The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 63 – Sailor Moon

Sailor Moon

July marks the start of the new summer season of anime in Japan. As well as brand new shows, some older anime are returning with new series. Black Butler (No. 10), Free! (No. 17) and Sword Art Online (No. 34) are amongst of returning anime. But there is one anime series especially that is making a welcome return.

It has been a return that was promised two years ago, and after a long wait it has finally arrived, to the ecstatic joy of many anime fans globally. It is not strictly speaking a new series, but the remake of a classic. It was one of the first anime aimed at girls to make a worldwide impact, and is considered to have been the core staple of an entire anime genre.

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, more commonly known simply as Sailor Moon, is regarded as the most classic example of the “magical girl” genre, which features girls with superpowers. Sailor Moon, while not being the first such series, did more than any other to establish the standard features of magical girl anime: the special powers, the (rather long) transformation sequences, the relationships between the characters and so on. Originally a manga written by Naoko Takeuchi between 1991 and 1997, it is actually a sequel to an earlier manga called Codename: Sailor V. The first anime ran for five series between 1992 and 1997. This new version, called Sailor Moon Crystal, started on Saturday, with new episodes being released every fortnight.

Sailor Moon’s heroine is Usagi Tsukino, a 14-year-old schoolgirl who a bit of a cry-baby and rather clumsy. On her way to school she jumps into and helps a cat with a crescent shaped mark called Luna. Later that same night Luna enters Usagi’s bedroom and talks to her in the human language. For helping her, Luna reveals to Usagi that she is in fact a magical guardian who is destined to save the world. In order to do so, she must find her allies and defeat enemies of the Earth. Thus Luna gives Usagi a magical broach which allows Usagi to transform into the magical Sailor Moon – “The Pretty Guardian in Sailor Suit” (the traditional Japanese schoolgirl uniform is based on a sailor’s uniform).

Over the course of the story, Sailor Moon gains new magical powers, and begins to gather her allies, who like her also take their names and powers from heavenly bodies. Amongst these are Ami Mizuno, a genius who becomes Sailor Mercury; Rei Hino, the maiden of shrine who turns into the fiery Sailor Mars; Makoto Kino, the strongest physically of the group who becomes Sailor Jupiter; and Minako Aino, a pop idol who works as Sailor Venus (the original heroine of Codename: Sailor V). There is also a male helper, Mamoru Chiba, who is also named after his choice of outfit – Tuxedo Mask. The main plot of the series normally concerns attempting to find a magical item called the “Legendary Silver Crystal” and a magical ruler called Princess Serenity, in order to save the future of the world, and indeed the universe itself from evil.

One of the big reasons for the popularity of the series is the characters. Sailor Moon and her friends are arguably anime’s most famous superhero team, for want of a better term. The characters are very varied and believable, with Sailor Moon herself not only being one of anime’s most recognisable characters, but considered by some to be a feminist icon. Although the female characters in their transformed state may look evocative in some western eyes, the idea of the women taking the lead in the fight against evil was itself a feminist one as before in anime it was the men who did the fighting.

The female relationships were also expressed in other ways. For example, it was revealed by Naoko Takeuchi that some of the relationships in the series were lesbian relationships – “yuri” is the term used to describe such anime. In Sailor Moon, two of the later characters introduced, the androgynous Sailor Uranus and antihero Sailor Neptune, are a lesbian couple. This leads to one of the odder features of Sailor Moon – censorship in other countries. When the 1990s anime was shown in the USA they considered that a lesbian couple was too adult for children, so they made the characters cousins instead.

This was not the most unusual censorship however. Even later in the 1990s series another group of characters called the Sailor Starlights, who represented Sailors from elsewhere in the galaxy, appeared in the show. The characters were male in their normal form, but became female when they transformed. How this was dealt with depended on which country you were in. For example in Latin American countries they stayed true to the plot, and just used two different voice actors for the male and female versions of the characters. In South Korea however claimed the characters were female all the time. The Russians though claimed the characters were male all the time, despite the fact you could clearly see their breasts in the revealing uniforms. The strangest censorship however came from the Italians. They claimed the male characters did not transform, but instead summoned their twin sisters.

Despite all this, Sailor Moon reached a global audience. It remains to this day one of the most popular anime of all time, and possibly the greatest magical girl anime ever. Only the more recent Puella Magi Madoka Magica (No. 4) is considered a rival in terms of impact, as it turned the whole genre around, making magical girls tragic rather than fun. Hopefully, this new remake will live up to the original manga and the anime people already know and love.

The original Sailor Moon anime was released on DVD by MVM Films, but now only second hand copies are available. The remake, Sailor Moon Crystal is streamed on NicoNico.