Can a shining light from the tail end of the brightest days of Japan be just what anime and manga need today?
There was simply no way I could resist. Ran to my local Kinokuniya to swipe up my own copy of the Kodansha Comics release of the girls manga-milestone Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon. It isn’t as if it required the more common internal debate that often clouds recent J-media purchases either. The tale of ultimate shoujo underdog, Usagi Tsukino & her meeting destiny as the leader of a celestial army of defenders against an oncoming onslaught of otherworldly weirdos has been a not-so-guilty favorite since I first discovered it through friends during the mid-1990s. And after reading this latest transtlation, along with stellar treatment, I can even see past what many will consider to be passe, juvenile, and even a little confusing since it in many ways through charm and energy (and possibly, even a sly amount of satire). And it also occurred to this writer as to what made this so exciting to more than one segregated audience. The truest definition of crossover, Naoko Takeuchi’s most beloved creation has seen fandoms even some of the most diehard mecha show fans could only dream of. Whether fans discovered it through the syndicated DiC version that played on tv screens, or merely by way of word of mouth, it only gained ground by leaps and bounds by the time the internet became more accessible to the masses. One might even venture the notion that a great deal of how we view and accept anime in a cultural sense owes a great debt to this very fandom.
By now, most fans of both printed and animated mediums since the 90s are well aware of Sailor Moon, and the various iterations it has taken around the world. In fact, it’s pretty hard to imagine modern fandom without it. Even long after Japan had become something of a shadow of the colorful wonderland portrayed in the comic and animated versions (oh, and even live-action), the optimistic worldview presented in it best encompassed by Usagi and friends as they struggled to maintain normal lives in between yoma invasions hit a fascinating chord with so many not even familiar with Japanese life circa the late 1980s-early 90s. It offered a window to this very culture, and in many ways gave off the aura of an idyllic, almost Disneylike utopian vision. Which was almost always in danger of destruction by way of any number of nasty (albeit beautiful) villains out to deprive the world of its spirit in the name of negative energy.
Even as the series broke ground by being a mainstream product that played with not only gender roles, but gender itself, the powers that be could never truly wash away how culturally challenging much of it really was, despite on the surface looking like little more than a hybrid of classic maho shoujo tales and super sentai legend. It was glaring proof that anime and manga was far more than the realm of boys, and opened the door for an entirely new, and untapped market. So a shiny, glass world of friendship and dreams in endless struggle with our lesser selves seemed a perfect means to usher in a whole new era of admirers of J-media. An era less content with being huddled away in the corner of a sci-fi convention shelling out VHS bootlegs for absurd prices, and vocal enough to make great strides in how the world viewed not only shoujo, but manga in general. The sheer impact of the series and its characters could be felt in nearly every facet of the ensuing years of growing awareness, and unexpected success. And all due to a wholly unique (to westerners at least) presentation, and attitude.
My initial experience with Usagi and friends came about through a most unexpected source. Through a sweet family of friends whom I had known for years, who’s elder sibling had a wholesale enthusiasm for the animated series. In fact, much of his enamored state came from seeing a vision so open to how gender roles played so freely within what seems like your classical superhero tale. It was like a door opened. So when it was time for me to investigate his obsession for myself, I was knocked aback by how different it felt alongside the largely testosterone-centric anime output that we had been privy to for decades. And then the manga took it galaxies further by further treating central relationships as matter of fact, and not so much as some kind of mutant novelty. Was very refreshing to witness. So when the fandom became something beyond anything I could ever have dreamed of with the shows I had grown up with, the writing was on the wall. Takeuchi’s creation had done something no other property to that date had done; connected beyond the already existing choir, and into something altogether different.
And most importantly…it was a creation intended for younger audiences! Remember them? Despite all that has been said, the real exciting element that helped make SM such a crossover phenomenon, was that it held within it a certain balance of childlike innocence at odds with often mature terrors. Even if it often took on the guise of oh so many action shows, complete with extended battles, and recycled story techniques, there almost always seemed to be just enough wide-eyed wonder regarding the daily world to counter the harshess often doled out by the villains. And as Usagi must contend with what ostensibly is to be her destiny, she must also suffer the pains and foibles common to just being young. (insecurity, and an added dash of almost supernatural clumsiness on top of all this) So as she begins her journeys, and makes new and diverse friends along the way, there is a sense that stakes are indeed growing with each passing day. The identifiable character elements often transcend their seemingly simple demeanors, often granting the world of Sailor Moon something that can just as easily invite adults as well as children.
And after so many years of false starts, censorship, and unwavering fan support, Sailor Moon seems to be primed and ready for a definitive return. Naturally, the world has moved on dramatically since those bright and colorful days. But on the whole, the spirit of friendship amidst great, and terrible odds is something that is universal enough to work in any era. Applicability seems possible, as long as the character dynamics remain true to their origins, albeit within new, more challenging circumstances. The current landscape deserves not so much a shot of nostalgia, so much as a reminder of what makes the things we appreciate and respect so special. One can only hope that the recent release of both Sailor Moon, and the previously unreleased stateside Sailor V, that the still remaining embers of love for this franchise will flame up just enough for an entirely new generation to enjoy.
It was more than mere magic that helped create the contemporary anime and manga fan; it was the heart and ingenuity Naoko Takeuchi so iconically shared on the page. And even as a genre-hybrid work, it was and remains a reminder of what it takes to strike a chord with such a wild range of admirers. And while Sailor Moon is far from a perfect saga, it is filled with enough sweetness and sincerity to speak volumes long after its creation. Whether you’ve ever caught yourself talking with your cat, or retained all the wonders of young friendship, there is always a little of the Odango-atama in all of us.