As kids, many [immature] boys would try to avoid admitting they liked girly things like Sailor Moon by shouting “Oh, that girl cartoon is so gay! I wouldn’t watch it!”
We might’ve been onto something there.
The Importance of Representation
The topic of queer representation gets thrown around as a major point of discussion. Representation of LGBTQA folks is important for very good reasons. One article in the Huffington Post quoted Darnell Hunt, director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, as saying the following:
“We’re pretty confident that, the more TV you watch, the more media you consume, the more likely it is that media ― almost like radiation ― builds up… And the accumulated effect is to make you feel that what you’re seeing is somewhat normal.”
In context, this was used to refer to PoC, but the same holds true in regards to LGBTQA folks. When dealing with queer individuals, representation of characters is important in normalizing LGBTQA folks in general. While representation will not stop hate crimes against the gays overnight, it can contribute to combating harmful stereotypes and beliefs. If a concept is normalized, it is far easier to deal with it.
Over the last few years, homosexual characters have begun cropping up throughout media. This is particularly noticable in children’s media, where LGBTQA themes were, for decades, taboo. For example, Love, Simon, the film based on Becky Albertli’s best-seller (and in my opinion vastly superior) Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, was something of a mainstream success, satisfying teenage audiences’ hunger for LGBTQA characters.
But this change isn’t just apparent in the west. One of the most popular anime of the last several years, Yuri on Ice, features a same-sex relationship featuring two male leads…
Though in the case of Yuri on Ice, one interesting thing of note is you will often hear fans refer to main character Yuri Katsuki as gay…even though he expresses interest in both his eventual lover Victor and his female childhood friend, Yuko. This isn’t a huge plot point, but early on Yuri silently remembers having a crush on her before Yuko’s husband shows up. It serves to show, in context, how few things have gone Yuri’s way leading up to the series, and is often overlooked by fans.
But it does prove that Yuri isn’t gay. He’s bi.
Which leads me to the next important point of this topic…
Let’s return to that key quote before. When an idea becomes more prevalent in media, it becomes more acceptable. Ideas that might be considered alien or inappropriate become normal. Kids today know what the word “gay” means, and, in many cases, don’t treat it as some dirty word. I didn’t know what the word “gay” meant until I was nine or ten, and even then it was often used in hush tones as though to protect the children, as though the very word itself might corrupt their innocent minds.
Bi, though, remains something of a dirty word.
Bisexuals are individuals who are interested in sexes both like and unlike themselves. I am not here to distinguish between bisexuality and pansexuality, but both are equally valid albeit similar orientations. To avoid confusion and offense, from here on out, assume I am referring to both orientations when discussing bisexuality as what I have to say applies to both equally.
Many bisexuals are harassed both outside and inside the LGBTQA communities, often for similar reasons. They’re told they are either greedy or need to “take a side.” They are treated as people who have yet to realize they’re straight or realize they’re gay, as if sexuality is binary.
Bisexuality is often alluded to or even referenced in media, but, outside of maybe Brooklyn 99 or Hellblazer, it is rarely explored in any meaningful or respectful fashion. Even so, when bisexuality isn’t explicitly reinforced, audiences tend to forget or ignore a character’s sexuality, choosing instead to label a character gay or straight.
Consider again Yuri on Ice. Though Yuri is probably canonically bi, many fans cling to the idea that he’s gay because he ends up in a same-sex relationship. This erases his potential identity as a bisexual man, and, while gay representation in media is important, it shouldn’t come at the expense of other LGBTQA identities, especially in a series featuring multiple queer characters, like Yuri on Ice.
I’m not saying that the discrimination bisexual people face is directly due to their lack of representation in media, but it sure isn’t helping.
So where does Sailor Moon, a twenty-five year old anime, fit into this modern problem?
The Soldier of Love
Sailor Moon is one of the most widely beloved anime of all time. This is not an opinion. Name any other anime aside from Pokemon or Dragon Ball Z that has remained as culturally relevant as Sailor Moon over the span of over two decades.
I am an unapologetic fan of the series. I will admit: Ami Mizuno (Sailor Mercury) was one of my first animated crushes, Haruka Tenoh (Sailor Uranus) remains one of my favorite anime characters of all time, and Usagi Tsukino (Sailor Moon herself) is, in my opinion, one of the best examples of bisexual representation across all media.
That might garner a bit of controversy. Sailor Moon isn’t a particularly deep series. It doesn’t explore the difficult aspects of queer life in any fashion. It isn’t challenging. It isn’t intended to be anything more than escapist fantasy.
But I believe it’s for this reason that Usagi Tsukino is a perfect queer character: she represents unapologetic bisexuality that is not demonized, alienated, or treated as odd. It is not fetishized nor is it sexualized. It is treated in a wholesome, pure, and loving manner.
Warning: I will not mention the DiC or Cloverway dubs in this hot take, both of which censored or removed same-sex relationships. This applies only to the uncut version of the story. If your only exposure to Sailor Moon up until this point was the original 90s dub as shown on Toonami, I advise you to read or watch the uncut material before advancing beyond this point.
First off, Sailor Moon — AKA Usagi Tsukino— starts the series off as an immature 14 year-old who grows up into the savior of reality itself, thanks entirely to her incredible magical powers AND her love for all things.
Many characters claim to love all living things, but Usagi seems to fall in love with everything around her. Whenever she meets a new character, she often stammers how pretty they are while blushing. Despite being in a committed relationship with Mamoru Chiba (Tuxedo Mask), Usagi crushes on a lot of different people.
The following is a short list of major male characters who Usagi has referred to as attractive and/or pretty, including characters Usagi has actually pursued romantically:
Ali (an alien from Sailor Moon R)
Prince Diamond (though that changed once Diamond actually started talking)
and Seiya Kou
Below is a short list of major female characters Usagi has referred to as attractive and/or pretty, including characters Usagi has actually pursued romantically:
Sailor Mars/Rei Hino
Sailor Jupiter/Makoto Kino
Sailor Venus/Sailor V/Minako Aino
Sailor Uranus/Haruka Tenoh
and Seiya Kou
Neither list is thorough or exhaustive. There are dozens of characters of either sex that Usagi has expressed interest in, to the point where, on more than one occasion, characters called Usagi out on potentially cheating on Mamoru, which she often laughed off.
However, at no point did any of the characters tell Usagi she couldn’t be with a character because of the character’s gender.
Usagi Tsukino’s power is essentially fueled by her love for her family, friends, and lovers. Because of this, it can be argued that Usagi’s bisexuality isn’t just a character feature, but rather the entire SOURCE of her power: her ability to feel love and affection for others regardless of gender.
And, indeed, gender never seems to bother Usagi all that much.
Major Spoilers Below
Let’s take the elephant in the room. Twice in the series, Usagi is attracted to women who she initially believes to be men: Haruka Tenoh and Seiya Kou. Though the situations are different, both cases prove that Usagi’s perspective on love is unconcerned with gender.
Haruka’s introduction to the series features the masculine-presenting lesbian as something of a cool, older male student who’s interested in cars, good with games, and quite the lady’s man, judging by his girlfriend, Michiru. Both Usagi and her friend, Minako (Sailor Venus) fully believe Haruka is a man, in part due to his male school uniform. It’s only at the end of the episode when Usagi and friends see Haruka in tighter fitted clothing that they realize Haruka is actually female.
Or, at least, that’s how it is in the anime. In the manga (and Sailor Moon Crystal), Haruka is presented as more nonbinary. There is a great moment where Michiru comments how Haruka is neither male or female, but both at the same time. This sentiment seems to clearly indicate that manga Haruka is a nonbinary character, whereas with anime Haruka is more a butch lesbian. Also noteworthy in the manga is that Michiru is overtly bi since she flirts hardcore with Mamoru, but that’s the topic of another essay.
Regardless, after each reveal, in both manga and anime, Usagi and Haruka grow closer. In both the manga and Sailor Moon Crystal, this culminates with Haruka and Usagi kissing, while in the anime Usagi is just eager to dance and be with Haruka. In both cases, her romantic interest is very clear (also, Makoto at one point in the anime also seems infatuated with Haruka after learning she’s a woman, which implies we have yet another bi character in this series).
Still, Usagi never lets her attraction get in the way of Haruka and Michiru’s relationship, nor does Haruka, beyond the occasional flirting and teasing, get in the way of Usagi and Mamoru’s future relationship.
On the other hand, Usagi and Seiya’s relationship is treated far more seriously, especially in the original anime, since, at this point in the Sailor Stars arc (the fifth season), Mamoru was studying in America, and had yet to send Usagi any word that he arrived safely (because — extreme spoilers for the end of Stars — it turned out the season’s big bad, Sailor Galaxia, had killed him while he was flying to America).
So Usagi, lonely and nervous, encounters Seiya Kou, a J-Pop singer who takes a profound interest in her.
In the manga, the situation is different. Mamoru is killed off near the start of the Stars arc, and Usagi, left desperate and alone, is a little more willing for companionship, which is where Seiya comes in.
However, in both mediums, Usagi believes Seiya is a man…and she’s kind of right in the anime. Seiya and his band-mates (The Starlights) are in actuality alien women who disguise themselves as men in search for their princess. In doing so, Seiya falls for Usagi. And Usagi for him.
It should also be noted that Seiya’s interest in Usagi is FAR more intense than Usagi’s interest in Seiya. Though they go on dates, hold each other, and are affectionate, Usagi is pretty slow, particularly in the anime, to realize Seiya is interested in her.
Now, in the manga, the Starlights are just wearing costumes, similar to how Haruka dressed in a masculine manner in her introduction. But in the anime, they physically change their sex. It is debatable whether or not Seiya and the Starlights can be considered genderfluid in either medium or not. I feel that’s a debate worth having, but for a later time.
Regardless, when Usagi realizes Seiya is woman disguised as a man, Usagi…still feels romantic and sexual interest for her.
And I want to reiterate this: never once do the other characters attack Usagi for liking someone of the same gender. Primarily because everyone else is bi s fuck too.
Seriously, every character in this series, at one point or another, expresses attraction toward a member of both the opposite and same sex. Those kids were right when they were saying “Sailor Moon is such a gay show.”
Some Counter-Points, However…
However, with a show as long and large as Sailor Moon, there are a few moments that contradict my general argument here.
Most notably, the scene where Usagi receives a love letter from a girl. In the anime, there is a one-off character who sends Usagi a love letter, which Usagi rejects (politely) under the pretenses that it’s better for girls to send love letters “to boys.”
This scene is not present in the manga or Sailor Moon Crystal, but seems to definitely disprove any argument that Usagi is bi, right?
Well, not necessarily.
There are a few potential rebuttals to this scene, but here’s my argument.
Bisexuality is not a 50/50 split between an interest in men and an interest in women. It’s more of a spectrum. A person can be more interested in men than women, and Usagi may simply be encouraging more hetero-normative ideas. Considering Usagi does end up with Mamoru, a man, it can be argued that she does prefer men to women. That doesn’t invalidate her potential bi-ness, though.
However, Usagi also doesn’t demonize girls liking girls. Remember, she’s friends with Haruka and Michiru, who are in a same-sex relationship. And, to be fair, she’s a teenage girl. It’s completely within reason to say that she’s bisexual and might not even realize it, and is simply regurgitating culturally acceptable ideas at that point.
It could also be that the writer of that episode wasn’t grooving with the other pieces of bisexual imagery sprinkled throughout the original anime.
That said, this is only present in the 90s series. The original manga appears to lack any scene like this.
However, after this point was brought to my attention after I published the initial version of this article, I felt it would be disingenuous not to address it. I personally feel it’s an important counter-point to my argument, and should not be ignore just because it doesn’t gel with my overall argument.
Sailor Moon is a Bi Icon
It’s one thing to prove Sailor Moon is bi. But it’s another thing to call her a bi icon.
To say she is the first example of a bisexual woman in mainstream geek culture is both inaccurate and unfair. Characters like Catwoman and Wonder Woman both precede Usagi’s inception. The difference there, however, is that their bisexuality rarely comes into play and is often used as more of a publicity stunt than a meaningful addition to the story.
That’s not to say that their sexualities are invalid, but it is to say that they rarely factor into the story in any meaningful way.
This is counter to a character like, say, Harley Quinn, whose relationship with Poison Ivy is a major plot point and a far healthier relationship for Harley than her toxic one with The Joker.
But here’s the real reason why I would argue Usagi Tsukino’s bisexuality is so much more important and valuable to geek culture than any of the aforementioned examples: Usagi’s relationships, both with same and different sexes, are presented as valid, fair, and healthy — with the exception of Diamond (who Usagi loses interest in once she realizes how vile he is).
Sailor Moon shows that bisexuality isn’t a phase and simply entering into a relationship isn’t “choosing a side.” Usagi is in love with Mamoru, but still feels attraction towards people of the opposite and same sex. She still has crushes, still loves, and that’s okay. She’s loyal to Mamoru, to the point where she literally builds a Utopian society for and with him that lasts thousands of years.
It is so very rare in any medium that this side of bisexuality is treated with even a little respect and sincerity. And it is important to reinforce that this show, one that so many people write off as cheesy and silly, has a more mature and nuanced presentation of sexuality than many Oscar-nominated films. And I stand by that thesis.
EDITS: Fixed inaccuracies in the bit about Seiya. I stupidly said that Mamoru was alive for the Stars arc for the manga, which, after receiving vital feedback and rereading the manga a bit, I realized was very inaccurate. Additionally, after being informed that it appeared I misrepresented Usagi’s relationship with Seiya in the first draft, I made a few amendments to portray a fairer representation of their relationship. I additionally added the counter-point section in response to another scene that was brought to my attention.
I wish I could say there’s a good reason for these mistakes, but, quite literally, I just fucked up there. Sorry ‘bout that.