“In My High Heels, I Will Punish You”: The Cultural Importance of Gender Representation in Sailor Moon
April 30, 2013
Takeuchi, Naoko. Eternal Sailor Senshi. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon Original Picture Collection Vol. IV. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1997.
In 1991, Naoko Takeuchi unveiled a creation that would enjoy international popularity, revitalize and redefine a genre and turn into a juggernaut franchise that would still be expanded upon twenty years later. This creation was called Bishojo Senshi Sailor Moon, which translates roughly to Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon. The franchise itself is massive, consisting of the original 52 chapter manga (Japanese comic) written by Naoko Takeuchi released from 1991 to 1997, the 200 episode anime (Japanese animated television show) adapted from the manga that was released from 1992 to 1997, the 49 episode live action series Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon released from 2003 to 2004, the 25 stage musicals releases from 1993 to 2005 and a number of video games and other assorted merchandise. The central and most well-known aspects of the franchise are the manga and anime, therefore this paper will focus on those. The story in both versions is divided into 5 consecutive seasons or “arcs”- Classic, R, S, SuperS and Sailor Stars.
Redefining a Genre: The History and Impact of Sailor Moon
The series revolves around the adventures of Usagi Tsukino, a typical Japanese teenage girl who is given the power to magically transform into the superhero Sailor Moon and tasked with a mission to stop the evil currently threatening her world. She allies herself with other Sailor Soldiers named for various planets in the solar system.
This story and its premise redefined the magical girl genre. The magical girl genre is an anime and manga genre that debuted with 1966’s Sally the Witch. According to Jason Thompson’s Manga: The Complete Guide, this series was inspired by the American sitcom Bewitched and was also “the first anime aimed toward girls”. Early magical girl series featured young girls who had magical powers that would either aid in or complicate their day to day lives. Often, their magic would be awakened with a transformation item, like the titular character’s magic compact mirror in 1969’s Akko-chan’s Got a Secret![i]
Analee Newitz criticized the magical girl genre as being focused on women suppressing their power to please the men around them. “Like American sitcoms of the 1960s such as Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie, the magical girl genre features women who are simultaneously powerful and traditionally feminine. Often, jokes center around the mishaps involved in the magical girl’s effort to hide her powers so that she may appear demure.” [ii] This criticism certainly does not apply to most of the later magical girl shows though, especially since Sailor Moon popularized the subgenre of “magical girl warrior”. The magical girl warrior dispensed of the idea of the magical girl hiding her powers and only using them to aid in day-to-day problems, but instead had the magical girl actively use her powers to vanquish evil and protect the world.
Though an earlier series, Cutie Honey had featured a transforming magical girl warrior, that series had been largely aimed toward men. The story of Sailor Moon was both created by a woman and explicitly aimed toward young girls[iii].
Sailor Moon was also the first fusion of the magical girl genre with the sentai genre. The sentai genre is describe by Jason Thompson as being about around “five multicolored heroes” who “beat up bad guys, filling a niche similar to superheroes in America” and this description applies whole sale to Sailor Moon.
Fig 1: The 5 multicolored heroes of Sailor Moon. [iv]
“The global hit Sailor Moon (1992) reinvigorated the genre by introducing a team of dynamic heroines and plots that were more action oriented”[v]. The magical genre was reborn, and the subgenre of “magical girl warrior” transformed the genre so utterly that the majority of the magical girl shows that were produced from Sailor Moon depicted the magical girl as hero of justice rather than the more traditional Bewitched-style predecessors, who were largely forgotten. Thompson cites Sailor Moon as the inspiration for the multitude of magical girl warrior shows that came after it.
The influence of Sailor Moon is undeniable, both in Japan and in the West. It not only redefined the magical girl genre, but from 1992-1995 alone garnered 1.58 billion in retail sells in Japan, more that Power Rangers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Barbie combined sold in America and Canada at the time[vi]. When Sailor Moon came to America in 1995, Thompson described the manga as “a hit, demonstrating shojo (girls) manga could succeed in America” and said that Sailor Moon was the work that “developed a passionate subculture of female fans” in the Western anime and manga fan community. Several theorists, such as Catherine Driscoll and Susan J. Napier cite Sailor Moon as having a powerful impact on culture, specifically as an example of “girl culture”[vii] [viii].
It is logical to assume that if a female-centric narrative was so influential it created a new subculture of female fans in the West, the way the series represented both queer and straight female characters must have influenced and impacted the perceptions of those fans to a degree. Moreover, if a lone work influenced how female characters were presented in a female-centric genre, the presentation of women and gender in the series would have influenced a part of pop culture and a multitude of writings. According to Kazumi to Nagaike, “Nishimura Mari asserts that, after the success of Sailor Moon, negative gender constraints regarding women were at least partially nullified” in action manga and that because of the popularity of the lesbian characters in Sailor Moon “not only professional writers but also amateurs (dōjinshi) began to elaborate on yuri [lesbian love] themes”[ix].
Ultimately, this paper aims to show that Sailor Moon has value as a cultural product because of several subversive elements that made it inspiring and influential to marginalized people- particularly women and queer individuals. This paper will examine how the narrative subversively presents female power, agency and relationships between women. It will also consider the subversive aspects of how Sailor Moon presents gender roles and relationship dynamics. It will also explore how Sailor Moon presents queerness, examining how the work presents queer characters, queer relationships, and non-normative gender presentation. Finally, this paper aims to explore the how the original English translation of Sailor Moon obscured the majority of these elements and what that reveals about the attitudes towards gender and sexuality America and Canada. This paper will examine Sailor Moon as a female-authored text designed to empower women, so there will also be examination of the changes made from the female-authored manga to the primarily male-authored anime adaptation and discussion of whether any of those changes resulted from a male-centric viewpoint. It will also be important to note areas in either work that are actually not subversive and could negatively influence the audience. Examining the elements of the work the English version censored will reveal that there were some elements of the work considered too subversive to show to mainstream American and Canadian audiences. This will further prove that Sailor Moon as a text had elements and themes that threatened the status quo of mainstream media to the extent that the dub producers felt the need for censorship.
“Jumping around in a Short Skirt”: Power in the Feminine
. The aspect of magical girls being “simultaneously powerful and traditionally feminine” mentioned by Newitz still applies to Sailor Moon. Only rather than following the conceit that women should hide their power to appear demure, Sailor Moon presented women wielding power in order to conquer their foes. Takeuchi has stated that only girls are able to become Sailor Soldiers, meaning the very femininity of the heroes gives them access to their power. The girls do not shed this femininity when they become heroes either. They remain in the school girl uniforms that Takeuchi calls “a widely recognized symbol of young girls” that makes them “heroes everyone can relate to”[x], but their skirts shorten, they gain heels and hair accessories.
Fig 2. Usagi transforming into Sailor Moon.[xi]
And within the text, the girls themselves see this feminine attire as part of their power. Sailor Mars states in chapter five of the manga as part of her battle speech “You will refrain from underestimating women! With my high heels, I will punish you!” In episode 140 of the anime, when asked by a villain if she’s embarrassed “jumping around in a short skirt”, Sailor Moon defiantly replies “Not at all!” Later in the episode, the fashion designer Sailor Moon saved gives his thanks to her by releasing a new line of miniskirts inspired by her battle gear.
A powerful element Sailor Moon presentation of heroic women is how the characters weaponize femininity. The heroes use feminine accessories as weapons-pink harps and crescent wands and attack names like “Starlight Honeymoon Therapy Kiss” reduce both men and monsters to dust. Most importantly, Sailor Moon herself weaponizes traditionally feminine emotions to vanquish evil. In her first battle, when Sailor Moon bursts into tears, her crying emits sonic waves that paralyze the monster that is attacking her. Sailor Moon’s powers are also healing-based. Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy notes that women in fantasy are often given “minimal” roles in order to “provide safe haven and healing” to the more central male characters, reducing them to “passive healer girlfriend types”[xii]. But Sailor Moon is central and uses her healing powers actively. The healing purity of her soul gives her the power to repair, recreate and resurrect entire planets, but it also means she can kill anything impure instantly in a flash of light. Therefore, she is the one who invariably destroys the monster where her boyfriend cannot. Her powers are fueled by traditionally feminine ideals- love, compassion, empathy- and that is exactly what makes her so strong. In fact, when asked why male characters were not more powerful fighters in Sailor Moon, Takeuchi replied “maybe it’s because they lack love?”[xiii]
“Women in the Stars”: A Female-Centered Mythology
The narrative goes even further than reclaiming traditional femininity as a source of strength rather than weakness. It also reclaims mythology. In episode 119 of Sailor Moon, a man teaching an astronomy lecture tells the legend of how helpless Andromeda was sacrificed by her people and states “there are many sad tales involving women in the stars.” Within the episode, this functioned as a commentary on how Hotaru Tomoe (Sailor Saturn) was currently in danger of being sacrificed to protect the world, but it also called attention to one of the positive factors that make Sailor Moon a largely feminist tale. Sailor Moon rewrites mythology and creates its own mythology where women are the central agents and heroes.
The episode’s own comparison serves as an example. Hotaru Tomoe was abused and used the way Andromeda was, but with the aid of other women, makes an active decision to fight back and frees herself from her captivity. She then makes a decision on her own to sacrifice herself to protect the world, but is reborn anew with the help of Sailor Moon. Unlike Andromeda, Hotaru is allowed to determine her own fate.
Each of the Sailor Soldiers are both representative and ruler of the planets they originate from.. They also represent the gods in Roman mythology. Sailor Venus is confirmed in the text to be a reincarnation of the goddess Aphrodite. Sailor Pluto makes a reference to her father being Chronos, just like the mythological god Pluto. Many of the Sailor Soldier’s attacks and titles contain references to the gods they represent- Sailor Mars is referred to as the representative of war, Sailor Mercury plays a harp in one of her attacks, Sailor Jupiter attacks with lightning and her emblem is an oak and so on. In effect, these women take the places of even the male gods to determine the fate of the world within the story.
The interesting aspect is that within the mythology of Sailor Moon, Earth is the only planet shown to have a male ruler and representative. This representative is unable to protect Earth by himself, so women from the moon and the other planets ultimately have to step in. Sailor Moon, as her name implies, was formerly the daughter of the goddess of the moon, Selene or “Queen Serenity”. The backstory for the manga and anime is that in ancient times, the Earth’s moon was the center of power of the universe, ruled solely by Queen Serenity wielding the Silver Crystal, an object of infinite power that was the basic embodiment of the Queen’s will and life force. Her daughter was expected to inherit it. There is never any indication of the existence of Princess Serenity’s father.
The moon was a paradise that watched over the people of Earth and allowed them to flourish. However, the people of Earth grew suspicious of this more powerful civilization, especially when the Prince of Earth, Endymion fell in love with the princess of the moon (a reference to the classic myth about Selene and Endymion).The people of Earth are infected with an evil spirit and revolt against the moon, and the Prince is unable to control them. Both the kingdoms of the Earth and Moon were destroyed in the war, but Queen Serenity gives her life to save her daughter, reincarnating the princess, as well as the princess’s soldiers and the prince, on twentieth-century Earth. The princess is reincarnated as Sailor Moon and must protect the Earth.
Women are the most powerful agents in every facet of this story- a matriarchy is shown to be the greatest power in the universe. Women are shown not to need men and to have the power to rule alone, but the man in the story requires the help of women to survive and protect his planet. It’s a strict reversal of the usual conceits in mythology, showing female power as the most effective force.
Sailor Moon continues the legacy of her mother and reshapes and rules the world in addition to protecting it. When Usagi grows up, she becomes queen of the world and transforms it into a genuine utopia with her power. She continues the matriarchy and her daughter is expected to inherit the Silver Crystal and become both the next queen and protector of the world, with her own guard of Sailor Soldiers. Female legacy is so heavily emphasized in Sailor Moon that Usagi’s daughter takes Usagi’s last name. Her daughter’s character arc is also heavily tied to her bond with her mother and step up to fill her mother’s shoes.
“The Power to Rewrite History”: Sailor Moon on Becoming a Woman
Sailor Moon is also a rare example of a “coming-of-age” narrative for young women. Usagi starts out as a girl unsure of herself and her power, saying “I don’t really have any special powers…a coward like me can’t do anything at all in a time like this”[xiv]. In the manga’s first arc, she kills herself out of grief when she is forced to kill a loved one and is only saved from death by her friends. She is saddled with the responsibility of maintaining the world in the future and she is also given the burden of parenthood at a young age in the R arc of the manga. She is entirely uncertain she is worthy of either role, stating “Would history remain unchanged without [my power]? Should I be allowed to exist?” A villain, Prince Dimande, kidnaps her and holds her prisoner, trapping her into a room that drains her of her power. Both the manga and anime explicitly show that Dimande wants to rob her of her power in order to sexually dominate her. He lusts after Usagi specifically because he is threatened by her power and therefore desires assert his superiority over her, stating “her eyes totally rejected me, as if I were subhuman. I wanted to make her mine, by any means necessary”[xv]. He attempts to rob her of all her agency to make her his sexual plaything, dressing her in a lowcut dress of his own choosing while she’s unconscious and restricting her motion so he can kiss her against her will. Dimande tries to convince Usagi that her power is corrupt and her adult self is will lead the world to ruin. Dimande’s brother also attempts to break her with this rhetoric. He attacks her, saying she has “changed the rightful course of human history” and screaming, “you hateful woman, it’s your fault my brother has gone mad. It’s your fault everything has gone to hell”[xvi]. The reasoning the villains use is similar to the rhetoric of victim blaming, “the pervasive tendency to blame a victim or hold her responsible in some way for having been raped”[xvii]. The villains attempt to make Usagi feel like she is deserving of their abuse and undeserving of her power. They are threatened by her power as men, so they attempt to disempower her so they can assert themselves. In fact, Dimande’s tactics of domination through sexual assault fit the feminist “redefinition of rape as a crime of male power over women, rather than as a sexual offense rooted in passion and desire”[xviii]
Usagi triumphs when she rejects Dimande’s victim blaming and reclaims her power and agency. She blasts him away with her power and destroys his lair, stating, “I won’t buy into your cheap wisdom and warped plots”[xix]. She tells herself, “I must believe in myself and in my own power”[xx]. Usagi does not allow male domination to rob her of her power. Dimande is not the last villain in the manga who attempts to rob Usagi of her power and assert that she is unworthy of it or inherently corrupt because of it, but continues to believe in her ability to grow into an adult who can lead the world. When a villain tells Usagi that the future she creates with her power will never happen, she responds “It will happen! Even if I have to make it happen myself, even if I have to show everyone![xxi]” In the final arc of the manga, Sailor Stars, everyone Usagi loves is murdered and Usagi is forced to destroy the reanimated corpses of her friends. She is left alone in complete despair. She is told that her power attracts war and is given the choice to end the universe to prevent further suffering. Usagi instead chooses to purify the universe with her power, stating, “As long as our stars keep shining, we won’t give up. I don’t know whether I can save everything, but I’ll try[xxii].” This is in direct contrast to how Usagi chose death when overwhelmed by grief at the beginning of the story. Usagi is shown to have developed into a person who rejects those who attempt to rob her of her agency and power and thus fully blossoms into adulthood, becoming a powerful leader who recreates the world. Sailor Moon is an incredibly positive narrative of female maturation. It frames a young woman’s growth as her path to empowerment and leadership and in doing so sends the message to girls that they should reject those who attempt to dominate them or diminish their accomplishments.
“Ready to Go for it”: Sailor Moon and Sex
Sailor Moon also reclaims sexuality in addition to femininity. The main character is referred to as “pure” several times, but she is also undeniably sexual. Usagi is often the more aggressive one in her relationship with her boyfriend, Mamoru. She tells him she wants to “now that I’m a high school student, I can do more mature high-school like things…I would like to do those things with you…” in episode 167 of the anime. She also says that she’s “ready to go for it” with him after their “too long spring” in the chapter 41 of the manga. Both times Mamoru is distracted from her advances for plot reasons, but her wish comes true in the manga where she is “explicitly lovers” with him. Usagi and her boyfriend are shown sleeping together in the last chapter and in the very last pages of the manga and when Usagi “marries him at the end, she is pregnant”[xxiii]. The narrative of Sailor Moon teaches its readers not equate purity with virginity. It allows the heroine to be sexually aggressive and engage in premarital sex and she is still referred to as having a pure heart and soul.
“A Slight Male Perspective”: Problems with the Male Gaze and Body Image
But it cannot be forgotten is that men and the male gaze do play a role in Sailor Moon. Though Takeuchi did say she had the girls fight in school uniforms to make them relatable, she also added “And Japanese guys really like them”[xxiv] with a laugh, showing her awareness of the straight male demographics’ sexual interest in schoolgirl factored into her decision. What’s more, Takeuchi mentioned that the Sailor Moon anime has a “a slight male perspective to it, since much of the staff was male. My original version was written by a girl (me) for girls”[xxv] This is an important aspect to consider when comparing the Sailor Moon anime and manga. The transformation sequences in the anime undeniably employ the male gaze. As Spencer L. Reeder puts it in her paper “Sailor Moon: Legs, Breasts and Feminism”, “The audience is forced to look at the legs, breast and crotch of Sailor Venus, Mars and Jupiter with extreme close-ups of those areas. The young women are literally displayed and spun 360 degrees”.
Fig 3. Sailor Jupiter transforming. Reeder cites images from the transformation sequence where the camera closes up on Sailor Jupiter’s rear and bust.[xxvi]
Reeder says this is an example what Laura Mulvey calls the “sociophilic” male audience seeing the characters as objects that give “sexual stimulation through sight”[xxvii]. In effect, men are able to use these characters as tools for their sexual pleasure. The women of Sailor Moon also all fit traditional ideals of beauty- they are thin with long legs and big busts. Though the main character is shown to enjoy eating, both the anime and the manga are incredibly fatphobic. “Fat” is often used as an insult and the manga has a character explicitly say she’d rather die than be fat.
“I Like to Draw Beautiful Girls”: A Female-Driven Fantasy
However, Sailor Moon was ultimately created by a woman and aimed towards women, which refutes the statements made by sources like Saito Tamaki that Sailor Moon is a male fantasy and that the characters are an expression of the “polymorphous perversion”[xxviii] in older men.
It is Naoko herself who takes pleasure from in making her characters look attractive, as demonstrated by her statement “Fundamentally, I like to draw beautiful girls and since I have to share the space in the pages, I think that I want to make more girls”[xxix]. She is also very open that the aim of her work is to empower young girls, stating that since “junior high was a very challenging and emotional period for girls” she wanted “to create a character that would empower her readers”. She stated that the theme of in Sailor Moon was “Love. And that girls should always be strong”[xxx]. Ultimately, Sailor Moon is an expression of female desire that is aimed towards women.
“Without Her, We All Would Have Been Alone”: Bonds Between Women
Laura Mulvey also mentions that “female-female bonding functions in a mode quite other than male objectification of the female” and the narrative of Sailor Moon is largely founded on the power of female bonding. Usagi is shown admire and accept all types of women, even those traditionally seen as socially unacceptable in her culture, and the friendships she forges with those women are what make her powerful. The movie Sailor Moon R: Promise of the Lost Rose, demonstrates this, showing that all four of Sailor Moon’s companions were shunned by others before they met Usagi. Ami Mizuno (Sailor Mercury) was looked down on for her intelligence and considered snobbish and unapproachable, Rei Hino (Sailor Mars) was shunned because of her psychic powers, Makoto Kino (Sailor Jupiter) was avoided and considered a violent thug because she would physically confront male bullies and Minako Aino (Sailor Venus) was scorned by others because she was distant due to her duties as a superhero. However, Usagi approaches each of these girls without hesitation, befriends, admires and accepts them. In the movie, Rei states “Without Usagi, we would have all been alone!” When all the Soldiers recall how they were ostracized from society only to find acceptance and support from this woman, they are empowered to in turn support Usagi, combining their powers and giving Usagi strength to stop an asteroid from destroying the earth. Over and over again, her friends combining their powers and giving her strength is what allows Usagi to ultimately triumph over evil. The narrative of Sailor Moon shows women accepting and supporting each other as literally empowering to the women involved and essential to saving humanity.
Fig 4. From left to right, Sailor Mercury, Mars, Moon, Jupiter and Venus combine powers.[xxxi]
“We Don’t Need Any Men”: Rejection of Dependence on Males for Fulfillment
The narrative of Sailor Moon also constantly upholds the bonds between the Sailor Soldiers as more important than any romantic affection they could have for a man, placing the girls entirely outside of male influence and control. Takeuchi has stated that she “believes that what makes the heroines in Sailor Moon stronger is their attitude that girls should not depend on men, and a girl’s best friend is another girl”[xxxii]
Sailor Jupiter’s debut in the manga’s sixth chapter is tied to her deciding that her duty as a Soldier and her relationship with her newfound friends is more important than her heartbreak over being dumped by her boyfriend. “I used to like a senpai [upperclassman] and he broke my heart. He goes to my old school, and he treated me so badly…It seemed like if I didn’t leave, I couldn’t move on. The wind has bought me here. More than love, something much more important has been waiting for me here.” To which Sailor Mars replies “That’s right. There’s no time to cry over boys.” This theme culminates in chapter 52 of the manga when Sailor Venus mentions in a conversation with Sailor Mars that she’s going to find a boyfriend because “those are the rules!” Sailor Mars and Venus are then told “You’re just fooling yourselves. You both already have someone in your hearts. You both already have someone you live for.” Sailor Venus imagines Usagi at this point and replies that this is true. At which point Mars interjects “And because of that, we don’t need any men to get along. You have a problem with that?”
The anime differs from the manga in that it doesn’t contain any statements about the girls rejecting heterosexual romance in favor of their bonds with other women. In fact, disregarding the explicitly queer women, all of the girls’ infatuation with boys is somewhat exaggerated in the anime in comparison to the manga. The case with Rei Hino, Sailor Mars, is especially egregious.
Sailor Mars is explicitly not interested in men in the manga, stating in chapter six “I’m too good for men” and wondering to herself “Why does everyone want a boyfriend?” in chapter 41. She states that she doesn’t plan to marry in the side-story “Casablanca Memories”. This story revealed that the one time she did meet a man that she thought could be a “kindred spirit”, he abandoned her. This caused her to be even firmer in her convictions and she declared that she didn’t need to fall in love because her friends were her real “kindred spirits.” In Chapter 41 of the manga, Sailor Mars is almost lured into the clutches of hetero-normativity, with a villain telling her “Well, sometimes you may have to kiss men you don’t like. You may have to kiss one or two of them. But ultimately your goal should be to marry a wealthy man and spend your life in total comfort. That’s the path to true happiness!” But Sailor Mars rejects this ideal, saying “I can’t waste my time with this! […] Somehow I lost my way! I have sworn to protect my princess, this planet and all of our allies. I will fight! That is my dream and my reason for living!”
However, the anime changes Rei’s character drastically. Rei expresses the desire to have a boyfriend several times in the anime, as well as the desire to marry. The anime often shows all of the core girls expressing a constant desire to have a boyfriend and mutual interest in any attractive male with only the studious Ami refraining slightly (in Classic she expresses disinterest in marriage, but in the SuperS, she admits she would get married if somebody wonderful came along), while in the manga only Minako and Makoto obsess over this desire (and as previously stated, Minako admits her duty as a Soldier takes precedence over this for her). The statement the anime makes with these changes is explicit in the exchange between Ami and Rei and Makoto in episode 159. Ami distantly states “Apparently it’s healthier to have a boyfriend than none” and Rei and Makoto reply “We already know we’re not healthy!” The anime probably changed characters like Rei to make them more “palateable” for mainstream consumption and to make the statement it is “healthy” and “normal” for girls to want boyfriends. Even in the anime, none of the girls outside Usagi gain permanent male love interests and none of them ever value men over their female friends. They all have specific career goals and traits that define their characters far more than their desire to have boyfriends. But the anime reinforces hetero-normativity more in comparison to the manga. Changes like this could be a result of the “male influence” Naoko Takeuchi referred to.
“I Can’t Find Happiness By Myself”: Female Bonds in the Anime vs the Manga
The anime does have points in its favor. The bonds between the Sailor Soldiers are more developed in the anime than in the manga and the other girls and the friendships they share with the main character are more prominent and more important to the plot. An example of this can be seen when one compares the finale of Classic in the anime and manga. In both the anime and manga, Sailor Moon’s boyfriend, Mamoru Chiba, has been brainwashed and now fights on the side of evil. In the anime, Sailor Moon’s four friends die protecting her. She nearly gives up when fighting her boyfriend, but remembers their sacrifices and attacks him. She is ultimately able to rescue him from his brainwashing, but he dies shortly thereafter while protecting her. He tells her to run away as he dies and she almost kisses him in her grief, but then decides not to.”I’m sorry, Mamoru-san. All of my friends died without kissing the boys they liked. So you see, I can’t find happiness by myself. I’m not going to run away.” After this, Usagi destroys the villain by summoning the memories of her friends, their “spirits” giving her the strength to defeat the evil. As she dies herself, her power activates and restores everyone.
In the manga, Usagi has to kill Mamoru, and kills herself in grief immediately after. Her friends sacrifice themselves to bring her back to life and she then defeats the evil with Mamoru supporting her in place of her friends and she resurrects her friends afterward. These comparisons of the finales hold true for all of the anime and the manga finales- in the anime, Mamoru does not aid Sailor Moon in defeating the major evil at the end of each arc at all and she relies solely on the bonds of friendship she has with her friends. In the manga, he is as prominent an ally as the Sailor Soldiers, if not moreso at times.
This was largely a result of Mamoru being a more prominent character in the manga. This took some prominence away from Usagi’s bond with other women and also meant Usagi’s friends were less prominent overall. The decision to give the girls more prominence than Mamoru and to focus less on heterosexual romance was a deliberate one by director Kunihiko Ikuhara. He didn’t like the idea of a male character overtaking the show and wanted shows aimed for girls to be less about girls’ relationships with men. He stated that “If I have a guy on the show, the love relationship gets to have a bigger role on the show. And that would be an interesting element, but I wouldn’t want to make that the scene-stealer of the show. Most other shoujo [girl’s] shows are in that direction. It’s about who-and-who are getting together and who-and-who are breaking up. I think that would be a loss if that were the big motif just because a girl was the main character[xxxiii]”
“Girls Have to Be Strong to Protect the Men They Love”: Gender Role Presentation
But it’s also worth noting that the manga presents a relationship between a man and woman that is far more developed and subverts gender roles more than the anime does. In the anime, Mamoru may be unimportant in all the huge battles, but he often rescues Sailor Moon and the other girls in the smaller battles. The formula of the show is typically that Sailor Moon will be fighting a monster, will almost get killed, but Mamoru will appear out of nowhere in his guise as Tuxedo Mask and throw a weaponized rose that will incapacitate the monster briefly and he will yell at Sailor Moon to kill it. Sailor Moon does not rely on Tuxedo Mask in this manner in the manga, killing minor monsters entirely on her own. Tuxedo Mask rarely rescues her in the manga; his role is entirely as backup that supports Sailor Moon by giving her a power boost when she requires it to fight (much like her friends do).
A representative from the animation studio, Kenichi Ebato, responded to criticisms about Tuxedo Mask rescuing Sailor Moon in the anime with “He’s part of the team. It’s all of them working together to fight evil. Sometimes she helps him as well when he gets into trouble”[xxxiv]. This is undeniably true, as the anime does keep the manga’s habit of having Tuxedo Mask kidnapped, killed or brainwashed so Sailor Moon can rescue him. In both the anime and the manga, he is kidnapped and brainwashed by the forces of evil twice and ultimately rescued by his girlfriend. He is also killed in the Stars arc in both media, and waits patiently in the afterlife for his girlfriend to save both him and the planet from death. In episode 197 of the anime, he responds to his murderer’s exclamation that she now has the power to control the planet with “I don’t think so. On this planet there are Sailor Soldiers, agents of love and justice, who keep the peace. They will definitely strike out your evil ambition” and then says Usagi’s name before dying. He tells Usagi “We’re all here thanks to your power!” when she resurrects him in the final chapter of the manga. He is ultimately reliant on Usagi to save him in the most dangerous scenarios and has complete confidence and trust in her ability to protect him and the planet where he cannot.
Fig 5. Mamoru being kidnapped in episode 163, “Mirror’s Magic Curse! Mamoru Trapped in a Nightmare”[xxxv].
He certainly views himself entirely as support and Usagi as the true hero in the manga, specifically stating that he lives only to support her in chapter 26, telling her “I believe in you. Many lives and souls have been saved with that power. You must believe in yourself, follow your path without fear. When you’re uncertain or worried, I’ll be there for you. I may have no power, but you called me here to you. If you need me…I’ll give you the strength of my soul. I live to be there for you, so you must fight with confidence.” Sailor Moon shows an unusual dynamic in having the man of the relationship be completely content in taking a back seat to the more powerful woman and living to support her. Takeuchi was making a deliberate statement to her readers by putting Mamoru in this role. This is demonstrated in her letter to her fans in the first volume of the manga where she emphasizes “Usagi is strong. We girls have to be strong to protect the men we love.”
Mamoru is also often insecure about his worthiness as support in the manga. He expresses anxiety over whether Usagi needs him, since she has the Sailor Soldiers helping her. Takeuchi notes in the first Sailor Moon artbook that “in front of the power of girls, at any rate, [Mamoru] was easily defeated”. But Usagi often reassures Mamoru she chose him and he is needed by her. Their relationship is an equal one where both parties mutually motivate and encourage each other.
“Your Pain is My Pain”: Usagi and Mamoru in the Anime vs the Manga
Mamoru demonstrates a great deal of paternalism towards Usagi in the anime that he never demonstrates in the manga. In an anime-only plot, he breaks up with Usagi after being haunted by recurring visions she will die if he stays with her. He tries to drive Usagi away by being cold to her and telling her he doesn’t love her because she isn’t strong enough. This results in Usagi obsessing over improving herself for him.. Rather than respecting Usagi’s right to know about her own perilous future, he belittles her and undermines her self esteem. He makes decisions for her as if she were a child and not his partner. Usagi eventually discovers his reasoning on her own, but does not express anger about his deception or criticize his actions, rather she expresses dependence on him above everything else, saying in her panic “Even if I die and the world is destroyed, I just want to be with you![xxxvi]” Mamoru eventually relents, saying they will face the future together, but he never apologizes for his actions or admits he was wrong. Jennifer L. Brown states in her thesis that “Perhaps Usagi was stripped of her independence” in this scenario in comparison to the manga because “the anime was meant to appeal to a broader audience”[xxxvii], theorizing that Usagi was made more dependent so as to be more palatable to a male viewer’s idea of how a girl in love should act.
Indeed, the closest the manga gets to this sort of plotline is when Mamoru is severely ill, but downplays it in front of Usagi and asks her not to visit him. The circumstances are quite different because while he does engage in some deception, he does not undermine her self-esteem, and he communicates to her that he is worried about restricting her choices by burdening her with his problems. “For a while now, I feel like I’ve been dragging you down, preventing you from a having a shining future of your own choosing. Whenever I think of it, it’s painful”[xxxviii] Rather than making a decision about the rightness of their relationship for both of them and manipulating Usagi to prevent her from having agency in that decision, he merely asks her to stay away from him for a while and keeps the full extent of his personal problems a secret.
Usagi is also completely aware that there is more wrong here than he is telling her, but trusts him to tell her what it is when he is ready. She asserts her agency in saying it’s her choice to have a future with him- “I can change the future all I want, with my own hands”[xxxix]– but she says she doesn’t like that their relationship is causing him pain and is willing to back off because of that.
When Usagi does discover the full extent of his deception, she makes it clear to him that he should have communicated with her and tells him he cannot prevent her from making the choice to stay with him. “Just as your body shares the pain of this planet, your pain is my pain. I will find a way to make you better. No matter what happens, I will stay with you! I will protect this planet and everyone on it, and I will protect you as well”[xl]
The comparisons between the two scenarios make it clear the differences between the manga and anime’s presentation of Usagi and Mamoru’s relationship- the anime’s version of Mamoru is less openly emotional and insecure. Meanwhile the anime’s version of Usagi is more insecure. The anime made Mamoru more paternalistic in regards to Usagi and Usagi far more childish- even making Mamoru four years older than Usagi rather than three years. In the anime’s version of the story, Mamoru is a college student when he meets Usagi, while in the manga he’s still a junior in high school. Usagi in the anime often worries that she’s not worthy of being Mamoru’s future wife and Usagi’s friends tell her to shape up, or Mamoru will never marry her. The anime also emphasizes Usagi’s childishness by making her constantly jealous of Mamoru and having her scream and throw tantrums if he talks too long to another girl, even one of her friends. Mamoru, in contrast, rarely expresses insecurity about their relationship and handles Usagi’s tantrums with a reserved exasperation rather than addressing the problem. In the manga, both parties get mutually jealous and insecure about the other’s interest in them, but communicate with each other and resolve their issues.
“You Can Be Free to Do What You Want”: Mamoru as a Female Fantasy
Mamoru in the anime is more stoic and reserved overall. This is easily demonstrated by how the anime and manga differed in handling a scene in Stars where Mamoru has to leave for a year abroad. In the anime, Usagi assures Mamoru she’ll write to him and that she’ll miss him and Mamoru responds that he might be busy at first. In the manga, it is Mamoru who assures that he will write and tells Usagi he’ll miss her. The difference in Mamoru and Usagi’s characterization across media can again possibly be attributed to the “male influence in the anime”. Naoko Takeuchi expressed that Mamoru is her “ideal man”[xli]. Therefore, one can view the manga version of Mamoru as a female fantasy, constructed through the lens of the rarely explored “female gaze”. Mamoru’s personality, appearance and character were molded to appeal to Takeuchi’s ideal of a suitable love interest. He is handsome, incredibly wealthy, emotionally open and communicative with his girlfriend. He is unafraid to express his feelings and admits his dependence on his girlfriend. He is constantly concerned with allowing his girlfriend agency and wanting to give her the freedom to make her own choices. He even makes the decision to be the main caretaker for their child on his own to allow her this freedom. “She is his child with you. He watches after her so you can be free to do what you want,” Sailor Jupiter assures Usagi in chapter 23 of the manga. Takeuchi was actually trying to present girls with a more progressive relationship dynamic as well as a love story that subverted the standards of male-centric romance. This is demonstrated by her response when questioned about the unique elements of her story, “There’s a masochistic component of boys. They write love stories that are now outdated”[xlii]
However, the male animators made changes to her vision, making Mamoru more stoic, less openly dependent on his girlfriend and far more paternalistic. The anime, whether consciously or subconsciously, seemed to construct their Mamoru through the lens of what is traditionally desirable to men, overwriting Naoko’s construction of Mamoru that emphasized qualities that were valuable to her as a woman.
“I Must Make Her Mine”: Sexual Assault in Sailor Moon
This is not to say Usagi and Mamoru’s relationship was presented perfectly even in the manga. The manga romanticized the nonconsensual act of Mamoru kissing Usagi when she was drunk and semiconscious, which took place before the two had entered a relationship. The anime included this scene as well. In the manga only, both Usagi and her daughter also kiss their love interests while they are unconscious and both media also present Sailor Moon’s mentor Luna kissing an unconscious man. The way these nonconsensual kisses are romanticized is in direct contrast to how the manga and anime show nonconsensual kissing as wrong when a villain like Prince Dimande initiates it in the R arc.
It should be noted that it is only in the manga that Dimande kisses Usagi against her will, In the anime, Usagi is recued by Mamoru before Dimande can force a kiss on her. The anime may have made this decision to make the scene more appropriate or children, but the other changes made to the scenario limited Usagi’s agency in comparison to the manga. Usagi does not get the opportunity to strike back against Dimande or reclaim her powers in the anime, instead she is rescued by her boyfriend who chastises Dimande on her account. Usagi does get a victory over Dimande when she resists his brainwashing the next time they meet and makes him realize the wrongness of his actions-“love obtained through trickery is not true love!”[xliii]– but the anime then has Dimande sacrifice himself to save Usagi. Dimande expresses love for Usagi and his death is presented as tragic, which carries the implication that his actions are supposed to be forgiven. This shift in the narrative means that the development and feelings of Usagi’s assailant are given more emphasis than Usagi’s development and feelings. The anime also disempowers Usagi to a degree by putting her in danger so she is dependent on her assailant to rescue her. In the manga however, Usagi punches Dimande when he kisses her, reclaims her powers, escapes his lair on her own and leaves to rescue her boyfriend who is being sexually assaulted at the same time she is. Later, she kills Dimande. The manga focuses on Usagi’s character arc and power, while the anime values the actions of the male characters more, even to the point of shifting the focus to the male predator’s martyrdom. This is perhaps another sign of the anime valuing the male perspective more than the manga in some instances.
Sailor Moon does not approach the subject sexual assault directly outside the instance with Dimande but there are a few instances that serve as metaphors for sexual assault in both the anime and manga. The focus is on often on a woman reclaiming her power and agency from the male predator. For example, Hotaru (Sailor Saturn) and Chibiusa (Sailor Moon’s daughter) are preyed upon by older men (in Hotaru’s case, her own father) who forcibly transform them into brainwashed, sexualized adult versions of themselves. In both cases, the girls break free of the transformation under their own power with the encouragement of other women
Fig 6. Chibiusa (left) is brainwashed and forcibly transformed into Black Lady (right), a false older version of herself. Under the male villain’s influence, in the manga she is forced to kiss Mamoru.[xliv]
In the anime, the villainous Amazon Trio specifically goes after people they are sexually interested in. If they are romantically rejected, the Trio chains their victims and magically violates their hearts. This keeps with the presentation of sexual assault as a crime of power. It is only a metaphor in the loosest sense, as Chibiusa explicitly calls this act “sexual assault” in episode 142. In all cases, the Sailor Soldiers rescue the people targeted and help them rebuild their lives. When Sailor Venus is targeted, she breaks out of the chains and defeats the villains. Mamoru is sexually assaulted both explicitly in the R manga (he is brainwashed and kissed against his will) and metaphorically by the Amazon Trio in the SuperS anime. Both times he is rescued from his assailant by his girlfriend, in a strict reversal of the usual gender roles.
“Gender Doesn’t Matter”: Queer Presentation in Sailor Moon
Sailor Moon is significant for including lesbian characters as heroes, which is extremely unusual to see in media aimed towards children. Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus are introduced in S arc of both media. From the beginning, the two characters are constantly seen together. Michiru Kaioh (Sailor Neptune) and Haruka Tenoh (Sailor Uranus) could be said to follow a butch/femme dynamic, since the short-haired Haruka wears the boy’s school uniform and other masculine clothing while Michiru has long hair and wears dresses. Haruka is even mistaken for a man in her first appearances in both the anime and the manga.
Fig 7 and 8. Michiru (left) and Haruka (right) in both civilian (left) and soldier (right) forms.[xlv]
In both media, girls are shown to be attracted to Haruka and she flirts with the girls openly. Haruka makes her debut as a civilian in episode 92 of the anime, “A Beautiful Boy? The Secret of Haruka Tenoh!” and flirts with both Usagi and Minako. Minako is smitten, declaring Haruka “the ideal man I’ve been looking for!” Usagi also pursues her. However, Michiru warns about Haruka “this person always says such things when cute girls are spotted”. At the end of the episode, Haruka takes her suit jacket off and the girls are able to see the outline of her breasts, and exclaim “A girl?” After that, pursuing Haruka romantically is out of the question for the girls. When it seems that Makoto has become attracted to Haruka in episode 96, Usagi reminds her “Even if she’s really attractive, Haruka is a girl!” and Rei, Minako and Usagi beg Makoto not to give up on men. Despite Michiru and Haruka being an obvious couple and being fairly open about their attraction to women, the anime still presents being attracted to women as something the main characters discourage each other and themselves from. However, the fact the girls are shown as being attracted to Haruka even after the gender reveal is undeniable. Usagi is shown blushing when Haruka puts her arms around her and jumps at the chance to dance with Haruka.
It should be noted there is a cultural component to Haruka’s gender presentation. Takeuchi stated regarding the development of Haruka “The tradition of my country has in the Tarazuka, the Japanese theater in which only women take part, the maximum level of feminine emancipation. These actresses cover all roles of the plays, even the male ones. I was inspired by them to create Haruka. It wasn’t easy to make children understand how there could be true love between two women”[xlvi]. It’s quite appropriate for Haruka to be inspired by Takarazuka, because as Jennifer E. Robertson notes in her book Takarazuka: Sexual Politics & Popular Culture Modern Japan, Takarazuka is a marked by a “resistance to normative gender roles and expectations and a distinct and significant sexual subculture style”. In fact, sometimes in Takarazuka culture, “fan” is used as a euphemism for lesbian. The Sailor Moon anime actually directly references this euphemism in episode 94 when Rei grumbles “I can’t believe Makoto’s chasing after women” and Usagi chortles “But Rei-chan, you have THIS!” while waving a Takarazuka magazine, at which point Rei gasps and grabs it away. Takarazuka serves as a symbol to imply that Rei is perhaps hiding some attraction towards women and that her heterosexism is a cover for this.
The confusion the other girls have about Haruka’s gender is much more drawn out in the manga and treated much less comically. Significantly, in the manga Haruka actively uses her gender presentation to challenge the other’s normative idea of gender. Her gender identity is also a little more ambiguous. When Usagi asks Haruka “are you a man or a woman?” in chapter 30 Haruka replies, “Man or woman, does it really matter?” while touching her forehead to Usagi’s. Usagi blushes in response. Haruka also makes a speech against gender norms when she lectures the other girls “Gender doesn’t make a difference. Do you think just because you’re a girl you’re always going to lose to a guy? If you think that, you can’t protect the ones you love”[xlvii]. Haruka also presents herself differently in the manga than she does in the anime. She dresses in both very masculine and very feminine clothing, switching between miniskirts and suits. She wears the boy’s uniform, but also switches to the girl’s uniform for a few chapters. Moreover, Michiru states in chapter 32 that “Uranus is like a man and a woman in one. She has the strengths of both genders.” This line confused many a fan’s perception of gender in the nineties, causing them to believe Haruka was a hermaphrodite. One fan even asked Takeuchi if Haruka was really a woman. Takeuchi replied that she was[xlviii]. However, both this line and the fact that Haruka seeks to challenge the gender binary has led many readers to perceive her manga self as genderqueer. Martha Cornog and Timothy Perper describe her as being “dual-gendered”[xlix]. Whatever the case, the manga version of Haruka has done what she set out to do- make people question whether their concepts of “man” or “woman” really matter.
Fig 9 and 10. Haruka and Michiru’s dual presentation in the manga. Takeuchi purposefully made them look like different people depending on how they presented.[l]
“I Want You to Touch Me Gently”: Queer Relationships
Usagi’s attraction to Haruka in the manga is also treated seriously. Haruka actually kisses her while presenting as female. It should be noted that the kiss isn’t necessarily consensual, since Haruka surprises Usagi when she does it. However, Usagi dreams of Haruka afterwards and is embarrassed seeing her boyfriend the next day, feeling like she cheated on him. She is mesmerized and flushed when she sees Haruka next. Usagi’s attraction to Haruka actually causes Mamoru to become jealous (while still under the impression Haruka is a man). The attraction dies down after Usagi and Mamoru patch things up (Mamoru telling Usagi that he trusts her) and after Usagi and Haruka’s full identities are revealed to each other, though the two remain very close. The manga overall does a better job of not presenting homosexual attraction as something to be discouraged, especially since the main character is involved in a serious queer attraction. The manga is also more impressive in using Haruka’s presentation to challenge perceptions of gender. In addition, Haruka and Michiru have a better relationship with the rest of team in the manga. The anime portrays them as distant and unreliable allies willing to be more ruthless than the others to the very end. In the manga, however, they integrate into the team and become very close to the others.
However, as far as developing the relationship between Haruka and Michiru, the anime is undeniably better. The Haruka and Usagi attraction is given much more attention than Haruka and Michiru’s relationship in the manga. It is not even shown if Haruka’s flirtations with Usagi affect their relationship, which is unsettling considering those interactions were far more serious than any of Haruka’s flirting in the anime. In the manga, it is stated in a sidebar the two are in a relationship and there are about four scenes where the two are intimate with each other (in one, Haruka terrorizes a guy trying to flirt with Michiru and goes off with her while everyone around them comments that the two of them are dating, under the impression Haruka is a man) but that is the extent of it. Haruka is shown kissing Usagi, but not Michiru.
The anime develops their relationship quite thoroughly though, even delving into the pasts of the two characters. Episode 106 of the anime “The Bond of Destiny! The Distant Days of Uranus”, shows how the two met. Michiru approaches Haruka, stating “There are a lot freakish fans of you at my school as well…. One of them is a girl, but she says she still wants…to go cruising along the beach in your car.” Haruka is shown reluctant to become a Soldier until Michiru gets gravely wounded protecting her. Michiru tells Haruka after protecting her, “I didn’t investigate you because you were the other Soldier. It goes back much further than when I realized you were the one. I was watching you in your first race from close by. I wanted to cruise along the beach in your car…just once…” The speech moves Haruka and she decides to become a Sailor Soldier for Michiru. “My days are filled with battles, but I’m glad I was able to meet you. I’m not letting you go home tonight.” She tells Michiru later.
The episode contains many nuances that allude subtly to the difficulty of entering a queer relationship society isn’t likely to accept: Michiru is ashamed of her “freakishness” in wanting to be with Haruka, Haruka wants to run away from being with Michiru and knows her life will be forever changed and filled with battles if she does choose to be with her. However, Haruka ultimately makes the choice not to run away and is glad to have met her lover.
The rest of their relationship is filled with similar nuance in the anime. During S, the two are invested in a mission where they have to save the world at all costs, so they both make a vow to leave the other behind to continue the mission and thus are afraid of getting intimate. There are many intense scenes between the two of them as a result of this, such as when Michiru takes Haruka’s hand, stating “I like your hands”[li] and Haruka pulls away. Later, Michiru breaks their mutual promise by almost dying to protect Haruka, and Haruka flashes back to that moment in regret and despair. When their mission is complete and the two return in Stars, it’s clear that they have thrown off their inhibitions and entered a sexual relationship. In episode 167, Michiru tells Haruka “you eat too many sweets” to which Haruka replies “I don’t listen to that kind of talk outside of bed.” In episode 181, Haruka tells Michiru “I want you to touch me gently!” and Michiru replies “Later, when we’re alone,” before pulling Haruka away. In the finale of the show, everybody but Usagi dies and Usagi has the task of resurrecting them. Haruka and Michiru die holding hands in episode 198, talking about how warm the other is and stating that they don’t mind going to hell as long as they’re together. This is in direct contrast to their earlier intimacy issues. The manga never approached this level of depth and nuance when it came to the relationship between Haruka and Michiru. The Haruka and Michiru pairing would likely not be as popular, significant or enduring if it weren’t for the anime’s presentation of their characters and relationship.
“Strong Like Haruka, Beautiful Like Michiru”: Queer Role Models
Takeuchi herself admires Haruka’s character, stating that Haruka is her “ideal woman”. [lii] Haruka and Michiru are presented as graceful, attractive and mature, often in a mentoring role to the younger girls, who openly admire them. Makoto’s admiration of the two is most pertinent, as Makoto is a character that challenges gender roles herself. Makoto is presented as having traditionally feminine traits and traditionally masculine traits- she’s good at cooking and cleaning and desires to get married young, but she’s also tall, intimidating, aggressive against bullies and incredibly good at fighting, beating up three grown men at once before she even discovers her superpowers in her anime debut . In the anime, Makoto is often insecure about her more masculine traits, stating discomfort at being a “big, boyish girl”. Usagi has to assure her “Even if you couldn’t cook, you’d be plenty feminine”[liii]. Makoto ends up admiring how Haruka is confident and comfortable in her own skin. She states “I look up to someone that attractive” in episode 92. In the manga, Makoto isn’t characterized as being insecure but still looks up to both Haruka and Michiru for both their masculine and feminine strengths. She says “I want to be strong like Haruka…and beautiful like Michiru” in chapter 42.
However, stereotypes and gender essentialism did play a part in Haruka and Michiru’s conception. Takeuchi has stated that Haruka being masculine and Michiru being feminine made it natural for them to be together[liv]. This carries the implication that only masculine and feminine individuals can “naturally” be together.
“A Miraculous Person Who Surpasses Gender”: Further Queer Presentation
Haruka and Michiru aren’t the only queer characters in Sailor Moon, though they are the most significant. Male villains Kunzite and Zoisite are presented as being in a relationship in the anime. Another villain, Fish-Eye was a male who often crossdressed and pursued other men. He referred to himself as male but was also called a “miraculous person who surpasses gender”[lv]. Fish Eye was actually the first of his trio of villains to take steps for redemption, after he experienced romantic feelings toward Mamoru and decided to spare his life. He struck up a friendship with Usagi as a result of this and ended up sacrificing himself for her, but he was saved from death. Fish Eye’s queerness is shown to directly lead him to the path of righteousness.
Fig 11. Fish Eye in Episode 140, “Love Those Minis! The Fashionable Soldiers.”[lvi]
The Sailor Starlights arrive in Stars arc. The difference between their gender presentation in the manga and anime is significant. In the manga, the three Soldiers are always physically female, but they crossdress and present as male in their civilian forms. This is never really commented on beyond a villain telling Usagi “You shouldn’t trust girls who dress up and pretend to be boys”[lvii], which Usagi reacts to with confusion and distaste.
Fig 12. The Sailor Starlights’ male civilian forms (bottom) and female Soldier forms (top).[lviii]
The leader of the Starlights, Kou Seiya, is shown to be attracted to Usagi and even kisses her. Seiya is also attracted to the princess of her planet. In the anime, the Starlights physically switch sexes from male to female when they transform. Naoko Takeuchi was upset by this change, thinking the anime had changed the Starlights to be “guys who turn into girls”[lix]. This was not true, as some lines in the anime indicate that the Starlights were originally female, such as when their princess asks them why they had taken on a male form and Seiya replies that it’s a disguise. However, the sex switching was a major change. Since Seiya spent most of the anime in “male form” and Seiya’s attraction to Usagi was given more attention in the anime, the change was most likely to make the relationship appear traditionally heterosexual on the surface, while only those who paid attention would notice it was queer. The Starlights gender presentation in both the anime and manga makes it very easy for fans to read them as transgender, regardless.
When discussing queer representation, It should also be noted that the manga showed three kisses between women, all of which the main character was involved in. The anime never showed any kisses between women. Both the anime and manga hinted towards Usagi possibly being bisexual, though between the kisses and the extended flirtation with Haruka, the manga is more overt. Usagi remains firmly in a monogamous relationship with her boyfriend regardless.
Overall, both the manga and anime of Sailor Moon are unusual in that they contain a variety of heroic queer characters and these characters actively challenge conceptions of gender essentialism and binarism. The manga presents queer sexuality more overtly and also enforces hetero-normativity less and contains less open heterosexism, but the anime can be praised for presenting the major queer characters and major queer relationship with more depth and nuance.
Both versions of Sailor Moon are certainly more progressive than a lot of media for portraying a heroic lesbian couple who enjoy a fulfilling relationship and are admired by the other characters. Haruka and Michiru even successfully raise a child together with another woman in both media. Sailor Moon presents non-traditional family structures and queer parents as positive and empowering, especially since in the manga these women rescue this child from an abusive situation and give her a second chance at having a loving, healthy family.
“Funny Symbols”: Americanization in the Sailor Moon Dub
Some of those who watched the English dub of the Sailor Moon anime when it was broadcast may not have been aware there were any queer elements whatsoever, much less a positive example of a queer-parented family. In fact, several elements of the original work were obscured and censored in the dub’s translation.
The dub subjected the original anime to “Americanization”- “the altering of the characters and setting of an anime series according to social class and ethnic background of the North American target audience”[lx]. All of the characters were given English names- Usagi’s name was changed to “Serena” and Mamoru’s name was changed to “Darien”, for example. Japanese writing was often erased from the scenery and sometimes replaced with English- for instance, the middle school Usagi attended was renamed “Crossroads Junior High”. Other cultural elements were also erased. For example, Re is a Shinto priestess. Shinto is a religion indigenous to Japan, so the dub obscured this. As a priestess, Rei is able to exorcise evil spirits, but the dub changed Rei’s“ Evil Spirits Disperse” chant to the generic attack “Mars Fireballs Charge”.
Fig 13. Rei does a Shinto chant in episode 10, “Cursed Bus! The Soldier of Flame, Mars, Appears!” This was cut in the dub version of the episode, “An Uncharmed Life”[lxi].
“The Americanisation of Cardcaptor Sakura” paper notes that dubbing companies often follow the stereotype that American audiences are “culturally ignorant and indifferent to world history and geography” and believe that keeping the indigenous cultural elements in shows risks “confusing, alienating (or even offending) the American audience”[lxii]. But that is a self-perpetuating problem- by refusing to expose children to other cultures and erasing all content of the original work, the dub ensured that the children watching would be kept ignorant of Japanese culture. Erasing the cultural elements of the show also essentially whitewashed the characters by hiding the fact they originated from East Asia. The dub bordered on racism with a line that referred to the Japanese writing as “funny symbols”. The dub had an opportunity to use Sailor Moon as a way to educate its young audience, especially since the dub added on “Sailor Says” segments at the end of each episode meant to teach a moral. Those segments could have easily been used to educate about Japanese culture. Instead the dub went out of its way to “other” the Japanese cultural elements, either erasing them or presenting them as strange and indecipherable.
“Girls and Cousins Too”: Queer Censorship in the Dub
The dub also changed the character Zoisite to a woman to make his relationship with Kunzite appear heterosexual. Fish-Eye was also changed into a woman. Most significantly, Haruka and Michiru –called “Amara” and “Michelle” in the dub- were changed from a couple to cousins. Their familial relationship was often emphasized with awkward lines like “they’re girls and cousins too!”[lxiii] The girls were also deliberately given lines that “proved” their heterosexuality. Michelle describes her first kiss as “with Brad, the cutest guy in the school”[lxiv]. Obviously, she did not say anything like this in the original. There is also a scene in episode 101 of the original anime where Haruka replies to Usagi’s statement of “He’s not my boyfriend or anything anymore!” with “Does that mean I have a chance now? I’ve always been fond of you, buns-head”. This is changed in the dub to Haruka saying “If he’s available, then maybe I’ll scoop him up. I mean, he’s just the right height for me”[lxv].
Andy Heyward, president of DIC, one of the companies that dubbed the anime, is quoted in as saying “Some of the racier moments from the Japanese version will hit the cutting room floor, including when one member of Sailor Moon’s team proudly refers to the size of her breasts”[lxvi]. Apparently queer characters were considered to be “racy”. America and Canada have traditionally had fears about showing overt sexuality in children’s cartoons, and queer sexuality, even when shown through dialogue and cuddling, is considered to be more scandalous than heterosexual romance. After all, a survey taken of American audiences stated that the audiences believed animation was “safe and could be trusted” because it “did not make them think about issues like […] homosexuality or same sex marriages”[lxvii]. The censorship of Sailor Moon is a direct result of the prejudice in American and Canadian society that frames queer relationships as “unsafe” and not something children should be exposed to.
“Testosterone-Charged Sidekick”: The Dub’s Treatment of Gender
The dub also downplayed the female friendships and diluted some of the more overt feminist messages in Sailor Moon. There were some dialogue changes made to the episode 13, “Girl Power! The Death of Jadeite”, called “Fight to the Finish” in the dub. In the original, the girls are fighting Jadeite, who seems to have murdered Tuxedo Mask. Jadeite sneers, “Cry and wail! Can you do nothing without the help of a man? Women are such foolish creatures in the end!” Sailor Mars replies “Only old men think men are better than women these days!” Mercury follows up with “That’s right! Scorning women is positively feudalistic!” and Moon cries “Down with sexual discrimination!” The three clasp hands, declaring “We must fight against Jadeite, the arrogant man!” The dub cut out the sexism angle entirely; replacing Jadeite’s speech with a generic ““Tuxedo Mask didn’t have a chance against me! And now it’s your turn. Do you really think you can defeat me?” the girls responded with an equally generic “We can defeat you! “
The dub also added elements of betrayal to the female friendships that weren’t in the original. Episode 43 of the original was devoted to exploring how despite the fact Sailor Moon and Sailor Mars argued a lot and Mars was often very strict with Sailor Moon, the girls ultimately shared a deep bond of trust. This was proven at the end of the episode when Sailor Moon gives Mars her most important weapon and trusts her to protect it from the enemy. In the dub’s adaption of the episode is rewritten so Sailor Mars steals the weapon from Sailor Moon because she doesn’t trust Moon as leader. The dub never bothered to truly address this breach of trust, meaning Sailor Mars and Sailor Moon never developed past their antagonism towards each other in that version.
There is no way to know the exact reasoning for the dub executives choosing to downplay the “girl power” aspect and undermine the female friendships in the original series, but a Mattel executive speculated on the reasoning behind the treatment of Sailor Moon by dub executives was motivated by the idea that, “in America, girls will watch male-oriented programming but boys won’t watch female-oriented shows”[lxviii] Indeed, a lot of the press for the English dub emphasized a desire to appeal to a male audience- a promo pitching the dub said “boys will love the non-stop action” while showing Tuxedo Mask and newspaper article claimed that the “testosterone-charged sidekick, Tuxedo”[lxix] was there for the boys to identify with when in fact his true function was that of a love interest. Perhaps the scenario of three girls banding together to defeat “the arrogant man” was seen as potentially alienating to a male audience. The competition and conflict the dub added to the relationships between the girls was also more in line with stereotypical American ideas about relationships between women. The English dub version of the girls have been referred to as “catty stereotypes”[lxx].
The treatment of Sailor Moon reveals a lot about attitudes toward female oriented media in the West. As “The Americanisation of Cardcaptor Sakura” notes “In America, a girl’s cartoon is considered sissy stuff, and faces a difficult fight for broadcast or distribution. Female superheroes as a whole and Sailor Moon in particular, have not achieved the same level of success in the United States as they have in Japan.,”.[lxxi]
Anne Allison’s speculates in her article “Sailor Moon – Japanese Superheroes for Global Girls” that this is because “the preferred model of superheroism remains strongly masculine in the United States and strongly biased against the female hero, particularly one who behaves in a feminine or girlie manner. There is a message that even if a superhero is a girl, she is expected to act and even look like a boy.”
“Female-Oriented Superstar”: Concluding Thoughts
However, Allison also notes that “For many of the preteen girls I interviewed, they found Sailor Moon appealing precisely because she is a “different” kind of female and feminine superhero- a strong character who is “more like them” than boys are. Many of these girls pointed out the paucity of such female oriented superstars in children’s programs, as well as in popular culture more broadly, in the United States”.
Perhaps this is the ultimate reason that Sailor Moon had such international appeal and gained a cult following of female fans in the West. Takeuchi herself said that she felt anime targeted specifically towards girls was a positive thing and wished the trend would continue around the world[lxxii] . Sailor Moon introduced these fans to things that were new to them- distinctly feminine heroes, femininity being presented as a source of power for these heroes, queer relationships, exploration of gender identity and the heroic journey of a woman written by a woman and aimed for women. Girls were given a piece of media that celebrated girlhood in way they’d never seen before.
It is easy to dismiss Sailor Moon as a kiddie franchise of no significance or as a male fantasy, but the reality is that it was a female power fantasy originally crafted by a Japanese woman that contained progressive themes that appealed to many young women and also influenced the media that came after it. It was the presentation of queerness, gender dynamics and the treatment of the female heroes that drew women to Sailor Moon. The examination of what unique elements Sailor Moon offered to over other texts reveals what the female audience feels empowered by- elements like celebration of femininity, female friendships and presentation of individuals who engage in queer love and do not fit the gender binary. The changes the primarily male-authored anime made from the female-authored manga to exposes the differences between the socially constructed viewpoints of women and men. The English dub’s censorship of queer elements, cultural elements and feminist elements in the original work exposes the insidious homophobia, xenophobia and sexism present in Western society and reveals elements of Sailor Moon as threatening to the status quo those prejudices create. Sailor Moon is ultimately valuable from a sociological, cultural and feminist perspective because the text tells the story of a young woman ascent to power in a way that challenges a society that marginalizes women and queer individuals.
[i] Thompson, Jason. Manga: The Complete Guide. New York: Del Rey Books, 2007. Web.
[ii] Newitz, Analee. “Magical Girls and Atomic Bomb Sperm: Japanese Animation in America.” Film Quarterly. 49.1 (1995): 2-15. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
[vi] Benkoil, Dorian. “Move over, Power Rangers. Here comes Japan’s Sailor Moon.” Free Lance-Star [Fredericksburg] 18 Feb 1995, n. pag. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
[vii] Driscoll, Catherine. Girls: Feminine Adolescence in Popular Culture & Cultural Theory. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. Web.
[viii] Napier, Susa n J. (1998). “Vampires, Psychic Girls, Flying Women and Sailor Scouts”. In
Martinez, Dolores P. The Worlds of Japanese Popular Culture: Gender, Shifting Boundaries and Global Culture. Cambridge University Press. pp. 91-109.
[ix] Nagaike, Kazumi . “The Sexual and Textual Politics of Japanese Lesbian Comics Reading Romantic and Erotic Yuri Narratives.” Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies. 10.3 (2010): n. page. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
[x] Takeuchi, Naoko. Interview by Charles McCarter. “She is the one named Takeuchi Naoko.” Smile Magazine. Tokyopop, Los Angeles. Dec 1998. Web. 20 Feb 2013.
[xii] Reid, Robin Anne. Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy: Volume 1: Overviews. Hardcover. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2008. 103,294. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.
[xiii] Takeuchi, Naoko. “Naoko Takeuchi Interview.” Animax Magazine. Web. 20 Feb 2013.
[xiv] Chapter 6
[xv] Chapter 21
[xvi] Chapter 22
[xvii] Maybrey, Catherine. “”Blaming the Victim” Syndrome.” Ed. Merril D. Smith. Encyclopedia of Rape. . Hardcover. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2004. 26. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.
[xviii] Maybrey, Catherine. “”Blaming the Victim” Syndrome.” Ed. Merril D. Smith. Encyclopedia of Rape. . Hardcover. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2004. 28. Web. 30 Apr. 2013.
[xix] Chapter 22
[xx] Chapter 21
[xxi] Chapter 57
[xxii] Chapters 59 and 60
[xxiii] Cornog, Martha, and Timothy Perper. “Non-Western Sexuality Comes to the U.S.: A Crash Course in Manga and Anime for Sexologists.” Contemporary Sexuality. 39.3 (2005): 3-6. Print
[xxiv] Takeuchi, Naoko. Interview by Charles McCarter. “She is the one named Takeuchi Naoko.” Smile Magazine. Tokyopop, Los Angeles. Dec 1998. Web. 20 Feb 2013.
[xxv] Takeuchi, Naoko. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon vol 1. Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd., 1993. Print.
[xxvi] Fig. 3. Toei Animation. Sailor Jupiter Transforming. N.d.
[xxvii] Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism :
Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP,
[xxviii] Saito, Tamaki. Beautiful Fighting Girl. English. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011. Web.
[xxix] Takeuchi, Naoko. “Naoko Takeuchi Interview.” Animax Magazine. Web. 20 Feb 2013.
[xxx] Takeuchi, Naoko. “Naoko Takeuchi Interview.” Animax Magazine. Web. 20 Feb 2013.
[xxxi] Fig. 4. Toei Animation, Sailor Soldiers combine powers. n.d.
[xxxii] Brown, Jennifer L. “FEMALE PROTAGONISTS IN SHŌJO MANGA – FROM THE RESCUERS TO THE RESCUED .” MA thesis. University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2008.
[xxxiii] Ikuhara, Kunihiko. Kunihiko Ikuhara IRC Chat Interview . 08 Oct 2000. Web. 18 Apr 2013.
[xxxv] Fig. 5, Toei Animation, Mamoru being kidnapped, 1996.
[xxxvi] Episode 77, “Our Feelings are the Same! Usagi and Mamoru in Love Once Again.”
[xxxvii] Brown, Jennifer L. “FEMALE PROTAGONISTS IN SHŌJO MANGA – FROM THE RESCUERS TO THE RESCUED .” MA thesis. University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2008. Web.
[xxxviii] Chapter 40
[xxxix] Chapter 40
[xl] Chapter 43
[xli] Takeuchi, Naoko. Interview by Stefanie Holzer. “Interview mit Naoko Takeuchi.” AnimaniA. . Aug 1999. Print
[xlii] Takeuchi, Naoko. “An Interview with Naoko Takeuchi.” Kappa Magazine. Star Comics. 1996. Web. 20 Feb 2013.
[xliii] Episode 80, “Believe in Love and the Future! Usagi’s Determination.”
[xliv] Fig. 6. Toei Animation, Chibiusa and Black Lady. n.d.
[xlv] Fig. 7 and 8. Toei Animation, Haruka and Michiru. n.d.
[xlvi] Takeuchi, Naoko. “An Interview with Naoko Takeuchi.” Kappa Magazine. Star Comics. 1996. Web. 20 Feb 2013.
[xlvii] Chapter 28
[xlviii] Takeuchi, Naoko. Interview by Charles McCarter. “She is the one named Takeuchi Naoko.” Smile Magazine. Tokyopop, Los Angeles. Dec 1998. Web. 20 Feb 2013.
[xlix] Cornog, Martha, and Timothy Perper. “Non-Western Sexuality Comes to the U.S.: A Crash Course in Manga and Anime for Sexologists.” Contemporary Sexuality. 39.3 (2005): 3-6. Print
[l] Fig. 9 and 10. Takeuchi, Naoko. Haruka and Michiru. Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon Original Picture Collection Vol. III. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1996.
[li] Episode 110 “ Death of Uranus and Neptune? Talismans Appear!”
[lii] Takeuchi, Naoko. “An Interview with Naoko Takeuchi.” Kappa Magazine. Star Comics. 1996. Web. 20 Feb 2013.
[liii] Episode 92, “Cold Hearted Uranus? Makoto in Trouble.”
[liv] Takeuchi, Naoko. “An Interview with Naoko Takeuchi.” Kappa Magazine. Star Comics. 1996. Web. 20 Feb 2013.
[lv] Episode 140, “Love Those Minis! The Fashionable Soldiers.”
[lvi] Fig. 11. Toei Animation, Fish Eye, 1995.
[lvii] Chapter 53
[lviii] Fig. 12. Toei Animation, Sailor Starlights n.d.
[lix] Takeuchi, Naoko. Interview by Mark Vallen. Naoko Takeuchi: The creator of BISHOUJO SENSHI SAILORMOON speaks at the 1998 San Diego International Comics Convention 1998. The Black Moon. . Web. 30 Apr 2013.
[lx] Cubbison, Laurie. “Not Just for Children’s Television: Anime and the Changing Editing Practices of American Television Networks” Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture 8.2 (2008). 17 March 2011.
[lxi] Fig. 13. Toei Animation, Rei Chanting, 1992.
[lxii] Lun, Wei. “The “Americanisation” of Cardcaptor Sakura.”Actar’s Reviews. Contemporary Japanese Popular Culture, 28 May 2011. Web. 18 Apr 2013.
[lxiii] Dub Episode 88, “Blinded By Love’s Light”
[lxiv] Dub Episode 87, “Swept Off Her Feet”
[lxv] Dub Episode 94, “Birthday Blues, Part One”
[lxvii] Frasier, Alexander Nghiem, “A Clash of Cultures: Cultural differences within American and Japanese animation.” Diss. The University of Texas at Arlington, 2007.
[lxviii] Allison, Anne. “Sailor Moon – Japanese Superheroes for Global Girls” Japan pop! Eds. T J Craig. London: M.E. Sharpe, 2000. 259-278.
[lxx] Brown, Louise. “Sailing the Internet: It’s a treasure trove of trivia for Sailor ‘Moonies’.” Toronto Star 27 Jul 1996, SW 65. Print.
[lxxi] Lun, Wei. “The “Americanisation” of Cardcaptor Sakura.”Actar’s Reviews. Contemporary Japanese Popular Culture, 28 May 2011. Web. 18 Apr 2013.
[lxxii] Takeuchi, Naoko. Interview by Charles McCarter. “She is the one named Takeuchi Naoko.” Smile Magazine. Tokyopop, Los Angeles. Dec 1998. Web. 20 Feb 2013.