Before Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman were making blockbuster movies, a superhero named Sailor Moon was fighting evil on the small screen. Usagi Tsukino and her friends were part of the popular Magical Girl invasion in the 1990s that also included figures like Cardcaptor Sakura and Magic Knight Rayearth.
Sailor Moon was the most popular of all, not only because of likable characters and compelling stories but because it was ahead of its time. Here are ten things Sailor Moon did that animated cartoons had never done before. You'll recognize that a lot of this is now standard issue in modern animated and live-action television shows. A lot of what you see on this list was left out of the original English dub that was produced in 1995 by Optimum Productions, as it was deemed too controversial or "mature" for younger audiences.
10 TV For Young Adults
Sailor Moon is a story that includes adventures, authentic characters, and real stakes. The emotional conflicts between Sailor Moon and Sailor Mars are real, as is the tension surrounding the underlying plotline. At this point, Naruto and Bleach are still years away, and live-action stuff like Power Rangers was just for kids in 1995.
Movies like Akira and Ghost in the Shell had come stateside but were limited to adult audiences. Sailor Moon was one of the first serialized animated shows to cater to young adult audiences, even after the first English dub had reduced them to shows for kids and a lot of this still shone through.
9 Humanized Evil
Kid's shows are often afraid to show any nuance when it comes to villains. They are simply malevolent forces beyond redemption. In Sailor Moon, even the minor characters had some kind of story or theme that was appealing and made the audience sympathize with them. Many of them were lost or forgotten children, others had made great sacrifices and had been lost or forsaken. Sailor Moon's compassion towards her foes always shone through and she kept her optimism even when her friends lost theirs, a trait of true heroism.
8 LGBTQ Relationships
Looking back on the 1990s, we weren't as progressive as we thought. Same sex relationships were a novelty on night-time television and putting openly gay characters in a cartoon intended for children and adolescents was out of the question. In Japanese culture, LGBTQ relationships are commonly portrayed, with examples of characters in anime and manga for all ages.
Sailors Neptune and Uranus are the couple that is famous for stalling the English-dub of Sailor Moon S. The distributors had to figure out how to hide them, eventually making them related, which obviously didn't work as the show and their relationship progressed. Some dubs made Uranus male, which had some serious costuming problems. In the manga, the two were married, with rings and all. Even before them, there was Zoisite and Malachite. You didn't know that because it was so easily fixed. The voice actor for Zoisite was replaced by a female one in the original English dub, making the relationship heterosexual and therefore "safe for children."
7 Gender Fluidity
Remember Fish Eye from the Dead Moon Circus? Similar to Zoisite, the English dub changed his voice. One season later, the Starlights were introduced. Neptune and Uranus put a hold on the original dub, but the Sailor Starlights stopped it completely. They were three androgynous men who performed music dressed like women, and as a major plot point, they were impossible to hide with simple tricks like changing the voice actors.
Like homosexuality or a teenage romance, something that is normal in Japanese culture would have horrified a North American audience. In an example of convenient timing, the broadcasting rights also expired during this time and were simply not renewed, leaving Season 5 out completely. English-speaking fans of Sailor Moon wouldn't see Sailor Stars until later fandubs and subtitled shows were produced.
6 Global Reach
Sailor Moon might have a wider global reach than any other superhero before her. Both the anime and the manga have been translated into several languages and she has millions of fans worldwide. This was of great benefit to English-speaking fans of the show back in the 1990s, as the European versions of the show were mostly uncut, so at least they were possible to find. The German version was not only uncut but included some industrial techno remixes for the theme songs, as was the style at the time. Other languages you'll hear Sailor Moon speak include Tagalog, Russian, and Chinese.
5 Teenage Romance
Bella stole Sailor Moon's whole game plan and did a much worse job of it. In Sailor Moon, we're introduced to the main character as someone who always messed up. She's all the worst stereotypes of your typical teenager. Stupid, clumsy, easily distracted, and boy-crazy. As the show progresses, Sailor Moon surprises us time and again with her bravery, not only as a superhero but just as a normal person. You might be annoyed with her at first, but by the time she's revealed to be the Messiah in Season 4, she's already given you a whole new perspective of what true power really means.
4 Episodic Plotlines
Continuous storylines were for soap operas, movie sequels or a miniseries before Sailor Moon showed up. North American television shows consisted of stand-alone episodes with some exceptions given for special occasions, important plot points or season finales. Sailor Moon was an interesting show because it had a single, coherent storyline that culminated in reveals, payoffs and a tease for the next exciting adventure. Who didn't want to find out who Tuxedo Mask really was? What was going to happen with Sailor Saturn? Who is Sailor Galaxia? Tune in next time to find out, unless the network has changed the schedule again.
3 Female Superheroes
The 1990s was an active time for women in media. There were the Spice Girls in music, Lara Croft ruled video games, and Sarah Connor wasn't exactly a simpering coffee server anymore. From 1995, the Sailor Soldiers, or Scouts as they're called in English, were the most popular girls of daytime television.
The Japanese incarnation of a superhero was slightly different from what we had seen in characters like Superman or Batman, but the basic design and storylines had a common thread; have otherworldly powers and fight evil in a great costume.
2 The Messiah
The sage of "the One" was big in the 1990s. We had characters like Neo in The Matrix and the Star Wars prequels had a prophecy about "the One who would bring balance." Sailor Moon had an interesting twist on this storyline, leading viewers to believe Sailor Saturn was the Messiah of Silence when the true Messiah was revealed to be Sailor Moon. The more common narrative in North America is that the "Messiah" is male, associated with a common religious connotation, and a female figure in this role simply hadn't been done before. And Sailor Moon had two!
1 Subverting Audience Expectations
There are a million memes on the internet about how Tuxedo Mask doesn't do anything. That's funny because we're always expecting the male hero to save the damsel in distress. That's how the narrative usually goes. Later in the series, Sailor Moon has to save Tuxedo Mask or Endymion, making the role reversal complete. What other animated show, and for this age group, had this in 1995? In another twist that only Sailor Moon could pull off, her battles often end with the villain being pacified and cleansed of evil rather than destroyed. In a world where superheroes have to win by blowing stuff up, it's another nice change from the usual formula that was way ahead of its time.