This is Naoko Takeuchi's original vision for Sailor Moon. When asked about the differences between the anime and manga, she replied that the anime's staff was men, while her story was told from a women's perspective- by girls, for girls and about girls.
(Especially obvious since the manga lacks a lot of the male gaze and has none of the nude transformation sequences or skirts flying up the anime boasts, as well as other things)
(and don't get me wrong, the anime is fantastic and feminist as well, and did some things better than the manga. But that's not what we're focusing on!)
This is a story about women- tons of women. Every personality type you can imagine. Young women, old women, queer women, straight women, ditzy women, brainy women. This is story about the bond of friendship between these women and how they are the most powerful people in the universe.
Sailor Moon is classic superhero stuff- eldritch villians, secret identity drama, the power of friendship, face-melting horror, epic battles- but it's set in a world where teenage girls are the greatest heroes.
This is a story where for once, it is the guy (Tuxedo Kamen) who gets captured and brainwashed and killed and resurrected and rescued over and over again by his girlfriend. He's unashamed about it too, suavely thanking her for saving him yet again, rushing to alert her when he spots trouble, flatly tells her that he doesn't have her powers and he got in over his head, it's up to her to save the day. He worries about being a burden on her, he is repeatedly in awe of how strong she is and openly praises her for her power and when asked if Sailor Moon is strong? He unflinchingly replies "she's invincible" And she worries that he'll get hurt, and vows to always protect him. This is not to say he's not important to the plot and doesn't get his moments to shine- he does so, much more often than in the anime. He just maintains a open and sweet relationship with her, well aware that she's just cooler than he'll ever be- he adores her for it.
He acts as her backup, motivation and emotional support, and he's good at it. It doesn't make him less of a "man", or less desirable. This is a couple that reaffirmed their love for each other by stating their dream as "protecting the planet, together with you". It's not a relationship without it's ups and downs (more mature than in the anime, there's a lot of serious issues with jealousy, confusion and Mamoru worrying that he's a *burden* to Usagi, poor thing) and there's a lot of spark with them ragging on each other and teasing with each other- but it's always clear they support each other no matter what, and Mamoru is actually a nice guy you'd want your heroine to be with, not a sexist jerk.
Here's a couple of my favorite pages of them to illustrate my point. Behold Mamoru being totall unashamed as he goes "oh wow you save me a lot don't you"
Sailor Moon grabbing Tuxedo Mask and smooching him (their first kiss!) and then telling him to run away because he'll get hurt, she can take care of this monster. Behold how he clutches his jaw in shock and inner monologues about how strong and cool she is omg!
In addition, it's the story about a group of ten (eleven) girls, all with different personalities and powers- but all of them have their strongest relationships with each other, and their mission and female friends are the most important in their life. They have different attitudes towards men- some are boy crazy, some hate men, some don't think about it much, some are lesbians- but none of them need men and Usagi is the only one with a boyfriend. All of them explicitly state their highest goal as to protect their planet and the people they love.
This is one of my favorite pages of Sailor Moon and I cannot wait to see it all reprinted and shiny and properly translated, because it really gets to the core of what it's all about. Sailor Venus coolly states that she has already found her one and only (her best friend, Usagi, and the princess she is sworn to protect) and Mars puts her arm around Venus while bluntly saying "we don't need men. Got a problem with that?" (Some fun slash overtones there, but what I'm focusing on is the defiant and blatant show of female independence, sisterhood and solidarity that is really the core of this series.
Also the awesomeness that is Jupiter's introduction, with her realizing she didn't deserve to be treated like shit by her ex-boyfriend, that she's finally found friends and people that support her in her fellow Sailor Senshi, and that there's no time to cry over boys when there's ass to kick.
This is the manga where the main character is a princess, but also the soldier that protects the princess- e.g. a princess who rescues herself. And unlike most princesses who never become queens (it's desirable to make girls princesses because they get to have the frills, but none of the power), we see that Usagi does become Queen- of the entire world so she can protect it and ensure peace. This is a manga where girls literally rule the world. For the BETTER. This is a manga where girls not only never lose their power or are corrupted by it, but just become more powerful and more important as time passes.
This is also a manga where a mother-daughter relationship is the core of the story in later volumes, where a female legacy plays a big role. We see a little girl determined to take after her mother and be a kick-ass soldier with her own team of warriors. We deal with her insecurity that she'll never live up to her mother- something many girls can relate to. We see a vulnerable young girl struggle with her mother, look up to her mother and ultimately figure out how to be her own hero while following in her mother's footsteps. Female legacy is a huge deal in Sailor Moon, and we see that the torch will be passed on, and there will always be powerful girls protecting the world.
This is a world where femininity is not something to be ashamed of, it's the source of POWER. The girls don't use their pretty clothes and jewels and compacts as playthings to impress men- these things are all weapons against evil, and powerful ones. They declare themSELVES pretty, needing approval from no one. Our hero possesses all the typical "chick" attriibutes- emotional, tearful, forgiving, loving, nurturing- and she uses these attribute to triumph and kicks ass. She burns monsters alive with the purity of her love, sends out supersonic waves that shake the villains down when she bursts into tears, and her friendship and forgiveness is the most effective superpower one could ask for. The "girly" emotions and affectations are not something to be ashamed of or suppressed, but the source of the power these girls wield. They don't have to imitate guy heroes at all or act "masculine" to be taken seriously- girliness is just as powerful. The manga also rips apart the idea that masculine and feminine traits cannot coexist by showing Sailor Jupiter to be the tomboyest toughest fighter...AND the best cook, master of housework and hopeless romantic.
(I should note these girls also kill villains left and right with fire, ice, lighting and love, unlike in the anime, the villians are mostly bit parts and rarely redeemable, so the girls have no problems icing them. There's some definite gore and violence in Sailor Moon- strangling, stabbing with swords, people having their flesh melt off, turning into zombies, being electocuted and burned alive, shanking each other in the streets...)
Each arc of the manga has a specific theme that adds up to a beautiful coming of age story that sees a vulnerable, insecure. clumsy crybaby teenage girl grow to become a powerful and self assured protector of the world. The manga has our main characters develop much faster and more overtly than in the anime, and it's a joy to watch. Each manga arc has it's own particular theme and leap foward for Sailor Moon's character.
The first arc is about love, and sees the contrast between the powerful and honest love Sailor Moon has for her friends to the obsessive, twisted and controlling love the villain embodies. It's about Usagi starting out as a hero, gaining confidence, falling in love for the first time, and truly understanding her connection to other people and the power it brings her.
The third arc is about sacrifice, ideals, and moral relativism. Would you be willing to sacrifice an innocent to save the world? Here's where Usagi and the Senshi truly develop their moral convictions, and stubbornly stick to them and fight to defend them. A true clash of ideals between comrades. There's always a choice, always another way, and Sailor Moon will never give up finding it.
The fourth arc is pretty blatantly about dreams and goals and growing up. We deal with the individual goals and dreams of each of the senshi, their insecurities about being unable to reach those dreams, and having to decide what their true goal in life is. We also see Chibiusa struggle with her desire to live up to her mother and her desire to grow up- and we really get to see her grow up. There's also Usagi realizing her goals and truly throwing off her childhood- and Mamoru actually discovering his own power and getting his chance to shine! Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask really become a partnership.
The fifth arc is about war, and it's corruptive and neverending nature. Sailor Moon loses everything, deals with the embodiment of all evil and sacrifices everything. We see her truly accept that being a soldier is part of who she is, and she's glad of it because she got to meet her friends. She also faces the choice of whether to accept death to stop the fighting, or keep going despite the difficulties. If she wipes out the source of evil, does that also mean wiping out the source of humanity?
Other themes that run through Sailor Moon are struggles with her dual identity and which part is really her, and also themes of destiny and reincarnation, and past lives affecting the present.
See, Sailor Moon is actually pretty full of interesting themes and death and drama and development, as well as being chock full of feminism, it's pretty much an epic story, a true heroes journey. The plot is pretty tight with lots of interesting themes and beats that got left out of the anime (it also lacks the filler of the anime) and lots of cool backstory. The art isn't perfect, but it's ethereal and pretty to look at, especially in reprinted form.
I'm also highly excited for Codename Sailor V, the prequel to Sailor Moon, released in the US for the first time. It shows Minako Aino being a kickass independent hero and how she developed and grew into the experienced leader warrior Sailor Venus (while still having a fun and brash personality)- the true beginning of Sailor Moon. It's often light hearted and hilarious superhero hijinks, but it also has some really tragic beats as Minako struggles with whether she should choose duty or love. Also, lots of face kickin; action and extra backstory! A must have!
So, I hope you get how truly epic this manga is and exactly why I'm psyched to see it properly translated with shiny reprint art. Sailor Moon is an awesome feminist manga with an epic storyline, and it would be great if we could all support this new release with cash! I have no doubt that in addition to attracting old fans as a milestone of the genre, it will also draw in new fans with it's pretty soldier sailorsuited girl power and fun read. After all, I only fell in love with the manga and anime last year!
Whew! I just had to express all the reasons for my joy. Sailor Moon shows being a girl as not only okay, but as desirable and powerful. And for that I love it.