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The Feminist Politics of Sailor Moon
The Feminist Politics of Sailor Moon By: Raisa Bhuiyan
“Fighting evil by moonlight, winning love by daylight, never running from a real fight.”
Many young people who were of elementary school age during the mid to late 1990’s will most likely have the remainder of following lyrics memorized. These lyrics were the first few lines of the opening song for the English dubbed Sailor Moon anime television show. Created by prolific manga author, Naoko Takeuchi in 1988, the Sailor Moon brand boosted Japanese animation’s spike of popularity in the Western world (wiki). As someone who used to collect Sailor Moon merchandise, I can affirm that there continues to be huge fan bases that still purchase new merchandise – whether it is from Toei Animation merchandising licensers or individual craft merchants on Etsy – whenever it becomes available. Sailor Moon definitely has a lasting brand power, meaning that more often than not showing people an image of Sailor Moon herself will receive instant recognition. Given the July 2014 release of a brand new Sailor Moon series – almost more than 20 years since the original series completed its original run - it seems appropriate to look at the general feminist history of Sailor Moon and the meaning of the revamped series for new and continuing viewers. Some questions in mind are; what can the new series do that the older series could not? What did the old series do that the new series is not currently doing? How can the new series continue the feminist work of the old series?
Sailor Moon was my introduction into the kaleidoscope world of manga books and anime television shows. I began watching the Sailor Moon series in 1997, when it had already been on the air for 5 years. I instantly became a fan of the show because at the time, I wasn’t able to access a cartoon TV show that centered on a woman-identified protagonist who did the following actions; fighting the forces of evil while still doing self-care whenever possible and nurturing her friendships with other girls and women. Most cartoon tv shows that I had previously watched before always depicted a female protagonist constantly giving and not taking time for herself in addition to constantly being in competition with the women around her.
Another reason that this TV show appealed to me was that at the end of each English dubbed episode, there was a 1-minute short that featured Sailor Moon and her friends talking about the life lesson learned from the events of the episode. These takeaways included being honest about feelings to one another, asking for help from others when making a big decision and even making sure to eat more vegetables per day! More broader lessons included being independent, taking care of yourself, actively being kind to others and standing up for more abstract ideas such as honesty and truth. I did not realize then, but watching the show laid a seed for my inevitable feminist conscious raising a decade later.
The premise of the show is that an average 14-year-old girl, Serena becomes the mythical crime-fighting soldier of justice Sailor Moon. The antics that follow include Serena (Usagi) and her friends realizing that they are reincarnated people of the Moon, whose duty it is to protect the entire Milky War from evil. The comedy in the show follows Serena and her friends having to negotiate these big responsibilities with being regular Earth girls and going through puberty. Firstly, my feminist analysis sees that Serena is not a typical woman-identified anime protagonist because she encompasses traits in that the anime genre does not typically assign to a main female character: lazy, gluttonous, lack of academic and scientific intelligence. However, at the same time, Serena is assigned those typical anime main character traits such as an unshakeable sense of morality, overarching sense of good and lack of inner darkness. In this sense, it would have been more interesting for the original series to explore cracks in Serena’s morality and unparalleled goodness because otherwise Serena is almost too perfect to be relatable for many young girls. For example, in one notable moment of the series, Serena faces the prospect of confronting her toughest foe yet – Sailor Galaxia – and her resolve is to fight her enemy with love, at the cost of killing everyone she loves. While the intention behind Serena’s actions of ‘make love, not war’ are admirable, the writer’s decision to not allow Serena to make the practical decision to actually fight her bully could send the message to viewers that it is okay to take people’s shit and you can change people’s meanness by showing them a front of love.
Second, my feminist analysis acknowledges the emphasis that the original series placing on maintaining and nurturing positive, sustainable, non-toxic female friendships. In book series like ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’, female-to-female friendships are depicted as spaces that women and girls can be safe from everyday misogyny and spaces that are more responsive to some of women’s emotional journeys in a way that relationships to men are not (CSFTS citation). Third, my feminist analysis acknowledges the difference that Sailor Moon’s love interest, a prince who plays the role of the damsel in distress, brings in the TV show’s depiction of heterosexual relationship ideals. Generally, Darien (Mamoru) experiences a similar realization to Serena in that he learns that he is the long lost Prince of the Earth Kingdom who has been reincarnated to play his part in the struggle to defend the Milky Way from evil. What I found interesting is that TV show chose to frame Darien’s struggle in contrast to Serena’s struggle in a non-normative way. For example, unlike other anime TV shows at the time, Darien’s struggles were always centered on the fragility of his masculinity – he could never help Sailor Moon on time and had to be rescued himself by Sailor Moon. The TV depicts Darien constantly beating himself up when he fails to perform and help Sailor Moon in battle, but at the same time, Darien does not have his ego bruised when she saves the day. Instead, he recognizes her light and superior strength by finding ways to strategically support her in battle and in with self-care activities in her civilian life. Watching Darien’s journey, it has been fascinating to see a depiction of a male partner who continues to support the female protagonist in her pursuits without holding her back or controlling her decisions but also honestly communicating his needs to her and allowing her the space to communicate her needs to him.
Fourth, my feminist analysis acknowledges the celebration of the femme aesthetic in the TV show. This celebration of the femme aesthetic includes Sailor Scout uniforms being adorned in bright colours, bows, jewelry, elaborate hairstyles and makeup. This aesthetic is also present in the weapons used by the Sailor Scouts and the amount of time that the TV show spends showing exactly the transformation process from civilian to Sailor Scout. In fact, many of Sailor Moon’s weapons include lipsticks, lockets, pens, tiaras, belts, sashes bows, necklaces and wands. This celebration of femme aesthetic comes in sharp contrast to many other TV shows that feature a female protagonist. In many conventional female protagonist TV shows, the female protagonist is commonly depicted as possessing characteristics that are typically male to be even considered as badass as the male characters. With Sailor Moon, it is refreshing to see a character that derives her power sources and strength from looking and being conventionally feminine.
Next, one of the most progressive aspects of the Sailor Moon TV show is the featuring, albeit not centering, of people on the kaleidoscope of LGBTQTAII2. These queer characters are not written into the story simply because they are queer or for specific storylines. Rather, queer characters in Sailor Moon forward the idea that love is love and breaks down heteronormative, cis-normative ideas of what love should look like. For example, notably Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune are queer women in a relationship with each other and Sailor Moon herself falls in love with Sailor Start Fighter (Seiya) who is a trans person. So far, the new series only slightly invokes this theme and but here it is just Sailor Moon seductively flirting with each Sailor Scout upon introduction and being impressed and astounded by how awesome and sexy her friends are.
Finally, my feminist analysis notices the fact that Sailor Moon always makes her own decisions and choices without the influence of others. She chooses freely and always stands up for others when they have been dissed. She also chooses in the final episode of the series, when offered the chance to become an actual ‘star’ and take up her throne as queen of the Milky Way and beyond, she chooses instead to remain a human on Earth so she can live out the rest of her days with her friends and loved ones. This final decision is a critical thing because choosing a different path than the one that was assigned to her by fate and obligation is a big deal for young kids to see. It is especially a big deal for young girls who are often told to follow paths that are articulated by others. So far, what I have seen in the new series is great stuff. This new series follows more closely to the manga than the original TV series. In the new series, different storylines are being explored and new revelations are being pursued. Things are happening more quickly in the new series. The animation has been updated to reflect CGI innovations in the Japanese anime industry overall as well as a new intro song. What I would like to see in this reboot version is more exploration of the darkness and grey matter inside the characters and how those sides of character affects the decisions they make. I don’t want to see a Sailor Moon who is a martyr, rather maybe a Sailor Moon who can be impacted by different things in her life. Maybe a Sailor Moon who gets to fully tap into exploration of her sexuality, which was closed off to her in the original series because of her predestined relationship to Tuxedo Mask albeit small pockets where she began to think about her queerness. Finally, maybe more scenes of Sailor Moon and her friends just hanging out and being having fun instead of the stress of always having to fight the forces of evil. In the meantime, will wait to see what happens.