Before ubiquitous personality tests sorted people into houses belonging to a certain British magical boarding school, there was still anime. Sailor Moon used established, color-coded sentai archetypes and applied them to its five heroines of the first season as shortcuts for their personalities, or even slight variations on the established sentai status quo.
Like any Sailor Moon fan growing up in the early 2000s, I wanted to be like the sailor soldiers, but I wasn’t an Usagi. If anything, I was probably an Ami, stashing books under my pillow at night, keeping my nightlight on because I was “afraid of the dark” and waiting until the final light was flicked off out in the hallway to read books when I was supposed to be sleeping. In my dreary days stuck at home with pneumonia, I wished to be Hotaru, with the dark power of ending the world in my chuunibyou hands.
Usagi, despite her many flaws, was someone who I wanted to be — kind, gregarious, and with a natural ability to make friends. I valued Usagi’s personality more with each passing episode, until impassioned words from those closest to her brought the true value of her love for others into sharper focus, something I could then express into words. Even if I didn’t know how to make friends or keep friends myself, here was a roadmap of how it should look like, what caring for a friend, especially other young women, could look like.
Ami, I identified with. Usagi was a goal. Makoto — Lita, since I was on a strict diet of the English dub until I was allowed freer reign on the internet — was cool, someone who I wanted to be with, if I was being completely honest with myself at the time (I wasn’t). Minako, or Mina, was someone I admired. I ignored Rei, thinking at times that she was too perfect and overly mean to Usagi for no reason.
Now rewatching the entire first season of Sailor Moon for the first time, Rei Hino/Sailor Mars is now one of my favorite characters in the entire franchise.
Rei is a gigantic dork.
Somewhere between envying Usagi’s powers of friendship and somehow wanting to end up with Makoto, I missed the many, many nods to the fact that Rei is just as, if not more, hapless than Usagi at times. Like Usagi, she frequently cannot contain her overeagerness, be it for Tuxedo Mask/Mamoru Chiba. Rei really only reigns it in if Usagi is present so Rei can prove just how much more mature she is than Usagi. She is petty. Rarely cruel, but certainly willing to lord her latest victory over Usagi’s head. Fights with Usagi devolve into the two young women sticking out their tongues and making weird noises, jostling each other while the rest of the sailor soldiers try to ignore them both.
What I never realized as a child was that Usagi draws out this dorky side of Rei because of how deeply they grow to care about each other. Rei puts up emotional walls to block out most people, and Usagi smashed through them all with ease. I don’t buy into the saying that those who fight the most truly love each other the most, but in this specific case, it’s Rei meeting Usagi where she is, finally letting that guard down and allowing her to be her immature self.
There are myriad moments where the nuances of Rei’s character guide Usagi through the first season of Sailor Moon. My personal favorites all come after the discovery that Usagi is the moon princess, as Rei struggles with her genuine feelings for Mamoru. In that moment — despite the creepiness and asshole nature of Mamoru in general — my heart went out to Rei, who felt like she had to sort through her own feelings in silence in order to support Usagi through the same revelation and similar heartbreak. This is where it becomes abundantly clear that Rei would do anything for Usagi. The series reiterates this again and again, showing that Usagi returns Rei’s trust with her own. When making their way towards Queen Metallia and the final battle, it’s Rei who is the last sailor soldier at Usagi’s side.
Where my immature self couldn’t grasp the true greatness of Rei Hino, my adult self gravitated towards her more than any other character. Rei isn’t perfect. Many of Rei’s gripes about Usagi could easily be slights at her own personality. Rei can be immature, petty, and mean. But, at the end of the day, her love for Usagi shines through above all else, making her a guiding light for the others, and Usagi, to follow.