So you may have heard about this, especially if you’re a woman between the ages of, let’s say, 25 and 35, but Sailor Moon has been re-subtitled and is now available on Hulu, with two episodes being released a week. And this will go all the way through the end of the series, which means lots of stuff that never aired, dubbed, in the U.S., and it will be a lot more faithful to the original.1 I adored the show when it originally aired in the U.S., so of course I have been watching it, and the thing is, even though it’s not as spellbinding to me at 30 as it was at 13, I still maintain that Sailor Moon is one of the most important TV shows I ever watched. But to explain why, I need to go back a little further and talk about a different show first: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
You may or may not be familiar with Sailor Moon, but you definitely know TMNT in some form or another. It’s one of the all-time mega franchises; if you were a kid in the 80s or 90s, or you knew a kid in the 80s or 90s, or lived in the United States in the 80s or 90s, you know it. Though it was originally a comic, it premiered as a cartoon in ’87 (which ran for years), and then became a movie franchise in 1990, and has been rebooted several times since then. And me, I was just the right age to get hit with Turtlemania. (Sorry-not-sorry, family.)
Alright, so. When I was a young’un obsessed with the turtles, I also happened to have a gaggle of nephews who ranged from about my age down to toddlerdom, and we were all pretty close. I was the oldest of this crew, discounting my sister (who was too cool to play with us), so when it came time for epic games of pretend, I was the one in charge, like a particularly adorable dictator. So of course we pretended to be the turtles, which left me with a bit of a conundrum. The only major female character in the series was April O’Neil, intrepid reporter and turtle ally. The thing is, though, that while April is a great character and I will fight anyone who says otherwise,2 I didn’t want to be April. This was a universe where there were anthropomorphic, crime fighting, pizza eating turtles, and what was the point of pretending to be anything else?
(I was Donatello. Of course I was.)
So when I was seven, as the movie came out, I was already totally able to empathize with male characters. To look at a lineup that was almost entirely boys, and to say, “That one’s the most like me,” to literally put myself in that character’s shoes3 and inhabit him.
I, uh, don’t think I’ve ever seen boys do that with female characters, except maybe super recently with My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. I suspect there are a lot of reasons for that, chief among them that we live in a disdainful, girls-have-cooties culture that discourages boys from enjoying anything deemed girly. Girls have to learn to see themselves in male characters, while boys almost never have to do that with female characters — and it’s just so rare to find an all-female ensemble that they’re never asked to. Especially if you’re looking for an ensemble that’s all about saving the world.
Enter Sailor Moon.
If you’re not familiar with it, Sailor Moon is the story of a 14-year-old girl who’s a bit of a crybaby and a klutz, and also turns out to be a superhero who stands for love and beauty. She fights evil with the help of her best friends, the other Sailor Scouts. They’re a rocking all-girl ensemble. You have your everygirl, your smart girl, your pretty girl, your angry girl, your tomboy, and so on. They fight badguys while wearing mini-skirts and looking amazing. And they love each other.
Lemme re-emphasize: an all-girl, butt-kicking, world-saving ensemble. I was thirteen years old, and I’d never seen anything like that. I fell for it, hard.
I recorded episodes to VHS. I dragged my parents to a toy store over an hour away so I could buy ugly plastic tie-in toys. I begged my older sister, in college in Boston, to see if she could find any of the manga. (I didn’t even have easy access to a bookstore, let alone one with that kind of specialization.)4 I was just hitting the age of awkwardly too old to play pretend (I hit that age rather later than most, I think), so instead I wrote reams and reams of fanfiction, Mary Sue self inserts and all.
I loved Sailor Moon so much I got up an hour early to watch it as it aired before school. These days, as an adult, I can’t even bring myself to get up 10 minutes before I absolutely have to so I can make breakfast.
The thing is, at 13, I didn’t realize just what it was that hit me so hard. All I knew was that I was an Ami, but I wanted to be Rei.5 But looking back, I see it. There was no leap there, no hesitation. Girls were having adventures. Girls were saving the world. I wanted to be one of them, and I felt like I was allowed. I’d never realized I wasn’t supposed do that with the Ninja Turtles, until suddenly it was an option I was really being offered.
Realizing this has also led me to some more revelations, like, for example, if a white, straight, girl — that is to say, someone who’s still very privileged — can be hit so hard just by seeing herself as a story’s hero, how important is that for people who are less privileged and see themselves even more rarely? It only takes a hop, skip, and a jump of empathy to see why something like #WeNeedDiverseBooks is so important, as if that wasn’t already totally obvious.6
Between its availability on Hulu and the soon-to-launch reboot series, Sailor Moon Crystal, Sailor Moon and friends have been all over my tumblr and twitter of late, and I hope they are reaching today’s little girls, too. The way I ate up the show led to my delving into all kinds of other stories where girls or women got to be the heroes; that, in turn, has informed literally everything I’ve written.
So thanks, Sailor Moon. To borrow a phrase from another superhero franchise, you were the hero I needed, and the hero I deserved, when I didn’t know I needed or deserved you.
- By which I mean the LGBT characters will actually have their original relationships in tact, and will not be awkwardly translated as “cousins.” ↩
- Come at me, bro. ↩
- Well, bandana and knee/elbow pads, I guess. ↩
- By that point it was 1997, which was still ages before manga would really hit the U.S. It was really only available in specialty shops. ↩
- Which is to say, I was “the smart one” but wanted to be “the angry one.” ↩
- Naturally, this is my favorite #WeNeedDiverseBooks submission. ↩