Sailor Moon – The Most Relatable Heroine

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. 

Star Trek at 50 – The Human Adventure Continues

Pop culture anniversaries seem to be a dime a dozen lately, but there’s not very many that can claim to still be making new fans 50 years after it’s initial creation. Star Trek has done exactly that. For the uninitiated, Star Trek was a TV Series that aired on NBC between 1966 and 1969. During that time, it aired for three seasons and 79 episodes. However, the show didn’t garner much in ratings at the time and was canceled. But, throughout the 70’s, the show became a hit in syndication, and Paramount attempted to create a second series, known as Phase II. However, after much behind-the-scenes drama (seriously, lots of drama) and the successful releases of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars, the initial pilot was rewritten into 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Since then, Star Trek has cultivated 12 (with one more on the way) films, over 700 episodes of television through 5 different series, and has gone on to influence more than a few scientific inventions and discoveries. And that’s all fine and dandy if you like behind the scenes info, but what about what is truly at the center of every Star Trek adventure?

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Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) defending Lt. Commander Data’s (Brent Spiner) ability to be his own person and not property in “Measure Of A Man”.

The characters and moral dilemmas take center stage in any truly great sci-fi story, and the best of what Star Trek has to offer exemplifies this. Take an episode from Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s second season, The Measure Of A Man. In it, Lt. Commander Data (played by Brent Spiner) is taken to trial and Captain Jean-Luc Picard (played by Patrick Stewart) defends him. And what is he on trial for? Whether or not Data, who is an android, is the property of the Federation or a sentient being. It calls into question what exactly makes up a true being, and when we build robots, are we not creating a race of beings? It further questions how far would you go to fulfill your own duties, even if you don’t agree with them? Such questions, plots, and strong character-driven moments are at the heart of what makes Star Trek a success.

At the end of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the Enterprise goes to warp and viewers are presented with a single sentence: “The human adventure is just beginning.” That has been the cornerstone of each series so far. The Next Generation sees Picard and crew go on trial for the crimes of humanity against itself as Q, a god-like entity, challenges the crew of the Enterprise-D to show him that humanity has evolved beyond it’s troubled past. Deep Space Nine was a show tackling a lot of different issues, chief among them, religion and rebellion during times of war. Voyager hearkens back to The Original Series by throwing Captain Kathryn Janeway and crew to the other side of the galaxy where they meet new races and worlds on their way home. But Enterprise was the most unique show of the bunch. Enterprise chose to turn back the clock and has us see the Federation being formed when humanity first starts to truly explore the stars.

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Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) discuss giving Nero (Eric Bana) leniency as he looks on from the view screen.

In each of these series, there is a deliberate choice to create very unique characters that tackle subjects the majority of television doesn’t dare explore. Things like the aforementioned qualifications of sentience, sexuality, and of how often what is right or wrong can fall into a gray area. But to me, Star Trek has shown me that when you have a disagreement with someone, there is always a solution that is better than the initial idea.

The Federation, more often then not, seeks to find peace in the galaxy. That desire is reflected in each captain’s actions. Even in the 2009 film, Captain Kirk asks if Nero wants assistance while his ship begins to be ripped apart by the black hole. Nero adamantly refuses by saying he would rather witness the death of his homeworld a thousand times over. Yikes. Point is, diplomacy is at the forefront of what the Federation hopes to achieve. Is it perfect? No, just look at Star Trek Insurrection. The Federation is capable of heinous acts, but for the most part Star Trek has shown me that humanity can overcome it’s greatest obstacles and push ever farther into space and other frontiers.

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San Francisco as depicted in Star Trek: Into Darkness.

And that’s what I see and get out of Star Trek. It creates a future for Earth and for humans that is nothing short of wondrous. Where we as a species have shed our prejudices, and collectively strive to make humanity the best that it can be. And an ideology where peace and negotiations take precedence over waving the biggest stick. It gives me hope that the squabbling I see in our current world will eventually give way to something prosperous.

TV and Self-Identity

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In High School, I first faced an identity crisis in regard to my sexuality. As most do during the time, I started to wonder about it and my place in what felt like a very large world. And around that time in the early 2000s there were only two examples for me to draw on to figure out what it was to be gay. The NBC sitcom Will & Grace and the Bravo reality show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. I was about as lost as you might think.

See, both shows prominently feature homosexual characters and people. Will & Grace featured two regular characters, Will Truman and Jack McFarland, both of whom are gay but are drastically different. Will is a character that features some stereotypical gay features, but is otherwise reserved and a homebody. Jack however, is the embodiment of every gay stereotype. A self-proclaimed diva, fashionista, and despite being unable to hold a job for very long, still has a holier-than-thou attitude. Combine the two characters with some of the antics and information displayed on Queer Eye and I was a very confused teenager.

Was there a requirement for me to be absolutely preened head to toe? Was my back hair unseemly and in need of removal? Was I supposed to worship Cher as a musical icon because she, too, is fabulous? Looking back, I certainly succumbed to some of these ideas (show me someone that can shave their own backside, and I’ll show you a gold medalist in gymnastics), largely because I still didn’t grasp my sexuality and what it meant. So, not really listening to the little voices in my head saying it was ridiculous I hammed myself up in school, doing my best to fit a new idea in my head that I was supposed to act in a manner some would call “femmy”.

But then something would happen sometime after High School and I had a realization. In the same manner that Will and Jack were different varieties of gay, but still with some similarities, I could be my own version of a gay male. In other words I could just be… me. I was able to figure it out but what if I had watched the shows at a younger age? Would I have been able to debunk my learned behaviors as easily? I certainly don’t know the answer, but I do know is that for most teens coming to terms with bisexuality, homosexuality, or a different gender identity, there aren’t very many places to look in the world of TV.

But, what I’ve figured out is that in the end it’s just meant to be entertainment. Sure, it can be argued that such shows will be under scrutiny simply for being a show that has something few others do. But in the case of Will & Grace, it’s a show about friends and relationships with what I see as a theme of being gay in reality. Or as close to reality as a sitcom with a laugh track is anyway. Queer Eye attempted something a little different and had gurus trying to help people be better versions of themselves. Not enough shows that aspire to that right?

So, in the end, let’s try to take entertainment for entertainment’s sake and not take everything that is tossed at us as some kind of a truth. Hm?