Posts Tagged ‘Sailor Moon’

What is gender? Are people of one sex or the other inherently gifted with certain skills or strengths or does that have more to do with gender roles that we learn as we grow up? Earlier this week, I came across some intriguing questions of gender posed by none other than Haruka Ten’ou from the famous Sailor Moon series.

51NX8K6ppBL._SY300_When Haruka first makes an appearance in the manga, we see a person with short hair in a racer’s suit wearing a confident smile, pointing back to a race car and exclaiming excitement over the speed of it. Haruka is supposed to be the best race car driver in Japan. He goes to a prestigious private school where young talents supposedly gather, skilled in judo, handsome, and even has a famous and elegant violinist for a girlfriend. By all accounts, Haruka is the ideal man. However, things aren’t so simple in Sailor Moon. As we later discover, Haruka is actually biologically female, but she stretches protagonist Usagi’s (as well as the reader’s) ideas of gender.

During the time when Usagi and her friends still believe Haruka to be male, Haruka challenges one of the girls, Mako, to a friendly judo match. When Haruka easily defeats Mako, throwing her full-force onto the mat, one of the other girls scolds Haruka for using “his” full strength against a “frail girl.” Now, as readers of Sailor Moon will know, this series is not one to play on societal ideas of strong, stoic men who protect frail, helpless girls (in fact, more often than not, the roles are almost reversed with the girls rescuing the guys) and through Usagi and her friends, we a shown that strength takes a variety of shapes, both physical and mental. Yet even these strong young women have taken in the message the women are inherently frail compared to men. Haruka, however, questions this thought process. “Gender shouldn’t matter,” she tells them. “Do you think it’s okay for a woman to lose to a man just because of her gender? If you believe that, how could you ever protect those who are important to you?” In turn, Mako doesn’t want to believe she lost simply because of her sex. While biology works in such a way that men are often bigger and therefore likely stronger than many of their female counterparts, that doesn’t make women frail nor does it mean it is impossible for a woman to be stronger than a man.2108-25_FRQTJ-SM_comic_22_43

But Haruka takes it further than that. Eventually, Usagi realizes that there is more to Haruka than meets the eye. She is confused about Haruka’s sex and bothered that she can’t figure it out. Haruka appears to be male given her appearance and way of dress, but she could easily pass for female, too. She finally asks Haruka if she’s a man or woman, but Haruka replies with an interesting question: does it really matter one way or the other?

Usagi’s confusion over Haruka’s sex is understandable; after all, a person’s sex is usually obvious to us and whether we are conscious of it or not, this often changes the way we interact with that person. We can refer to someone as “he” or “she,” choose or avoid colors associated with a certain sex when we buy merchandise for that person, or treat that person more gently or bluntly depending on whether that person is a boy or a girl. That’s where we get into issues of behaviors that are more accepted or put down according to societal ideas of gender roles. Because someone’s sex plays such a defining role in life, it becomes important information to individuals. It should be noted that while most societies only recognize male and female, there are actually some societies that have three choices, including a third option for those who may be biologically male or female but identify more with the opposite sex.images-70

Finally, switching over to more magical elements, it struck me that Haruka is said to be endowed with both male and female strengths as a result of her having the powers of Uranus. Many of us may find that our sex (what we are biologically) and gender (socially constructed ideas about male and female identities) overall in that you are a female with feminine qualities or a male with masculine qualities, most of us probably also have some traits traditionally associated with the opposite sex.

The introduction of Haruka’s character has added some interesting dynamics to an already wonderful series. Once again, it’s amazing how something fiction can raise such complex and intriguing questions about things we all may deal with in our day-to-day lives without giving it a second thought. If you like questions about gender roles and want to read about more manga that bring up those kinds of questions, see my post on Otomen.

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When people hear “shojo manga,” if they know what it even is, many of them probably think pink, frilly, and romantic. It’s true that many shojo series focus heavily on romance. “Shojo” means girl in Japanese and in this case refers to the expected demographic of the series. Therefore, like many items divided by gender, shojo manga often has elements that are directed toward girls, namely a female protagonist and romance. However, it’s a serious mistake to lump all shojo manga in your mind as fluffy stories about high school girls falling in love with the hottest guy in her school. While there are plenty of light stories like that, the shojo genre encompasses much more than just that. Some shojo manga feature male protagonists or focus on different kinds of love and the range of other genres shojo manga incorporates is vast (If you want to read more about shojo myths, I suggest you check out staramaria’s post on it at Shojo Corner). In this post I want to focus on several shojo manga series that are as most action/adventure series as they are romance and have female protagonists.

BASARA by Yumi Tamura51DQREERAGL._SY320_

At volume 8, I am in love with this series. Basara is the story of a young woman who lives in a Japan of the future. Much of the land has turned to inhospitable desert and civilization with bustling cities with sky scrapers, cars, and modern technology has crumpled away into the sand. Several tyrannical kings rule various parts of Japan, oppressing the people, but a hero is prophesied to raise up and save them. That hero’s name is Tartara and he is the brother of the series heroine, Sasara. Sasara is largely overshadowed by her destined brother, especially in a patriarchal society. But when her brother is suddenly murdered by one king’s men, Sasara cuts her hair and takes her brother’s name to lead a rebellion in her brother’s place. This series is truly epic, filled with strong women who defy expectations and a sweeping adventure with battles and conflicts both emotional and physical around every corner. This shojo series does have romance, but it’s an equally tense and exciting romance of devastatingly star-crossed lovers to match the action half of the story.


Magic Knight Rayearth is an interesting mix of things. Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu are fourteen-year-old girls from Japan with little in51fOS7BxzGL._SY320_ common and who have never met until one day when the girls happen to run into each other at Tokyo Tower on field trips. Suddenly, all three girls hear the voice of a girl asking for help and next thing they know they are plunging through an unfamiliar sky with fantastical floating mountains and magic. After being rescued by a flying fish, Hikaru, Umi and Fuu are informed by a sorcerer that they have been summoned by this magical world’s “Pillar,” a princess whose will protects the world and who has recently been kidnapped by Lord Zagato, causing the world to slowly fall to ruin. The girls must become the legendary Magic Knights and save the princess and thus the world. The first half of this series is relatively light, mixing comedy and action as the girls make references to their journey being like a video game and chibi-forms are frequently popping up while minions of Zagato attempt to hunt them down and destroy them before the girls can accomplish their mission. However, a twist at the end of the first half makes this series memorable. Romance is relatively low key.


61YAD8TTPVL._SY320_Fushigi Yugi: Genbu Kaiden is the prequel to the classic, Fushigi Yugi. While the original series certainly has adventure, the romance elements were extremely strong and central to the story, even overshadowing other major events because the heroine is so wrapped up in her romance. That’s why I’ve been enjoying the newer prequel which takes place in a different century than the original and has a significantly more reasonable romance that compliments the other things going on in the story without overwhelming them. Takiko Okuda is a 17-year-old girl living in Japan in the early 1900s who has troubles beyond her years. Her mother is dying of tuberculosis and while Takiko cares for her ailing mother, her father, who has never paid much mind to Takiko, is too obsessed with a book he is translating to deal with them. Hurt and fed up with him, Takiko tries to destroy the book, but instead finds herself sucked into the story where she becomes a legendary priestess tasked with gathering seven Celestial Warriors to save a country from destruction. While still not perfect, Takiko is a huge improvement from the heroine, Miaka, from the original; rather than leave everything up to guys to protect her while she runs off with her boyfriend, Takiko is active and capable and while she does fall in love, that is but one element of her story as she tries to balance her life in Japan and the fate of a world in a book. There are a number of other strong female characters as well.

SAILOR MOON by Naoko Takeuchi

The last series I am going to mention hardly needs any introduction. Sailor Moon is one of the most famous shojo series, a series51ZuN40hWfL._SY320_ that follows fourteen-year-old Usagi Tsukino, a normal girl who finds herself caught up in the abnormal when she meets a talking cat one day and finds out she is Sailor Moon, a warrior destined to fight evil forces gathering. Despite battle outfits that have miniskirts and bows, Sailor Moon is filled with tough battles and girls who each have unique strengths to bring to the table, just like in shonen (boys’) action series. There is a very important romance plot to the series, but it’s clear that love only strengthens Usagi in her quests rather than turning her into a submissive girl who relies on the guy to save her as some series depict. If you want to read more about this series, check out one of my earlier posts on Sailor Moon.  

In closing, what does this all have to do with feminism, besides depicting female characters as active and dynamic? All too often, when fiction focuses on female protagonists, romance becomes the focus of her story. While there is no doubt that for most people, love and romance is a big event in their lives, if fiction always focuses most heavily on romance in a female protagonist’s story, it sends the message that the most important thing that can happen to a girl is for her to find a guy. On the other hand, male characters are shown to be capable of saving worlds and becoming leaders. So, in these series I have named and others, we can see that romance is but one piece in the lives of these female protagonists. These female characters have lives outside of love in which they act as leaders and fight toward other equally important goals. That, I think, is a perfect message.

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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.

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Image from Amazon.com

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.

Mamoru and Usagi

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).

Note this is the Tokyopop edition in which some names were changed (Rei/Raye).


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.


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!

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