Fighting evil by moonlight
Winning love by daylight
Never running from a real fight
She is the one named Sailor Moon
The familiar refrain of the Sailor Moon opening theme was the background song for much of my life. With the anime reboot coming up July 5th, I decided to share why I, and millions others, love Sailor Moon.
Sailor Moon is an uber-popular Japanese animation media franchise, as well as the name of the story’s main character. The first iteration of Sailor Moon appeared as manga (Japanese comics), but now anime, musical, video game, and live action forms thrive in multiple languages. Known in Japan as Pretty Soldier (or Guardian) Sailor Moon, devoted fans abound, unrestricted by gender, race or location.
The story of Sailor Moon centers around a teenage (either thirteen or fourteen, depending on which version), crybaby underachiever named Usagi Tsukino—Serena to North American audiences—who is the reincarnation of Princess Serenity of the Moon Kingdom, an empire destroyed 1,000 years ago by the Negaverse. A guardian cat named Luna finds Usagi and instructs her on her new role: to transform into Sailor Moon and fight against the reincarnated minions of the Negaverse who want to take over Planet Earth. A crew of reincarnated warriors, known as the Sailor Senshi, or Sailor Scouts, join up with her: Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Venus. Even as a superhero, Usagi struggles with balancing the normal life of a teenage girl with that of fighting. Sailor Moon (the story) spans five arcs, with various bad guys throughout the series, and a whole lot of character growth between. This offers a little breakdown of Sailor Moon for those who may still be confused.
I will use the Japanese names because after having watched the original Japanese version with subtitles, I can’t bring myself to Americanize their names anymore. I will address why this is such an exciting time to be a Sailor Moon fan, new or old, but I won’t get too much into the original Japanese version versus the exported, North American version—that would take way too long, and frankly isn’t relevant because the end idea is the same: Sailor Moon rocks.
Why does Sailor Moon mean so much to so many people?
First, Sailor Moon was freaking innovative. Naoko Takeuchi published the first volume in 1992, and the anime followed soon after. Takeuchi didn’t shy away from possibly controversial topics, including LGBTQ issues. Buzzfeed enlightens us all with this post. Take the characters of Sailor Uranus/Haruka Tenou and Sailor Neptune/Michiru Kaiou, for example. Watch the North American version where they are introduced as cousins, and you may wonder: do cousins actually act like that around each other? Answer: no, they don’t, and that is because Haruka and Michiru are not cousins, but lesbian lovers. Haruka dressing as a guy most of the time further challenges what gender means. This type of topic — a successful lesbian relationship — in a popular children’s show was too much for American media to handle, and I believe that is why the U.S. decided to make it “PG friendly.” Add to that all the cross-dressing, “feminine” male characters, “masculine” female characters, and that would have been too much for the American youth to handle…right? Actually, the “lightened,” inaccurate North American version complicates our understanding. When I first watched the original version with subtitles, I felt betrayed. Of course, I had my suspicions before that these weren’t just close cousins, but I was not the typical child. What was so wrong with men loving each other, women loving each other, or women loving other women who acted and dressed like men? Perhaps the lack of traditional gender conceptions would have been confusing, but by absorbing these messages of love at a younger age, we could have been stronger in our adolescence and adulthood. We would have been proud of ourselves, no matter how we dressed, or whom we liked.
Despite the characters’ short skirts and perfect proportions, Sailor Moon is also very feminist. Victoria Newsom writes in her essay “Young Females as Super Heroes: Superheroines in the Animated Sailor Moon” for the feminist journal, FemSpec:
I argue that these characters represent a ‘tough girl’ style of feminism, marketed to the large purchasing power of teenage girls, encouraging young women to stand up for themselves and be independent, and to make their own shopping choices, while still allowing them to be strongly recognizable as female. These characters strongly exhibit and remain tied to traditional concepts of femininity. These girls are each, expressively, female. They are able to fight in a capacity associated with male heroes without necessarily ‘becoming’ male. These young women illustrate that it is ‘okay’ to be a girl and to ‘fight back.’ The characters are perceived in the press and marketed as role models for young women.
She continues to write that as an expression of girl power, Sailor Moon characters “are a site of the juxtaposition of traditional male and hyperfeminine characteristics; they look like objects and act like subjects.” There is no denying that the female protagonists of Sailor Moon are sexualized, but the ideology of girl power “centers on the belief that items and icons of traditional femininity need neither be discarded nor relegated to the traditionally understood role of enhancing objectivity and submissiveness.” The Sailor Scouts often act in capacities that are typically reserved for classic male heroes.
Sailor Moon and her Scouts always saved the day. Seriously, how many times did Tuxedo Mask (aka Mamoru Chiba, or Darien), her obviously handsome love interest, save the day? (Let me know if you can think of an instance.) The female superheroes were the ones with magical powers, whereas Tuxedo Mask was a normal human being, albeit the reincarnation of the Earth Kingdom’s Prince Endymion from a millennium prior. Thank goodness his beautiful concealed visage was always a bonus as Sailor Moon swept in to kick the enemy’s butt.
It’s important to note that Sailor Moon usually gives an opportunity for the bad guy to stop whatever bad things he or she is doing, so she could also be viewed as an advocate for nonviolent action. Despite her designation as a fighting warrior, she is a reluctant one. Her attacks are usually highlighted by beautiful effects with sparkling lights, causing you to wonder if her punishment is more kind than not. In fact, the magical chants accompanying the delivery of her finishing attacks often illustrate their restorative capacities, and most of her greatest victories end with her healing the enemy.
Sailor Moon is openly friendly and caring, exemplifying the best characteristics of humankind, and the series eventually reveals that her greatest powers relate to her unceasing capacity to love, and heal. Her goal with the enemy is never to eradicate him, because evil, no matter how convincingly portrayed, is never simple. Her growth as a person throughout the series is undeniable, riddled with challenges both alien — saving the Earth from destruction, several times — and mundane — having her first kiss. At the beginning, we see her as the eighth-grade klutz who wants more than anything to have a normal life again. We know that she will become Neo-Queen Serenity, the ruler of the new Silver Millennium, Earth’s future utopia, with her king, Endymion, with her faithful Sailor Scouts by her side. In other words, no matter how fantastical, anything is possible.
Nearly two years ago at an event celebrating Sailor Moon’s 20th anniversary, creator Naoko Takeuchi announced the development of a new anime, and Moonies worldwide lost their shit. When I finally saw the trailer for the new anime earlier this week, I was enthralled. The animation was beautiful, and it remains faithful to Takeuchi’s original drawings. I relish the opportunity to reenter the dreamworld of my youth, from which I have never truly left.
So why is this anime so integral to who I am? She was a constant in my life — the blue-eyed girl in the sailor suit, her long blonde hair flowing from two buns on top of her head. I watched her in every country I ever lived in; she truly crossed cultural boundaries. She was my role model, and even though we look nothing alike, I aspired to be like her: courageous, strong, loving, and caring. Like most impressionable youth with a role model, I wanted to look like her too. For my seventh birthday, I asked for blonde hair. My mom, thankfully, reached a compromise with gold glitter hairspray. Despite my wanting to be a real-life Sailor Moon (I called myself Sailor Nob for the longest time, and sometimes close friends still unearth that nickname), I never felt inadequate because I wasn’t Sailor Moon (and I realize how silly that sounds).
Sailor Moon really was a proponent of love, and always cheered everyone on. When she awed over Mako’s cooking skills, or marveled at Ami’s intelligence, Rei’s cool, or Mina’s everything, I felt she was also cheering me on. When she celebrated the achievements of those closest in her life, she was urging me onward as well. Sailor Moon inspired me to always strive to be the best girl, and now woman, that I can be. The best forms of art teach us something and, as a child, what could be better than learning to be the best possible you?