Ok, I guess I should just confess right off the bat. That title is misleading. I had never actually read all of Sailor Moon when I was younger. I watched the anime up to the end of the Chibi USA/Dark Lady arc and that’s pretty much all I had read of the manga as well. I remember blaming it on lack of availability and thinking I would continue it someday but I never did. Until now!
I decided to reread and finally finish Sailor Moon a little while ago. I’m not someone particularly prone to nostalgia but if anything is gonna do it for me, it’s Sailor Moon. That ish was my childhood and I definitely have some unjustified devotion to the series. So I was a little scared going in.
I wanted to see if the story and characters really hold up when you read it as an adult. Also, as I have read quite a few mangas in the genre over the past few years, I wanted to see if Sailor Moon as a whole would still work with today’s tropes and biases. You know how people always think their favourite manga/anime could never be made today. That sort of thing.
Lastly, I just wanted to see what one of the best-known and beloved shoujo could teach me. Because make no mistake, Sailor Moon is an empire. It is still one of the most influential and recognizable maho shoujo both in Japan and all over the world. I’m wearing colourpop x Sailor Moon makeup right now! And I love it by the way.
I thought the post wouldn’t be complete without going into why Sailor Moon is such a big deal for those that might not be familiar with it. I’m sure that I won’t be able to really give you the full picture on this page but let’s give it a try.
First, a bit of history.
Sailor Moon first started publishing in 1991! That was 31 years ago. I like to show off my math skills! And that makes her one of the OGs of modern magical girls as we know them. For the record that was before Raynearth, Sakura, or even Buffy. And the fact is, the manga was a huge success. People loved that the characters weren’t taking themselves too seriously, that stories involving the fate of the entire world still had a place of kooky humour, and that the characters all had their own personalities and flaws. They also loved the art style.
The manga seemed to have been a hit pretty instantly. And let’s face it, it solidified the idea that entertainment about girls and young women, ostensibly for girls, was marketable. I’m not saying we wouldn’t have gotten Buffy the Vampire Slayer without Sailor Moon but she helped.
Over three decades later, the manga is still getting new prints and still selling well. Heck, I just reread it! There have been numerous anime adaptations, games, stage shows, musicals, endless merchandise, and even an idol group. Sailor Moon is ubiquitous but how well do we really know her. Or more specifically, how well did I know her.
So here’s the thing, despite not having watched or read Sailor Moon in decades, the parts I had seen, I remembered really well. This stuff is ingrained in my brain because that’s certainly useful information to have available at the drop of a hat. I was looking forward to getting into the chapters I had not read at all. The arrival of Sailors Neptune and Uranus. Pluto and Saturn have always been a mystery to me and I have been building up anticipation for years.
And you know what? It holds up. I enjoyed the entire manga and I absolutely think it could have been published this year. In fact, something extremely similar is probably being published right now.
But, if a take off the sweet rose-coloured nostalgia goggles, there are a lot of flaws with Sailor Moon. I’m not going to go into the messaging and morality of it even, just the structure.
For instance, my gosh is this manga ever repetitive. It’s roughly divided into 5 arcs and the same thing happens in every single arc. There is a (or a group of) mysterious newcomer(s) that seem like they might be antagonists at first but turn out to be allies. This started with Chibi moon and happened in every subsequent arc. A girl who looks like Sailor Moon but is actually a decedent suddenly appears from the future. This exact thing happens twice! Every single enemy is only after the power of the millennium crystal because they hate happiness and want to use it for their own selfish power. Every one of them. The enemies are pretty much completely interchangeable.
Honestly, if you’ve read one arc, you have pretty much read the entire thing. The only reason to keep going is if you like the characters and you kind of want to read the same story over and over again. No judgment there. That’s actually a very normal thing. Most of us have things we are particularly fond of and want to experience them over and over in slightly different forms. And that is probably why a lot of entertainment does exactly that. It was just particularly obvious in Sailor Moon.
I have to rewatch the anime but to me, the manga seemed a bit…empty? Everything happened so fast, we hardly got to know even some of the main 5, let alone any characters introduced later on. I seem to remember them being way more fleshed out and I don’t know if the anime filled in a lot of holes or whether I just did it with my imagination. What we do know of the characters is nicely crafted, it really gives you an idea of who they are so you can easily build on that, but there’s a lot less there than I remembered. And I just read double the material than I had before. I wanted to see more of everyone… outside of battle.
Because there is a heck of a lot of fighting scenes in Sailor Moon. They often take up entire pages. And although they are impressive to look at, they also get very repetitive after a while, and I just wish they had made more time for character-building instead. The fact is, aside from battles, not all that much happens.
Here’s something that crops up more in the later chapters and is surprisingly progressive. Despite being an extremely jealous girlfriend, Serena sure kisses (gets kissed) by a lot of random boys while she’s in a committed relationship and no one seems to mind at all. Her least of all. I don’t remember her penchant for polyamory and I didn’t hate it.
One thing I did hate with every fiber of my being, and I do remember hating it the first time around, is Serena’s jealousy of Chibiusa. Before we find out what’s going on, Chibiusa is a mysterious child who seems very attached to Mamoru (Tuxedo Mask) and has a childish crush on him. And Serena is very jealous of her. Now if I stretch and give her the benefit of all the doubt I can muster, you could say that at that point they didn’t know exactly who Chibiusa was. She could have turned out to be an enemy or in disguise. Still, she was presented as an elementary school child, maybe even a year younger. And Serena is acting like she’s a credible relationship rival for her college-aged boyfriend.
But then, they find out that Chibiusa is actually Serena and Mamoru’s child from the future. Oh spoilers, sorry about that! And she is just doing that thing that some little girls do when they say they want to marry their fathers when they grow up. And Serena is still jealous of her. Like openly and occasionally meanly jealous of her. It’s so bad. It’s not funny and has so many gross connotations and I hate it! I hate it a lot. I hate it sooooooo much!
On the other hand, all the actual romantic relationships in Sailor Moon are pretty age-appropriate. That’s sadly still not all that easy to find. And both genderfluid characters and queer relationships are treated as perfectly normal and not made into a spectacle. Go, Sailor Moon! For the early 90s, this was something special.
So what did I learn when I reread Sailor Moon? I learned that I was a bit more forgiving about structure and form when I was younger. However, nostalgia is not the only reason I still like Sailor Moon. It’s not the best manga out there, not by a long shot. It might not even be the best Magical Girl manga but gosh darn it, it holds up. And it could absolutely have been made today. The characters and themes are timeless and because in certain instances they were handled in progressive ways, it doesn’t seem dated by today’s standards. Also, anime is regressive in a lot of ways which makes the aspects of Sailor Moon that aged badly, still seem contemporary.
It’s a bit of a relief. I think this was the best outcome for me. I would have been sad if I realized that I didn’t really like Sailor Moon anymore. And I think I would have been a bit depressed if I thought nothing better had been written since. This is a juste milieu. Also, it has some really epic superpower names!