Let’s talk about the scope of Sailor Moon. Let’s talk about how, by the end of the final arc, it has universe-sized implications. We learn that every planet with intelligent life has its own guardian senshi—which, given the preponderance of intelligent life in this series, implies the existence of thousands, if not millions of pretty soldiers. We learn that Usagi is one of many, many princesses with their own sworn sisters and legendary romances. We learn that every villain up to this point was just another facet of Chaos, the final villain—the only one that ever mattered. We watch Usagi battle Galaxia, she who has conquered a thousand planets, on the lip of the Galaxy Cauldron. We watch Usagi defeat the primal, cosmic force of chaos itself by destroying the origin point of all existence.
This is a story of sweeping mythology and galaxy-shaping forces and that in and of itself is fantastic. But the thing that sets it apart, and the thing, I suspect, that has held our fascination so fiercely is that it is utterly female-centric.
Think about it. There are lots of amazing, star-spanning stories out there, and tons of mahou shoujo tales as well. I’m a fan of a whole lot of work in both categories. But can you think of another story that combines the two so wholeheartedly? One that spans thousands of planets and thousands of years? One in which the principal players, from the foot soldiers to the goddesses to the ancestors are nearly all female? We laud Sailor Moon for its diverse portrayal of femininity, for its treatment of sexuality and for its subversion of gender norms. And that’s great. But how often do we sit down and talk about how goddamn epic it is? This is a universe, you guys. This is huge and rich and complicated and unlike stories in a similar vein, it doesn’t just have one or two token girls—it is dominated by women.
We have our huge, primeval forces: Life, love, death, chaos, and creation. We have characters who act as channels for these forces (and achieve nigh-goddesshood): Usagi, for example, as the font of creation, love and life, Hotaru as the grim reaper, the “Messiah of Silence.” As I described in this piece, we have the establishment of death as a necessary presence, as a comrade-in-arms in her own right. We have soldiers who wield the elements of nature as weapons in a war against nothingness and disorder. We have a story of lost splendor, of the death of a holy kingdom thousands of years before, of a princess who impaled herself on her lover’s sword rather than live without him in the midst of a planetary war. We have bonds of duty and honor that tie a few chosen women to their princess until death. We have a system that spans a million galaxies, a system organized by mysterious cosmic forces wherein an intergalactic sisterhood battles a thousand iterations of Chaos, the eternal enemy. And even after Sailor Moon defeats that cosmic foe, she is informed that he will be reborn—there must always be chaos. There must always be balance. There must always be senshi.
And upon setting up these laws, Sailor Moon complicates them and deconstructs them and takes them to their logical ends. We watch Haruka and Michiru seek the murder of a fellow soldier because they misunderstand her power over death. In small, emotional glimpses, we learn of the loneliness of a senshi like Pluto, with her solitary power—an important one for sure but one that strips her of her sisters. In Nehelenia, we meet a neglected minority of the Silver Millenium, a people denied its glory a thousand years prior. In the StarS arc, we not only learn that there are senshi far beyond the Solar System with their own strange powers and clothing—we learn that some don’t want to be senshi. Galaxia was so taken aback by her duty towards a “hellish” planet that she became a ruthless despot allied with the force she was sworn to fight. Through the animamates, we experience the yearning of all those unchosen girls who long to be senshi too, who give up their lives to a tyrant in the hope of one day being so anointed. In Sailor Cosmos, we meet a Sailor Moon who failed, one who, in her indecision, plunged the world into misery and has returned to set things right. Through the asteroid senshi, we peer into the future of this universe and comprehend the eternity of these soldiers, their permanence and power.
And it’s all women. Jesus Christ, you guys, no wonder we still love it. No wonder there’s a manga, an anime, a series of musicals, a live-action series and a reboot coming on the way. No wonder I stepped into the Anime Boston Sailor Moon panel two weeks ago and found it packed, even half an hour early. This story deserves a goddamn Silmarillion. We could (and will!) spend years discussing the implications of this story, the things it hints at but isn’t able to explore. It’s huge. It’s rich. It’s complex. And it’s defined by women. The weapons are encrusted with rhinestones, the antagonists are wicked queens with sleek gowns and ombre hair. The pillars of this story are legendary female warriors who protect all sentient life against darkness. Some of these women are shy, some are bold, some love other women. Some of them rebel against their fate, some of them—it must be repeated—sacrifice themselves to destroy the force of chaos itself. This is awesome in both the classic and modern sense of the word. It’s epic. And it stands alone, even today. That makes me a little sad, to be honest, but ultimately I just sit here in wonder. This is a saga.