Sailor Moon S
based on the manga by Naoko Takeuchi
1994-1995 • 38 episodes • Toei Animation/Viz Media
Sailor Moon S had an odd journey to North America. You see, after the first two seasons of DiC’s dub performed so poorly in syndication, DiC just kind of dropped it. In fact, it kind of dropped it towards the end of Sailor Moon R, never finishing the season. But after Cartoon Network made Sailor Moon and Sailor Moon R a key part of Toonami, the show became more and more popular. DiC eventually bought and released the remaining episodes of Sailor Moon R, but it was Cloverway, the then American branch of the show’s production company Toei Animation, that produced the dubs of Sailor Moon S and Sailor Moon Super S, which ran on Cartoon Network. Sailor Moon Sailor Stars was never picked up for North American distribution, largely because of that season’s gender trouble.
I tend to think of Sailor Moon as a very cohesive whole, like a lot of manga and anime franchises, so it’s a little jarring to realize just how it trickled into North America, where it had such a sizable impact. As much as I’m mildly playing at revisiting my childhood by watching Sailor Moon at god awful in the morning while I get ready for work, I’m experiencing Sailor Moon in a way most English-speaking fans did not; I mean, I’ll actually get to watch an official subtitled version of Sailor Moon Sailor Stars.
Sailor Moon S continues the show’s tradition of moral complexity. This season’s major threat is the Silence, a world-ending event that will be brought about by the Messiah of Silence. As psychic Rei struggles whether or not she should share her premonitions with the rest of the Sailor Guardians, they find Tokyo targeted by the Death Busters, a group out to steal pure hearts to summon the Messiah of Silence, and two mysterious Sailor Guardians, Neptune (Michiru Kaioh) and Uranus (Haruka Tenoh), who are so hellbent on stopping the Silence that they’re willing to kill. Once the identity of the Messiah of Silence is discovered—one Hotaru Tomoe, Chibiusa’s new best friend—the show asks if it is right to kill one person to save the world.
And this question is asked over and over again. Usagi and the inner Guardians think it’s unspeakably immoral, but their unwillingness to harm or just investigate Hotaru puts a lot of people in harm’s way, as the Death Busters more more efficient and Hotaru herself begins, in unwitting thrall to the darkness inside of her, hurting people. She even kills one of the monsters of the week… who, despite her programming, showed her kindness by trying to help her during one of her fainting spells. Usagi is ultimately proven right, of course, but the show doesn’t accept it completely. She emerges from the final battle against the Silence deeply shaken. The season’s penultimate episode finds Usagi having to defeat Haruka and Michiru in physical combat to earn their loyalty. They just will not accept a future queen who is so, to their eyes, naive. She wipes the floor with them, earning their respect, but the series ends on a troubling moral note: Usagi’s radical empathy can save the day, but will it always?
Sailor Moon S also brings the welcome introduction of two of animation’s highest profile queer characters in Haruka and Michiru. I am not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that Haruka, Sailor Moon’s resident soft butch goddess, is presented as the most attractive and coolest human alive. I mean, Michiru is presented as the epitome of elegance and class. But Haruka’s arrival on the scene causes a flurry of activity in the girls, who all nurse varying levels of platonic crushes on her and negotiate it in varying ways. (Usually by recommitting firmly to heterosexuality. Perfect, it ain’t.) There’s a run of episodes where each girl gets to spend time with Haruka, which are all fun, from Rei (whose Catholic schooling makes her the Guardian most invested in defending her heterosexuality) and Haruka being utterly baffled by Rei’s boyfriend’s jealousy towards Haruka, and Usagi and Minako being heartbroken to learn that Haruka is both not a dude and definitely off the market.
But the best of these episodes is “Coldhearted Uranus: Makoto in Danger.” Makoto becomes seemingly smitten with Haruka after Haruka gives her her scarf. Usagi alerts the rest of the girls to this development, to the point that they call her to beg her not to give up on men while she’s having coffee with Haruka. But Makoto doesn’t have a crush on Haruka. Rather, she sees Haruka as a possibility model. Makoto’s height and strength means that she often struggles with the narrow boundaries of traditional femininity, but Haruka’s gender presentation—both decidedly butch (…for a nineties shoujo anime) and decidedly female—has made her see that gender is a big enough umbrella for her to be both brawny and girly. It’s a remarkably thoughtful episode about gender identity, and all the more powerful for being aimed at preteen and teenage girls.
The show is equally committed to Haruka and Michiru’s relationship as it is to how cool Haruka is. Sure, they don’t kiss, but “The Bond of Destiny! The Distant Days of Uranus,” which is all about how Haruka and Michiru became Sailor Gaurdians and fell in love, is one of the most romantic episodes of television I’ve ever seen. Michiru’s crush on Haruka is complicated by the fact that Haruka is the other Sailor Guardian (to her knowledge): she doesn’t want to ask Haruka to be a killer. And that push and pull is executed perfectly, as Haruka realizes that she loves Michiru too and accepts her destiny as Sailor Uranus. There are desperate declarations of love! There are tense conversations in front of symbolic paintings! There are discussion of morality! And there are drives by the ocean in Haruka’s fast car, which is definitely a metaphor for something. (I mean, they do go for an actual romantic drive by the ocean in Haruka’s fast car. After which they drive off to totally go make out. Holy jeez, I can’t imagine the level of work required to unqueer these two.)
I watched this series on Hulu.