Sailor Moon is perhaps one of the most well-known anime and manga series ever. Honestly, what other manga/anime can you name that is mentioned in an American song (One Week by The Barenaked Ladies)? For any of you reading this who haven’t been exposed to Sailor Moon before or just don’t know too much about it, you’re probably glances doubtfully over at that picture to the left with its pretty uniform complete with a miniskirt. Bare with me and I’ll explain. I’m about to propose that this manga is feminist.
Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon follows the story of a 14-year-old Japanese girl, Usagi Tsukino. She’s an admitted crybaby and prefers sleeping and video games to studying, but when Usagi finds a strange cat with a crescent mark on its forehead, her life is changes completely. The cat is no ordinary cat and tells (yes, tells; I told you it wasn’t ordinary) Usagi she must become the guardian Sailor Moon in order to protect Earth and a long-lost princess from the evil forces at work (isn’t it refreshing to have girls protect a princess for once?) as well as find her other comrades. And Usagi thought school was hard!
I’ll be discussing solely the manga this week. This manga became an icon and it’s noteworthy to say that it also successfully combined elements of “girl’s” manga with that of “boy’s” manga. (If you want to know more about that, I suggest reading Jason Thompson’s piece on Sailor Moon on Anime News Network.)
Superficially, Sailor Moon doesn’t appear in the least feminist. Usagi and her friends shout “—- Power! Make-up!” to transform and their scout uniforms are loosely based off a sailor-style school uniform (now with a mini miniskirt) with accessories like tiaras, earrings, chokers, and fashionable shoes. Granted, this is part of the genre of “magical girl” manga in which the heroine and her comrades transform into pretty outfits that wouldn’t help them in a fight whatsoever. At least in the first volume, Usagi also can use her magical powers to disguise herself and two out of the three times she does so in the first volume, she disguises herself in stereotypically sexy outfits like a nurse showing a lot of leg. Sailor Moon is known for showing some leg. But in this case, the saying “You can’t judge a book by its cover” is completely correct. The outfits might not help them much, but Usagi/Sailor Moon and her friends don’t seem to need that help. Admittedly, I don’t read much from the “magical girl” genre, but I did read one with similar aspects to Sailor Moon called Tokyo Mew Mew (which also recently has been rereleased). Tokyo Mew Mew‘s heroine eventually falls into the pitfall of being in need of a knight to save her even though she herself is supposed to be a superhero. Luckily, Sailor Moon and her friends don’t. This might sound crazy, but Naoko Takeuchi decided to create girls who could fight evil and protect themselves. In fact, at times the girls are the ones rescuing the guys.
As I read through the manga, I was also impressed by the strong messages for girls in Sailor Moon. In one of the earlier installments in the manga, one moment Usagi and friends are wistfully thinking of weddings, sighing, “Ohh! I want to be a briiiide!” while later in the same chapter, one of Usagi’s comrades says, “It seemed there was something far more important…even more important than falling in love…that was waiting for me here.” Also in that chapter is Usagi’s friend Rei shouting, “You will refrain from underestimating women!” to the enemy. Thus, they have their girly moments, but stronger, perhaps more meatier, messages are always given. This isn’t entirely surprising when you hear the creator of the series, Naoko Takeuchi has said things along the line that girls need to be strong for the guys as well.
On that note, the relationships in Sailor Moon are done very well. As is standard in shojo (girls) manga, there is a big focus on romance, but Takeuchi did a great job of balancing the romance with the rest of the cast and plot. What I mean by that is, unlike some romances I could name, Takeuchi created a heart-felt romance that is crucial to the story without overwhelming everything else and making all the other characters unimportant chopped liver. Usagi’s friends are still very important to her and the plot. While it’s fine to have romances where the only two that seem to matter are the lovebirds, the scenario in Sailor Moon gives the impression that girls can have serious relationships with guys without dumping their friends. (Thank you, Takeuchi!) Friendship is also crucial to Sailor Moon’s story. I also appreciate the fact that Usagi’s love interest Mamoru is never mean to her; he teases her at first, but it’s real teasing like calling her “Bun-head.” I wish I could say that about more love interests. The love and power in the relationship is balanced for neither character overwhelms the other.
But like I said, friendship is also a major thing in Sailor Moon. In past posts, I’ve complained of too much fiction depicting the rather catty relationships between girls. It’s not so much that fiction shows girls being mean to each other because god knows they can be, but rather the absence of cat-fight-free friendships between girls. Sailor Moon gives a good helping of the latter. Usagi has girlfriends at school and as she performs her duties as Sailor Moon, she finds not only allies but also good friends. They support and assist Usagi through anything. Notably, there aren’t any female characters thrown into the story just as mean girls either (although her friend Rei does tease her).
SPOILERS AHEAD FOR ANYONE WHO HASN’T READ 1st ARC OF SERIES!!
Finally, I wanted to discuss the princess of Sailor Moon. Usagi/Sailor Moon and her friends must find and protect a princess, but because she’s been reincarnated, they don’t know who she is. Well, in what is one of my favorite twists, it turns out Usagi is the princess. What I love about this is usually when a princess needs protection, she’s completely helpless and is saved by men. By making Usagi herself the long-lost princess however, Takeuchi is letting Usagi take care of herself. So, rather than giving girls a princess (a classical female character) who is dependent on a knight (a classical male character), Takeuchi shows readers that a girl doesn’t need a man to protect her, but can be her own knight. Can you make another manga soon, Takeuchi? I think the world could use some more of your attitude! Usagi may act like a bit of a ditz early on, she matures with the story and becomes a strong heroine.
END OF SPOILERS
As I write this, I’ve discovered there is so much to talk that I’m going to have to break this into two posts. So look for my post next week in which I’ll discuss the anime and the differences between the manga version and anime version. Man, are there some differences!