Sailor Moon is one of those quintessential anime that everybody has heard of, but almost nobody has actually seen. Old timers have vague memories of watching it on Toonami, and they’re plenty of Sailor Senshi fanart to be found, but only a few of us young’uns have bothered to sit down and learn what all the fuss was about. Well, as part of my rediscovery of retro anime, I decided to take the plunge. I was expecting something silly like Power Rangers, with a shallow story and a monster every week.
Funny thing is, Sailor Moon has a way of both fulfilling and subverting your expectations.
All the super sentai tropes are there, with great quantity and little deviation. Luna and Artemis, faced with a threat from the evil Dark Kingdom, recruit teenagers with attitude to form a team of color-coded warriors. These girls battle a neverending onslaught of weekly monsters using their stock-footage transformation scenes and elemental attacks, eventually challenging and defeating the ruler of the Dark Kingdom herself. In a nutshell, this is the show that defined the magical-girl tropes, for better or worse. It’s the pioneer, the trailblazer, the legendary matriarch whose influence is still felt today.
But Sailor Moon is much more than simply “Power Rangers in miniskirts.” Just when you’re getting comfortable with the nice, predictable rythm of weekly monster attacks and sparkly transformations, the show pulls the rug out from under you. The main villain stops sending monsters and attacks directly. The dark overlord starts slaughtering her generals for incompetence. The weekly monsters are no longer cannon fodder, but humans transformed against their will. One of the high-level demons falls in love with a human girl. Suddenly, the show takes a surprisingly dark turn towards bittersweet romance, drama, intrigue, and tragedy. Then, before you can say “whiplash,” you’re back to monster-of-the-week filler.
What’s the deal? This is just a kids show, right? Why the sudden, jarring influx of drama?
You see, Sailor Moon is that rarest of creatures… a kids show that isn’t condescending to its audience. You can put any colorful, noisy and meaningless thing on the boob tube, and your kids will enjoy it all the same. This phenomenon is constantly exploited by the likes of Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, who churn out an endless stream of cheap, vapid and ultimately profitable entertainment. But the folks behind Sailor Moon decided to go the extra mile, and create a show that was actually well-crafted. Despite their limited resources, they managed to make a quality anime, with great characters and a compelling story all ages can enjoy. Was it a masterpiece? No. But was good enough to become a legend.
Ultimately, Sailor Moon is like one of those old rickety wooden roller coasters. The material it’s constructed out of is archaic, but it’s still well-made and manages to throw some twists and turns your way. It’s a rough ride, but also a fun one. Maybe it doesn’t compare with those fancy new linear-accelerated steel coasters, but there’s something to be said for enjoying the classics. If you can endure all the creaking and bumping, you just might have a good time along the way. I certainly did.