Over the next few months, Hulu Plus will be offering free, digitally re-mastered episodes of Sailor Moon. This is the first time Sailor Moon will have a complete airing for a U.S. audience since its initial adaption on American television in the ’90s. It was originally produced for an English-speaking audience, airing on Fox Kids, YTV, TV2, and Cartoon Network. The show helped launch anime as a global phenomenon, particularly for a female audience. The difference now, however, is that these are fully uncensored episodes (more on this later), including Season 5: Sailor Starlights, previously unreleased in North America. For loyal fans and new viewers alike, the internet has been buzzing with the chance to watch Sailor Moon’s lunar romances and intergalactic adventures again.
Over the years, Sailor Moon has launched a contentious conversation on race, gender and sexuality. Usagi’s (the main character) shortcomings and courage help make Sailor Moon an nuanced conversation around emotional and physical strength, as well as feminism.
Among dedicated viewers and fans, Sailor Moon is famous for its representations of queerness, sexuality and challenging gender norms. However, during its first airing in the U.S., the show was censored to take out queer representations. SailorStars is assumed to have been cut because it depicted gender-shifting. For example, in the original show, Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus are enamored lesbian lovers. When aired in the U.S., they were recast as cousins.
My own introduction to Sailor Moon was when I was six years-old. Growing up, I felt an immediate connection to Sailor Moon and her Sailor Scout crew. Why? Because of her long hair. As a young Sikh girl, my hair was braided into two long plaits down my back, oiled and woven. When I saw that Sailor Moon had two long pigtails like mine, my loyalty was instant. Many years later, during my final year of college, I returned to Sailor Moon’s story for a similar sense of solidarity and sisterhood. Even at the age of 22, the NegaVerse was as scary as ever. Initially, my friends (lovingly) laughed at me re-watching the episodes on YouTube, but quickly found themselves drawn into the series as well.
However, Sailor Moon is more complex than it seems at first glance. The plot is seemingly simple: lovable, clumsy daydreamer Usagi (“rabbit”) is mediocre in so many ways. She’s lousy at her passing her exams, usually running late, and always eating too many sweets. Her friends and family call her sensitive, a crybaby. However, with some guidance from her cat Luna and the support of her friends the Sailor Scouts, she takes on her destiny and grows in her spirit to defend her world against the energy-leaching NegaVerse.
“Why does Sailor Moon’s transformation get so much airtime?” My college room mate would ask me, a new fan of Sailor Mars. “She’s not even a planet.”
“You can’t question the lunar ways of Queen Serenity,” was my only response.
A mainstream feminist perspective on Sailor Moon’s girl-power leanings would focus on how the show’s creators showcased independent, feminine characters engaged in traditionally masculine combat. Typically, in superhero narratives, male figures reach hero status through physical aggression and dominance. Mainstream feminist thought also glorifies these same models of strength—when feminine characters are depicted with more masculine qualities, they’re seen as strong and even more feminist.
However, the Sailor Scouts also complicate feminism by showing an alternative model of strength. Their strength comes from their softness, from a sense of heart and friendship. Usagi, timid and scattered in her normal life, uses her sense of love to transform into a courageous champion for underdogs and the under-loved alike. The Sailor Scouts, led by Usagi, bring a lighthearted, fun, counter-narrative to strength and courage.
The world of the Sailor Scouts is an emotion-based cosmos. Usagi’s personhood is emotive and sensitive; she experiences self-doubt, rejection, empathy, grief, and fear concurrently with playfulness, joy, compassion, and love. As powerful as she is, Usagi challenges the traditional notion that emotions are inferior and weak.
All the Sailor Scouts are incredibly feminine, but also vastly different from one another. Some are tougher, some are more drawn to school, some are romantics. At the risk of sounding cheesy, at the end of the episodes, what bonds them when they face the NegaVerse is their sense of friendship and loyalty to one another. These strong female friendships show a new solidarity between young girls. They often contest one another, argue, and live vastly different realities from one another, but since love and relationships are central to how the Sailor Scouts orient their ethics, their friendships deepen over time.
Of course, there are nuances to this conversation. There are opinions that that the Sailor Scouts are hypersexualized—as they transform into their powers, their accessories become magical, their skirts are shortened, their makeup flashier. Other fans respond to this argument by supporting the feminine adornment of the Sailor Scouts and the attention paid to feminine expression. From a critical race perspective, the show is also striking. Usagi’s character, the main leader of the Sailor Scouts is blonde-haired, blue-eyed, light-skinned. The rest of the Sailor Scouts are slightly more racially ambiguous, but are primarily light-skinned. As Usagi and her friends defend the universe, there are multiple criticisms that the program centers and promotes white standards of beauty, despite its diverse audience.
There is no singular, perfect feminist story. Still, the story of Usagi and her friends bring out a fascinating, sensitive dialogue about models of strength, and the different types of courage characters can embody. Catch the first episode: Crybaby: Usagi’s Beautiful Transformation, and other episodes starting this week. Let us know your thoughts!
– Hardeep Jandu
Teaser for new, uncut episodes of Sailor Moon.
Main image: Usagi introduces herself: “Um, I’m the Sailor Warrior of Love and Justice.”
i haven’t watched sailor moon before and often made fun of my female friends who did! but this article makes me want to start watching! thanks for sharing your ideas about the characters, i think i will be able to see myself in these characters more than what i had expected :)
In regards to their “sexiness” when they transform…. I have always interpreted that as “power is sexy” As you stated, powerful female characters are often portrayed with masculine traits, implying that a girl cannot be both powerful and sexy. The Sailor Scouts, however, are both powerful AND sexy. Even more, they are sexy BECAUSE they are powerful. After all, their “secrets identities” are not especially sexy. It is only once they transform that they become so.