Sailor Moon is nothing short of a cultural phenomenon.
The original 1990s manga spawned a multi-billion dollar franchise. Animes, movies, games, merchandise and much more. And it endures today because of its strong themes of friendship.
Ahead of Sailor Moon’s 30th anniversary next year, Comic Con @ Home put together a panel, “The Power of Female Friendship”, dedicated to discussing the series’ lasting socio-cultural impact.
Female Friendships FTW!
Creator Naoko Takeuchi created the show from a very personal place of loneliness, says comic book historian Jessica Tseang. Takeuchi made female characters she wished she could be friends with, the panel host adds.
As a result, the power of female bonding, of viewing other women as allies and not competition, was front and center in Sailor Moon, making it an affirmative influence on a generation of girls growing up with it.
“A lot of times, women are socialized to compete rather than to cooperate, which is not really our fault, it’s a subset of the patriarchy and how we were all raised. But I think that’s what was so revolutionary about Sailor Moon when it came out,” says Sam Maggs, the creative head behind Captain Marvel comics and author of The Unstoppable Wasp.
The sailor soldiers did not suffer from ‘Smurfette Syndrome,’ Maggs says. That’s when there’s only one female on an all-male team.
“You could be a crybaby and be tough, you could enjoy cooking and be tough… They were all raised to be ‘girls’ but they all supported each other and that’s when they were the most successful,” she said.
Unique and Diverse Female Characters
Kate Higgins, the voice of Sailor Mercury in Sailor Moon: Crystal, agrees. She says despite their contrasting personalities and differences, the sailor soldiers built lasting bonds of trust, friendship, and teamwork.
Sailor Moon subverted the importance given to cliques and surrounding yourself with people who’re just like you.
“These kinds of friendships can help you recognize how everything is connected and how to connect with others. So yes, it is very interesting to be friends with someone who is obviously different from you,” Higgins said.
And Sailor Moon celebrates these differences and recognizes that every girl is her own individual. Each of them has her own distinct set of traits that sets her apart, and they’re far from perfect.
In no other character is this more apparent than in the protagonist Usagi, says LGBT activist and comedian Chris Bryant.
Usagi’s your average teenager: over-emotional, lazy, and selfish, with a healthy interest in romance; it’s only through her fantastical experiences alongside her band of true friends that she matures into a strong and independent young woman.
An Interlude for Sailor Scouts
Hey Sailor Scouts! Focusing on the “Winning love by daylight,” if you had to pick, who was your favorite couple on #SailorMoon?
— Brown Geeks (@AvaazMedia_) August 10, 2020
And now back to our post already in progress…
Duality in Gender Norms
Instead of making her characters conform to conventional gender roles, Takeuchi managed to find a great balance when she imbued them with both male and female qualities.
Take the character of Haruka Tenoh. She is tall, strong, and androgynous in her looks, a tomboy who prefers wearing men’s clothes and is into sports and auto racing. But when she transforms into her alter ego, Sailor Uranus, she dons a cute sailor uniform, hoop earrings, and makeup.
The other sailor soldiers may have varied feminine interests – one is a shrine maiden, another likes baking – but they’re all tough, fearless, and self-sacrificing. They’re gentle and nurturing but also the saviors of the world.
“The show isn’t about presenting anyone as ‘tomboyish’ or ‘feminine’. It throws all of that out the window,” chimes in Amanda Miller, who voiced Sailor Jupiter in Sailor Moon: Crystal.
Enduring Appeal for the LGBTQIA+ Community
Sailor Moon was ground-breaking and ahead of its times for a number of reasons, one of them being that it didn’t subscribe to strict heteronormative notions. For the most part, it focused on the sailor soldiers and their relationship with one another. Gestures of physical intimacy are common and there is a homoerotic undercurrent in a lot of scenes.
There’s also a canon gay couple – Haruka (Sailor Uranus) and Michiru (Sailor Neptune) who’re open and unambiguous about their relationship. They live together in a little house with their adopted baby and it’s presented with an air of normalcy and accepted without question.
And how can one forget about the Sailor Starlights, genderfluid female-presenting warriors who moonlight as a popular boy band? Gentle reminder that all this takes place in a shoujo manga written in the early ‘90s!
In fact, the only notable heterosexual relationship in the story is that between Usagi and Mamoru (Tuxedo Mask). They eventually get married and have a daughter.
The panelists joke about how the original English dub in the U.S. changed Haruka and Michiru’s relationship to that of cousins. Takeuchi’s progressive move to include a queer couple in Sailor Moon was perhaps too bold for what the Americans considered a show directed at young girls. And maybe that’s why it was censored.
Another interesting subject the panel touched upon was the diversity in the fandom, especially people cosplaying Sailor Moon.
“A lot of cosplayers related to Sailor Moon. Especially when you get to Season 5, where you literally have transgender characters who are transitioning back and forth from male to female. This show brings in an audience of people who are on some sort of gender spectrum. I know very burly men who put on the sailor skirt and they’re rocking it out, and that’s because this show allowed for that degree of creativity in people,” said Bryant.
He goes on to say that Sailor Moon is not just about “a blonde-haired Japanese girl”, it transcends physical appearance, race, gender, and sexuality. “The heart of it is the morals [of the characters] and values of friendship.”