Fighting evil by moonlight and winning love by daylight was a mantra shared by many girls all over the world in the ’90s. The creation of manga artist Naoko Takeuchi, Sailor Moon has become an international hit with a full manga, many versions of the anime, and enough merchandise to reach to the moon, probably. While the main plot of celestial warriors doesn’t differ much from other action anime stories of the era, what distinguishes this series is the attention to portraying girls as united, authentic, and powerful in their own right.
Sailor Moon was ahead of the curve in many ways, but it also came along at the perfect time. Created in Japan immediately after the Equal Opportunity Employment Act was enacted there, Sailor Moon innovated both manga and anime. Although maho shojo, or magical girl, is a genre dating back to the 50s, many of these early works centralized a solitary heroine who didn’t often engage in fighting. Maho shojo through Takeuchi’s vision, however, showed that content geared towards women could include both action and romance. Sailor Moon also introduced a broad range of girls who interacted and helped each other to fight against dark forces both from the Negaverse and in their daily lives. A major part of this was the creator and many of the animators also being women, which wasn’t common in an industry dominated by male artists. The direction for the manga was inspired by Takeuchi’s own love for astronomy and illustration.
The sailor scouts are so named due to their uniforms, which are glamorized versions of popular school uniforms in Japan. While this addition was made at the insistence of a male editor, it’s worth noting that the franchise is markedly devoid of revealing upskirt or “panty shots”, which anime fans often term “fanservice” due to how prominent they are in anime shows featuring girls. This is one of many ways that the story centers young women as its audience by denying the male gaze. That’s not to say the girls are hiding their bodies or ashamed of their appearance. On the contrary, one of the main spells the scouts share is their ability to transform into their celestial warrior forms, which is done with the assistance of many beauty items that directly reference makeup and jewelry. Cosmetics might not seem like a super power to most, but the cartoon flips this and shows these items as useful tools in the hands of the users. Here we see girls coming into their unique style, using their magical makeup skills to amplify who they are, not to mask it.
The ability of women to exude command without discarding femininity is a concept that many creators fail to address. Radical softness as a weapon for positive change is something we rarely witness in heroic tales. The sailor scouts feature a wide range of personalities, and some of them even have tomboyish traits or come across as having a masculine appearance. This is not linked to their abilities overall, such as more masculine characters holding more power. The unfortunate trend of making women adopt masculinity as strength still has a foothold across much of female character development. Much of the world still thought in terms of a gender dichotomy in the 90s as well, but Sailor Moon offers numerous examples of gender lines being blurred in a progressive way. The series even addressed the freedom to love someone of the same gender with the characters of Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus. These lovers are instead turned into cousins and highly edited in the North American version of the anime, sadly. The original Japanese manga and anime were doing something that wasn’t common in the 90s by showing a non-sexualized romantic relationship between two young women.
Although the cast is predominantly girls, men feature as supporting cast as well. These men often take a role of offering assistance only as needed, or even coming across as helpless at times until they can be rescued by women. Positive examples of men are depicted as showing humility, sensitivity, and not being threatened by women having the same or more ability as they do. The main hero, Tuxedo Mask, utilizes flowers and masks in his attacks, and he is always dressed up in a refined manner to mirror when the girls transform. This illustrates a what many consider a more feminine form of battle that is not often paired with boys or men. Men who conform to toxic masculinity, however, are always presented as harmful. The English dub of the television show even has a section at the end called Sailor Says, which often calls out specific actions men take which are damaging to women and girls. This segment also offers advice on how to handle some of the themes present during specific episodes. Building confidence in the girls and women who watch is at the core of what Sailor Moon represents, but it still offers constructive examples for boys and non-binary folks. I have to admit, it’s wildly fulfilling to see my young nephews just as excited to watch the show as my niece.
As I mentioned many times already, focus on the bonds of young women and how they uplift one another is where Sailor Moon truly excels. The scouts do have some contending personalities, but they manage to work out their issues together and become stronger for it. When someone turns to negativity or is overtaken by an evil force, the girls work hard to save their friends and build compassion and growth together. There are entire story arcs where main characters battle with their negative thoughts and feelings. The lesson is always that their friends will be there to guide and support them past these struggles. Sailor Moon represents women as a collective community that can work through and overcome individual hardship and failure. This fosters sisterhood and fellowship in a way that few other works have before or since.
We fans love to talk about which characters we relate to the most. Uncovering our identities by connecting with others who fight for justice is about as awesome an influence as any franchise can create. I still love watching the show, with or without my niblings, and reminiscing over the ways it instills confidence in every type of child. I personally learned to accept my shyness, my introverted nature, and feminine ways to represent myself. We fans have all gathered different tools and lessons from seeing ourselves represented at least in personality, and that’s a strong accomplishment to rise from the dream of a school girl in Japan who loved astronomy and manga.