Usagi Tsukino never really had a choice.
At the end of every day for the past three months, I’ve been watching a few episodes of the original season of Sailor Moon. Usagi Tsukino and her crew kept me company through many long nights in Busan, South Korea, at the busiest time of the year in my profession. Sometimes I was purposefully tracking Kunihiko Ikuhara or Takuya Igarashi’s specific episodes, trying to trace their directorial and visual styles. At others, I was simply basking in Usagi’s warm personality, relishing the friendships that she effortlessly made with the sailor soldiers — a quality that I’ve never once had in my lifetime.
Revisiting Sailor Moon has been a deeply personal experience. Like many others my age, Sailor Moon was my gateway into anime. Although I’ve seen most of these individual episodes countless times, I had not gone back and watched the entirety of the first season in its original Japanese until now.
Younger me missed a lot of what was actually happening in Sailor Moon.
In saying this, I don’t mean in the same way that “adult” jokes are peppered through Pixar films, or an inability to recognize same-sex relationships — sorry original English dub, there’s no way that “Amara” and “Michelle” were cousins. Instead, I missed the genuine emotional nuance to a lot of Usagi’s friendships, and additionally, her personal thoughts on the destiny that was unwillingly thrust upon her shoulders.
Sailor Moon touches upon Usagi’s reluctance to fight in her first-ever sailor moon transformation, allowing her to naturally find her own path through healing techniques in the latter half of the first season. Nearly every step of the way, Usagi whines and complains, even as she grows more competent. This is partially due to her own laziness but also, as shown through her natural healing abilities and real-life friendships, a optimistic belief in the good of all other people. Everything comes to a head when Usagi is discovered to be a reincarnation of the long-lost moon princess, Serenity, inheriting a fallen kingdom, a fated lover, and a head full of awful memories of her own demise.
The more we learn about Princess Serenity, her guards (the inner sailor soldiers), and her death, it becomes clear that there’s not all that much difference between Usagi and Serenity in terms of temperament. Despite Luna’s assistance to the contrary, Princess Serenity is not a stately, imposing figure, the perfect image of a princess. There’s a reason why Queen Serenity wanted her to live a normal life in her reincarnated future. Even Prince Endymion/Mamoru Chiba in one of his rare tolerable moments, tells her to go find a cool boyfriend and live a normal life. After saving the world from Queen Metallia in the first season, Usagi does just that: she wishes for an average morning that includes waking up late, failing her tests, and eating crepes on the way home from school.
On this rewatch, I felt Luna’s reluctance to revive Usagi’s memories far more affecting. Although it’s written into her first Sailor Moon R monologue as annoyance that the monster cardian forced their hand, the scene that comes before, tears bursting out of the corners of her eyes as she remembers everything, is depressing. There’s also shades of PTSD when she begs an anemic Makoto Kino/Sailor Jupiter (Makoto has just given blood to save a childhood friend) to go home and take care of herself. Usagi is someone who has seen each and every one of her friends die and it continues to affect her as she tries to live as normally as possible even with the weight of her memories. Yet she still has to fight.
The anime follows a standard monster-of-the-week tokusatsu format. It’s only natural to root for the sailor soldiers’ next power-ups, usually attached to poignant personal vignette and a possibly opportunity to sell an additional toy. As a child, I recognized that Usagi didn’t want to fight, but I obviously wanted to see her defeat the bad guys as sailor moon with the rest of her team. Power-ups were even better, because it meant cool new powers.
As an adult, I find myself wanting the cosmic powers that be to leave Usagi alone.
At the beginning of Sailor Moon R — the “Allen and Ann arc” that I once thought irredeemable — Usagi loses her transformation powers due to how scarred she is from fighting in the first season. She admits to Luna that she still wants to be a normal girl. The return of the silver crystal and her power-up then come from a bit of a compromise. Usagi still doesn’t want to fight, but more importantly, she doesn’t want her friends to get hurt and her new healing powers are born from this desire. The name of her new attack, “Moon Princess Halation” is also the first step towards accepting that Princess Serenity’s past is a part of her as Usagi Tsukino.