Reviews of yesteryear: Sailor Moon

Welcome to my 100th review. I’m sorry that I wasn’t more honest about this coming up, I could say it in my dreams, but my thoughts were about to short circuit as I thought about what anime I could review for the occasion. My heart was a kaleidoscope as I pondered this question. I looked to the twinkling of the stars to foretell the future of my reviews. Obviously, it had to be Sailor Moon. While I’m at it, I’m going to do one of those things that some people keep whining at me for not doing. That’s right, I’m going to look at the English dub and the original side by side.

Rather than start by talking about the story, I’m going to start by talking a bit about the translation. First off, how do you miss-translate “Moon Tiara Action”? The original line is in English. How can you fail to translate a line that’s been done for you? The soldiers are downgraded to scouts in the dub because… Soldier is too masculine a term? Maybe they just thought that soldier was miss-used. After all, soldiers battle enemies and all the sailor soldiers do is reconnaissance work. Scouts works much better… wait, what? Changing the setting to America makes no sense. Where in America are you going to find Shinto Buddhist shrines with traditional priestesses, schools that have all adopted uniforms, Japanese signs, and the Tokyo tower? Seriously, it’s just a stupid decision. It would be like setting Tokyo Mew Mew or Cardcaptor Sakura outside of Japan. Why even bother changing it? Was the company that licensed it afraid that English audiences wouldn’t be able to relate to Japanese characters? No matter what the reason, that change is really idiotic. Then there’s Zoisite, one of Queen Beryl’s generals. The English version gives him a sex change for some reason. It doesn’t even make sense because the art’s the same they just gave him a female voice and changed the pronouns. The reasoning probably being to hide the fact that the show has gay characters (Zoisite and Kunzite). Because you can’t have gay characters running around, especially when their relationship is used to make them sympathetic. The children might get the idea that it’s okay and then we wouldn’t have as many hate crimes or intolerance and that would be terrible… Wait, what? Yeah, it’s a really stupid change. Give me back my yaoi boys. Give them back or in the name of the moon, I will punish you and you do not want to see me in the uniform. Now, I could go into a lot more detail about weird and pointless changes but there are a lot of them so I’ll stop there. If there are changes that impact the story, characters, or so on, I’ll talk about those when I get to the relevant point. Needless to say, a lot of the random changes are just perplexing.

Let’s go right to the story. Sailor Moon has a very simple story. A girl named Tsukino Usagi is given a magic broach by a talking cat that turns her into a warrior of love and justice. She’s sorely needed because a group known as the Dark Kingdom is stealing energy from humans in a bid to awaken their great ruler and conquer the galaxy. It’s a pretty standard super hero plot. But there are some things that are done really well. To begin with, this series has a great sense of humour. It embraces all of the goofiness inherent to the concept and just has a lot of fun with it. There are also some strong themes dealing with love and reincarnation which add some complexity and intrigue to the whole thing. The final episodes are really spectacular. The main characters go into the proverbial underworld and, not to spoil anything, but there are some genuinely tragic moments as a result but it still manages to end on a suitably optimistic note.

There are some issues though. I’ll start with the general issues that are present in both versions and move on to the ones that are unique to the English dub. Before you ask, there are no issues unique to the Japanese version. The first issue is pretty minor and it deals with the disguises. Apparently Sailor Moon takes place in Metropolis since a change of clothes and nothing else is enough to hide someone’s identity. You’d think that anyone could figure out who they are just by looking at them. Then there’s the tendency to have Mamoru come in and rescue the soldiers with a hastily thrown rose. It happens too often and gets pretty annoying.The other problems both deal with romance. The first is that all of the major characters, except for Usagi, are given gratuitous male “love interests” who show up for a few episodes, have virtually no personality, do nothing to advance the plot and then fade into barely being mentioned again. Their entire purpose seems to be to setup the possibility for future romance, but I’ve seen the other four series and, trust me, it doesn’t go anywhere. It’s like Takeuchi Naoko, or to be more accurate like the anime writers since they aren’t in the original manga, created them for future use and then realised they were pointless . Even Luna gets a gratuitous potential love interest and she’s a freaking cat. The other issue is with the romances that do have a story purpose. IE: the romance between Usagi and Mamoru and the romance between Naru and Nephrite. The problem here is that the girls are middle school students and the guys are college age. I do understand why it was done like that. Sailor Moon’s target audience is middle-high school aged girls and a lot of girls at that age are interested in older guys so it’s giving its audience a little wish fulfillment. However, that doesn’t stop it from being sleazy and screwed up. Now, let’s look at the problems the English version brings to the table. The first is that it lacks the humour of the original. How? Through heavy censorship and pointless dialogue changes, of course. They also edit a lot of the more intense moments towards the end which not only really weakens the impact but makes the last few episodes almost incoherent. Oh, and the dub’s opening sequence gives away major ending spoilers. Why? Because they hate you.

For the characters I’m actually going to look at the original and English versions separately. Why? Because they really are significantly different. It’s actually kind of fascinating how much the characters change as a result of massive dialogue changes, and various edits. Let’s start with Usagi. She’s a bit clumsy and something of a crybaby, but she also bounces back quickly and has a very positive outlook. She gets horrible grades but she doesn’t seem stupid. She really comes off more as someone of below average intelligence who just wants to have fun and neglects her studies as a consequence. She also has a great capacity both for love and growth. She’s far from perfect, but she is an interesting and very sympathetic character. Then you have Serena, which is the name they gave her in the English version. She’s a lot whinier and, where Usagi doesn’t really seem stupid, Serena seems like she eats paint chips in a deliberate attempt to eliminate any extra brain cells she may have. You also get a lot less of her good qualities, particularly her ability to love and support her friends. Where Usagi proves herself capable by fighting alone in quite a few cases, growing gradually stronger and more confident in the process, most of those episodes are cut from the English version, making Serena seem far more helpless and less capable. Then we have Ami. She’s kind of shy in the sense that she doesn’t feel like she fits in. She’s highly intelligent and she studies too much, but she can also loosen up and just have fun. She’s a very sweet character who cares deeply for others. She does have faults though. She can loosen up, and does at times, but she still takes things too seriously and there are times when she tries too hard to please others. In contrast we have Amy. Amy goes from being kind of socially awkward to being painfully, annoyingly shy. She has lousy communication skills and very little personality. Then you have Rei. She’s outspoken, which sometimes leads to her saying things she regrets. She’s also very passionate, protective and cunning. Rei teases Usagi, but it’s made clear that it’s a friendly type of teasing. Then you have Raye. Raye lacks any kindness or loyalty and is just unpleasant. To give a great example, there’s an episode where Sailor Moon is trying to trick her way into the Dark Kingdom. In the original Japanese Usagi entrusts Rei with the silver crystal just in case something goes wrong which serves to help highlight the closeness of their friendship. In the English dub Raye steals the silver crystal because she’s horrible. Moving on to Makoto. One of the things I love about her is that she goes against type. She’s the physically most imposing but she also has the most feminine personality. She has some body issues because she thinks she’s too tall, which are handled pretty realistically. She always tries to be supportive of her friends, although she doesn’t always know how to go about it. Then you have Lita. In the English dub they decided to play to stereotypes so they downplayed her femininity and made her as much of a tomboy as they could. They do it really badly too. The final character I’m going to talk about is Minako. She’s a bit flighty but she’s also the most mature character in the group and is able to keep her cool very well. She’s charismatic and just a fun character. Mina, in contrast, is basically identical to Serena. They make her the quintessential dumb valley girl type of character. There are more characters I could talk about but they all follow the same basic pattern. The original has a good amount of character complexity and the dub reduces the characters to one-dimensional stereotypes. Because they hate you.

Let’s talk about the art. Honestly, it’s kind of out-dated. That isn’t to say it’s bad, it still looks pretty nice, for the most part, but the animation can be choppy at times and there are some animation errors. The art can also be lazy with a good amount of stock footage and action scenes dominated by motion blurs. Still, the monsters are very creative, the character designs are great and the action sequences can get pretty intense. Now, you probably expect me to complain about fan-service, since I’ve done it a lot in my reviews. But give me some credit, it’s always a legitimate complaint. That’s why I’m going to defend Sailor Moon. Yeah, I’ve heard a lot of dumb people claim that their uniforms are fan-servicey, but those complaints don’t hold up. Their uniforms are just glamorized summer style school uniforms. And no, they aren’t glamorized by being made skimpier, they’re glamorized through the addition of sparkly accessories and large bows. They don’t even do anything sexualised with them and the outfits themselves are no worse than what you get in Lucky Star, Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight, Cardcaptor Sakura, Azumanga Daioh or any other series about school girls, in fact, the sailor soldier uniforms might just be more covering since they include those extra frills. They’re school girls wearing school uniforms. This isn’t something that’s hard to follow. The only way the fan-service argument could possibly work is if you’re arguing that school uniforms are inherently fan-servicey and if you really think that you aren’t allowed to breathe anymore. I will say that they aren’t exactly functional for fighting, but I’m not going to complain about that much. The main reason being that I’ve read a lot of superhero comics and most of the outfits are designed around style and not functionality and that’s clearly the case here, or do you want to argue that a tuxedo is a great outfit to wear in a fight? There’s also a rumour that the girls are nude during their transformation sequences in the original, but it’s not true. The same sparkle effects are used in both versions. This may come as a surprise, but I’m not going to complain about the English version here. Honestly, they don’t change much in terms of the art, aside from obscuring the lettering to make it look like scribbles since some moron decided to change the setting to America. There are really only minor changes here and there. The original does look cleaner, but the edits aren’t really bad enough that I feel the need to discuss them at length. They’re just pointless.

Now for a look at the acting. The original is really well done with some incredibly talented people. It would take too long to bring them all up but to name a few there’s Mitsuishi Kotono, Hisakawa Aya and Shinohara Emi. They can over-act at times but they never really go overboard with it. The English version is hard to listen to and not just because the actors are all atrocious, although they really are awful. One of the big problems is that Katie Griffin shouts all of her lines while Karen Bernstein whispers all of hers. The result is that you can barely hear Amy unless the volume is so loud that Raye will cause you to go deaf. Then you have the opening songs. The Japanese version is really good. The English version is horrible. Not just musically, since whoever sang the dub version is painful to listen to, but lyrically. Let’s take a moment to look at a translation of the first few lines in the original: “I’m sorry, I’m not honest. I can say it in my dreams. My thoughts are about to short circuit. I want to be with you right now.” Now for the English version: “Fighting evil by moonlight. Winning love by daylight. Never running from a real fight. She is the one named Sailor Moon.” Did they let a six year old write the lyrics? To make it even worse the English version just gives up halfway through and lists the names of the characters. If they had nothing remotely good to change it to why did they bother changing it at all? The answer’s pretty obvious. They did it because the English version hates you and all that is good.

There’s a fair amount of les-yay in this. For example, there’s an episode where Rei gets really fired up about winning romantic cruise tickets and she does, possibly by using her psychic abilities to cheat. Who does she ask? Ami of course. No, she doesn’t try asking any guys first she goes straight to Ami. On the grounds that she wants to help Ami broaden her horizons… Subtlety really isn’t one of Rei’s strong points. There’s another episode where Ami and Rei appear together on a wedding decoration that declares “The Happy Couple.” I’m not going to lie, that is one of the best scenes I’ve ever seen in terms of imagery. There are even minor characters who are heavily implied to be lesbians and the soldiers occasionally make eyes at other girls. You know, the sparkly eyes you get in some anime when a character’s looking at their crush. So the yuri factor is going to be a 6/10 for heavily implied subtext, in the original. The English version cuts as much of it out as they can, earning it a 3/10.

Let’s move on to the final rating. How does Sailor Moon hold up? It’s a goofy series. A lot of the things that happen can be incredibly silly, but it’s all very enjoyable and light-hearted. Honestly, I even kind of find the stock footage endearing. I have to give it an 8/10. If you want a purely fun viewing experience you can’t go wrong with it. Now, you may be wondering why I like Sailor Moon so much when it’s not one of my higher rated series. Well, there are four more anime entries for it and, frankly, this is the weakest. The other four anime all have more of what makes it good and less of its problems. Maybe I’ll look at R, S, Super S and Stars at a later point. There is one thing, however, that I’m never doing again and that’s looking at the English dub. It’s horrendous. Just about everything good about the original is decimated in the dub until only a very small sliver remains. The English dub gets a 2/10. Even if I somehow reach a million reviews I will never watch an anime dub again, ever.

4 thoughts on “Reviews of yesteryear: Sailor Moon

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