Sailor Moon: Analyzing Anime from a Gender perspective (or more accurately, From a Me Perspective)
If you’re looking for deep, adult series, Sailor Moon isn’t it. The character’s don’t have tragic, debilitating inner conflicts or tangled interpersonal relations, the action scenes aren’t gory or deeply creative and far from dissecting tragedy, politics and human drama with a cynical eye, the series is deeply and unflinchingly idealistic and downright simplistic in a lot of respects.
That doesn’t mean there’s not character development, complexities, emotional pathos, dramatic moments , lots of room for analysis AND a positive and needed message that subtly weaves in and out of everything- it’s just if you are expecting a deep and tangled plot, or for the series to not be at points childish, repetitive and painfully predictable, you’re out of luck. Sailor Moon is a 200 episode anime and 51 chapter manga- there’s a lot of filler, some inconsistency and some annoying things to be had.
But it is one series, that without fail, makes me feel good when I watch it, makes me feel warm and fuzzy and entertained. And it’s a whole lot of fun.
And, aside from Utena, it’s probably one of the series that is the most fascinating to analyze from a gender and feminist perspective. There’s a lot of ground to cover here, and I’m going to try to break it up into sections arbitrarily, and I’m going to start going by character- we’ll cover all the main characters, the significance of female friendship in the story, the relationship between the lead and her romantic partner, the mother-daughter relationship, the fairy tale themes in the story and how they are subverted and enforced, the superhero themes, the aesthetics, the plot, the significance culturally and in entertainment and the anime vs. the manga and other adaptions. So we’d best get going! Let’s start with the significance of Sailor Moon in general.
Okay, I did absolutely no research here other than what I already knew- this is all opinion. But Sailor Moon had an impact, and a positive one, for women and for anime.
It was a show I was aware of throughout my childhood- I never watched it for some reason (likely because I hated skirts and “girliness” with a fiery passion back then and literally could not take a character who wore a skirt seriously- I was an extreme product of our culture’s demonization of femininity, but we’ll get to that later. Also, I associated the series with a friend of mine who loved it but was very unpleasant. She (at the time identifying as male, thinking back, a lot of our problems were her taking out her gender confusion and prejudice she faced on me ) cast me as Sailor Mercury so at least she thought I was smart? But I just remember being frustrated that she always yelled at us when we didn’t get the poses right and I got stuck with the power of bubbles)
But the point is I was aware of Sailor Moon, that I knew her name and appearance even as an 11-year-old who rarely watched TV. I was aware of an original female superhero back when I thought all female superheroes were simpering knockoffs of guys. And I know I liked that, and was often pleased to roleplay that with my friends, and it was comforting to know an all female asskicking team was out there even if they wore skirts. Most people from my generation will recognize Sailor Moon and it is definitely one of the most recognizable animes…or even cartoons…out there.
And it is a show that focused on girls being powerful, on girls saving the day, on girls relying on each other, on reversing the usual gender roles. There were kids who were RAISED on that in MULTIPLE COUNTRIES and that is incredibly significant. Like Wonder Woman, it taught girls they can be superheroes, that they can be powerful and still be feminine. But not only that, this girl was school age, she was flawed up the wazoo, downright incompetent in everyday life. Unlike most heroes, she didn’t have it together, she screwed up a lot- but she still saved the day. It showed you could still be you, you could still mess up and be a silly teenager- but still be heroic and powerful and on top. Being a flawed young girl didn’t keep you from being a hero. In an era when we expected girls…and our heroes… to be perfect and composed, that was an important message.
Sailor Moon is the trope codifier for Magical Girl Warrior. It effectively launched a genre, and inspired a whole lot of great works in anime, manga and beyond. Many have Sailor Moon to thank for getting into anime, and many have it to thank for CREATING anime and manga. It’s referenced all over the place. And launching a genre that consists of girls using magical powers to fight evil? That’s a pretty significant accomplishment. As TV Tropes says, Sailor Moon “fused the Sentai and Magical Girl genres, forever redefining the latter. It has become known as the archetypal Magical Girl show and has been widely imitated and parodied.” When Naoko Takeuchi insisted on writing a female superhero, legend has it her editor laughed and sarcastically suggested she be a schoolgirl and crybaby who saved the day too. Well, she showed him that could work.
I’m not going to lecture on another culture that’s not my own, especially not one I’m not intimately familiar with, but suffice to say through observation I’ve seen that there’s some cultural preconceptions about gender and the role of women that Japanese works seem to reflect ( a lot of which America certainly shares), and Sailor Moon deliberately subverts and reinvents quite a few, specifically for the era it was created in. And I think by subverting those concepts, it had a significant effect on anime as a whole and maybe on some parts of the culture itself. Draw your own conclusions based on experience and what I talk about in this essay.
Gender is a huge theme of Sailor Moon, and it makes no bones about this or its goal to inspire and empower girls, or its appeal to girls. This is a show where women are given the most power, and it’s meant to appeal to women. Naoko Takeuchi straight out said in one of her liner notes that Sailor Moon is by a woman, for girls and about girls. And it is unflinchingly positive about this. The storyline itself goes through several themes- it’s a coming-of-age story with mythological references and explorations of sexual awakening and sexuality, redemption, betrayal, jealousy, the never ending nature of war, the goal of peace, the root of evil in the world, how past lives affect the present, parent-child relations, loyalty, royalty and loss of identity. Many superhero tropes are played with too- gender is a part of Sailor Moon, but it’s not just about gender, it’s an epic storyline in its own right that happens to focus on empowering women, and that’s what makes it so unique.
Sailor Moon is huge. It is a 29 volume manga and 200 episode anime with three movies. There is a forty-plus episode live action series that is damn good, 29 musicals (and Sailor Moon is one of the few animes to get a musical adaptation like that- heck, even the first musicals opening song says “Sailor Moon, no one can say you’re just sci-fi now”), it’s been dubbed in almost all the countries, oh and there’s a video game rpg. Also, according to this DIC promo it made more than Power Rangers and Ninja Turtles combined and 13 million can’t be wrong but I don’t even know if I can trust THAT. Even with the licenses pulled in the US and no new product in years, it’s reasonably high on the fandom and pop culture radar even today.
So yes, Sailor Moon is important, and Sailor Moon had an impact, for gender and anime and culture and storytelling in general. And now we’re going to examine the gender themes of the story, the characters, and just why it’s so damn revolutionary.
Next, I'm going to go through all ten (!) of the Senshi and Tuxedo Kamen as characters and what they mean from a gender and cultural perspective etc. I might just post the bits for Usagi and Mamoru first, before going into the other nine, who knows.