Few manga/anime properties carry the cultural value for western audiences that Naoko Takeuchi's Sailor Moon does. From the twirling transformation sequences to the righteous catchphrases to the reams of flowing hair, the Pretty Guardians were a revelation for a generation of viewers in the late '90s, propelling the franchise to become a billion-dollar one around the world. That's why it's somewhat surprising that there have been no new theatrical releases in over 25 years, with the last one being 1995's Sailor Moon Super SailorS: The 9 Sailor Soldiers Unite! Miracle of the Black Dream Hole! Following on from Sailor Moon Crystal, Sailor Moon Eternal: The Movie finally broke this feature-length content drought when the first part was released in Japanese theaters in January; Part 2 releasing roughly a month later.
International viewers won't have to worry about a gap between the film's two halves as Netflix will be releasing both at once, producing around three hours' worth of fresh Sailor Moon story. Eternal is described as the "fourth season" of the recent Sailor Moon Crystal series, a 26-episode ONA that was simulcast by Crunchyroll, Hulu and Neon Alley from 2014-16, marking the franchise's 20th anniversary. With that in mind, the most pressing question is whether or not those who skipped over Crystal can transition straight into Eternal. The answer is, for an unfiltered nostalgia blast, yes, but it's not advisable if you want to get the most out of it.
Crystal wasn't a continuation of the original Sailor Moon series, it was a total reboot, with the goal of producing a TV version of Takeuchi's manga that was much closer to the source material. As such, a lot of the content from the first anime series was cut out. That doesn't mean that those with only a passing familiarity with the franchise can't dive into Eternal and get something out of the staple magical girl property, though.
The main plot revolves around the arrival of the nefariously named Dead Moon Circus, who start degrading law and order around Juban, the films' setting. The Circus' villainous performers, a band of scantily-clad Amazonesses, target the newer Sailor Guardians, who are trying to fulfill the vacated roles left behind by their originals, as well as Usagi (Sailor Moon/Princess Serenity) and time-traveler Chibiusa (Chibi Moon). At the same time, a solar eclipse brings another surprise arrival to Earth: a Pegasus called Helios who asks Usagi and Chibiusa to help him find a special maiden to unlock the Golden Crystal. Chibiusa soon develops feelings for Helios but frets that she isn't the chosen one he needs. Meanwhile, Usagi's beau, Mamoru (Tuxedo Mask/Prince Endymion) starts pushing a worried Usagi away when he becomes mysteriously ill. Eventually, the stakes for the Super Sailor Guardians' mission greatly increase, as the "nightmares" from the Dark Moon Circus' shadowy mistress threaten to envelop the entire Earth.
Eternal functions exactly as it's described -- playing out as though it were several episodes of a television series stitched together for two, feature-length binge watches. This makes the first half feel a bit repetitive -- as a 'monster of the week' format takes up the bulk of the story, while Chibiusa's insecurities over everything from not being mature enough to her crush on Helios are repeated at nauseam -- as well as somewhat incohesive for its runtime. However, Part 2, when the action really gets going, feels more appropriately cinematic, while certain reunions and transformations are sure to thrill existing fans. Many of the exposition dumps, however -- of which there are many -- will probably only further confuse rather than enlighten the non-Sailor Moon lore-keepers throughout.
Anime movies that are spinoffs from a TV series generally either work as out-of-canon additions or required viewing for those following the wider narrative. Eternal falls firmly into the latter category, and while it shouldn't be penalized for that, it does make it much less penetrable than something like Dragon Ball Super: Broly, for instance, which tells a clearer, self-contained story and leans far better into the 'show, don't tell' school of world-building. Though less jaw-dropping as Broly's action sequences (which is to be expected, to a certain extent, of its genre), director Chiaki Kon handles the all-important transformations, pose-heavy holy justice and floral scene-framing beautifully, including some shot-for-shot moments of fan service. Those iconic watercolor backgrounds haven't gone anywhere, either. Complaints aside, Eternal is, ultimately, the same Sailor Moon you know and love, but with a shinier, sparklier makeover -- and that'll be all that matters to its target audience.