When I was in Middle School, my family had joined the households that enjoyed an expanded channel set to include Cartoon Network. Naturally, as a kid I flocked to it, but I didn’t expect to be exposed to Japanese anime on the programming block called Toonami.
Toonami made a point to showcase action oriented cartoons of both American and Japanese origin including classic Voltron, Thundercats, Dragon Ball Z, Beast Wars, and ReBoot. As a kid there was one show I wrote off as ridiculous and never paid any further attention to, but I’ve recently started watching the subtitled version from the beginning. It’s a series that has a pretty big fan base even among those people I’ve met online. And now I believe I see why Sailor Moon is so cherished.
For the uninitiated, Sailor Moon is the story of how a 14-year-old girl, Usagi Tsukino, is given the ability to transform into the “Soldier of Love and Justice”, Sailor Moon. As Sailor Moon, Usagi manages to thwart evil forces and learn more about herself and others in the process. If it sounds like a superheroine, you’re absolutely right. But, to put it in American superhero terms, Usagi is more Bruce Banner then, say Tony Stark. Usagi is a reluctant heroine. She didn’t ask to become a defender of others, and even her own team of Sailor Guardians suggests she is not cut out for the task ahead.
And therein lays a lot of what makes Usagi such a terrific character. Not only does she not really want to be a heroine, but Usagi is a klutz, prone to emotional outbursts, and the cares of a normal 14-year-old typically take precedence in the early episodes. Think fame, sweets, and daydreaming. When she transforms into Sailor Moon, Usagi’s still susceptible to her 14-year old whims, particularly fawning over a constant savior of her and her friends, Tuxedo Mask.
While Usagi’s whims may annoy her friends, it makes her very accessible to the viewer. Unlike other heroines, she isn’t agile or a combat master like Marvel’s The Black Widow. Usagi isn’t fantastically strong like She-Hulk or DC’s Wonder Woman, and isn’t a confident leader like Storm. What Usagi is, at least in the beginning of the series, is a girl. She wants to please her parents, hang out with friends, be there for them, and imagine a romantic future. It shows the viewer that you don’t have to be the most coordinated, strongest, smartest, or most mature person in the room. You can still make a difference with the right tools. And that to me is the point of at least the show’s initial season.
Also, it’s important to note when Toonami aired Sailor Moon. They showed the anime regularly in the programming block starting in 1999. But Sailor Moon’s anime had debuted in Japan in 1992. What other shows at either time had women as the stars and heroes? I can primarily think of only a handful, but in my mind it shows how important this kind of show must’ve been. Not every show with superheroes had women in starring roles, and here’s a series showing not just a heroine, but also the reluctant heroine who wants to just be a kid. That had to really resonate with kids of all varieties that felt like they were being dragged into maturity.
It amazes me that I stayed away from the show when I was younger. Was I turned off by the dubbed version? Was it the “Sailor Moon Says…” segment that beat the viewer over the head with a message from the episode? I’m not sure what the reason was, but I am very happy with talk and desire flowing for more women to be represented in all forms of entertainment that I came back to view Sailor Moon with fresh eyes.
As of this writing, I have watched 40 episodes in the first season through Hulu.