Last week, I discussed the manga of Sailor Moon and it’s surprisingly feminist themes. But Sailor Moon was also made into an anime and a good majority of people are probably more familiar with the anime than the original version, the manga. I myself was first introduced to this series not through the manga, but through the anime series which ran on Cartoon Network years ago. Unfortunately, unlike the manga, I wouldn’t dare call it feminist. It was one of the first anime series I’d ever seen and I have to admit I thought Sailor Moon was pretty cool. But even as a kid I remember feeling a little let down with the plucky heroine. Usagi (or Serena as she was called in the English dub) was presented as extremely ditzy and whiny in her average day. A perfect character wouldn’t be any fun nor very relatable, but Usagi’s faults were played on so strongly, she could be pretty annoying (even her fellow characters often became frustrated with her behavior). Only in her serious moments could I see the character I admired. And our strong Sailor Moon and co. seemed to fall victim to the enemy almost every episode only to be saved each time by the intervention of the mysterious Tuxedo Mask, the sole male hero of the series. Although I watched the series, I couldn’t help but wish these aspects were not as prevalent as they were.
That’s why I was surprised upon reading the manga version of the series years later. While the basic story is the same, there are some details that completely changed my impression of Sailor Moon. For one, while the Usagi from the manga may have been lazy about her studies and a crybaby, she was not nearly as ditzy of her anime counterpart. The first volume of the manga isn’t the best example of this; it’s so bad in the first few chapters, Usagi’s quickness to tears is turned into a superpower of sorts. The superpowers in Sailor Moon are on the corny side with Usagi and her friends shouting things like “Flower Hurricane!” and “Moon Tiara Boomerang!” but sobbing that created high frequency waves is still pushing it. Keep reading the manga though and you’ll be pleased to see this “power” vanishes as Usagi and the story matures. However, watch the anime and you’ll see plenty of this behavior throughout the show. Perhaps because the anime strays from the original story, the anime retains Usagi’s comical ditziness and crybaby antics which detracts from the strength of her character. I’m not extremely bothered by Usagi’s crybaby/lazy attitude in the manga because I know her character grows, but, on the other hand, the anime Usagi seems incapable of growing and maturing and is thus extremely irritating; she becomes your stereotypical airhead.
Another major differences in details is the role Tuxedo Mask plays in battles. Take the first episode/installment; in the manga, Usagi is obviously feeling overwhelmed trying to fight the enemy for the first time, but she ultimately beats the enemy all on her own (utilizing that crying power I mentioned). Tuxedo Mask is present, but only as an observer. In the anime, she is also overwhelmed, but in a comparison that makes that crying power look good, Usagi just starts sobbing for help (no superpowers) and gets saved by Tuxedo Mask. This arguably small detail makes a big difference in how people view Usagi. Sure, she starts crying in both scenarios, but in one she ultimately fulfills her duty as a superhero while in the other she, the hero of the story, must be saved.
Interestingly enough, out of the first four episodes of the series, the first time Usagi actually defeats an enemy without Tuxedo Mask’s aid is when she is motivated by the idea that fighting them will make her lose weight. The episode in which this takes place, the 4th episode, centers around girls and women trying to lose weight. Well, besides one of the girls in the episode who is just slightly on the chubby side, none of the female characters concerned with their weight look like they need to be in the least. Luckily, the show throws in a message about becoming too thin and dangerous dieting (at one point, Usagi faints in front of her crush after going a day without eating; when the said crush hears that Usagi is worried about her weight, he rightly tells her that she doesn’t need to be worried and that she isn’t fat). However, the episode ends with Usagi in comical tears after weighing herself, crying, “I’m fat!” This was likely done for comical purposes, but having a slim anime character spilling tears over her body weight is probably not the image to throw out to a world filled with girls/women obsessed with their weight. In the end, the message I received from the episode was “A girl should be unreasonably concerned about her weight, but just shouldn’t try extreme dieting.” While I don’t think every person who watches this will internalize a message from a cartoon, girls/women are thrown this message about their weight and looks so often that it certainly won’t help those out there who are sensitive about their weight. The manga inserted messages like this in the earlier chapters, but managed to conclude them with definitive and positive messages for girls.
The question is why did the creators of the anime change these details? I believe some elements like Usagi’s ditziness/quickness to tears were amplified because it was thought to be more comical. The manga utilized these traits as both a way to humanize Usagi as well as for perhaps some comedy, but these traits slowly lessen as Usagi and the story mature. On the other hand, the anime decided to make these elements more pronounced and with more time to go off the main plot, the goofiness is retained much more. The part that’s harder to explain is Tuxedo Mask’s role as the girls’ ever-needed rescuer. Did the creators think it would open the show up to a wider audience if the characters fell into more traditional roles or was it just to give Tuxedo Mask more airtime? If it was just to give him more airtime, was there no other way they could have done it besides making him save the girls?
For me, the anime of Sailor Moon takes aspects from the manga that could have been annoy if they had been focused on too much and amplifies them, focusing more on things like Usagi’s ditziness and more traditional aspects. If that weren’t bad enough, they also took away aspects that made me love the manga such as the girls being able to handle the enemy without being saved every time by a male character. This combination made the entire show feel more stereotypical to me. Maybe I’m crazy, but when I watch the anime I just feel like I’m looking at the reserved image of the manga.