I have been putting this off for far too long. In my defense, however, there’s nearly no way to go about this without insulting the older generation anime fans. MY generation. However, I feel like I might smash my head through a window if I don’t bleed out this poison.
But first, some ground rules. What this post is NOT:
This is not me griping about how the first TV series was perfect. It wasn’t.
This is not a comparison with the manga or saying one series was more or less faithful to it. This is an anime review blog, not a manga blog. I will not be talking about the manga here.
This is also not me posting about how much I hate Sailor Moon as a whole. I don’t. But I do have standards and I can’t help but analyze everything that crosses my path. A literature major’s curse.
Lastly, I had a third party who was not a Sailor Moon fan watch Crystal with me so I could ensure I wasn’t just making up reasons to dislike this version. I discussed all the points below with him in detail prior to writing this. So I had a pretty impartial soundboard double checking my work.
With that out of the way, let’s dig into the meat of this post: Sailor Moon Crystal is a waking nightmare for feminists.
Now, let me explain. Since my post on feminism in FMA, I’ve thankfully had far better experiences with my fellow feminists. Thus I’ve concluded that while some colleges have a terrifying and judgmental feminist community, all one must do is graduate and the problem is solved. Mostly. The thing of it is, academia has a bad habit of either taking things too far or missing the mark entirely (at least in my state such was the case). Thus what is often belted out as “feminist” rarely is, especially in media. And I’m sorry to report that Japan is far from exempt.
You see, back when the first version of Sailor Moon the TV series came out, it was simply a magical girl show. A rather revolutionary one, as it turned out years later, but at the time just one more transforming girl series. It did not profess itself to be feminist and, as a result, had little to live up to. Thus many were surprised by what they got out of the show, which, despite beginning slow and gentle, had some rather dark moments later on that cemented its status for more than a few fans in my generation. It even had a few instances of true empowerment, specifically concerning Usagi (the MC) defeating enemies and reaching a new level of power either on her own or with the aid of her female companions (friendship is magic, everyone), rather than through her male love interest. In fact, I often forgot Tuxedo Mask was even a character when I was a kid. More often than not his scenes could have been cut without changing the outcome of the fight. And I liked that. It was a show, the only show at the time, where all the characters were girls and they saved the world. As a kid I ate it up. And years later I can still respect that, although under analysis the show has some serious age spots here and there (the age gap between the main love interests, for example, is still rather disturbing).
Crystal, on the other hand, wasted no time in declaring itself to be feminist manna (just check out the English translation of the theme song). And thus, I’m sorry to say, this show pretty much set itself up for failure. Especially as more than a few of the positive aspects of the original TV series were changed into negative ones. Let’s tackle the most worrisome points one by one…
As an author, I’ve always struggled somewhat in explaining how to create unique characters to new writers. But one way that seems to work best is to give them this exercise: if you can switch around the characters’ dialog and your reader can’t figure out that there’s been a switch, your characters are not unique enough. Dialog shows, through diction and sentence structure, that character’s personality. So it stands to reason that what Character A said probably wouldn’t be exactly what Character B would say. And even if they both had the same idea, it’s unlikely they would phrase it the same way.
Yet the cast of Crystal were painful textbook examples of background voices trying to fill lead roles. All of Usagi’s friends (and sometimes Usagi herself) could have exchanged lines and no one would have been the wiser. While this is a crime many anime series commit these days, this show struggled with it the most as the characters in question were all leads and often all in the same scenes every episode. It was painfully difficult to keep the characters apart as they all acted nearly the same with very little variance.
All of this, in turn, impacted the relationships between these leads and the MC. For a show that advertises itself to be about love and friendship, let me tell ya: I probably have a more dynamic relationship with my reflection in the mirror than any of these characters have on screen. With such bland, limp personalities, each one unnervingly close to the next, there’s little real conflict and far less growth. Without these things, there’s little to make me concerned for their well being in a fight, making the battles that much more tasteless (which the poor animation was doing a good job at killing all by itself).
For a “girl power” show, they have one giant strike against them for painting all women with the same exact voice.
Here’s where the bulk of my bold dislike for this show comes from. In a show where the entire main cast is female, and nearly all the female leads have powers, one would think the point of said show would be for said women to be independent. For their good deeds and accomplishments to be their own.
Sadly, that is not the case in Crystal. Instead, Tuxedo Mask, the only steady male lead, not only saves the day on more than one occasion, but is also the main driving force for the MC’s motivation and “growth” as a hero. She often focuses her desires and goals onto this male love interest and when push-comes-to-shove in battle, he’s the one she leans on.
Now, considering he becomes her boyfriend (and will marry her in the future), that in itself isn’t tooooo bad. What makes this toxic is the fact that she has an entire cast of female friends. All of whom are often completely forgotten in light of her “love” for the male lead. Not only that, but when more power to defeat the enemy is needed, that power also comes -not from her many friends!- but solely from this male character. In other words, she is dependent upon him to win. The fact that her “power ups” (when her abilities as a superhero grow to the next stage) are always direct results of her love for this male character and often have nothing at all to do with her friends, just makes things all the worse.
For a bit of perspective on how bad this dependency became over time, leading up to the conclusion of season one, my friend completely forgot, more than once, about Usagi’s friends. And I must admit that I faired little better on that end. After all, they didn’t impact the MC’s story all that much, so why remember them? The fact that they had no strong presence made it all the worse…
Although plot-wise this wasn’t as big of a concern, there’s no good way to ignore how bad this issue was throughout. While the Sailor Moon franchise has always towed a fine line by having fourteen year old girls fetishized (an issue that deserves its own post), Crystal took it one huge step further when Chibi Usagi came into the picture. Besides the strange and disturbing plot elements that kept throwing her and her own father together in couple-like situations, Chibi Usagi was also, on more than one occasion, shown in a sexual manner. In one scene specifically she was shown in a white t-shirt that was see-through. And she had some very detailed curves. Considering that I occasionally work with children that are around this character’s age myself, this scene made me feel ill. My male friend was by no means comfortable with this either. In fact, he was enraged. While anime at large is a constant offender at fetishizing the female form, occasionally bringing children in on it, the fact that Crystal, a show professing to be feminist, stooped so low is disgusting.
No show, no matter the hype or nostalgia, has a free pass to stylize elementary school kids as sex objects. And, in the end, it was this point which tipped this show into the discard pile for me, leading me to stop watching at episode 26, a decision I’ve yet to regret.
And while I, to this day, watch and review shows that could be called worse than this one (stay tuned for my Monday review of Wolf Girl for more on that), the fact that this show tried to market itself as “feminist” and “girl power” while containing the opposite was -clearly!- not ok with me.
All that said, at the end of the day, it’s always your choice what to watch and what to like. This post is not a judgment against anyone who loves this show, a point I want to make very clear.
This was simply my own opinion on this show. The Devil’s advocate, if you will.
Although…. considering that last section up there… I wonder if it’s truly the “Devil’s” side I’m on…..