Sailor Moon Reboot Coming in July, Keeping It Queer For English-Speaking Fans

Sailor Moon is easily one of the most popular anime series of all time, especially in the United States, where it was a common anime “gateway drug” for ’90s kids, along with Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!. It had a massive influence on the “magical girl” genre, and inspired countless young girls worldwide with its feminist and queer themes. It is no wonder, then, that Sailor Moon is getting a “reboot” anime series to celebrate its 20th anniversary, sure to rake in money from current fans and introduce new ones to the wonders of “fighting evil by moonlight.”

Yet, if you were a typical kid TV viewer in the ’90s and early ’00s – watching your anime in the English dubs that aired on cable, not scouring video stores and, later, the Internet for the subtitled Japanese originals – you could be forgiven for missing out on Sailor Moon‘s queer elements. In its efforts to make the series more “kid-friendly”, the American distributors edited all that out, including turning same-gender relationships “platonic” or even altering characters’ gender identities.

The most well-known example of editing the queerness out of Sailor Moon was in the third season “Sailor Moon S”, when Haruka and Michiru – Sailors Uranus and Neptune – were changed from a lesbian couple into “cousins”. (Note: Their names were Amara and Michelle in the English dub.) It was particularly infamous because the dubbers, puzzingly, kept in plenty of subtext, so they more-or-less turned an ordinary queer girl couple into an incestuous one. However, they were far from the only example of homophobic censorship in the dub. The first season featured a gay male couple in the form of villains Zoisite and Kunzite (Malachite in the dub); in North America, the more effeminate Zoisite was changed to a woman. And the fifth and final season, “Sailor Stars”, never even aired in the U.S., because it was simply too queer to bowdlerize, starting with the addition of the gender-bending “Sailor Starlights.”

But what will we tell the kids?

Kunzite_gives_Zoisite_a_rose But what will we tell the kids?

Luckily, the reboot anime plans to do none of that. According to a January 14 article in The Advocate about the new series:

The news [of the reboot anime] should excite LGBT fans of the popular anime series, as several queer characters featured in the Sailor Moon universe — who later had their sexuality changed or gender identity switched when the show aired in North America — will most likely remain intact this time around.

After repeatedly delaying its release, the new series is set to air this July. It will be streaming worldwide on the Niconico video service, and will be subtitled in 10 languages, including English. According to producer Atsutoshi Umezawa, it will be “neither a remake nor a continuation of the original.” Instead, like other recent reboots of popular anime franchises, the new Sailor Moon will faithfully follow the plot of Naoko Takeuchi’s original manga (comics). As someone who has read the Sailor Moon manga as well as seen the anime, I can say that the former is a much darker and, arguably, more adult series – which makes sense, since the new series is largely intended as a treat for the original generation of fans, who are now mostly twenty-somethings.

Obviously, it makes sense that there would be no changes to characters’ sexualities in the original, subtitled version. It’s interesting to analyze if this will remain the case if and when the new series gets an English dub. The fact that it’s aiming at that older audience is encouraging. While our society has advanced on gay rights and media representation in the last decade and a half since “Sailor Moon S” arrived on American shores, that change in audience can’t be discounted. After all, the idea of LGBTQ characters in children’s media is still fairly taboo, and part of why they were changed in the original series was that the American dubbers were trying to turn a series aimed at teenage girls into one for children.

sailor-moon-15

Another thing to consider is “otaku” (anime fan) culture in the United States, and how it’s grown and had more of an influence on how anime is made and distributed here since the mid-2000s “Anime Boom” (when popular Toonami/Adult Swim anime series like Naruto, Fullmetal Alchemist and Bleach crossed over into general nerd culture, and anime viewing numbers swelled). Western anime fans generally have a pretty negative attitude toward any kind of “localization” in anime – that is, when elements considered alienating to an American (or whichever) audience are “Westernized” in dubs. Sometimes, these changes are a good thing, such as when Pokémon episodes featuring the character Jynx – who resembles a blackface caricature – were cut from US circulation. Mostly, they’re seemingly harmless but insulting, like when Japanese names are changed to more American-sounding ones (as was done with most of the Sailor Moon cast in the dub) or when Japanese foods like onigri are replaced with sandwiches or hot dogs. But then, we get “localizations” that really are outright bowdlerization, hurting groups who are marginalized in both America and Japan because of fear that kids can’t deal with them – and that’s obviously what we got with removing the queerness from Sailor Moon.

Regardless of the reason, though, anime fans tend to resent dubbing companies’ ideas that they can’t deal with the same material as their Japanese counterparts. So, as anime fandom has grown and become more of its own subculture (even if it’s died down from its mid-00s peak), the fans have had more influence on what the dubbers and distributors do with their anime. And that’s turned the tide strongly against localization, both for good and for ill. In Sailor Moon‘s case, that’s obviously for good.

Either way, though, we will have to wait a while to see our queer characters. It takes some time for the “Outer Senshi” – which includes Uranus and Neptune – to show up in both the first anime’s and the manga’s stories, so we likely won’t see our favorite anime lesbians right away. If the series remains as true to the source material as it claims it will, we won’t even get the gay dudes, since Zoisite and Kunzite were not lovers in the manga. But Sailor Moon should still present a lot to please the queer feminist anime fan in its early seasons, with its emphasis on girls saving the world and fostering strong female-female relationships of all kinds. And seeing lesbians kicking bad-guy butt while “winning love by daylight” is nothing if not worth the wait.

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Rose is a Michigander currently living in Boston, where she is working on her master's degree in musicology. Classical music, history, 1960s rock bands, cartoons, old movies and the Detroit Tigers are just a few of her favorite things. In her spare time she also writes music, collects too many books and cats, and inhales Diet Coke at alarming speeds. For more of her many opinions, you should follow her on Tumblr.

Rose has written 66 articles for us.

27 Comments

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    Oh, this is so exciting!!! Watched growing up and it is still the only anime I’ll ever care about. I do hope the new series will show up on Youtube.

    I had no idea that Zoisite wasn’t a female until now, since I have never read the manga and watched the early seasons in Canada where it was obviously changed. Saw the last couple seasons Youtube (subtitles and all), thank god for that site!

    Haruka and Michiru were too damn adorable (and some of my favourite characters) and the Starlights were fascinating!! You should of found an image of them and added it to the article.

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      If you get into the manga (which I do highly recommend), the Sailor Starlights are not men in their civilian forms like in the anime, but are instead women dressing as men as some sort of disguise. I know Naoko Takeuchi wasn’t happy about that change, as she was adamant that only girls can be Senshi.

      So that’s something that will likely be different in the new adaptation. At least the cross-dressing is still pretty queer, though, so that’s not a strike against it, in my opinion. And I only have so much space for pics in articles, sorry!

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      This is pretty much what I was thinking.

      I had a 7 year bff who pretended she was Haruka and I thought I was Michiru and we went on “dates” to the aquarium (dodging our parents the whole time). Sailor Moon was such a big part of my childhood.

      I have a lot of feels here.

      xx

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      The reason for that could possibly be because of the whole Sempai/ Kohai relationship (considering that Haruka was older and a bit of a pretty boi). Also the fact that it is accepted and even encouraged for girls in Japan to form relationship-type bonds with girls in preparation for adult relationships with boys would mean that the affection was in ordinance with that social practice and not necessarily the fact that she was bi. Naoko Takeuchi was never one to hide the sexual orientation of her characters anyway (multiple interviews have gone on where fans have asked if Haruka and Michiru were “really actually lesbian” and without fail, she has always replied with a simple and blunt “yes”.)

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    Hi! I’ve been a AS reader for over 3 years and this is the first time I’m commenting because I have SO MANY Sailor Moon feelings.

    On one hand I’m really excited about the reboot, because it will be yet another chance to get all excited and go through adventures with the Sailor Senshi.

    However, I’ve been through both the manga and the anime and I have to say while the manga is more coherent in terms of plot, I find the anime is way better in terms of character development and that’s really why I watch the show. I think it shows amazing friendships and strong female characters and personally I think they get to shine a bit more in the anime.

    The other main reason I’m worried about the new reboot is because anime Haruka and Michiru are so adorable and so into each other and have so many scenes in which they say cute little things to each other and talk about jumping each other. Both Haruka and Michiru are much more developed as characters in the anime and importantly, their relationship is much more developed in the anime.

    So I’ll admit at this point that Haruka and Michiru are my ideal couple and I am a little bit obsessed with them so this will affect how I see this but in the manga Haruka and Michiru both have much more minor roles, and their relationship does not get much time devoted to it. Haruka’s flirtation with Usagi gets much more attention than her and Michiru. And while I think it’s great that Usagi is clearly bisexual in the manga and that the Haruka/Usagi thing is interesting, I find it really lacking that there is little development or insight given into Haruka and Michiru’s relationship.

    So I guess I’m really really hoping that this new reboot, based on the manga, will give us a lot more Haruka/Michiru than the manga does, and will show their relationship developing, and I really really hope they keep the cute comments they both make about doing each other! Is that too much to ask?

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    I am so excited about this! Sailor Moon is literally what sparked my wish to become an animator/comic artist when I grow up~ I’m really happy that they are going to try and make it more like the manga. That is a really important thing for me because the manga was such a large part of my growing up. Honestly, not to be rude or exclusionary (because if this was a thing, I wouldn’t oppose it), but I’m not too sad about the gay boy thing not being there, partially because it wasn’t in the manga in the first place, but also because the magical girl genre is for girls specifically and it was one of the first to do so. Literally every other genre of anime/manga before had men and boys as a large focus or aspect and yes, gay couples were included (in fact Yaoi was invented quite a few years before yuri ever came along and in Japanese culture, there was a word for gay men SO much longer than there was for lesbian women, partially because it was believed that they did not exist). So to be honest the inclusion of a gay couple in the first place wasn’t really needed.

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      I don’t know if I agree with the idea that gay dude representation in anime doesn’t matter because yaoi/shounen-ai is really popular. A lot of the importance of media representation has to do with us showing up in mainstream media, where straight people who aren’t specifically looking for queer storylines will see us, and learn to accept us as normal as a result. That’s not going to happen if we’re confined to shows that have neon-flashing “GAY” signs, as the yaoi and yuri genres essentially are in anime. If you’re a homophobe, you’re not going to watch Gravitation or Strawberry Panic. So there’s still something to be said for queer characters and romances of any kind showing up in mainstream anime, as Sailor Moon undoubtedly is.

      (I mean, Evangelion, which came out around the same time, had an IMPLIED romance between two boys (Shinji and Kaworu) that took up all of 11 minutes of screentime in a 26-episode series… and it’s still one of the biggest flamewar topics in a fandom full of those. Gay boys were then, and still are, every bit as controversial as lesbians in anime that doesn’t fit into the neat yaoi/yuri labels.)

      Also, both yaoi and yuri often uphold harmful media stereotypes about same-sex relationships: that there’s a strict “male” and “female” role (seme and uke, as they’re called in yaoi), that gay men are predators, lesbian relationships played for the male gaze, etc. Both the Zoisite/Kunzite and Haruka/Michiru romances in Sailor Moon are pretty great at avoiding that stuff. They each do clearly have a more “masculine” and “feminine” partner, but without the gross ideas about who “controls” the relationship that you see in most anime same-sex pairings.

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