Life, The Mooniverse, and Everything: The Sailor Moon Newbie Retrospective

A two-year-long journey through a twenty-year-old classic.

happy moonies - sailor moon

A couple springs ago, when I was just getting into the planning stages of launching this blog, Viz hit us with some big news: They had licensed the original Sailor Moon, and they were going to re-release the entire series with a brand new uncut(!) translation. And just like that I had my first ever blogging project: A 200-episode series of Newbie Reviews. (So, you know. A nice, easy commitment.)

I loved Sailor Moon‘s directors’ later works (especially Ikuhara of Utena fame), and I knew a little about the series itself, but I really had no idea what to expect–whether I’d like it, or find it too childish, or get trapped in Filler Episode Hell. What followed were 24 months and 100 posts of quips, critiques, praises, giggles, feels, and flails, as I slowly fell in love with the cast, the stories, and the silliness. It was easy to see why the franchise had so many long-time fans. And, as the final credits rolled, I counted myself among them.

It’s been a fun journey, but now that I’m sitting at the destination, I wanted take a moment to look back, talk about the series as a whole, and maybe reminisce about the characters and moments that stuck with me the most. I, er… got a little carried away, and the post ballooned like a Dead Moon Circus tent. I’ve done my best to break it up with my favorite Sailor Moon gifs. Hit the jump to take a leisurely stroll down Memo(on)ry Lane.

Fly Me to the Sailor Moon 

(And let me dance among the Sailor Stars)

exhausting double life - sailor moon

Because I’ve already spent so many words talking about individual episodes and seasons, I’ve opted to keep this little series review mostly spoiler-free and to the point, focusing on the main highlights both good and not-so-much. (I am, by the way, putting together a page that will compile all the SM Newbie Reviews in a way that makes them easier to access, so if you’re looking to read those posts I should have something other than the blog category in the near future.)

I think what impressed me most about Sailor Moon is how well the series holds up despite its age. The animation is limited but bright, using smart direction and expressive faces to make up for the relative lack of motion, so that it generally feels like the camera is active even if the frames often aren’t. Add to this some great voice work and a distinctive soundtrack that improves over time, and while Sailor Moon‘s production values rarely blew me away (although it still did on occasion), it was clear that the people making the show approached it with affection and energy. It still looks pretty darn good even after all these years.

smug laugh wave oh please - sailor moon

None of which would matter if the show’s subject material was horribly dated, but Sailor Moon is also cheerfully feminist and remarkably progressive, which allows (most of) its stories to work for a modern audience as well. The series presents a wide variety of flawed, sympathetic, capable female characters (none of whom entirely fit traditional ideas of femininity) and celebrates them for their unique strengths and interests.

Better still, it lets those girls fight with both traditionally masculine and feminine “weapons,” sometimes defeating enemies by punching them in the face, other times saving them through communication and empathy. It also does some nice things with gender and sexuality, featuring canonical queer and gender-fluid characters in a by-and-large positive light (and giving them happy endings, too!). It’s not always perfect (the show has a poor track record with body issues, for example), and sometimes it’s a little on-the-nose, but overall Sailor Moon‘s messages of acceptance and respect still resonate 20 years later–and outshine many newer series, in fact.

only old men - sailor moon

While the series does a great job with its friendships and queer romances, it stumbles more often with its hetero ones, focusing too much on tired cliches and bad shojo “romance” tropes. Characters fight over boys, rage with jealousy, refuse to communicate, and ignore consent (kissing the accidentally drunk girl, boooo).

To be fair, most of this happens early and drops off by about halfway through Sailor Moon R (Season 2). The Sato-directed episodes (Season 1 + The Makai Arc) also at times seem to be aware of and directly addressing these issues, slowly moving the characters away from these unhealthy behaviors and towards a greater understanding and respect for their loved ones’ needs rather than just their own. And don’t get me wrong, some of the little side romances are fabulously written, too! It’s still there, though, especially the overused jealousy subplots, and serves as one of the major pain points throughout the series.

snuggle bored - sailor moon

Sailor Moon‘s other pain point has nothing to do with story beats and everything to do with structure. Simply put, it’s too long, and this creates a number of small but progressively more noticeable problems.

The first is the most obvious: a lot of “monster of the week” battles and episodes that have little to do with the overall plot. A lot of these episodes are valuable, developing characters and relationships through heartwarming or hilarious one-off stories so that the dramatic moments hit harder, and I will defend this “filler” to the death as one of the things that makes Sailor Moon so darn charming in the first place. But some of that “filler” does cause the story to drag or repeat itself, too. I can’t imagine trying to binge-watch Sailor Moon. Two episodes a week was about perfect for me, I think.

swoop in surprised smirk - sailor moon

The more detrimental issue with the length, though, is the lack of continuity. I think a lot of this comes from the shifting staff–Sailor Moon goes through three series directors along with multiple writers, which can lead to redundant character or thematic beats and individuals backsliding in terms of growth (some of which is realistic; some of which just seems like a new director/writer not knowing what to do with the story).

This also means that, whenever the director changes, a lot of the little elements built into the story–like the supporting cast–all but disappear. So that budding romance between one of the guardians and a recurring character? Gone, never to be mentioned again! It only really causes issues twice (during R and Stars), but it means there’s always that uncertainty when beginning a new season, as if you never know when the creators might hit the “reset” button and all those subplots you enjoyed will disappear forever.
look suspicious hide - sailor moon

But despite the disjointedness of the entire series, and despite the finale being something of an anticlimax (due in large part to those continuity issues), Sailor Moon is still, I think, a really excellent long-running magical girl series, well deserving of its title as a “classic.” At its best, it’s a warm, optimistic, and deceptively smart coming-of-age story, touching on all the major issues of adolescence–personal identity, responsibility, friendship, romance, empathy, the expansion of one’s world and role within it–with humor and heart.

It’s packed with lovable protagonists, sympathetic villains, and magnificently goofy comedy (the creators really lean into the inherent absurdity of the monster fights, much to the show’s benefit). The story arcs take a while to build but usually lead to tense, resonant finales, and the series even occasionally flirts with outright artistic or thematic brilliance (particularly during portions of S and SuperS).

nod agree blush - sailor moon

While I’d be hard-pressed to recommend it to an adult who’s not already an anime fan (it’s very much a YA project, and very much embedded in its magical girl/shojo genres), I think it’s still a great show for kids and young teens, full of positive messages about balancing compassion with confidence and coming into your own as a young adult.

And, if you’re a grown-up anime fan like me, there’s a lot to take out of this series from a historical angle, particularly in terms of (1) the impact Sailor Moon has left on the magical girl and shojo genres, and (2) getting a chance to see the early work of some of anime’s signature directors. It’s a fun series and in many ways an important one, the kind of show that has left a distinctive mark on its genre, its creators, and its many viewers from all over the world. I’m very happy to say I’m now one of them.

The Next Cycle?

investigate suspicious - sailor moon

I’ve had a few people ask what (if any) other Sailor Moon projects I’m planning to blog about, so I figured we should talk about that before we get to the final goodies. I actually did go back to Sailor Moon Crystal for Season 3 and it’s much better–the creative team has clearly listened to people’s criticisms and worked to resolve a lot of the show’s problems–so I plan to keep watching that for now. I’ve also been reading the manga off and on thanks to a friend’s collection. (It’s…fine. I prefer the ’90s anime.) I’m definitely nearing Sailor Moon bloggin’ burnout, though, so I have no plans to write about either Crystal or the manga in great detail at this point.

I would very much like to do some newbie write-ups on the three films, though! Viz hasn’t announced release dates for any of the movies yet, so I’m not sure when that’ll be happening. Just know that I’ll be keeping an eye out for them and adding them to my queue when I get the chance.

And now for the fun stuff…

The Phases of the Sailor Moon

yay sm

With a series this beloved and this dang long, it stands to reason there’s a lot of chatter about “best of”–best seasons, best characters, best episodes, and so on. That’s, uh, not what this is. These are just personal favorites: a loving look back at the series and the people and moments that left the greatest impression, either through laughter, tears, or a little bit of both. Hopefully you’ll find some moments in here that will leave you smiling all nostalgic-like, too.

Season(ish) Rankings

carousel love - sailor moon

The obligatory season hierarchy! I’m cheating a little and splitting some seasons into parts. It’s my list. I can totally do that.

1. Sailor Moon S: The original retrospective is here. Hands-down my favorite season, packed with enough character development, new cast members, and well-timed plot points to justify pretty much every episode. Director Ikuhara (Utena, Mawaru PenguindrumYurikuma Arashi) was confidently in the driver’s seat for this one, and it shows in the strong visuals, ridiculous sight gags, nuanced conflicts, and thematic cohesion, leading to a finale that hit all the harder because of its willingness to acknowledge trauma and loss. Great, thoughtful, hilarious, emotional stuff.

2. Season One, Part 2 (Zoisite & Kunzite): It took Series Director Sato (Princess Tutu, Aria) most of two cours to find his groove, but once he did Sailor Moon went from being a mildly enjoyable weekly blogging venture to an engaging, smart, and frequently hilarious series I genuinely looked forward to each week. The Seven Great Youma Arc particularly stood out, as it introduced some of my favorite supporting characters (Reika! Rhett! Ryo! Teddy!) and featured some of my all-time favorite episodes, both silly and serious. Plus, Zoisite and Tuxedo Mask sniping at each other? Priceless.

cane fight zoisite tux - sailor moon

3. Sailor Moon SuperS: The original retrospective is here. While SuperS featured some of SM’s most maddening episodes and a loooong stretch where nothing plot-related happened, it also had the best Big Bad, best minions, best visual motifs, best monster battles, best finale, and an excellent exploration of adolescence, change, and the price of eternity. It was also, I think, my favorite season to write about, because there was so much going on (both positive and negative). I appreciated SuperS‘s willingness to do something different than what had come before, even if it didn’t always succeed; and it pretty much always evoked some kind of emotion out of me, even if it wasn’t always a positive one. I’ll take that over a season that leaves me cold any day of the week.

4. Sailor Moon R, Part 1 (The Makai Tree): Sure, it’s pure filler, but it’s really good pure filler, dang it! This little arc served as something of an epilogue for Season One’s ongoing conversations about love, as well as a prologue for the Moonies’ Super Friendship Powers. Ail and An were likable brats who went through gradual, meaningful growth, and their arc set the stage for the long line of “villains” who would come to understand compassion and respect thanks to the scouts. What can I say? It just worked for me.

cool popsicle sparkle - sailor moon

5. Sailor Moon R, Part 2 (Black Moon Clan): The original retrospective is here. To me, this arc always sounds fantastic when I summarize it; it just wasn’t very well done in practice. The central plot is quite strong, and the Black Moon Clan are (for the most part) compelling, sympathetic antagonists. But the character episodes tended to retread a lot of ground from the first season, the smaller cast led to limited (and stale) interactions, and Chibiusa was insufferable for a good portion of it. I remember almost nothing from this season outside of the main story line, Saphir being a precious cinnamon roll, and one very weird filler episode. That lack of memorability is the main reason it’s as low as it is.

6. Sailor Stars: The original retrospective is here. I would have enjoyed Stars a lot more if it hadn’t been the final season, and I’m forever bummed Director Igarashi (Ouran High, Star Driver) didn’t have a chance to do a movie or another original arc so he could build on the confident voice and sense of purpose he finally brought to the last few episodes. Ultimately, as with R, I find myself remembering very few specifics–but unlike R, I finished this one a few weeks ago, not a year and a half ago. It slots lower because of that.

blow bubbles drink - sailor moon

7. Sailor Moon, Part 1 (Jadeite & Nephrite): If I hadn’t been blogging about it, there’s a decent chance I would have dropped Sailor Moon during the Nephrite episodes. The show stymied badly here, trapped in interactions that relied too heavily on repetitive bickering (Usagi/Rei, Usagi/Mamoru), unable to introduce new characters or move its current ones forward, and stuck with a minion who was so, so dull. The Nephrite/Naru romance does, fortunately, mark the show’s first foray into character complexity and moral uncertainty, and is really the moment when Sailor Moon goes from being a decent kids’ show to a good YA series. I’m glad I stuck with it, but the early episodes don’t make it easy at times.

Episode Highlights

applause - sailor moon

To keep this from getting out of hand, I limited myself to two(…ish) from each season, and I didn’t review any lists or summaries–instead, I trusted that my memory would hang on to the ones that were worth hanging on to. Also, I’m using my own episode titles, because I have no idea what the real ones are at this point.

ami photo - sailor moon

  • S: This was impossible. I juggled about half the season before finally cheating and settling on four: The back-to-back one-two punch of Makoto/Haruka and Ami/Michiru bonding, the absurd masterpiece that is Episode 117, and the big Episode 125 Climax. These together neatly summarize what made S so great: New character dynamics forwarding individual growth; a strong balance between off-beat comedy, action-packed tension, and punches to the heart; and a willingness to touch on difficult subjects of salvation and sacrifice, allowing for more bittersweet conclusions. Plus, I mean, let’s be real: No moment in Sailor Moon history can or ever will top Professor Dad and the Witches 5 playing Twister.

Favorite Everything Elses

Just a little fangirling for the road.

hearts eyes love - sailor moon

Inner Guardian: I’m sure you are all just SHOCKED to learn that the answer is Ami. Honorable Mention goes to Minako, who grew on me a whole lot over the course of the series, and probably has the most complex, complete character arc out of everyone.

Outer Guardian: Hotaru. Honorable Mention to the other three. Don’t make me choose just one, you jerks.

sailor moon op supporting cast

Supporting Player: Tuxedo Mask. I ended up liking Mamoru all right, but I freaking loved that dapper, rose-slinging dork in the top hat. Honorable Mention to my other favorite doofus, Kumada “Teddy” Yuuichirou.

One-Off: Rhett Butler! I mean. Obvs. Honorable Mention: For whatever reason, I really loved that little samurai girl from SuperS.

blush hey now - sailor moon

Monster of the Week: Pooko The Balloon Lady, a.k.a. The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Sailor Moon. Honorable Mention: All of her ball-themed relatives. Special shout-out to the one who got deflated by Tuxedo Mask’s rose.

Minion: One for each season! Zoisite, Saphir, Mimete, Fish’s Eye, and…uhhh…Iron Mouse, I guess. For her final episode if nothing else. Honorable Mentions to Esmeraude, Professor Dad, Eudial, and Tiger’s Eye.

Big Bad: Nehelenia (SuperS only; I wasn’t a fan of her Stars arc). Honorable Mention to Galaxia, who had a good story even if it wasn’t executed as well as it could have been.

laugh - sailor moon

Friend ‘Ship: Can I just say “Usagi and all of the inner guardians”? Her Friendship Powers were a thing of beauty. But if I have to pick just one, I really loved Usagi/Minako. Outside of the main cast, I gotta give some Honorable Mention love to my Ami/Mamoru brOTP, Chibusa & Hotaru, and the Siren/Crow “rivalry.”

Hero ‘Ship: He may have been written out of the show, but Ami/Ryo will live on forever in my heart! Honorable mentions to Haruka/Michiru and Luna/Rhett Butler (sorry, Artemis).
…And Ami/Makoto, the non-canonical ‘ship that dances joyously into the sunset.

Villain ‘Ship: You’d think the answer would be Zoisite/Kunzite, but you’d be wrong. It’s Tiger/Fish. Zoisite/Kunzite are totally Honorable Mention, though, no need to worry about that.

hug - usagi ami - sailor moon

Biggest Laugh: I’m not sure I ever laughed harder than I did during the Jadeite Showdown when Tuxedo Mask stepped up to actually fight for once, circled Jadeite all dramatically… and then fell into the ocean. In fact, I’m still laughing about that. Honorable Mention goes to Professor Dad locked out of his house dumping bags of chips into his mouth while two talking cats discuss Moonie Business right in front of him. This show truly was a gift.

Biggest Gasp: The SuperS finale. Too much beautiful art and animation for me to take. Honorable Mention to Beryl executing Zoisite (ZOISIIIITE!). I knew it was coming, but it still shocked the hell out of me.

Most Feelings: The Amazon Trio’s last episode. Honorable Mention to pretty much everything with Professor Dad and Hotaru. My heart forever breaks for that family.

hug - chibiusa hotaru - sailor moon

And I’m all out of likes to like! I reckon now’s as good a time as any to doff my top hat, swoop my cape, and vanish into the rose-petal-strewn night. As I said in my Stars finale, through all the highs and lows, writing about Sailor Moon these past two years has been a blast. It’s also been a learning experience, as it helped me find my bloggin’ voice, get used to a regular schedule, and meet and chat with a lot of seriously awesome people along the way. So thanks for hanging out with me, and I hope to we’ll be able to flail over great shows together in the future, too!

I leave you with my all-time favorite Sailor Moon gif. Moon Prism Power–signing off!

okay - sailor moon

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10 thoughts on “Life, The Mooniverse, and Everything: The Sailor Moon Newbie Retrospective

  1. I would have loved to know your favorite Tuxedo Mask entrance. There are so many good ones! My favorite has to be from episode 104 where he stands behind the bamboo fence at the tea house. I mean that episode in general has a lot of great comedy, but The Tux showing up standing behind the fence like he’s Wilson from Home Improvement was the cherry on top for me. The entire time he’s on screen I’m doing nothing but shouting “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU STANDING ON YOU DORK?!” And I love every second of it because the image of Tuxedo Mask standing on a trash can is just priceless to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I recall the movies contained some of the greatest Tuxedo Mask entrances, so I would just find another source to watch them if you can, since Viz probably won’t put out movies until it’s already got the fifth season dubbed for the box sets, and who knows how many years that’ll take when they keep stopping to do Sailor Moon Crystal?

      Like

      • I have that gif but I had NO IDEA what is was from. I thought maybe they did a TV Christmas special that wasn’t considered part of the show itself. But it’s from one of the movies? Oh, I look forward to watching those even more now.

        Like

      • The only other sources are unlicensed ones at this point (well, I guess I could technically find an old dubbed VHS, but it wouldn’t be uncut and I’d have no way of playing it). I’m fine with waiting and supporting the official release. Not like I don’t have other things to watch and blog about in the interim.

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    • Hah, as soon as I read your first sentence I thought about Tuxedo Mask’s head popping up over that fence, so I’d say that’s one of my favs, too! I had the same thought during that episode; I couldn’t even focus on the fight because all I could think was “Okay but WHAT IS TUX DOING BACK THERE.” There are so many good ones, though: the salon chair twirl-around, the spinny playground entrance, the motorcycle entrance, and of course the time he just showed up behind the wheel of a bus in a Hell Dimension to drive the kids to safety.

      I think my very favorite might be him hang gliding in to rescue Usagi from Demande, though. Not just because it’s hilarious, but because that episode was so dark and uncomfortable and then he comes in through the window like “THIS SHOW WILL BE SERIOUS OVER MY DEAD BODY!” It was such a relief. Tux was a ridiculous breath of fresh air, and I loved him for it.

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  2. For me, Sailor Moon represents the point in my life when the barriers in gendered marketing began to break down (which lead to other gender-specific expectations to break down shortly thereafter). Here was a show that was undoubtedly “for girls,” and yet here I was watching every day, waiting to see how the story unfolded next, curious about which character we would learn more about.

    Rewatching the series again has reaffirmed my love of what made it so great, while also exposing some of the seams and cracks that I had never noticed before.

    Episode 125 probably stands out as my absolute favorite. Emotional delivery from all of the actors, heartstrings being played with Hotaru and Professor Dad, the first arrival of Sailor Saturn (who I think is the coolest of all the guardians), and an ending that affirms that the good guys won, but at a huge cost (seriously, Sailor Moon’s blank, glossy stare in that last shot gets me every time; that’s a woman who won’t soon forget what she just saw).

    Maybe it’s my more mature age, but I also grew to like Chibiusa, even during R. She’s as bratty, uncooperative, and dangerously impulsive as she ever was, but maybe I empathized more with the fact that she’s a scared child whose entire life turned upside down and she’s trying to fix it without really even knowing what to do.

    Finally, I really appreciated all of the character-building episodes that exposed the guardians’ insecurities, weaknesses, and less-than-appealing character traits. Outside of more modern cartoons like Steven Universe, Rick & Morty, Adventure Time, etc., Minako is one of the most complex characters I’ve ever seen in a kid/preteen demographic cartoon. Even Ami, who is seemingly perfect, had a few episodes that exposed her dark side. It really endears an audience to a character like that (I’ve made the comparison to the cast of Persona 4 before, but I’ll make it again; there’s another lovable cast who we got to know by seeing their ugly sides).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, such a great overview of one of my all time favourite series. There are so many amazing moments but I always come back to the original series as my favourite. Yeah, there was too much filler and the monster of the week formula was a little tired by the end, but its where we got to see each of the characters start their journey to become the legends that they needed to be.
    I remember how much i hated Chibi-Usa when she first arrived and yet how much I loved her character by the time she befriended Hotaru. And I think that is the strength of the show. Characters evolve in ways that make sense and as an audience you begin to build a really strong relationship with them. Then they break your heart once they get themselves into trouble and before you know it you are on the Sailor Moon emotional roller coaster.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. nadiaelde says:

    Thanks for writing this up! I was a huge fan of Sailor Moon back in the 90s (it started as soon as I got home from school, so I would run to the den and turn on the television as soon as I got home so I wouldn’t miss a moment!) and I was disappointed when I heard all the criticisms of Sailor Moon Crystal. I did read the manga, but like you, the anime just has so much more character and pizzazz. I’m glad to hear that Crystal has improved though, maybe now I’ll check it out. Thanks for writing this!

    Liked by 1 person

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