Let’s Talk About Sailor Moon

I think a lot about girls saving the world.

When I was a child, I was one of those irritating girls who had trouble identifying with all the boy protagonists dominating my fantasy. I was aware that I was a girl and I noticed that a girl’s role in the books I loved was to be the love interest or the mother.  It bothered me.

So at age twenty or so, I dropped out of college, moved to California, and eventually started writing a book. This book was my first stab at trying to equalize the scales by producing an epic fantasy about a chosen girl, and I used a whole bunch of ideas inspired by Final Fantasy games to get there.*

Meanwhile, I was hearing about Sailor Moon in the background. Some weird online friends were into it. I didn’t pay that much attention because anime = sex, tentacles and Robotech, right? But one thing led to another and I learned just enough to think my teenage sister might enjoy Sailor Moon, so I got some fan subs for her. By the way, this was back in the day when you sent $4 per VHS cassette to a fansubber and she manually ran you a copy, then shipped it priority mail. Hardcore.

I don’t think I ever gave those fansubs to my sister. I loaned them to her, oh yes, but I watched them first as any good big sister would, and— and—

I started with the third season, which everybody agreed was the best season. And holy crap.

Look, Sailor Moon was a monster-of-the-week show about some teenage girls who used magic cosmetics to transform into superheroes. It wasn’t high art. It wasn’t Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

But it was about a girl who, with her friends, saved the world. Who did it more than once, who learned and grew from those efforts and made new decisions. Who was funny and silly and childish and intensely feminine and compassionate and strong and heroic. Who was able to draw lines in the sand and say ‘not this time’, in a badly animated show directed with enough charm that you hung on through all the cheese and silliness and repetition. It was full of stories about friendship, and how real human relationships could provide a lifeline for those lost in darkness. And season 3 had lesbians and sacrifice and innocence and ruin and love, and I lost my own heart.

I devoured seasons 3-5 and then I started converting others. I knew the right episodes to use and oh, I used them. Sailor Moon mattered to me. I don’t do cosplay or fan art, I don’t do fan fiction or any of that. I’m not a fandom kind of person. But I internalized it and I evangelized. Yet at the time I’m not sure I could have identified why it was so important to me that everybody I cared about developed a healthy respect for Sailor Moon.

I understand now. It was what I was reaching for, in a silly, easily dismissed package. She was the chosen one, and she saved the world, and we didn’t have enough of those. She had a half dozen female friends and they were all people and they talked about things, they supported each other even when they bickered; they passed the Bechdel test with flying colors and we still don’t have enough of those.

I was never a Buffy girl. Buffy isn’t my thing. But Sailor Moon… Sailor Moon’s humor was self-aware and self-depracating. It knew exactly what it was and that it didn’t have to take itself seriously.  The klutzy teenage heroine is a thing now but with Sailor Moon, it worked. It made her human, it made her sympathetic. She was mostly adorable, which made the moments of astonishing awesome all the more breathtaking. It hit me hard.**

This July, Sailor Moon starts up again with Sailor Moon Crystal, which will restart the series and follow the manga without turning it into an afternoon monster-of-the-week show. I am breathless with anticipation.

It will be simulcast online and, oh please, I hope all the people who found something they’d been looking for in My Little Pony take a look at it. I hope the internet is flooded with wonderful fan art and Moonies (or whatever they’ll call themselves). I hope there’s ships and new fanfiction and that people who still laugh at the thought of silly Sailor Moon will see something that makes them look twice, look three times, then decide to give the show a chance. Because it’s girls saving the world in a story aimed at girls, full of feminine ideals and feminine accoutrements, and, yes, because it’s good.

*One day I’d like to go back to that setting, which was about an Industrial Revolution powered by enslaved angels.

**And Sailor Moon wasn’t even my favorite of the gang, to be honest. Ask me about my essay about SuperS and Chibi-Usa. Ask me about my painted figure of Sailor Venus. But Sailor Moon was undeniably the heart of the show.

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