For those of you that don’t know, Sailor Moon is the heroine of a cartoon show that first aired in the 1990s. Based on a Japanese manga and anime series, the show was poorly dubbed over by some Americans and became an instantly hilarious classic. The show ran for four seasons (five in Japan), spawned a live-action version, a musical and another anime series, and is widely praised for its focus on building strong female characters. Sailor Moon herself remains a nostalgic favourite across the globe, and has been hailed as a role model for young girls everywhere.
But does she live up to her reputation? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!
NOTE: Sailor Moon has had many incarnations over the years, so for clarity’s sake, I’ll be focusing on the 1990s American dub – simply because it’s the one I’m most familiar with. I may reference the Japanese version from time to time, but if in doubt, assume I’m talking about the Americans.
- Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?
Right at the beginning of the series, ordinary schoolgirl Serena (Usagi, in the Japanese dub) learns that she is actually the legendary warrior Sailor Moon, destined to defend the universe from evil. Later on, she learns that she’s also the reincarnation of Moon Princess Serenity, is destined to be with her reincarnated lover, and at one point, actually meets her own future children.
Through most of the series, Sailor Moon is about 14-16 years old, and at first, she wants no part of this grand destiny that has been laid out for her. At various points in the series, she tries to reject her saving-the-universe duties and go back to being a normal teenage girl. This is, of course, impossible, because she is constantly being sought out by the bad guys and the people she cares about regularly get into trouble. Eventually, she comes to accept her destiny, and actively fights to protect the universe from evil, but this isn’t something she can walk away from. Much like Buffy, Sailor Moon is the Chosen One: she’s part of a wider destiny that means her life must flow down a specific path if she wants to live at all. She is never really in control of her situation, but she tries to make the best of it.
SCORE SO FAR: 0.5
- Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?
Sailor Moon’s goals, beliefs and hobbies have an interesting split. Her goals and beliefs are very much tied up with her identity as the super-heroine, Sailor Moon – she wants to defend the universe and protect her friends and family. Her hobbies, however, are completely separate from that: she enjoys playing video games, reading comic books, and going shopping – nothing that would suggest she has a super-powered alter-ego. There is a little bit of crossover between the two – she is consistently shown to have a very strong belief in the power of friendship, and she does have some more traditionally feminine goals (like getting married) – but as a general rule there isn’t much overlap, which adds a really interesting layer of duality to her character. Her goals, beliefs and hobbies come from the two separate parts to her identity, making for a really interesting combination.
SCORE SO FAR: 1.5
- Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?
Sailor Moon’s personality is pretty constant. On the surface, she is silly, frivolous, very innocent, doesn’t seem particularly intelligent and is given to snap judgements. Dig a little deeper and she reveals herself to be a committed friend, willing to go to any lengths for the people she cares about and always looking for the good in other people.
Her skills are another matter. While she’s consistently bad at traditionally feminine skills – like cooking, cleaning and sewing – her fighting skills fluctuate all over the place as the plot demands. When fighting her Monster of the Week, she can go from losing to winning in a matter of seconds, and most of it seems to depend on remembering to actually, y’know, USE HER SUPERPOWERS. This can make it quite frustrating, but is mainly a result of screenwriters needing to keep up the tension in the battle scenes, which can be a little repetitive. I’ll give her half the point.
SCORE SO FAR: 2
- Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?
A young girl discovers she is a legendary warrior, and must use her newfound powers to protect her family, her friends, and her entire planet.
SCORE SO FAR: 3
- Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?
Sailor Moon’s decisions are influenced by a huge range of things – some are influenced by her love life, but some are influenced by her friends, her family, her goals, her hobbies, or simply just by whatever she feels like doing that day or happens to see on the TV. This is really realistic, so she passes this round with flying colours.
SCORE SO FAR: 4
- Does she develop over the course of the story?
At the beginning of the show, Sailor Moon is a bit of a crybaby who constantly dodges responsibility; by the end of the first series, she’s fully prepared to sacrifice herself to save the world. That’s one hell of a journey, but it also sums up one of the main problems with the show. While this is some very significant character development, this is essentially the only character development that Sailor Moon gets, and it’s an arc that repeats itself at the beginning of each new series. What this means is that this only holds water the first time we see it – she’s essentially learning the same lesson over and over again, which makes you wonder if she’s learnt it at all. That said, it’s quite a journey, so I can give it a half point.
SCORE SO FAR: 4.5
- Does she have a weakness?
Sailor Moon has plenty of weaknesses. She’s not very intelligent, she’s far too trusting and naïve, she’s prone to snap judgements, scares easily, can be very superficial, and often tries to dodge her responsibilities. That’s a wide range of weaknesses which affect her journey through the story, so she passes this round.
SCORE SO FAR: 5.5
- Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?
The entire plot of the series revolves around Sailor Moon’s actions. Because she’s the Chosen One, trouble will always appear in her path, but this isn’t what fuels the plot. Most of the episodes are driven by Sailor Moon’s choices and more often than not, she’s actively leading the fight against whichever nefarious baddie is trying to destroy the universe that week. She drives the plot forward at every turn, so she passes this round with flying colours.
SCORE SO FAR: 6.5
- How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?
Sailor Moon relates to gender stereotypes in a really interesting way. On the surface, she’s a typical teenage girl: she likes shopping, obsesses over boys, and doesn’t really give a lot of thought to more serious subjects. The superficial aspects of her personality are composed entirely of stereotypes: for many people, she’s the archetypal teenage girl, and the negative sides of this characterisation (such as wasting all her money at the arcade and not being particularly intelligent) are a very strong part of this.
However, this is only one aspect to her personality. She’s also got an incredible capacity for forgiveness and friendship, is fully prepared to sacrifice her own life it means saving other people, is regularly called upon to fight various supernatural/extra-terrestrial bad guys and is the leader of a group of girls destined to defend the universe. She does all of this while being unashamedly feminine, and it’s never once suggested that her femininity undermines her power – as opposed to many other Strong Female Characters, who often only demonstrate their strength through overtly aggressive, masculine behaviour and for whom femininity is a sign of vulnerability.
This is not the case with Sailor Moon at all. She may act like a typical teenage girl, but that doesn’t stop her from demonstrating admirable levels of kindness, mercy and strength. This is actually one of the things that I like most about her character. Sailor Moon isn’t given incredibly high levels of intelligence, or military skill, or physical strength, but she’s still capable of doing incredible things. This is one of the best messages that you can receive as a young girl: no matter how ordinary you think you are, that doesn’t mean that you can’t go out into the world and make a difference.
SCORE SO FAR: 7.5
- How does she relate to other female characters?
Sailor Moon has a wide range of relationships with a wide range of characters. She looks up to her mother, her teacher, and various celebrity role models (there seems to be a new one every week). She also ends up fighting a lot of female villains – most notably, Queen Beryl, She Of The Incredibly Pointy Shoulder Pads.
But most important of all, she has several very close female friends, some of whom know about her secret identity and help her on her quest. These friendships – particularly those with the other Sailor Scouts – go through the normal fluctuations that any teenage friendship goes through: sometimes they fight, sometimes they cry, sometimes they just get really silly and talk about crushes for hours on end. But there’s always a consistent depth of feeling and support in all these friendships – unlike some other media about teenage girls, which can often depict teenage female friendship as being fundamentally shallow and meaningless. That’s never the case in Sailor Moon – you know that these girls will be friends for literally millennia.
FINAL SCORE: 8.5/10
Sailor Moon is a young girl who struggles against her weaknesses, has a wide range of relationships with other female characters and who consistently drives the plot forwards through her actions and decisions. While she can be a little inconsistent and is never completely in control of her situation, she’s a character who represents strength on her own terms and, frankly, is one of the best role models that a young girl can have. She helped shape my childhood (although Sailor Jupiter was actually my favourite) and she’s certainly passed my test.
Next week, I’ll be looking at Avatar: The Last Airbender. Katara, I’m coming for you.
And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.