Join the Manga Bookshelf bloggers and special guest Michelle Smith in our spontaneous Sailor Moon squee roundtable!
MJ: As most of our readers probably have heard, the big news yesterday in the manga blogosphere was that Kodansha USA is re-releasing Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon. I was pretty excited when I got the press release (there may have been a caps-locked e-mail), but I admit when I examine that, I’m not exactly sure why.
I’m thrilled at the prospect of being finally introduced to a series that was so key in bringing shoujo manga to the US, but beyond that I’m a little bit lost. My only personal experience with the series is a couple of episodes of the anime adaptation that Michelle showed me last year, and from that alone, I don’t feel like I have any real basis for understanding why the series means so much to its American fans.
I think Kate may be in a similar position, so I’m hoping that our squeeful cohorts can shine some light on the subject. Why do you love Sailor Moon, and why will we?
DAVID: I should jump in and admit that my familiarity with the series is entirely based on the anime, though I was quite charmed by it. This was decades ago when it would just randomly be aired on those third-tier non-networks, and I was always game for a half an hour with these girls. This might have been because I was a huge fan of super-hero teams at the time and had a particular weakness for super-heroines who also had rich emotional lives.
While I always loved comics like The Avengers and The Uncanny X-Men, part of me always muttered about the fact that there were too many boys hogging the glory. Every team had its own version of “the girl,” and sometimes they’d even have two, but it was always clear that she was “the girl.” Sailor Moon was such a nice change of pace for that reason — all of the really important, powerful characters were girls, and they had lives outside of the big battles.
MICHELLE: It seems I’m the only one of us, then, who’s read the manga before (albeit with the help of fan-made translations). I was introduced to the anime first, specifically the third or ‘S’ season, and though I probably thought it was a little silly and episodic at first, I was new at the time to the concept of gender-bending characters, so fell hard for the allure of the older sailor senshi, Uranus and Neptune. Perhaps because it was one of the first shoujo anime I ever saw, it holds a very special place in my heart, and really exemplified—especially in its dramatic conclusion, at which all Sailor Moon seasons excel—how different that genre is from American cartoons.
The manga is fun, too, and definitely worth squeeing about, but in some ways I prefer the anime, especially as it allows more time with some of my favorite characters, like Fish-Eye (a villain from Super S) and the Sailor Starlights, and also plays up the flirtatious angle between Uranus and Neptune.
Rereading this response, it seems that I may love Sailor Moon primarily for its gender hijinks, but the drama really is the best part.
KATE: My interest in Sailor Moon is the same as MJ’s — as a historically important shojo manga that introduced a generation of female readers to Japanese comics. What little I’ve seen of the art suggests that I’ll probably be reading the manga as a historian more than a fan, as it’s the kind of wide-eyed, sparkle-riffic style that doesn’t really speak to me. I’m keeping an open mind, however, as the series’ gender politics sound genuinely subversive.
I’m glad that Kodansha decided to re-issue the series. The nostalgia factor will undoubtedly fuel sales, especially among women who want to share Sailor Moon with daughters and nieces, but I also think there’s a new audience for Sailor Moon as well. As David points out, there’s still a dearth of stories about super-powered women (or girls) banding together to save the day. When I was eight or ten years old, that kind of fantasy would have had irresistible appeal, as it was never much fun to fight with female friends over who got to play the token female character when we re-enacted the latest Superfriends episode or favorite scenes from Star Wars.
MJ: I’d love to hear more about the gender politics, actually, should anyone care to elaborate. Squee optional.
MICHELLE: Jason Thompson talks some about that in his excellent piece on Sailor Moon for his House of 1000 Manga column. To quote him:
“But amazingly, years later, when I reread Sailor Moon, I realized it’s actually not even that shojo. Oh sure, it’s got hearts and kisses and accessories, but it’s also got a heavy dose of shonen manga, from the melodramatic fights and deaths and reincarnations to the earth-shattering explosions to the touching friendships. Sailor Moon is shojo for the era of Dragon Ball Z and Saint Seiya. The heroines of series like Wedding Peach and Tokyo Mew Mew can’t match the Sailor Scouts for self-discipline and steely fighting power. By the standards of magical girl manga, that ever-popular genre of manga which is part girl power and part short skirts and pink things, Sailor Moon is butch.”
Plus, in this case it’s the “hero” of the piece, Sailor Moon’s boyfriend, who is chiefly there to look handsome and be rescued.
KATE: That low, throaty sound you just heard? That’s me squeeing. Sign me up!
MJ: I’m with Kate!
Though, interestingly, as a big fan of 1980s & 90s shoujo, I have to say I already associate things like melodramatic fights, deaths, reincarnations and so on with shoujo manga. I guess those things are less common now (at least in the titles we see coming over), but when I think of the stuff that defines “shoujo” for me, those things are a big part of it. Glancing at the section of my bookshelf that is populated with titles from Viz’s old shôjo imprint (Banana Fish, Basara, Please Save My Earth, X/1999), they’re filled with elements like that.
All of you are more knowledgeable about manga history than I am–where does Sailor Moon fall in terms of the evolution of shoujo in Japan?
DAVID: I don’t know that it broke any new ground, but Paul (Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics) Gravett credits it with revitalizing the magical-girl genre, which is pretty significant when you consider how much of a staple that genre is, especially in terms of the kind of books that got licensed in the early wave of manga in translation. And it’s generated an enduring franchise, with all kinds of spin-offs and a merchandising empire. Again, that’s not unique, but properties that manage that are always worth noting.
MJ: That’s a great point, David.
Let’s talk magical girl for a moment… I admit it isn’t my favorite shoujo genre. In fact, I can only think of one manga title in that vein I genuinely love. In some ways, I think that is probably what makes Sailor Moon a tougher sell with me (outside of its historical significance) than other older shoujo might be. Do I have a skewed view of the genre?
MICHELLE: I don’t think so, at least given what’s been made available here. Compared to something saccharine like Tokyo Mew Mew, for example, Sailor Moon is by far the better series. Compared to something like Cardcaptor Sakura, though… That’s a tougher choice.
I will say that, while in other series the whole “donning the costume” bit is usually cheesy, I kind of love it whenever it happens in Sailor Moon. I can’t really explain why. In this series, I like their different-colored costumes and various powers, whereas in other series I couldn’t possibly care less. Is some of this nostalgia speaking? Quite possibly. I’m not sure how this would play to a seasoned manga reader who is encountering it for the first time.
DAVID: I think those transformations are so important, like the ones in the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman. Instant, empowering makeover, style plus power.
KATE: For me, my reluctance to embrace magical-girl manga is a direct reflection of the advanced age at which I started reading comics. I found tough, adult women more appealing as avengers, enforcers, and butt-kickers than teenage girls because they were a lot closer to me in age than the heroines in Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura.
MICHELLE: If you want tough, determined enforcer types, then you will probably like Sailor Uranus. I mean, these aren’t just a bunch of girls in cute, matching outfits. They have individual personalities, though I do think these are probably more fully explored in the anime. Some of the girls are more frivolous (Minako is actually more serious in the manga, if I recall rightly), but the older senshi in particular are pretty poised and mature. One of them is a college student studying physics, for example.
KATE: That’s good to hear, Michelle! The few magical girl manga I’ve read just made me feel hopelessly old, you know?
MJ: I’m glad you mentioned age, Kate, because though I find I still personally identify with my long-gone teenaged self much more than a woman my age should, I think my age might have something to do with my reaction to most magical girl manga. I’m ashamed to say, though, that even more of it may have to do with the point Michelle and David brought up, and that would be… the clothes. Heh.
This is something I’m struggling to reconcile in myself, actually. I look at this cover, for instance, and I have two negative reactions immediately. One is to seeing a character I know is supposed to be a warrior of sorts in a tiny little skirt, and the other is to the use of the word “pretty.” There’s a part of me that really hates for these things to be important. I know none of this is unique to magical girl manga (or even manga in general) and it’s not that I have a problem with style. I just want it to be less important than other things. Yet, I know that when I was a young girl, I would have loved that little skirt and thought it was the prettiest thing in the world! I also actually quite like the color pink. I’m a mess of contradictions, really. But is it just me?
DAVID: Obviously not. I contradict myself constantly. And I’ll do so again by saying I’d love to see a josei take on this genre.
KATE: Oh no — me, too, MJ! I love me a nice dress and pair of shoes as much as the next gal, but my inner warrior chafes at popular entertainment that unironically packages strength, intelligence, and competence in frills and sparkles. At the same time, however, I’d have to concede that looking good can be a powerful confidence-booster. Even though I dress like a slob when I go for a run, I always make an effort to look smartly coordinated when I participate in a road race.
I guess I’m a confused hypocrite, too.
MICHELLE: Does it help if I say these girls aren’t sexualized at all even though they wear these outfits? And it’s Sailor Moon who declares herself pretty. It’s kind of empowering, actually.
MJ: Michelle, that does help a bit. And David and Kate, I’m grateful to hear I’m not the only self-contradictory soul in the room. David, I love the idea of a josei “magical woman” series. That’s something we really haven’t seen over here have we? Would you put Wonder Woman in the western version of that category? Or is she too much written for male readers?
MICHELLE: Oh, I’d love to see a josei magical woman series. There’d be so many extra complications. I think Fumi Yoshinaga should write it.
KATE: I love the idea of josei Wonder Woman — I would totally read that!
Actually, Wonder Woman’s costume is just as absurd as the Sailor Moon girls’, though I loved Jim Lee’s recent WW makeover. Her new outfit is sleek and sexy, but still conveys WW’s physical strength. Plus it actually looks like something that a real female athlete could wear while she was running or jumping, something I can’t say for most superhero or magical-girl costumes.
MJ: I think one of the things that always gets me about these types of costumes is all the bare flesh. And I don’t mean that in terms of how revealing they might be. I just keep thinking how horribly scraped and bloodied up a person would get, fighting with bare legs. Human skin is so fragile!
MICHELLE: I seem to recall them getting scraped up a little, but most of the enemies’ attacks are of the energy-draining variety, so there’s very little close combat going on.
DAVID: I have to admit that I always found the battles in the anime to be amusingly baffling. Maybe it’s because I didn’t watch it from start to finish in a coherent order, but the combat moves, the announcing of everything that was happening, the sparkly visual effects… I’m obviously used to that sort of thing now, but back then, it was almost hallucinogenic.
KATE: Switching gears a bit, do you agree with me that there’s a new audience out there just waiting to discover Sailor Moon, or is its appeal strictly nostalgic? If there is a new audience for Sailor Moon, do you think the series will play a critical role in bringing new readers to the medium again, or will it be a blip on the manga radar?
DAVID: I was wondering the same thing, but one thing I’ve noticed in the responses I’ve seen to the news is excitement over the chance to give it to a new generation of readers. It seems like there’s an army of Sailor Moon fans from its original run waiting to hand it off to their daughters and nieces and little sisters and so on. I don’t know if that guarantees commercial success, but I think it will help. And the fact that this is a different, by all accounts more attractive package with a sure-to-be-excellent translation from William Flanagan suggests to me that the original audience will also be going back to the well.
kATE: I also wonder if Sailor Moon will look too dated to teens — the artwork in Sailor Moon isn’t as radically different from what VIZ and Tokyopop are licensing now as, say, Swan or From Eroica With Love, but it definitely has its own look and feel. Teens tend to be pretty ruthless critics when it comes to judging manga artwork, especially if the characters’ clothing or hairstyles obviously belong to another era.
MJ: I’d like to think there could be a new audience. Tween girls in particular I think would be less turned off by the series’ dated look than teens might. I know I never noticed things like that when I was their age. Those girls would be its best chance of bringing new readers to the medium, I think. The other new audience is perhaps readers like you and me, Kate, who missed out on the manga when it was released by Tokyopop, and would be looking at it as a significant historical specimen. But we’re already manga readers, of course.
DAVID: I know I pick on her a lot, but Arina Tanemura’s manga seems to do okay with a contemporary audience, and I don’t think her aesthetic is that far away from Naoko Takeuchi’s, though Takeuchi’s seems to possess more clarity. (It would have to.) It does raise the good question of whether or not to brand the book as a classic, relatively speaking. “Your mom loved it when she was your age” may not be the best incentive for certain consumers.
KATE: Good point — a lot of Tanemura’s hardcore fans love her primarily for her distinctive artwork and elaborate costume designs, so maybe the art will be a selling point for Sailor Moon.
MICHELLE: Somehow I missed the fact that William Flanagan is doing the translation! Now I’m even more excited!
I, too, would hope that the influence of mothers and other fans upon the younger generation will help guide them in that direction. The beautiful new covers, too, ought to help temper the more dated interior artwork, and make the series something that beckons from the shelf.
MJ: I know when I was young, the secret to “classics” for me was to discover them myself. I might not have loved something that adults were actively pushing on me, but if I found it in the library or a box in the basement, that was pure gold. Obviously these books aren’t going to be in the basement, but if just a few tweens and teens discovered them on their own, they’d be the best ambassadors to other girls their age.
Before we wrap up, I’d like to open the floor for any general squee that’s been suppressed here in this very orderly, grownup conversation. Got any?
MICHELLE: I think I pretty much exhausted my supply of squee yesterday, like when I proposed marriage (bigamy, really) to Kodansha on Twitter, but I admit that I am really looking forward to how others are going to react to this manga. I hope I haven’t hyped it up too much because, again, it’s not flawless or anything, but it really is fun. I’m especially keen to see the reaction to those incantations David mentioned, because some of them are… special. My own beloved Seiya has a doozy in “Star Serious Laser,” but there is one that surpasses that which I will allow you two to discover on your own.
Okay, in thinking about that, I found a hidden reserve of squee. Here goes: OMG, THE SAILOR STARLIGHTS!
MJ: Okay, given what I’ve already said in this discussion, I am definitely not supposed to love those outfits. BUT I DO.
MICHELLE: I love the Starlights so much that even when I thought I had calmed my squee, they proved me wrong.
DAVID: I just want to say that I was uninspired by Kodansha’s initial announcements, but this gives me reassurance that they’re going to be ambitious from time to time, and that makes me squee.
KATE: I’m not much for squeeing, but I’m also delighted that Kodansha is digging into its back catalog; it gives me hope that they’ll take a risk on even older material like Haikara-san ga Toru.
MICHELLE: And, actually, maybe Sailor Moon will help fund some less commercially successful titles, like a continuance of Nodame Cantabile, perhaps! And I’ll still hold out hope for Hataraki Man.
MJ: I share all your hopes, indeed. Thanks everyone, for joining me in this conversation today!