Hotaru strike quite a few chords. And he expresses his deepest gratitude toward Sailor Moon for her efforts.
- That brings us to the rift between Moon and Uranus. While Uranus’ argument of sacrificing a few for the greater good makes perfect sense for all practical purposes, it serves well to remember Usagi wasn’t trying to save the planet. Her reasoning was quite simple, if you can’t save the individual, saving the collective doesn’t hold any meaning. She saw the ailing Hotaru finding peace in Chibi-Usa’s companionship, and she wanted to protect that smile. Even when Mistress Nine tricks her into giving her the grail, she obliges without a second thought. And the best part of the conclusion of this arc was no side was given the superiority, instead we had Hotaru losing all the memories of her previous life, and Sailor Moon learning that even your best and selfless intentions aren’t immune to the harsh claws of reality.
Ikuko Itoh was in charge of animation for this episode, and she delivered nothing but her best. You could sense the despair and frustration on the characters’ faces; not to mention this scene, again combined with Mitsuishi’s visceral performance, is a straight trip to Feelsville.
- Episode 117 – Higher and Stronger: A Cheer from Usagi (Dir. Kunihiko Ikuhara)
Take a good old uplifting sports story, combine it with all the silliness and absurdity a single episode can handle, and you’ll have something close to this. Mimete, after being dismissed from her twister game ends up at the track practice of Hayase, a star athlete to steal his heart crystal. Incidentally Hotaru and company are already there as she personally wants to present him with a fan-letter.
And as if the game of twister wasn’t enough in its peculiarity, here Mimete encounters, as any trespasser would, the security guards, three to be exact, who talk through their whistles only. This results in a hilarious pursuit, and many moments of outlandish visual imagery.
But beneath all the fun, a couple of details deserve attention. What separates Ikuhara from other directors is not only his unorthodox approach, but his ability to foresee the thought process of an average viewer watching a particular sequence, and so he uses it against them. Example of this here are the security guards. And if you’ve watched Penguindrum, you’re bound to find parallels to this device.
And secondly, the final scene where Hayase comforts Hotaru is an excellent foreshadowing of the upcoming events. He tells her that his current self feels like having a beautiful dream, since as a child he always used to be sickly. And if you’re familiar with how the season finale wraps it up, it’s not difficult to find Hotaru in a similar predicament decades from now. She’s unstable, both physically and mentally, but she gets to be reborn as a child later, and Professor Tomoe wants to start a brand new life with his family. So maybe for Hotaru one day everything will look like it was a bad dream from her past.
And many manly tears were shed.
- Episode 140 – We Love Fashion: The Stylish Guardians (Dir. Junichi Satou)
The influence of contemporary style in women’s fashion on Sailor Moon begs its own separate article; handled together with self-parody, mishaps from a wacky villain and a touch of feminism, this episode is one strong display of the superior aesthetics of SuperS.
Popular fashion designer Yoshiki Usui is at the top of his game until one day he realizes he can’t draw motivation for his work. Enter Fish-Eye with his unconventional methods, but this time as a guy. He literally takes over Usui’s studio, resulting in all of his employees to leave, and slaps his own avant-garde ideas onto him. It ultimately takes a chance encounter with the down-to-earth Usagi for Usui to regain his incentive and start drawing again.
- The script here does a great job in accepting that our innermost desires stem from the simpler things in life. And no amount of pretense and artistry can ever replace it. At the end of the day, Usagi simply yearns for a wedding dress, and the designer realizes his mistake of forgetting what it was that plunged him into this business to begin with.
The designer clothes in this episode deserve separate attention.
- But the highlight of this entry is its feminist overtones and the caricature of the show’s own devices. It isn’t shy to throw in its predilections either on women’s clothing or gender roles in society. Tiger-Eye opines only females should be allowed to have dreams, (so that he can peek into their hearts, of course) Usui deems Fish-Eye, a cross-dresser to be more graceful and womanly in his demeanor than actual females, and Fish-Eye’s remark on the Sailor Soldiers’ ultra-short skirts is met with indifference.
- Episode 31 – Love and Chased: Luna’s Worst Day Ever (Dir. Kunihiko Ikuhara)
Arguably the silliest of them all, this episode entails Zoisite’s search for the last of the rainbow crystals, (this time embedded within a fat cat named Rhett Butler) ends with him getting chased around by a tidal wave of rats, and everything in between.
- Because it plays solely against the conventions set by the show itself, and along with a number of self-references, this episode is extremely rewarding. The first of these is obviously the ‘relationship’ between Luna and Rhett Butler. Even the injury to Rhett Butler’s arm is a throwback to one of the earlier beloved pairings of the show, Naru and Nephrite. (which we’ll be coming to within the next couple of entries)
- Rei’s stroll through the town on a Sunday, with demoted feelings for not having been able to date Mamoru is equally funny; particularly, this scene where Yuichiro wants to ask Rei out but falls short of courage is a little gem in itself.
- Sailor Moon’s excessive use of stock footage regarding transformation sequences is also made fun of, not to mention the scouts’ failed attempt at transformation in an alley, resulting in this:
It’s also worth noting that as the series got more popular and extended beyond a mere couple of seasons, self-parody and in-universe jokes got more frequent. But this one aired when the anime was still in its early stages, and hence it was also the first of its kind which is why it’s remembered fondly by many.
- Episode 24 – Naru’s Tears: Nephrite Dies for Love (Dir. Junichi Satou, Takuya Igarashi)
Ah those early days, when all you’d expect from Sailor Moon was fun-filled weekly adventures where good always triumphed over evil, and then out of nowhere this one came and hit us like a truck, and there onward maybe we all started taking the show a little more seriously than before. There are valid reasons why this episode graces almost every top episodes list of this show.
Nephrite was a horrendous villain; he abused and manipulated Naru’s feelings for him to his own advantage on a number of occasions. But Naru’s undying affection toward him never faltered, not even in his final moments of revealing his true identity as one of Queen Beryl’s underlings. In fact, it not only helped Nephrite to earn his own redemption, but also showcased how helpless Usagi was when confronted with the dilemma of consoling her dearest friend at the cost of revealing her true identity. Of course, she couldn’t do it. And nor would it be justified if she had, for ultimately in our deepest hardships we are utterly alone, and no hero of justice can save us except ourselves. Naru had to silently heal herself from her loss, Nephrite realized his mistakes but all too late to repay her debts, and Usagi couldn’t be honest to the one closest to her when it really mattered. This episode, as the conclusion to an anime-original arc, did an outstanding job with that theme, and it goes without saying that we as fans never quite recovered from it afterwards.
- Episode 149 – Mirrors of Dreams: the Amazon’s Last Stage (Dir. Hiroki Shibata)
The arc of the Amazon trio was a tedious one to endure. Sure, it had great episodes in between, but you couldn’t shake off the feeling that it was taking too long to reach a conclusion. And then the dual-episode ending came and took us into an emotional roller coaster.
Somewhere down the line, without us even realizing it, these misogynistic, rapacious, loathsome villains had etched their way into our beings. So when they finally start questioning their existence, what it means to be human, and the true nature of dreams, Zirconia is left with no other option but to get rid of them. But go out without putting up a fight they won’t, which leads us to this marvelous finale full of grit, courage, and sacrifice.
After Usagi is rendered motionless courtesy Mr. Magic Pierrot, and Hawk-Eye suffers lethal damage trying to save his comrade, the remaining of the Trio decide to use the orb and restore Sailor Moon and let her and Chibi-Usa take care of business, which they pull off successfully, but at the cost of their own lives.
Nevertheless, Pegasus manages a last minute miracle and turns them once again into their older selves, only this time they do have dream mirrors of their own.
An awe-inspiring execution of a redemption arc that makes us realize why our younger selves fell in love with the medium. Indeed it was to see broken, selfish, imperfect characters trying to fight their way out of their pitiful lives and become better individuals, and that same message that in the end nobody except yourself can save you, but more importantly, you can be saved.
Souls who have dreams will find salvation, always…
- Episode 46 – Usagi’s Eternal Wish: A Brand New Life (Dir. Kunihiko Ikuhara)
When I wake up in the morning, a pure white curtain of lace is rustling in the breeze… Mama’s voice says, “You’ll be late if you don’t get up!” I’m still half asleep, and I think, “Please let me sleep for 3 more minutes.” I’m late for school every single day like clockwork; my teacher makes me stand out in the hallway. And I get failing grades on my tests. The crepes we’d all eat on the way home. We’d gaze dreamily at a party dress in a show window. The little things bring such joy and I’m happy. I wish I would go back to that kind of normal life. I want to go back.
There was no competition as to what would top this list; by clear margin it is the epic final showdown between Usagi and Beryl at the end of season 1. The heart-wrenching drama that unfolds as Usagi struggles against Prince Endymion revisits the older days of her crises. It is good to be reminded that one of the primary reasons why she kept going against all odds even when she didn’t want to was her undying love. But in his last moments Mamoru tells her to search for a life of her own, free of all the meaningless fights, and free of her own destiny of being tied to him due to their past lives; the ending maybe a bit misleading in this context.
It’s easy to view it as a reset ending where everyone just goes back to where they started, and that is partially true, no doubt. But this time Usagi’s daydream of having a cool boyfriend comes from her own choice. Contrast this with episode 1 where she chose to become a magical girl because she had no other option, leading to all other events. Hence the ending essentially depicts a girl rejecting her fate by the power of her dreams, and choosing a normal, peaceful life instead.
Last but not least, it is the blueprint of all the endings to Ikuhara directed shows in the future. Every time you watch a last moment reset, or a character dreamily reminisce their probable past lives, or a duo discussing fate, destiny, and death in his works and various others; remember that this is where it all started.