Sailor Moon was/is a cultural phenomenon. The original manga ran from 1991 to 1997 and was written by Naoko Takeuchi. It’s noted in the United States for its spot in Cartoon Network’s Toonami block, which originally aired weekday afternoons in the late 90s/early 00s. The story, based on one of Takeuchi’s other mangas, tells the story of Usagi Tsukino, a middle school student in Tokyo. One day, after rescuing a strange cat, she receives magical powers and must fight the forces of evil. Over time, she gains allies and additional powers, eventually uncovering a number of secrets.
Although Sailor Moon stopped airing on Cartoon Network ages ago, it still retains popularity. In 2012, Kodansha and Toei Animation revived the anime, this time sticking much more closely to the plot of the manga (read: no filler). Its continued popularity has it, and the remake, Sailor Moon Crystal, as a staple on Hulu, and there are additional plans for movies to continue where Crystal leaves off.
So, the popularity is undeniable. Sailor Moon in many ways helped to bring and popularize anime in America. It also helped define the Magical Girl genre. Now, with its resurgence, new dubs have been commissioned that stick closer to the original Japanese and include the content American broadcasters chose to leave out (i.e. Death and Lesbians). It’s become a worldwide phenomenon once again, thanks to the internet, nostalgia culture, and its 20th Anniversary back in 2012. Just this year, Japan’s Miss Universe contestant wore a Sailor Moon costume for her country’s national attire, and most US-raised millennials have at least heard of the show.
Recently, I finally sat down and finished watching Sailor Moon Crystal‘s season 3, which I had been meaning to do for some time. I watched it dubbed, and watched the same arc (and additional episodes) of the new dub of the original show. (Both use the same voice actors, which is the best!) They both do great things, promoting girl power, love, and friendship but which is better? Let’s look at the pros and cons.
+Emphasizes friendship over all: many of the battles are solved thanks to Usagi’s faith in her friends and vice versa. This promotes friendship as being a more important relationship than whether or not you have a man. There’s already so much pressure from popular culture to find a significant other, that this was rather progressive, especially in the 90s.
-Male romantic lead Mamoru Chiba is depicted as being in college, whereas in the original he was a high school student. Usagi is fourteen. Culturally, there are some aspects to relationships in Japan that are different from the US, but… ick. Also, considering how little Usagi matures during the course of the series, I’m confused about what they could have in common.
+/- Filler. Filler is the term used to describe episodes that do not serve to move the plot forward. This could be episodes that feature an adventure that has nothing to do with the current conflict (Inuyasha), drag out an action (Dragon Ball Z), or create more villains and more space between events (Sailor Moon). It’s often done so that the manga can catch up to the anime (which was the case for all three examples above).
Now, whether or not filler is a good thing is really very subjective. In Sailor Moon the filler allows us to see Usagi work independently for longer before gaining teammates and has the fun of the ‘villain of the week’. Without this filler, as is the case with Crystal, the story moves much more quickly. While this felt a little rushed to me, it is consistent with the manga and I feel like American TV is only just starting to move away from villain of the week, to something more concise and (often) of higher quality. So, that’s simply what I’m used to. There are other examples of filler where we get glimpses into the character’s life outside of the conflict, which I find fun and interesting, but there’s also filler that has you hitting your head against the wall.
+/- As I said above, the remake sticks much more closely to the original, with only 13 episodes per season. It moves the story much more closely and is able to go into great depth on the more significant plot lines and character relationships that might fall by the wayside when the hero continues to have incredibly repetitious battles. It also forces creators to use the time more wisely so choices are more significant.
– Greater emphasis on romance. While love and friendship solve many of the problems in the original anime, in this adaptation it’s often the eternal love between Usagi and Mamoru that saves the day. While this is closer to the manga, I feel like it perpetuates the idea the romantic relationships are the most important thing and that you cannot be happy/complete without one. In the manga, this is counterbalanced by some Usagi’s teammates, who make it clear that a romantic relationship is not what they want or need. In Crystal, however, even her teammates experience the pain of love lost in a way that parallels some of what Usagi goes through.
+ Mamoru Chiba begins the series in high school. Although he moves on to college eventually, it’s around the same time Usagi starts high school. Again, I know there are cultural difficulties and age of consent, but beyond the ick factor, this just seems more believable. It’s difficult to imagine a middle schooler (especially how Usagi is portrayed in the original) as having the kind of maturity that would entice a college student. Here, they relate to each other better.
+/- Usagi changes more. I called this a pro and a con because while it was nice to see her mature and witness her journey, with fewer episodes, the emotional growth of the character felt more rushed and less believable. Again, it forced creators to make other choices for both comedic and dramatic moments.
+ Better addresses queer audiences. In the original anime, the relationship between Michiru Kaioh and Haruka Tenoh is much more subtle. In the original dub, they tried to explain it as them being cousins, but now, having watched something closer to the original, I can safely say that this lesbian relationship is something they don’t talk about explicitly. In Crystal, the relationship is made clear. Now, this is 20 or so years later, so the culture has changed, but it was nice to see them not dancing around it.
Also, in the original there is a key aspect of Haruka that is not explicitly expressed. In the manga, she is described as being trans or non-binary. This is not mentioned at all in the original anime, while in Crystal it is stated outright, explained to Usagi and co. It’s a really lovely moment that examines the duality of her nature more closely and a realization that is met with acceptance above all else.
Okay, so which is better? Am I blinded by nostalgia goggles… No. I will argue that it really depends on what you are looking to watch!
Crystal is the truest adaptation of Naoko Takeuchi’s vision. If you want to get the story quickly, you should watch Crystal. If you want something more serious with greater character growth, Crystal. If you want to see a romance that makes more sense, then Crystal is the way to go. It is important to note, however, that the current season ends on a cliffhanger to the next arc. While the next arc has been announced as movies, a release date is not available at this time. But, all three seasons are available both subbed and dubbed.
The original Sailor Moon anime has the nostalgia factor, yes, but there’s more than that. Animators created story aspects that simply don’t exist outside the anime. It moves much more slowly than the remake, with its monster-of-the-week format, but has a lot more episodes as a result. So if you’re looking for something to last you a while and not require a lot of focus, this is the adaptation for you. If you are curious about why this show appealed to so many, then absolutely watch it, but be prepared for some repetitiveness. But you’ll also see friendships and the power of friendship at the forefront. The last arc, Stars has never been dubbed into English, and also deviates more from the manga as they were being released at the same time. All of the original Sailor Moon anime is available subbed, and seasons 1-4 are available dubbed dubbed. (If you look around, you can find the original American-ized version, too!)