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Sailor Moon: Identities Lost in Translation

When we talk about classic anime, we consistently say that the subbed version is better than the dubbed version, right? That saying couldn’t be truer, especially when it comes to the hit 90’s anime series Sailor Moon.Many of us saw the English dub on television as children. Sailor Moon follows the story of a teenage girl named “Usagi” who discovers the ability to turn into her super-hero alter-ego “Sailor Moon” after meeting “Luna”, a talking cat from the Moon Kingdom. Luna reveals that the Moon Kingdom was destroyed by the Dark Kingdom thousands of years ago, and tasks Usagi with finding the moon princess and protecting earth from the Dark Kingdom’s invasion. Throughout Usagi’s adventures, she discovers that there are other sailor scouts, and they work together to protect the planet and those they love.

Originally, the anime featured colourful constellations of queer and gender diverse characters such as Usagi herself, Sailor Neptune, Sailor Uranus, and the Sailor Starlights to name a few. However, this iconic feature of the original Sailor Moonwas erased when the anime was translated into English by DiC Entertainment in the mid 90’s.  DiC Entertainment made significant alterations to the original text. All evidence of cultural diversity, gender diversity, and LGBTQIA+ characters was obliterated through distasteful character re-writes, removing entire episodes, remixing existing episodes, modifying the transformation scenes so that the Sailor scouts were thinner and did not have curves (including breasts), and significant alterations to dialogue. These changes were not for the better. Not only did they tear apart any notion of plot continuity, they also deprived young viewers of realistic female role models, role models who were people of colour, and LGBTQIA+ role models.

The extent to which Sailor Moon was butchered in the translation process is clear from the first season. All evidence of Sailor Moonbeing set in suburban Tokyo, or the characters being Japanese, was removed. The protagonist, Usagi Tsukino, was renamed “Celeste”, “Victoria”, or most commonly “Serena”, depending on which episode you watched to give the impression she was of Anglo Saxon descent. Similarly, her best friend Naru Osaka was renamed “Molly Baker” and voiced with a strong Brooklyn accent*. In addition, all the diegetic text in Japanese and references to Japanese culture (images of street signs, writing on the blackboard in school, Sailor Mars’ entire back story etc) was removed. This meant that while Usagi may have been standing next to signage with Kanji on it in the original, in the subbed version the animation was altered so she appeared to be standing next to blank signs. Clearly it was not enough to white wash the characters. DiC Entertainment had to extract the story from its original Japanese socio-cultural context as well.

However, the obnoxious character retcons did not stop at changing the race of the central characters. Some character’s genders had to be changed too! Zoisite (Zoicite) and Kunzite (Malachite) are introduced in season one as two of the “Four Kings of Heaven”, servants of Queen Beryl (the de-facto sovereign of The Dark Kingdom). Despite being baddies, Zoisite and Kunzite are far from being flat characters. Significant time and dialogue is invested in depicting a realistic homosexual relationship between the two men. Yet in the English translation, Zoisite’s dialogue is dubbed over with female voice acting to literally explain the gay away. Additionally, alterations to Zoisite’s dialogue are masked with the most abrasive evil villain laugh seen on children’s television to date. By abrasive, I mean worse than “Team Rocket” in Pokémon. The transformation of Zoisite into a tokenistic caricature of a female villain (and the only female “King of Heaven”) undermines several touching scenes where the couple embrace. Even Zoisite’s heart wrenching death scene was censored so he (she in the English translation) was banished to the interdimensional void of the “chaos world”. The original scene carries much more depth, as Kunzite questions his loyalties to his home planet while his lover disintegrates into a gust of cherry blossom petals in his arms. Clearly ensuring that children’s television does not provide models of homosexual relationships is more important than depth, continuity, or faithfulness to the original text. Similarly, while Haruka Tenou A.K.A Sailor Uranus (“Amara” or “Alex”) and Michiru Kaiou A.K.A Sailor Neptune (“Michelle” or “Nerissa”) are in an open lesbian relationship in the original series, they are changed into suspiciously close cousins in the English dub. One would think that conservative translators would find kissing cousins more hair raising than homosexuality in children’s cartoons. Apparently not.

Even the sexuality of the protagonist, Usagi, is washed away in the English translation. In the original Sailor Moon, Usagi is ambiguously bisexual. Whilst there is a steady romance arc between Usagi and Mamoru A.K.A Tuxedo Mask (Darien) for the majority of the series, Usagi often expresses her attraction towards women.  Usagi’s interest in Ami Mizuno (Amy Anderson) is made apparent through flirty dialogue and cute blush worthy moments throughout season one. Usagi then continues to faun over cute girls and is regularly kissed by women (SPOILER ALERT: Including Sailor Uranus!). In the final season of Sailor Moon, which has not been aired on western television to date, Tuxedo Mask is conspicuously absent. Instead the main love interest is “Sailor Star Fighter/ Seiya” who is male in their civilian/ human form, and female in their “natural form” as a Sailor Scout from the Moon Kingdom. Seiya is depicted as neither exclusively feminine nor masculine. Yet their feelings for Usagi remain the same regardless of whether they are in their male or female form. This is a much more nuanced take on how gender and sexuality interact with love than Usuagi’s romance arc with Mamoru, yet it was swept under the rug in the English translation.

Despite the erasure of LGBTQIA+ and coloured identities in the original English translation of Sailor Moon, the situation in the anime industry overall has improved with the passing of time. The original Japanese version of Sailor Moon(all seasons included) is now available with English subtitles through Anime Lab, and the revival series Sailor Moon Crystal has been comparatively unflinching in its depiction of attraction between gay, lesbian, bisexual and gender queer characters. Additionally, Sailor Moonopened the floodgates for anime featuring queer characters, and caused the now iconic “Magical Girl/Boy” genre to rise to new heights of popularity. As a result, queer characters and relationships are now highly visible in manga, anime, and adjacent media.

So, if you are looking for something to binge watch over SWOTVAC (or view in measured doses during your study breaks) – why not give Sailor Moon a try? I would rate it all forty-one Sailor Scouts out of ten!

Xoxo

Jane Doe

Watch List

This edition, rather than doing a “reading list” I will be spreading the love to visual media and sharing a “watch list” of anime series which depict FABULOUS LGBTQIA+ characters:

  1. Sailor Moon– Need I say more?
  2. Hetalia– A slice of life anime where all the characters are the human embodiment of various nation states. The romance between Germany and Italy (and/ or Italy and the Holy Roman Empire) is the cutest thing since sliced bread.
  3. Black Butler – A Charles-Dickens-esque gothic murder mystery featuring various supernatural paraphernalia and gorgeous art. There is definitely something going on between Will and Grell – and a naked wolf man.
  4. Card Captor Sakura – ANOTHER MAGICAL GIRL ANIME! The protagonist’s best friend’s unrequited love will not leave a dry eye in the house.
  5. Free! – Sexy swimming anime that goes deeper than an Olympic swimming pool.
  6. Yuri On Ice – Another sports anime with homo-erotic undertones – BUT THIS TIME ON ICE.
  7. Princess Knight– Although Princess Sapphire is born with both a male and female heart, she can never bring herself to give one up.
  8. Fruits Basket– Which has all the heart-throb trappings of a young adult novel as well as the Chinese Zodiac.
  9. Loveless– A classic which features both romance and bromance, cat ears and spell battles. Enough said.
  10. Ouran High School Host Club – Another classic. While the protagonist, “Haruhi” does not identify as gay, they portray themselves as the opposite sex for the majority of the series. The ambiguous companionship between “Honey” and “Mori” is also absolutely heart-warming.
  11. Zombie Loan – One of the first anime I watched as an adult. While Zombie Loan is a typical gritty urban horror series, it features some fascinating characters such as “Koyomi/ Yomi”, a girl with a split personality. While “Koyomi” is heterosexual, “Yomi” identifies as male and is attracted to women.
  12. From the New World – A very well written young adult science fiction in which all the central characters happen to be ambiguously bisexual.

*The English dubbed character names are included in brackets at the first mention of each character for the sake of convenience, however the author does not endorse their use.

Jane Doe

The author Jane Doe

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