Many children of my generation (the 90’s) were presented with female empowerment through the Sailor Moon anime. I was introduced to this series through the ’90s American dub which eventually lead me to reading the manga and hunting down the Japanese version (subbed of course). The story follows fourteen year-old Usagi Tsukino (known as Serena to American audiences via the 90s dub of the anime) and her friends, who transform into planetary sailor soldiers using their powers to protect the Earth from evil forces seeking to destroy it. As the series that sparked my interest in manga, anime and cosplay (which has only grown in the years since) it holds a very special place in my heart.
So in honor of it being June 30th, the canon birthday of Sailor Moon/Princess Serenity herself, Usagi Tsukino, I’m sharing a few of the messages and themes from this series that had a profound influence on me as well as a generation of young men and women. Disclaimer: A version of this post was published on the 4 Real Women International blog site in 2014 but has since been take down. Also while there are so many incarnations of Sailor Moon (the manga, the 90’s anime, the stage shows known as Sera Myu and the live action series, PGSM) this blog post will only make reference to the manga and the ’90s anime.
1. True friendship = loyalty and sacrifice
The series demonstrated that a group of women with different personalities, backgrounds, aspirations and even sexual orientation, can be friends. The girls did argue but they still remained loyal and sincere to each other, which is amazing as prior to being assembled to fight evil and protect the Earth, none of the girls knew each other. They came together for a cause and fought for it, yet they sacrificed for one another, as well as depended on and encouraged each other to follow their dreams, even if it meant they had to abandon their joint mission. They fought harder when a comrade was lost, in doing so they demonstrated how sacrifice can and may be necessary as you fight. Having experienced this at such a young age, I have come to know the value of friendship and what it takes to be a true friend. It’s sad that 20-plus years later there aren’t many shows or films depicting women in such strong, beautiful friendships, where they are not moved by jealousy or cattiness, or have dialogue focused on boys or men.
2. True love = acceptance and partnership
Throughout its running, the show and the manga series emphasized the power of love. At times this meant romantic love amongst the protagonists, especially in the case of Darien/Mamoru and Serena/Usagi. They became an official couple during the series’ second season thus setting a high standard for romance for many girls because Darien/Mamoru accepted Serena’s/Usagi’s eccentricities and flaws. He made no attempt to change her or suggest that she do so. If anything their relationship made Serena/Usagi study harder to get her grades up and strive to be someone Darien/Mamoru could be proud of. Not because he needed this, but because SHE wanted to. Even when people would point out her faults in attempts to break them up, Darien/Mamoru would immediately stand up for Serena/Usagi without making excuses for her. (Is it any wonder that this man was my “first crush”?) Over the course of the series, this couple worked together to protect the Earth from any threat as Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask respectively. Darien/Mamoru went without a transformation sequence, but he was a soldier in his own right and a partner to Sailor Moon, demonstrating that real love is working together, side by side.
3. Love is stronger than hate
In addition to Darien/Mamoru’s and Serena/Usagi’s romantic relationship, the series focused on the relationship between the sailor soldiers, as well as with the antagonists. That said, a critical element that remained constant throughout the series was the message: “don’t hurt what you can heal.” More often than not, the decision was made to reform the villains into human citizens so that they may create lives for themselves. It was clear to the soldiers that no matter your past actions, you deserve a second, third, and fourth chance. This is a type of unconditional love that takes more courage to implement than hate and can often be difficult to practice in real life. In the end we are all human, as such we should accept people for who they are and never give up on the chance to pull them into the light.
4. Everyone is imperfect yet have potential for greatness
Serena/Usagi is a clumsy and lazy crybaby, who is a bit of a glutton, but she is also a very honest, kind, and caring person. The long list of negatives attached to her character implies that she is the least qualified for any leadership role, even one that she is destined for. This was a fact that was exploited by the villains and some of her fellow soldiers in hopes that it would force her to accept defeat. This proved to be an unsuccessful tactic as she quickly stopped focusing on her faults, but at what she excels at. Her character evolves as she gains a sense of responsibility that un-contests her role as Sailor Moon: soldier, princess and future queen of Earth. In short, it’s ok to not have it all together, for even the most unlikely person can save the world.
5. Femininity is not a defined trait
None of the sailor soldiers are completely “girly” in the sense that their motivations or personalities were stereotypically female. While there were moments when one or more would take on the role of damsel- in-distress, this was not without them actually fighting back in the process of their capture or inevitably saving themselves with the help of their fellow sailor soldiers. One of the things that made Sailor Moon so popular even today is the fact that it broke barriers by not only having the hero be a girl, but having a complete team of girls that acted in capacities that were normally reserved for male heroes, such as engaging in combat. In fact the team depicts a balance of what society perceives as masculine and feminine thru their aggression and sense of nurture that leads them to caring for the Earth. Their strength came from the girls’ ability to be compassionate guardians with power coming from their sense of love and friendship, thus sculpting a female performance that would otherwise be deemed masculine into one that is inherently feminine. Being young women did not hinder them and they never gave up their femininity in order to fight. Their appearance remains feminine, though ardently questionable with short skirts and heels, resulting in the soldiers being neither “masculinized” nor “desexualized.” Femininity is just one part of what makes up their complex character. The story along with its pop culture heroes presented a form of female empowerment that directly attacks the patriarchal system in order to change what girls view as feminine. Inclusively the varying body builds and home-lives presented an incredibly diverse team giving girls someone to both relate and look up to. Amongst the soldiers were the tomboy who practices martial arts, as well as loves cute things and baking, the volleyball star that wants to be a musical idol, the androgynous Formula 1® racer and the college student majoring in theoretical physics.
6. Women are powerful and can change the world
Growing up I didn’t enjoy the fact that I was born female. I honestly believed that as a woman, I was destined to take the role of a punching bag who could also make dinner and look pretty. This mentality came from growing up in a household were domestic violence was the norm to the point that I grew up believing that this was common in every family and there was nothing a woman could do. Put simply, men ruled the world. One could say that I was drawn to this series because it presented the exact opposite—women in this show were the one’s getting things done, both the heroines and the villainesses! This series even goes as far as to celebrate women in power, explicitly showing that Sailor Moon gains authority, going from sailor soldier to princess and later queen of the entire world in the 30th century. As women we have great strength especially when fighting for a cause we believe in, like saving the world or ending gender inequality. Be it with brute force or compassionate outcries for change, one must always be a fighter, encourage others and never give up.In my youth I would have given anything to be in the ranks of the sailor soldiers. While I never got to meet a talking black cat who could bestow upon me the power to become a champion of love and justice, I know that had it not been for Sailor Moon, I would not be where I am today. A series like Sailor Moon open up a world of possibilities for girls and remind the women that grew up with the original that they can and will break social norms.
Is there anything from childhood that you feel has helped mold you to the person you are today or even influenced your style? What are other shows, films or books that you feel would be beneficial for the growth and empowerment of girls and young women?