As “Sailor Moon Crystal” finishes up its 26-episode run, the response from Western fans has been mixed. Depending on who you ask, the anime series is either a smashing success or an animation disaster.
On one hand, fans of the series were excited to see an adaptation that remained faithful to the original manga. Other fans were less-than-impressed with the animation style as well as the one-episode-every-two-weeks airing schedule.
— AuroraPeachy (@AuroraPeachy) June 20, 2015
However, digging deeper, the anime is more than just a cartoon for adolescents and provides powerful insights about gender identity.
In a comment left on the popular Anime News Network site, one Sailor Moon Crystal fan called Lycorius says:
The reason I love Sailor Moon is because it opened the entire universe to me. When the Sailor Soldiers visited the moon, I realized that Earth was surrounded by the mystery of space. I became dedicated to learning about astronomy and space exploration, and have pursued a career in aerospace engineering. Today, I help scientists send their experiments to the International Space Station. Sailor Moon gave me more than strong female role models; it also helped inspire my career with the stars.
Sailor Moon Crystal is the hotly anticipated animated reboot of Takeuchi Naoko’s beloved shojo manga series Sailor Moon. Sailor Moon debuted as a manga, or comic book, in 1991. The comic was quickly adapted into one of the most popular anime series of all time.
The 2015 Sailor Moon Crystal reboot marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of the original anime, and is intended to remain true to storyline of the original comic book, stripping away much of “non-canonical” elements found in the 1990s anime adaption.
Sailor Moon Crystal tells the story of a girl named Usagi who has the ability to transform into a warrior of love and justice.
Generally speaking, shojo (少女 or “girl”) manga encompasses comics and cartoons created especially with adolescent and teenage girls in mind. While shojo manga covers no single genre, it differs from its counterpart shonen (boys) and seinen (youth) manga in terms of visual style and by addressing romantic topics and emotions.
The two Sailor Moon series are further classified as maho shojo (魔法少女), a type of fantasy anime that generally features a young girl, between the ages of 8-14, who is given the ability to transform into a “cute” alter ego with magical powers to save the world from a dastardly foe.
— The Fandom Post (@fandompost) June 15, 2015
In addition to looking both cute and fierce at the same time, the heroine experiences spiritual growth and maturation — in other words, the magic helps her learn how to grow up.
The popularity of shojo manga such as Sailor Moon is not limited to Japan. In the West, magical girl anime, especially Sailor Moon, paved the way for the introduction of anime and manga outside of Japan.
— SuperheroesInColor (@HeroesInColor00) June 14, 2015
Fans outside of Japan say Sailor Moon has allowed them to experiment and sometimes transform their identity.
…Sailor Moon gave me the strength to face any challenge with my head held high – even when I was told I had no place in this fandom because of the color of my skin. (Sailor Moon) taught me the importance of equality, acceptance and unwavering optimism.
Over the past 20 years since the debut of the original series and now with the reboot, millions of young women and men around the world have become devoted fans, spawning in some cases dedicated “fansub” sites and more.
In “What I Learned About Gender and Power from Sailor Moon,” Soleil Ho, writing for Bitch magazine, says:
Sailor Moon isn't just fighting aliens, but a world of adults who want to destroy everything beautiful in girls. In order to save the people she loves, she fights and gets hurt and breaks down and even completely fails at times. And when she can manage it, she tries to save the monsters, too.
Rose Bridges, also writing for Bitch, says:
The series also makes a point of showing a wide variety of personalities, interests and gender expressions among the Senshi (戦士, warrior). From bookish Ami (Mercury) to athletic Makoto (Jupiter) to artistic Michiru, there is a Senshi for every girl. Additionally, the series often makes a point of commenting on how the less traditionally feminine girls have trouble coping with gender roles, like how Makoto learned to cook because she was mocked for being a tomboy.
In Japan, the cultural significance of magical girls stems from their themes of empowerment and independence while retaining traditionally feminine traits.
For girls in Japan, Sailor Moon is the epitome of the Japanese concept of shojo, or girlishness. Sailor Moon has the freedom to pursue all that interests her and the spirit to overcome all obstacles along the way.
She is a visual testament to having it all — she is very close to her friends and protectors, the Sailor Senshi, and is devoted to her boyfriend Mamoru, who fights along side her as Tuxedo Kamen.
After 26 episodes, the Sailor Moon Crystal anime series has drawn to a close, but the magical girl genre isn’t stopping any time soon. While Sailor Moon walks the line between comical goodness and dark, mature themes, another popular magical girl series, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, explores the consequences of power, and has been dubbed “The Evangelion of Maho Shojo anime.”
If you want to explore anime, there are a wide variety of series airing in Japan and in the West via streaming sites such as Crunchyroll and Hulu. Themes vary, depending on the audience, and there is something for every taste.