I didn’t realize how revolutionary Sailor Moon was at the time when it aired. I got into anime through finding this channel on our satellite dish (which was probably not really for kids, let’s be honest) and it showed me that animation could be something more than just cartoons. It was the start of a life-long relationship with anime.
I didn’t tell many kids that I watched Sailor Moon when I was that age because it was still viewed as “a show for girls” and, while I understood that it was a show of female protagonists, I didn’t really understand why it was only for girls because… well, because I watched it too. And what did that mean for me?
It was one of the first times I can remember having an identity crisis. However, I wasn’t old enough to understand that it wasn’t really an identity crisis at all: I knew exactly who I was, it was whether or not I had the courage to believe it in spite of what others were saying. At the end of the day, I still taped every episode at 8:30am, right after Batman.
Then I forgot about it for almost twenty years and, just last year, I did something out of the ordinary: I watched them all again.
While a little bit juvenile at times, there are some really big messages in that show. It wasn’t that I was too young to get them, but I was really too immature to appreciate them and I wasn’t strong enough to fight for them. The point of the show wasn’t that girls were fighting evil monsters, it was that girls are interesting and unique people who are also strong enough to fight for themselves.
When I was a kid, I loved Tuxedo Mask. All of my invented heroes were in tuxedos – I even made a Lego Tuxedo Mask. But when I watched him as an adult, I realized that he doesn’t even do anything. As a former student of mine perfectly explained:
He’s not even a hero and that’s the whole point. The paradigm of the female foil character that helps the uber-male-action-hero save the day is entirely turned on its head. I especially got that in the original Japanese when I discovered scenes that were significantly watered down in the English version:
I’d seen that meme before, but I didn’t know that it was from an actual episode, which is below:
As a kid, I didn’t realize how forward-thinking this show was, especially in the 90s. This anime not only trailblazed the magical girl genre of anime, but also taught girls that they could be the hero of their own story and that they didn’t need any man to save them. As a boy, this also subversively taught me that it wasn’t my responsibility to save anyone and not every girl needed saving. Of course they don’t and I know this as an adult, but as a heroes-and-villains-oriented kid, that was a big one. I wish I had the perspective for it to be less of a big deal, actually.
* * *
We got the internet shortly after Sailor Moon came out and I quickly learned that Japan was ahead of us in the show. There were more than five scouts! And one was older! And one was a kid! And two of them were lesbians.
Thankfully, I had enough perspective to think this wasn’t a big deal. I mean, the network did and I later learned that they would be very-close-cousins in the North American version, but them being lovers was just fine to twelve-year-old me. Almost anyone who’s watched anime in the last 20 years knows that Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus are lesbians, yet they were the first homosexual superheroes that I’d ever experienced. But they weren’t the gay stereotypes that were flying around in the 90s as culture was discovering something that had been there the whole time, the scouts/senshi were interesting and unique people who were in love and cared about each other (and were super strong and kicked some a–).
The video above talks about that, but there’s an even better example out there right now.
Sailor Moon Crystal has given the series a facelift and rebooted it closer to the manga and, I’ve got to tell you, it’s really good. It’s fast, it cut all the filler, it’s more serious and it’s way more feminist-oriented (and by that, I mean that it doesn’t pull any punches about an all-female lead cast who needs no help from anyone but each other). It presents its story and apologizes for nothing.
The episode at the beginning of September introduced Makoto (Sailor Jupiter) and it showed a traditional side of women that the show often downplayed, particularly how she likes to cook and has a lost love. But none of that is in spite of her being tough, but instead she demonstrates the ability to be both feminine and strong; both traditional and tenacious, or to put it my favourite way:
Having one does not negate the other. And this happens with guys too (though, to a far less degree): You can be strong and emotional, you can like sports and be artistic, you can be smart and still be interesting. Just be whoever you are.
Makoto never apologizes for who she is and that is one of the clearest strengths of Sailor Moon Crystal. Ami doesn’t apologize for being smart or Rei for being spiritual. Usagi is learning that she can be clutzy and still be a leader and that a leader doesn’t always lead with strength, but with heart.
It’s a good lesson. Imagine if more kids led with heart than strength :)