A TV Entry – In the Name of the Moon

The reason I write about random stuff like television and movies that I like is so that you lovely readers will know more about what has influenced me as a writer.  If you share my influences, it is likely you will like my writing.  If you do not share my influences, well, I encourage you to try out my writing anyway.  Variety is the spice of life, and there are lots of things I didn’t used to like that now I like very much (avocados!).  Why is the stuff I watched as a kid important?  Because writers steal shamelessly.  Okay, that’s not quite fair, but people are the sum of their influences, consciously or not.

Also, it is interesting to find those old shows and movies I loved as a kid and re-watch them with an adult eye.  For me as a writer, it’s an exercise in how I have grown up, matured, and learned to be more critical of media.  Occasionally such an exercise makes me wonder about myself as a child.  I blame the sugary snacks the commercials kept trying to sell me.  Sometimes it turns out those old shows have more offer now that I’m an adult (chronologically anyway; mentally sometimes I am definitely still a child).  Sometimes they really do not have any more to offer.  And sometimes, wow, are there things that I really can’t believe got past the radar and are frankly a little uncomfortable as an adult.  But to criticize a media does not mean it cannot be enjoyed, hence guilty pleasures (like soap operas, for example).

Which brings me to the title of this entry.  One of my readers knows exactly what this is in reference to, but for everyone else who is clueless or is afraid this is what they think, I will confirm this – this is about “Sailor Moon.”  The television show, not the manga, which I have not actually read.  First, in my defense, I was a kid when I first watched this.  Second, it was only my second or third anime.  The first anime of course being “Voltron” (and wow is “GoLion” quite a different show…), and it was either this or “Ranma 1/2” that was my second/third anime.  I don’t actually remember.  I also like “Ranma 1/2” but I hate Happosai with the fires of a thousand burning suns and nearly as much as I hate Scrappy Doo, but that is a rant for another time.  Okay, disclaimers done.

The subtitled versions are 100x better than the sanitized American version (much like “GoLion” is 100x bloodier than the sanitized American version).  The subtitled versions are also a lot more honest and accurate.  For example, the very first episode in which the main character becomes the titular magical girl is dubbed as “A Moon Star is Born.”  The more properly translated title is “Crybaby Usagi’s Magnificant Transformation.”  There, in a nutshell, is the difference.

So for a quick plot recap – Usagi (a 14 year-old girl when the series starts) meets a talking cat named Luna who gives her a magic compact/brooch that turns her into Sailor Moon.  Later Usagi meets four other girls (Ami/Mercury [the smart one with water powers], Rei/Mars [the temperamental one with fire powers], Makato/Jupiter [the superstrong nice, feminine one with lightning powers], and Minako/Venus [the pretty one with energy beam/heart powers]) who also get transformed, and through various upgrades and adventures, they fight monsters and save the universe.  Repeatedly.  Also, Usagi meets and initially hates Mamoru, who is about 18 or 19 and in college and they end up dating.  Also, it turns out they are all reincarnated/reborn from a fantastic past in which Usagi was a princess of the moon and Mamoru a prince of the Earth.

Skeeviness alert – it’s pretty skeevy for a 14 year old middle school student (that’s right; she’s not even in high school) to end up dating a college student, even once the full story is told.  When I was a kid, I did not get this at all.  I was a kid.  I’m not expert on Japanese culture, but I’m guessing this doesn’t have the same kind of skeeve factor there.  So, there we go.  It’s there, and part of the story, and oddly something the American sanitized version didn’t manage to hide.  And yes, the skirts on the 14 year old heroines are too short.

Yes, it’s formulaic.  There’s a big bad with some long-running plot but each episode breaks down to fighting a monster of the day.  So what on Earth did I like about this show?  Well, when I was a kid, it was very different from the other cartoons on at the time.  The structure was different, the animation style obviously different, and also I was a kid.  I liked “He-man” and “She-ra” as well.  And “G.I. Joe.”  And “Transformers.”  Perhaps I simply have no taste.  The big mystery in the first part of the series (there are actually five series) is “who is Tuxedo Kamen” when it’s pretty obvious it’s Mamoru.  No, no one can figure out who anyone is even though they look exactly the same transformed (note to bad guys – do not find out anyone’s secret identity or you will be killed/otherwise disposed of in the very next episode [seriously; I tallied this once; death or worse is assured]).  To be fair, no one figured out He-man was just Prince Adam with a tan and a fur loincloth.  So why did I seek out this series as an adult and go through the effort to find subtitled versions and the un-aired on American television “Stars” series?  I thought it would be interesting.  And I still liked it well enough.  Here are some assorted reasons.

The Good:
1) My favorite character is Rei/Sailor Mars.  She is a shrine maiden who has psychic dreams, can perform divination/fortune-telling, and create charms to banish evil spirits and all of this is before she finds out she’s Sailor Mars!  She’s also bossy and abrasive and fights with Usagi all the time.  Despite that, she’s Usagi’s closest friend and when bad things are coming, Rei knows it first and Rei holds out the longest.
– I also like Sailor Saturn, but for different reasons.  She is terrifying.

2) My favorite set is “Sailor Moon S” in which the main core of five meet Sailors Uranus (don’t laugh; she will cut you [with her sword if she doesn’t crush you first]) and Neptune.  They are super-powerful compared to the other five girls (except Usagi, who is as powerful as she needs to be).  In the formulaic battles, the other girls generally soften up the monster of the day so Sailor Moon can finish it off.  Uranus (power of the sky) and Neptune (power of the ocean) just defeat it.  This series starts with Rei having a vision of the end of the world.  The plot is the main baddie is looking to create the Holy Grail (that’s what the subtitles say anyway) so that Mistress 9 can release an evil force to end the world.  Like all other baddies, they go about this by attacking human for their energy, or some variant of it, in this case “heart crystals.”  Uranus and Neptune (who are just in high school) are trying to stop this but end up opposing Sailor Moon and Co. because they think Sailor Moon and Co. are too weak to do whatever is necessary to save the world (and clearly they were just not paying attention to the two previous times Sailor Moon and Co. have already saved the world).  In the midst of this, Usagi and Mamoru’s daughter from the future Chibiusa (this makes more sense in context) comes back to learn to be a senshi and befriends the ill and mysterious Hotaru.  They also meet up with Sailor Pluto (yes, this was before Pluto lost its status as a planet), who is the oldest of the senshi in her human disguise as a college student and has the power of time (and unlike all the others carries a long staff roughly shaped like a key).  In the end, it’s revealed that Uranus and Neptune are not so concerned with the baddies ending the world, but that their efforts will cause Sailor Saturn (power of destruction) to awaken, remember her past, and destroy them all.

3) Usagi is a terrible superhero and at the time I found that quite the novelty.  She is absolutely terrible.  She’s clumsy, she’s whiny, she’s flaky, and her four friends are clearly more competent than she is in every single way.  Even Venus, who is far more flaky than the other three, because she had been Sailor V for so long, makes a better Sailor Moon than Usagi (there’s an episode where to protect Usagi’s identity the others dress Venus up as Sailor Moon [since she’s blonde] and she’s so good at it Usagi gets mad at her).  I know that Prince Adam is supposed to be bumbling and a flake, but once he’s He-Man, all that disappears.  Sailor Moon is still clumsy, whiny, and flaky.  The animation makes it clear that while the others gracefully dodge laser-blasts or whatnot, she’s barely getting out of the way or falling on her own head.  And it is hilarious in a very slapstick way.  She has her good points.  She is loyal and kind and can usually get her act together in the end.  And honestly, when it all comes down to it, she has the power.  Period, all stop.

4) The puns.  The names are pretty much all puns and if you know that Chibiusa’s real name, Usagi (yes, she’s named after her mother), means “rabbit,” then the fact the baddies in “Sailor Moon R” always called her “the rabbit” is funny.

The Bad:
1) Lousy American dubbing.  It is so obvious through the animation that Haruka/Uranus and Michiru/Neptune are a couple that the American dubbing of them as “cousins” doesn’t begin to be convincing and in fact makes it worse.  The dubbing also significantly changes some of the story and makes Rei seem much more petty than she is.  Also, Zoisite, a baddie in the first set, was dubbed as a female voice and it turns out Zoisite is actually a man.  But because Zoisite was pining after Malachite (a man), that had to be changed.  And one of the baddies in “Super S” was also a boy, but again had a female dubbed voice.  I will say that in “S” the baddies are referred to in the dubbed version as “Heart Snatchers” which makes more sense to me than “Death Busters.”  Also, Makato has “the most talent.”  Yes, indeed, she’s definitely more “talented” than the other four girls.

2) Lousy American dubbing trying to hide same-sex relationships and creating gender bending confusion (see above).  I should be grateful “Stars” was never dubbed (see below).  I have no idea how that would have worked out at all.

3) Sailor Moon Super S.  Ugh, that’s the series where Chibiusa takes the lead.  It has the longest transformation sequences (and I like the henshins), longest finishing moves, and ends up with a 10 year old girl promising to marry an 11 year old boy when she grows up.  Skeeviness aside, it’s roughly like giving Scrappy Doo control of the Scooby Doo series.  However, the episode “Usagi the Ninja” is pretty hilarious.

4) Naru and Nephrite.  Dubbed as Molly, Naru (Usagi’s 14 year old best friend) ends up infatuated with baddie Nephrite in the first set even though he’s pretending to be a thirty-something bored rich guy (he’s actually much older than that, so, ewwww all around).  Even after Nephrite reveals himself to be a baddie by stealing all of Naru’s energy, she still tells Usagi she loves him.  She is so hung up on this much older man who has told her flat out he’s a bad guy that she doesn’t let Sailor Moon kill him.  In the end, he saves her life by sacrificing his, which I suppose was supposed to make it okay, but does not.

5) The American dubbers thought American kids were stupid.  Usagi and Mamoru actually had different names in their past lives.  When they remembered they used to be Serenity and Endymion, they sometimes called themselves that.  The American version never uses these names.  There is a point in the first set where Mamoru is captured by the baddies and has his memories erased and they call him Endymion.  Usagi meets up with him and calls him Mamoru, but he says he doesn’t know that name.  In the American version, Darien is called Prince Darien by the baddies, so it’s really weird when Serena calls him “Darien” and he says he doesn’t know that name.  I also had a hard time figuring out why the time-displaced Chibiusa never realized that Usagi and Mamoru had her parents’ names (she may not make the leap to them being her parents) until I realized that in the subtitled version, their future selves always go by Serenity and Endymion.  But apparently three names is just too much for American kids.  Also, the four inner planets clearly die at the end of the first set, but the American dub tries to hide this.  It does not work.

6) Padding.  Yeah, there was a lot of padding through the henshins and the attack sequences.  Much better on the computer where I can just skip ahead through that.

The Weird(est):
1) Sailor Moon Stars.  It’s actually a good set, but I know why it wasn’t imported.  The senshi run into a group call the Sailor Starlights, who are senshi from another galaxy looking for their equivalent of Sailor Moon, the Fireball Princess.  The Starlights (Star Healer, Star Fighter, and Star Maker) are girls in black bikini tops, short shorts, and sailor collars.  Their secret identities is the pop group the Three Lights (Yaten, Seiya, and Taiki).  Oh, and the Three Lights are boys.  The henshin makes it clear that while their faces/hair don’t change, their bodies clearly do.  Seiya ends up with a crush on Usagi even though s/he knows one day s/he’ll have to go back to being a girl full-time.

2) Hotaru’s fate.  At the end of “S,” Hotaru is given to her father to care for her.  This is quite touching.  Hotaru does not appear at all in “Super S” (actually, none of the outer planets do) but at the beginning “Stars” Setsuna/Pluto just walks up to Hotaru’s father and takes Hotaru away from him.  It’s really awkward.  I think in the manga he actually died, which would make more sense, although it doesn’t explain why the anime would change course so drastically.

3) Makato/Jupiter lives by herself.  She’s 14 when the series starts.  There’s a one-off character is who is a 15 year old girl who also lives by herself.  No one seems to think this is weird.  Cultural difference, I guess?

Such as they are, anyway.  I still go back and watch these occasionally.  I like the kind of visual spectacle of the henshins and finishing moves even though I know practically no one would stand still for the hero to do all that.  Yes, there are a lot of rainbows and hearts and butterflies and traditionally girly things, although sometimes there is a reason for that (if you watch the attack video, you’ll see how painful rainbows and hearts can be).  How has this influenced by writing?  I can’t say for sure it has, but I wouldn’t say it hasn’t.  Perhaps I simply have no taste, but I’m okay with that.  Also, the opening theme is really catchy.


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S. J. Drew is an aspiring writer who finally entered the blogosphere to shamelessly promote that writing (as evidenced by the title of the blog). Whether or not this works remains to be seen, but S. J. hopes you are at least entertained. And if you're actually reading this, that's probably a good sign.

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