During the 90s, Japanese cartoon shows like Dragon Ball Z and Pokemon would usually be a kid’s first introduction to anime. Even if some people aren’t anime fans, they have at least heard of Dragon Ball Z or Pokemon. And, another one of these shows which tap into their nostalgia has to be Sailor Moon. Its popularity and legacy has been so big that in its 20th anniversary in 2012, they announced that they’d release a new anime series based closer to the manga (term for a Japanese comic). Two years in the making, they have released the new anime both to the Japanese fans AND to the Western fans online, because Japan recognises the popularity in the West as well!
Being a Sailor Moon fan myself, I was very surprised to hear that there were actually many people who have never heard of the show. So I thought it’d be a good idea to introduce the anime through an introductory article…
The series begins with Usagi (or Serena if you grew up with the American dub), a 14-year-old middle-school girl who is clumsy, lazy, and a bit of a cry baby. In other words, she’s an ordinary girl like any other. Then one day, a talking cat named Luna comes into her life and tells her that she’s the Pretty Guardian of Love and Justice: Sailor Moon. She, along with the other Sailor Scouts (Sailor Mercury, Sailor Mars, Sailor Jupiter and Sailor Venus) and the help of the handsome and mysterious Tuxedo Mask, also must find the Moon Princess and a powerful crystal called the Legendary Silver Crystal. If the Crystal falls into the hands of evil, the world is doomed. Another way to put it: it’s kinda like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, except with girls in pretty costumes. The reason their superhero costumes look like sailor outfits is because it’s inspired by the sailor fuku: Japanese school uniforms modeled after European-style naval uniforms, which Usagi and her friends wear as their school uniforms.
The concept at the time was pretty new for a magical girl anime. For those who don’t know, magical girl is an anime genre where a young girl has one or more magical abilities. It started with the anime Sally the Witch about a little witch using her powers for good: from then on, the genre would usually centre on a girl using magical powers in their daily lives, mostly to help people. Sailor Moon was different, because this time the trend would have the girls become superheroes and saving the world from the bad guys. It might not have been the first to do this, but it was the anime that popularised it. The usual tropes would include the main character have a magical pendant which allowed her to transform into her costume through a pretty transformation sequence. Another would be having a team of magical girls instead of just one magical girl, and there would usually be a main villain with a “monster of the day” format. It obviously varies from anime to anime, but Sailor Moon started the trends and revitalised the magical girl genre.
Naoko Takeuchi, the creator of Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon (originally titled Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon), was working on a manga in 1991 named Codename Sailor V, which at the time had Sailor Venus as the protagonist. Takeuchi had the idea to create a story with a theme of girls in outer space, since she was a fan of the Super Sentai series (of which Power Rangers is based on). So when the manga was popular enough to produce an anime series, she proposed to make a team of girls with a new protagonist, with Sailor V this time as a member of the team (Sailor V is referenced in Sailor Moon to establish continuity). So this manga series became a fusion of the popular magical girl anime and the Super Sentai series. The anime series would have a lot more filler episodes to match-up with the release of a manga chapter, often having the “monster of the day” formula unlike the manga, and its story would deviate a bit from the manga. Even if they had planned to just create one series from the start, Sailor Moon became an instant hit, and it continued on until 1997.
And then came the Sailor Moon dub from DiC, first seen in 1995. It was heavily edited, including the theme song changing the lyrics of the original opening theme, changes in names and dialogues, and a bit of censorship. This also became a hit in the West, not just with girls, but even boys watched the show! People just loved it! As I said, this was one of the shows that introduced most Western kids to anime.
After that, the franchise continued with musical adaptations of Sailor Moon, the very good live-action series which resembles a Super Sentai series, and now, on top of releasing a new English dub of the original anime with a new cast and no edits or cuts, there’s the new series called Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal (which I really love).
In other words, Japanese audiences started with this:
Most American kids from the 90s grew up with this:
And now the fans are being re-introduced to the series like this:
So why is it that people are so attached to the show so much, outside of nostalgia? Well, let me begin by addressing that Sailor Moon is actually my second favourite superhero (my favourite being Spider-Man).
Usagi herself is very realistic and easy for most people to relate to. She’s not stupid, but she can be lazy and tends to be oblivious, which is why she does poorly in school. She describes herself as clumsy and a cry baby, and it’s easy for her to get distracted during times where she’s meant to focus, so there’s room for improvement in her life. I think a flawed heroine is all the more interesting because she has more room for development, instead of the perfect hero who can do no mistakes. Besides, she’s just a kid: she’s still learning and is allowed to make mistakes in the journey. But she’s not all about the flaws either: she’s friendly, positive, funny, and caring about others, as she has demonstrated time and time again.
The reaction of her becoming a superhero is the same as how anyone would react: the idea of becoming a superhero might sound cool, but more as a fantasy than an actual desire. When Usagi becomes Sailor Moon and is forced to fight for the first time, she reacts in fear, because it’s a situation she’s not experienced or prepared for. Overtime, she slowly but surely learns how to fight with courage and take on responsibility, but that can only happen if she puts in the effort she’s meant to, and by believing in herself.
But I believe that what makes Sailor Moon even more admirable both as a superhero and as a character is her very rare and yet powerful talent:
The girls who eventually become Sailor Scouts were social outcasts before they met Usagi, often because they had a skill or trait which made people either scared of or intimidated by them. They ended up very lonely in their lives and had little to no friends. But Usagi is notable for having a raw talent of becoming friends with anyone: when she meets each girl for the first time, she accepts them for who they are and sees a side of them that most people wouldn’t have noticed immediately, or even the girls themselves may not have realised until now, and what they originally considered “flaws” are actually what makes each of them strong and unique. Usagi, just by genuinely wanting to become friends with them and seeing the best in them, brought out the best in them. She made them feel loved and accepted for who they were.
That’s something I love and admire so much from Usagi: she cares about people and brings out the best in them, no matter who they are. And she may not be as smart or as strong as her teammates, but she’s the glue that holds her team together and makes them even more powerful, which is why she’s so deserving of being the leader. In fact, Sailor Moon may have more faith in others than she does in herself: she has a hard time to accept herself as a superhero and she constantly doubts herself, but she never loses faith when it comes to believing in her friends. And the girls return the favour by loving her back and giving her confidence to become stronger in the process. This stays at the core of the themes of love and friendship.
I’m not going to act like Sailor Moon is the best written show in existence, as once in a while you will encounter a poorly written episode, often due to the filler episodes, or there will be a few aspects which make little sense (e.g. the superhero logic of Clark Kent wearing glasses as a disguise), though not to the extent that it becomes a bad show, nor detracts from its enjoyability. It has great characters, epic story-lines with high stakes, and an overall mix of comedy, drama, action and romance. It’s an engaging series that definitely holds up!
If you haven’t heard of Sailor Moon before, I hope this was a good introduction. And, for the people who already are fans of the series, I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I had fun writing this! Sailor Moon Crystal is currently re-visiting the legacy of the original manga and anime, something that hopefully will continue to grow with its fan base.