In 1992, 14-year-old Usagi Tsukino made her debut on the Japanese
television series Sailor Moon. Usagi didn’t
seem to be the stuff of which heroines are made: She confessed to being
something of a klutz. She overslept and was late to school almost every day.
She did badly on exams, and was so easily distracted, she made Dug in Up look focused.
Yet Usagi altered the course of animation and fandom on both
sides of the Pacific. Naoko Takeuchi’s 1991 manga and the original 43-episode
program “Bishojo Senshi Sera Mun” (variously
translated as “Pretty Soldier, Guardian or Scout, Sailor Moon”) led to
additional broadcast series, theatrical movies, video games, stage musicals, a
live action TV show and a stream of license products.
In 1995, DIC reworked the storylines of the animated series
to make it more acceptable for younger viewers in the US. Prior to Sailor Moon, anime fandom had been a
boys’ club: Few girls frequented comic book stores or the odd little shops that
dealt in anime paraphernalia. But when American girls began tuning in to Sailor Moon, the audience grew rapidly,
leading to the release of more shojo (girl’s)
series and a boom in anime fandom among young women.
Usagi believes she’s just an ordinary junior high student until
Luna, the talking cat, explains she’s really one of the Sailor Scouts charged
with fighting evil and finding the lost the Moon Princess. (The name Usagi (“Rabbit”) emphasizes her link to
the moon: In Japanese folklore, there’s a Rabbit, rather than a Man in the Moon,
who pounds rice into mochi.)
In the first half of the initial season, Usagi and Luna find
two additional Scouts: The brilliant Ami, who is Sailor Venus, and shrine
maiden Rei, who becomes Sailor Mars. Also on hand is the dashing, debonair hero
Tuxedo Mask, who comes to Usagi’s aid when needed. Together, the Sailor Scouts defeat
the unsavory servants of evil Queen Beryl, who pillage the delicate feelings and
energy of vulnerable humans for their dark overlord.
Although Sailor Moon
presents a message of female empowerment, it’s wrapped in what Americans would
regard as old-fashioned girly-girl idioms. she adores deserts and nurtures
crushes on various guys. Although she invariably triumphs over the evil-doers,
Usagi whines, fusses and sheds tears like a lawn sprinkler in critical
situations. Ami is calmer and more sensible; Rei, bolder and more outspoken. In
every episode, Usagi transforms into Sailor Moon, just as Clark Kent ducked
into a phone booth to change clothes in every Superman cartoon. Instead of
a cape and tights, Usagi sports a mini-skirted schoolgirl’s uniform (which
resembles a sailor suit), gloves, a tiara, a magic wand and high-heeled boots
on her impossibly long legs.
She’s still a klutz, but when she declares, “In
the name of the Moon, I will punish you!” it’s no empty threat. Her
tiara becomes a sort of weaponized frisbee that reduces supernatural evil-doers
to dust. Ami and Rei fight with bubbles and fire. The repeated storyline of
fragile young girls drawing on hidden reserves to defeat powerful villains
echoes countless fairy tales.
This new set from Viz restores the original storyline. The
pace feels slow by American standards, and the episodes are often repetious.
But for the legions of Sailor Moon fans
they represent the genuine article, untainted by rewrites and censorship. There
are a few minor racy moments: under the spell of an evil Tarot card, the nerdy
Umino flips up their teacher’s skirt and tries to kiss Usagi. But the series
would have trouble getting a PG-rating today.
Manga artist Takeuchi originally intended to make Sailor Moon a short, 14-chapter adventure.
But when it proved so popular, her editors convinced her to expand it, and the
anime followed suit. More than two decades later, the influence of Sailor Moon is still evident. In the
current hit fantasy-adventure “Fairy Tail,” the formidable wizard Erza dons her
magical armor in a transformation scene that recalls Sailor Moon.
Never underestimate the staying power of a pretty girl in a
VIZ: $79.98; 6 discs Blu-ray/DVD plus booklet