I choose three aspects of Sailor Moon I wanted to highlight that shows why anyone and everyone should watch it. I also wanted to give some background on the intention and making of Sailor Moon to show how progressive and positive it is, especially for young children and women.
Naoko Takeuchi/Toei Animation/VIZ Media/Sailor Moon
An average 14-year-old girl, Usagi Tsukino1 (Serena), becomes the crime-fighting soldier of justice and love Sailor Moon. She also makes friends with other reincarnated sailors of the Silver Millennium2; they must protect the world (and entire Milky Way) from evil. On the flip side, Usagi and her friends are shown balancing those big responsibilities with being regular school girls and going through puberty. (Priorities, priorities, priorities!)
Who run the world? Girls!
There are about 882 known characters total for almost every incarnation of Sailor Moon, most of which are females. Ladies dominate the scene as heroes, villains, and sidekicks. The presence of so many women removes the burden of representation from any one or two female characters as is the case in most shows and movies: Rather than make Usagi the perfect heroine, she is an average girl who is emotional, flighty, and boy-crazy, and still a wonderful heroine because she doesn’t represent all women. It’s refreshing to enter a world where women are free to be heroes, villains, and anything in between.
In the Sailor Moon universe, girls can literally be anything they want. They are ace students like Ami Mizuno (Amy/Sailor Mercury). They are vindictive commanders like Queen Beryl. They are sassy superstars like Minako Aino (Mina/Sailor V/Sailor Venus). They are badass queens like Queen Nehelenia. They are thrill-seeking racecar drivers like Haruko Tenuo (Amara/Sailor Uranus). They are world-class violinists like Michiru Kaiou (Michelle/Sailor Neptune). They are lovable meatball heads like Usagi, who can become elegant queens. Beyond the glitter and sparkle, these characters are relatable because they are characterized as realistic and complicated human begins. (Le gasp!) Heroes are fallible, but never shamed. Villains have some redeeming aspects. Fans can understand or sympathize with various characters’ emotions, motivations, and habits.
Let’s not forget that Sailor Moon is just fucking fun. Totally awesome team-ups happen between powerhouse characters! Hidden abilities are revealed at climactic moments! Villains become heroes! Heroes become villains! Alternate future selves return to the past to warn of timelines gone wrong! The scope of the story increases with each arc, revealing a vast intergalactic sisterhood of soldiers with different outfits, customs, and struggles.
The fact that Sailor Moon (a shoujo3 manga) is still extremely popular, both in Japan and internationally, is a big fucking deal! It’s popularity states that girls don’t have be masculine to be considered strong. That emphasis on the power of young women is perhaps best illustrated by that fact that the Sailor Senshi4 get their powers from magical makeup and fight with winged wands and sparkly tiaras.
I know, it doesn’t exactly seem empowering, but hear me out: Japanese society is extremely patriarchal, deeply segregated by gender. There’s even a feminine form of speech, which has a tendency to put women down a little bit by making their speech sound “softer” and more “submissive.” Not to mention, female professionals have pretty strict gender roles placed upon them. Even if they have powerful occupations, they feel the need to subvert that power by adopting preconceived gender identities, such as housewife. So though women are important figures, even they try to downplay their power so they seem less threatening. It’s sad, but true.
But then you see the Sailor Senshi use their gender identities as a source of power instead of using femininity to seem less threatening.—And, damn, are they hella fierce when kicking ass!
Not to mention, in every episode of the series, girls are shown working together to solve the problems they face. Much of the Sailor Senshi’s strength stems from their reliance and friendship with other girls, rather than the love of any boy. In fact, you can see how much more important friendship is over romance by all the posters and art where the Senshi are positioned together front-and-center, while Tuxedo Mask is in the background if he’s even in it at all.
Moreover, the dialogue and subtexts of the anime just scream “Feminism!” They don’t put up with misogynistic comments, nor do they stand for villains using consumerism to take advantage of young women. In the scene below, Sailor Moon, Sailor Mercury, and Sailor Mars defeat male villain Jadeite, whose many schemes to harvest human energy typically involve exploiting female’s urge to uphold beauty standards (e.g. jewelry shopping, dieting).
[Sailor Moon Season 1 Episode 10: VIZ Media Version5]
Power of Love
Sailor Moon has an interesting take on the “hero” concept. Most shows depict heroes defeating villains with physical strength or superior fighting skills. However, Sailor Moon is not a hero because of her physical strength or magical abilities. What makes Sailor Moon a great hero is her ability to draw her strength from her capacity for compassion, a trait constantly associated with women. To have a show that puts forth a superheroine who uses a stereotypical feminine trait to defeat enemies, which is shown to be even stronger than stereotypical masculine traits such as aggression and violence, is a very positive message. Sailor Moon is a perfect example of a pacifist superhero, because she always seeks peaceful resolutions when possible. She is firmly believes in the “exhaust all diplomatic options” doctrine.6
Sailor Moon is assigned those typical protagonist character traits such as an unshakeable sense of morality, an unyielding sense of good, and a lack of inner darkness. Though her unparalleled goodness seems almost too perfect to be relatable for many young girls, it’s actually for the better than there are little to no cracks in her righteousness. For example, when Sailor Moon faces an extremely tough foe, she resolved to fight her enemy with love (even at the cost of killing everyone she loves). Sailor Moon’s decision to “make love, not war” is admirable, because it says that it is okay to call out people’s shit and try to help change their meanness by showing them love.
Naoko Takeuchi mentioned in a 2013 interview with ROLa Magazine that many older male workers at Nakayoshi Magazine tried to dictate her characters’ appearances and attributes.7 However, Takeuchi ignored their complaints. She wouldn’t let “old men” decide how she should write her story for young girls, because they did not respect female authors in the first place. (But seriously, what would those geezers know about shoujo?) Rebellious Takeuchi followed her gut and infused each heroine with femininity and grace. She revitalization of the magical girl genre with her beautiful fighting Sailor squadron, earning her the title of Queen of Shoujo.
1 I will be writing the characters names in Western format (first name/surname).
2 The Silver Millennium is the Moon Kingdom (Queendom) ruled by Queen Serenity in the past and Neo-Queen Serenity in the future.
3 Shoujo (literally “young girl”) refers to manga/comic books for teenage girls and generally centers on female relationships.
4 Sailor Senshi (セーラー戦士; Sailor Soldier) is a term referring to the main female protagonists of all versions of Sailor Moon. In official merchandise, the term “Senshi” was translated as “Soldier,” and several songs in the anime and musicals included the term “Sailor Soldier” spoken in English. However, in the live-action series, Sailor Moon Crystal, and the re-release of the manga and original anime, the same kanji was translated as “Guardian.”
5 VIZ Media version is verbose but awesome. However, the DiC version of this scene is simple and resonating as well: “Together we fight for love and justice, / and together we will triumph. / United we’re invincible!”
6 This isn’t to say that Sailor Moon is incapable of being a badass; there are times in the series where she must destroy a villain with her powers. Not to mention, all the Senshi are soldiers who excel in different areas of combat: Sailor Saturn and Sailor Pluto have the most amount of power, respectively being the Guardian of Time and the Soldier of Death and Silence. Sailor Neptune can see through illusions and sense the future. Sailor Mars is exorcises evil spirits. Sailor Jupiter and Sailor Uranus are the physically strongest among the soldiers and excel in various fighting styles. Sailor Venus is the most athletic. Sailor Mercury is the most calculating in her attack strategies. So yes, while they do draw a lot of strength from their ability to love—They all are just hella powerful!!!
7 Interview Translations: ROLa Magazine and God of Backstage Show (Note: I reformatted it)
Aya: It’s fascinating that all the girls in the show are so beautiful.
Takeuchi: Yes. But that’s how girl’s comics are. It’s important, right? But back then, the old men at Nakayoshi didn’t really get that. From the onset, I said “I want to make a comic series about a squadron of five beautiful fighting girls,” and they said, “Hold up. In a fighting squadron, there’s always like one comically obese character, and another nerdy one that wears glasses. How are you going to make all five of them beautiful?” and the complaints went on and on. Oh, those old men… I think they didn’t understand girls comics at all…Back then, I thought, “I’m going to show these old grandpas that beautiful girl characters can be good for business, and I’m not leaving my concept in the hands of old men.” So I had to work hard to develop a sense of beauty and elegance in my characters, no matter what their type was. Back then, the old man editors at Nakayoshi magazine thought I was being stubborn, and they didn’t much care for the opinions of us lady authors, it was a difficult time.
Aya: So you think the old men didn’t understand the sensitivity or nuance to your idea.
Takeuchi: Definitely. It was also a challenge when it came to deciding on a color scheme. At first I had proposed using a pastel color palette, and the old hat, old timer editor grandpas said: “You need to use bolder colors,” “If you want the magazine to sell you need to use lots of blues and greens, or bright yellows,” “If you’re going to use pink, use a dark pink,” and they made all kinds of demands about it. Actually, when I first decided on the color of Sailor Moon’s hair, I wanted it to be silver, but the old grandpa editors didn’t like that decision either, and they really got upset, and said that the magazine would never sell if I used such a dull color. When I first said that I thought blonde hair would be a more Princess-like choice for the main character, someone chuckled and said “At least it’s not grandma-style like last time.”
Read More: A Ridiculously Comprehensive History of Sailor Moon – Part 1: Made In Japan
A Ridiculously Comprehensive History of Sailor Moon, Part 2: Coming to America
A Ridiculously Comprehensive History of Sailor Moon, Part 3: Tales from Fandom