Sailor Moon was revolutionary in the 1990s. From expressions of different gender identities and LGBT relationships to the ensemble cast of well-written women, the series delivered on numerous fronts that were previously unthinkable.
The series inspired many productions that came afterward as it had several other things that ended up making it tremendously memorable. This article will detail everything that made Sailor Moon truly a classic anime for the ages.
Note: This will include spoilers for the Sailor Moon anime and the manga at times. It reflects the author's opinion.
Subverting gender stereotypes, and 9 other ways Sailor Moon was really ahead of its time
1) Subverting the Smurfette Principle
In feminist media critique circles, there's a trope called "The Smurfette Principle." The trope refers to when a female character in a group is the only female in an otherwise all-male cast. The character is called Smurfette based on The Smurfs, and is characterized primarily by attractiveness so they would appeal to an assumed straight male audience.
Sailor Moon effectively has an all-female squad with maybe two guys, if Venus’ cat Artemis counts. This was rare in the 1990s, with many popular shows, television programs, and movies having only one or two women in them unless they were soap operas.
While some cartoons had female protagonists, they didn't explode in popularity like Sailor Moon did for over five years and managed to become an enduring part of pop culture.
Following Sailor Moon’s success with showing that the stories of women and girls were engaging and prevalent, the shojo genre exploded with similar works like Revolutionary Girl Utena and Princess Tutu. These shows not only had female protagonists, but likewise wrote them well.
2) LGBTQ relationships and discussions of Queerness
The depiction of LGBTQ people on television is still not perfect. The 1990s were particularly brutal due to the ongoing AIDS crisis. Likewise, the LGBTQ civil rights movement had only gotten mainstream attention after the Stonewall riots in 1969. It was a very slowgoing process towards equal rights.
While LGBTQ people were making some major strides in real life, they were not being given fair representation on television since many of them were denied happy endings. Even then, the implication of LGBTQ presence was enough to sink a show or guarantee that it got hate even when it was as beloved as the Golden Girls.
Sailor Moon tossed that bigotry out. It not only had Uranus and Neptune as a couple onscreen but also the villainous Zoisite and Kunzite were a couple. The villain Fiore from Sailor Moon R: the movie was in love with Tuxedo Mask.
The cross-dressing Sailor Starlights were another example, as they were women crossdressing as men to maintain their cover as Senshi. One of them had affection for Usagi and unrequited affection for Princess Kakyuu. While much of this was censored in the 90s English dub, the Viz dub restored these scenes.
3) Subverting and dismissing gender stereotypes
There are plenty of gendered stereotypes that make people feel trapped. Sailor Moon subverts and dismisses quite a few of them. Sailor Uranus' gender expression is one of them, as they present themselves as very masculine with their clothing and language use. Sailor Uranus is called “a soldier of both genders, with strengths and personalities of each,” according to Sailor Neptune in the manga.
The subversions don't stop there. The main Senshi are varied in their personalities and interests. Some like math, racing, and art, which weren’t considered typical for girls at the time. The Senshi were the main characters, with each having their own story not revolving around a man or the pursuit of one.
Unusual weaponry characterized by femininity was another subversion of common stereotypes. The Sailor Senshi used brooches, pocket mirrors, roses, and wands, whereas the typical anime weapons are swords and guns.
Why was this so revolutionary? In the 1990s, the pinnacle of action and weaponry was the Terminator's shotgun or weapons from Aleins like the smart gun.
4) Genre fusion
Sailor Moon is one of those anime and manga that fuse genres, something practically unheard of in the 1990s. It laid massive emphasis on the fight scenes and rescues associated with Super Sentai, while also dealing with the feelings and relationships typical of the magical girl genre. The mangaka Naoko Takeuchi once said that Super Sentai influenced why she created the series.
This fusion of genres was a radical step in the 1990s. The blend of fashion and action was a shocking recipe for success to many critics.
The show enjoyed high ratings and is recognized fondly even decades after it ended.
Many commented that Sailor Moon felt more like a shonen, which was a major compliment as shonen anime and manga like Dragon Ball were beginning to pick up steam. This made Sailor Moon more credible as a shojo action series.
5) Healing and Hope powers
Many anime and manga rely on individual powers. These powers are either caused by negative emotions hitting their peak, or they originate from traumatic experiences. The Super Saiyan transformation in Dragon Ball Z and the Sharingan in Naruto are prototypical examples of this.
Unlike the many destructive powers most shonen characters have, Sailor Moon focuses on healing with the powers of love, and hopes to purify and help villains.
Whilst healing powers are normally reserved for the team mage in an RPG or shunted to the side, they're front and center here.
While that may not sound unusual when the combination of the elemental powers of the Senshi is taken into consideration, the fact of the matter is that usual powers in anime involve destroying the opponent at the very least. Whereas in Sailor Moon, it's about all healing and purifying darkness.
6) An ensemble cast of well-written women
Most anime that profess to have a large cast don't do anything with that cast unless a ton of filler episodes are involved. Naruto is especially guilty of this, but tons of other shonen anime do this as well. These anime will often have a dozen of characters who are more interesting than the lead protagonists but will often pay no attention to them.
Sailor Moon may focus on the titular protagonist, but it does not forsake the rest of the cast. The Senshi are all well-written, and each of them has a role to play in the narrative.
All the Senshi have individual goals in their life. For example, Mercury wants to become a doctor, Jupiter wants to open a flower shop, and Mars wants to take over her shrine.
The Senshi argue, lift each other up, and ultimately support each other through whatever strife they're going through. Again, the story is Sailor Moon's, but everyone else is fully fleshed out over the course of the series. Everyone changes over time, with Mars becoming less hostile towards Sailor Moon and Venus gradually opening up about her past as Sailor V.
7) Inspiration and empowerment
Did you know that Sailor Moon inspired the creation of Revolutionary Girl Utena? Series director Kunihiko Ikuhara was inspired by his work on the series which led to the origin of Revolutionary Girl Utena. Ikuhara explicitly stated that Utena started out as a standalone Sailor Moon movie script revolving around Uranus and Neptune. This changed after producer Iriya Azuma left the project, though the idea of two girls stopping the End of the World was kept intact.
Sailor Moon did not shy away from showing empowered women on the screen. It successfully portrayed female leadership and friendships in a positive light, which proved to be inspirational for many viewers.
It also flipped the expectation of the guy saving the girl by having the girls save everyone.
The series also played a crucial role in showing that crying and other emotional responses were not inherently bad. It also stated emphatically that it's okay to ask for help. The series was far ahead of its time, as many of its anime at the time denounced emotions altogether.
8) Humanized villains
Sailor Moon was quite modern in its approach to villains. Featuring more humanized villains, the series did not always go for a stark good versus evil approach. We're not talking rivals, but villains in the vein of Dragon Ball's Frieza. Nephirte, one of Queen Beryl’s minions, died loving Usagi’s friend Naru after saving her life from monsters. Queen Nehelenia was loved by all but ended up cursed after she wanted to be eternally young. Galaxia was a good guy corrupted by the malevolent force of Chaos. Even Chibiusa was corrupted into being Black Lady and had to be cured of the darkness.
While this didn’t make the villains good people, it added an extra dimension to the villains, which was not often the case in the 1990s.
Queen Nehelenia was cured of her madness and operated as a good person during the original anime, as did Galaxia by the end. Turns out healing people isn't a bad power after all, and deserves more respect then it otherwise gets.
9) The Messiah trope
A bit of a controversial subject is the messiah complex stories in fiction. Many stories such as Star Wars and The Matrix depict this trope by having a prophesied person return to aid people in danger. This type of story dates back to many religious mythos and Arthurian legends.
Many of these messianic figures have one thing in common, they're mostly portrayed as men. Sailor Moon ended up subverting this, as the story led viewers to believe that Venus, and later Saturn, was the moon princess and messiah.
Usagi was foreshadowed as the reincarnation of Princess Serenity, but the show teased the audience by having Venus there.
This was ahead of the curve, and it did not sacrifice or demean women in any way unlike most messianic stories in Western fiction. It also subverted the stereotype of princesses being good but queens being bad. The series showcased both good and bad queens, showing that it’s not the title that matters but the type of person holding it.
10) Death and violence
Sailor Moon is seen as cheesy fun. However, the fun stops when mortal peril is involved, and the heroines are in mortal peril quite a few times. Moreover, there are quite a few instances of children being caught in the crossfire. The scary monsters in Sailor Moon can often be fuel for nightmares.
One example is the creepy doll without pupils that stalks Usagi's little brother, and would've strangled Usagi if Tuxedo Mask hadn't intervened.
Another monster debuted as a homage to Psycho, wherein it attacked a victim in the shower, entombed her in glass, and assumed her appearance.
A nightmarish scene in the manga showed Sailor Moon dead with her rotting corpse on full display. The deaths of the Senshi in the Season 1 finale are surprisingly graphic. The series was far ahead of Madoka on the death and violence front.
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