sailor moon

The Queen’s Gambit and what we talk about when we talk about “anime”

Prior to watching the latest Netflix thing that everyone is talking about, The Queen’s Gambit, it was pitched to me by several people as “basically an anime.” Half of the time I saw someone talking about it on social media, or heard one of my friends chatting about it, The Queen’s Gambit was placed side-by-side with an anime-style narrative. I even joked about this myself, saying that it was Shion no Ou — a psychological thriller anime series about a girl who plays shogi — with substance-abuse issues.

The Queen’s Gambit isn’t the first live-action television series that has been compared to anime, nor is it the most frequently-referenced piece of media in a side-by-side comparison. In my esports travails, “anime” often becomes a short-cut for a specific type of narrative, usually in reference to a scrappy upstart team or player making their unlikely way through a gauntlet of strong challengers. Elizabeth Harmon, the wide-eyed lead of The Queen’s Gambit, follows a similar narrative, albeit with a lot more nuance, especially when it comes to her being a prodigious woman in a remarkably male-dominated field. (Watch the show. It’s good.) The constant comparisons of The Queen’s Gambit to anime television series also offer a framework for discussing what we mean when we talk about “anime” in the west, why it’s referenced as a narrative framing device when it’s actually a medium, and maybe a bit of pleading on my part to use a different comparison.

Is The Queen’s Gambit anime?

Are esports anime?

Why ask questions with such a seemingly obvious answer?


[Three] A Sailor Iron Mouse appreciation post (and early Takuya Igarashi and Junichi Sato) — Sailor Moon Sailor Stars

When you’re a hot-shot television producer but you forget your business cards so you just end up yelling.


[Twelve] VHS tapes and DVDs in Harvard Square — Sailor Moon: Sailor Stars

Pour one out for Mamoru Chiba’s eye.

Last year, I began a full and complete rewatch of one of my favorite anime series, Sailor Moon. This year, I finally finished it.

I’ve previously waxed poetic on why I love Sailor Stars despite it being a bit of a disjointed mess. I’ve also written about how it’s inspired other anime visually — like the blocking of the Puella Magi Madoka Magica finale. This post isn’t about that.

Instead, it’s about another facet of why Sailor Stars is my favorite Sailor Moon season. Outside of the typical factors we use when rating anime — sensible things like animation quality, production, narrative coherency, overarching themes and symbolism — the circumstances and context of how we watched it and who with frame our emotional attachment. Nostalgia is a powerful feeling, and no other anime season inspires it in me quite like Sailor Stars due to how ridiculously difficult it was for me to watch it.


[Ten] To my younger self, in defense of Rei Hino — Sailor Moon

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.