Starlights

All right, I’m not including any of those profiles that everyone seems hooked on if only because you can find them everywhere else. Besides, they really don’t contain much information that couldn’t be deduced in one episode of observation. It takes very little to figure out that Yaten is a type AB, or that Seiya has a weakness for girls, or that Taiki hates arguments. Well, OK, so Seiya is a much more classic Leo than a classic type A, but all the same.

Instead of mucking about with this, let’s move right along to everyone’s favorite topic (at least I assume its a favorite of yours if you followed this link), chatting about the Starlights.

Again, contrary to some of the image choices, this is based on the anime not the manga.

Names

I was tremendously entertained by Season Five, but I admit I am even more entertained by some of the speculations I’ve happened across while out browsing, frequently about their names. Some, of course, are simply the result of cultural confusion. When your ears say that the one with purple eyes is called Taiki Kou while your eyes say that he’s called Kou Taiki, and everyone seems to just use Taiki and ditch the Kou some confusion is bound to result. Arguments abound, some of them convincing some less so. The argument that Kou must be their surname because they’re not presented as Japanese and therefore Western naming conventions would apply is somewhat convincing, but since, visually, almost no characters at all are presented as Japanese and ‘historically’ we never do find out just how far away the Lights were supposed to have transfered from, it’s still pretty iffy. The most convincing part of this argument is the linguistic point that the manga include phonetic pointers in the Lights’ names, and even that seems a bit ambiguous, since most manga do that, even for clearly Japanese characters. Other characters in this series also have phonetic characters used to spell their names, possibly to support puns. The argument that it must be their surname because Japanese ads featuring idols use given-surname order is not convincing; even the manga is supposed to be a representation of dialogue not advertisements. And in the anime all idols we’re introduced to are named in sur-given order, even the ones with overtly Western names like Alice. (Both those arguments can be found through here, judge for yourself.)

Then there’s the one about titles; our threesome do not use titles when referring to each other. Since they certainly don’t appear to be lovers this leaves us with some kind of familial or similarly intimate or casual relationship. While I agree that there’s lots of room for debate on this one, as anime tends to ignore little things like genetic likelihood, their appearance doesn’t particularly support the idea that they’re related; in relationships where kinship is an issue, like Usagi and Chibiusa, some indication is usually given that they are related (like the hair balls). And the ‘rules’ about titles aren’t exactly carved in stone; for instance, Michiru frequently refers to Usagi without any title. I don’t take this to indicate that she’s actually Usagi’s sister (or mother), nor yet that they are childhood friends, but that their relationship is on a similar model.

I would also note that the lovely and useful name section of the online dictionary JEDI only lists Kou as a given name (assuming I’m reading the little notations correctly, which is by no means positive). At any rate, for now I am sticking with the interpretation that the given name comes second, on the simplest-explanation principle. If this is true, the Three Lights would not actually be brothers (even in civvies). They’re not even sisters, though I think that’s closer in a generic sort of way.

A note on name translations: I can’t find Kakyuu as a conversational word meaning fireball in any of the online dictionaries; according to those, kakyuu means junior, emergency and raising salaries. But if you break it down to ka (fire) and kyuu (urgent=sudden) it does seem to work out pretty closely. And Kakyuu is a given name. Taiki, as well as air, can indicate alert, standing by, waiting for an opportunity. That one seems to work on all levels. Curiously enough, I couldn’t find Yaten at all. And while (in language use as opposed to names which is often something different no matter what language you’re in) light is one of the meanings of kou, kou doesn’t seem to be one of the words that’s used alone to indicate light. I only found it meaning light as a part of longer words. On its own, the meanings I found for it include a hill or rise in the ground, entertainment or pleasure (that one works), a sentence, a lord/marquis/daimyo (including, if it’s used as a suffix, prince/public/companion/subordinate), the weather or season, happiness or luck, benifit or result or success, to be bent (no comment), filial piety, seventh, first, school or proof (used as a suffix), shell or instep, manuscript or version, body cavity, item/clause/paragraph/head/main (used as a prefix), threat or long ages, the same kind or comparison with, boorish or urgent, and box. Whether any of these (which are probably all written quite differently) are supposed to occur to us on the homonym-pun level I can’t say. Yes, you’re reading the page of someone who thinks of dictionaries as toys; take warning.

Takeuchi was obviously in an impish mood the day she decided on their names, whichever is supposed to be given. Remembering that this page is anime based, my personal theory is that they call each other by “last” name because those names are assumed identities in the first place and the “last” names are closest to their original identities (internal story logic), and to call attention to the fact that Kou is not so much a name as a clue, being so close to ko, the feminine name ending (external author/audience logic). Given how puns abound in this series, this strikes me as a reasonable reading. And it only works if you take the names in the spoken order, e.g. Yaten first and Kou second; I think the subtitlers made the correct choice in consistently transposing names for the Western audience, but a footnote might have been nice.

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Gender

The really funny/alarming speculations, however, all have to do with the Starlights’ gender. There looks to be a fairly heated debate running about whether these three are “really” women or men. The fact that they are solely women (disguised as men) in the manga is only fuel to the fire. The concept of “both” seems to be giving people trouble. This is probably linguistically based, at least in part, since English, for one, doesn’t have a pronoun for both/either; so I am going to take shameless advantage of the fact that this is a written medium and use s/he, ignoring the fact that no one has come up with a way to pronounce it out loud.

Admittedly, Our Directors seem to want to play with our heads on this one. The first round of transformation footage is a good example. The color coding says that the Three Lights are men and the Starlights are women. So far, so good, unless you’re squeamish about that sort of thing. But take a good look at the body outlines

In the first round transformations, the only one who makes a really clear shift from male to female, in both outline and stance, is Seiya/Fighter. Taiki/Maker is fuzzier and Yaten/Healer still more so; in fact, Healer barely changes at all in outline, from male to female, only in stance. Maker’s male to female shift reverses this, changing outline somewhat but not stance at all. The fact that these scenes are something less than graphic doesn’t help in this case. I thought this was typical of how the three are presented throughout, though: Seiya is the only significantly sexualized one, the one, for instance, we see discreetly nude (Episode 184, definitely male) though we get all of them at least topless in swimsuits in 183. Taiki is almost asexual. Yaten is distinctly femme. So, on the one hand we have the simple surface (the color coding, the masculine school uniforms) and on the other we have the ambiguous details (the names, the eyes).

That reminds me: the eyes. This is another of those hints that says these three are women. Anime style eyes tend to be noticeably divided into women’s (have eyelashes) and men’s (don’t have eyelashes, at least not long ones). The Lights have significant eyelashes in both forms. This is not, however, entirely consistent. In Episode 176 (the musical) they don’t.

I suppose that’s the real trick. All of these points add up to contradiction; every time you think you’ve got hold of a solid clue it turns fluid. Of course, that’s why I think it’s fun.

All of this is complicated yet again by the fact that we meet our threesome, and see the most of them, in male guise. So the discovery that their original forms are female gets…well…complicated. Given that all of the Lights’ seiyuu are women it is very easy to see them as women even when they temporarily aren’t, but I suspect the fact that they are presenting male leads most viewers to ignore that. (C’mon people, what’s so alarming about being attracted to both their forms? Double your pleasure, double your fun.)

All the same, our threesome themselves don’t seem to be especially concerned with sex/gender issues. They certainly don’t take the wicked delight that, say, Haruka does in misleading people. If I had to guess on this issue I would say that Seiya likes women and Yaten likes men, regardless of which form they’re in, though I also have a feeling Yaten would prefer to return to female first–s/he certainly seems to react poorly to the suggestion that s/he’s gay, Episode 178. Taiki, I’m not sure of; like I said, s/he strikes me as rather asexual. But these are just gut feelings, mostly based on the fact that Seiya presents fairly masculine while Yaten leans more toward feminine, and, as the Gender page points out, Japan is big on sexual roles. Given the extent to which Our Directors play around with these three, though, it probably isn’t safe to assume that this means those two will be attracted to their “opposites”. Yaten could just as easily be attracted to women, as long as they aren’t drooling.

We have now reached the point where I can no longer gracefully avoid possessive pronouns (his/her). I think I’ll use hir. It isn’t as neat a solution as s/he, but, hey, nothing’s perfect. And this can also be used as a reference pronoun (him/her).

So, anyway, on to particulars. Since I like Yaten best (ah, attitude) s/he’s first.

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Yaten/Healer

I’m starting to consider contradictory personalities a hallmark of this series; certainly our threesome all display marked opposing characteristics (internally, that is). Yaten’s contradictions, I speculate, are focused around a downright inability to not be empathic, ironic as that may seem at first glance. Yaten has definitely mastered the use of pointed words. S/he has a snide comment for every occasion, and no hesitation about discarding all conventions of courtesy to get people to leave hir alone. In some ways I find it very appropriate that Rei seems the one most drawn to Yaten–viciousness attracts, perhaps.

But if you watch closely you start to notice that Yaten never, ever, uses that viciousness on Taiki or Seiya. If they start crowding hir reserve, as, for instance, when Seiya wants to know what Yaten said to piss off hir co-star of the week so much (Episode 178), Yaten winds up lapsing into a rather cute sort of petulance: “I told her the truth,” s/he mumbles around hir thumbnail.

I would say that Yaten doesn’t simply have an ungovernable temper; rather, s/he uses hir temper deliberately to keep outsiders too far away to become insiders. Because if they become insiders, Yaten probably wouldn’t be capable of ignoring their needs and hearts, or of concealing hir own anymore. I speculate it isn’t just that Healer prefers hir own company, but that if s/he became too close to a large number of people their needs, pain, even joy would tear hir apart. Consider what happens when Yaten and Minako (post identity revelation) are finally thrown into proximity at the idol audition (Episode 192).

To start with, Yaten nearly hauls off and belts Minako one (I can sympathize with the urge), but by the second round of talking/yelling Minako takes time out from defending herself to try and comfort Yaten, specifically, Yaten’s waning self-confidence due to their princess’ continued absence. Lo and behold, Yaten looks around with the sweetest smile I think we ever see on hir face. And despite the fact that Healer has previously been the one most inclined to leave the Inners hanging out to dry when they get in trouble, s/he can’t quite manage it this time. Pretty fast turn-around for someone who’s allegedly so indifferent to them.

What really fuels my conviction that Yaten’s behavior stems from too much feeling rather than too little, though, is the violence of hir reactions combined with their irregularity. This is the person who very deliberately picks a fight with Makoto, the character best known, after Haruka, of course, for mopping the floor with anyone who annoys her. I’m not sure whether Yaten can be said to win, since Seiya interrupts them, but s/he certainly doesn’t lose (I’m rather fond of that snide touch, leaving one hand in hir pocket the entire time). For someone that size to succeed against Makoto would definitely take some extreme and concentrated temper. But Yaten doesn’t display it except when s/he might be in danger of sympathizing.

This also, at least to me, explains why Healer is focused so exclusively on Princess Kakyuu. If someone like Healer actually gives hir heart, s/he’ll go all the way with no room whatsoever for half measures…or anyone else. Whenever I write this timeline forward, in my head, I’m always tempted to create a lover for Yaten (someone appropriately perceptive, an artist perhaps), but the smoothest scenario I’ve been able to come up with involves putting the poor dear through a great deal of guilt until the princess decides it would be good for Healer to have someone else to focus on because I can never get Healer’s character to take that step on hir own.

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Taiki/Maker

At first glance, Taiki appears a lot more stable than Yaten. S/he’s usually the one who restrains Yaten’s extremes, such as badgering Seiya or getting into a fight with Haruka for crying out loud. I have to say, one of my favorite lines in Season Five is Taiki’s comment to Yaten in Episode 181, regarding Yaten’s typically brusque phone manners: “You worry me.” Taiki seems like the calmest of the three; the one who focuses intellectually and works things through before acting, the one with the most contempt for emotional reasoning as demonstrated in hir go-round with Ami about the comet and romanticism (Episode 177). We get some of Taiki’s best supercilious expressions in this episode–that faint smile that says louder than words ‘my dear, you might actually amount to something if you used your brain’.

Actually, I would say Taiki and Ami have more in common than that episode implies; the card game in Episode 184 is a better example of their similarities, notably gleefully ruthless competitiveness. They both have a tendency to take the potential for a good deal of passion and sublimate it very thoroughly into intellectual activity. In Ami this compressed emotion emerges as an occasional tendency to soppiness. In Taiki, it comes out as a tendency toward both more intense depression and more intense optimism than either Yaten or Seiya. On top of that, s/he avoids situations that might call out strong emotions like the plague; s/he’s always the peacemaker, despite having hir own share of temper.

I find it significant that Taiki is the one who writes poetry, too. Poetry involves self-expression, certainly, and sometimes the evocation of powerful feelings, but it’s feeling contained in a frame; in order to write poetry well, one has to have enough distance from the feelings involved to describe/evoke them effectively. This habit of handling emotions with tongs leads to some curious moments of inconsistency along with the general front of stoicism; Episode 179, the exploding cake and Maker’s rescue of Sailor Moon, is a good example. In the course of this episode Taiki goes from angry enough to strangle roses and not notice the thorns have cut hir to giggling helplessly over what a mess everyone is after the cake explodes (now there’s an idea–Arm & Hammer Shortcake Attack!…on second thought maybe I shouldn’t give Our Directors ideas). Perhaps Taiki is more well balanced than the other two, but if so s/he’s balanced on a knife edge.

Speaking of balance, though, given the downright addiction to balances that Our Directors display in this show, I’m more than half convinced that they set up Maker as the one most afraid of hir emotional strength precisely because s/he displays the most conspicuous physical strength (even if I did nearly snarf my coffee the first time I heard Maker’s attack). Maker is the one who gets to show off, physically, toting other characters around with no apparent effort, succeeding in hand-to-hand confrontations, and generally kicking ass.

In some ways, I think Taiki and Yaten are drawn as balances for each other: Yaten’s emotional violence against Taiki’s emotional suppression, both for the purpose of defending emotional vulnerability. Yaten’s rather aggressive sensuality, and for all that I think s/he would almost prefer not to Yaten practically drips with it, against Taiki’s equally aggressive denial of any sensuality. We can note that, as Taiki, s/he’s frequently drawn looking rather uncomfortable with hir body, and much more squarely than the other two. While s/he’s graceful in motion it’s a rather cold and elegant kind of grace. And no way, no how, have I been able to write any scenario that gets Maker romantically involved with anyone at all; it demanded either a novel of buildup or deforming the character out of recognition. Aloof is definitely the keyword for Taiki’s personality, most of the time. An interesting note on that, to me at least, is that none of the girls ever address Taiki in the familiar form, despite the general convention that boys of the same age are -kun while girls get to be -san.

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Seiya/Fighter

Seiya, on the other hand, gets ‘kun’ed immediately. In fact, Usagi doesn’t usually bother with any title at all for hir; she and Chibiusa both have that habit with boys they consider good friends (or, sometimes, pitiful as in Umino’s case). Though it could just as easily be a mild insult here–a way of getting back at Seiya for all those ‘Odango’s–especially when you consider that hir fan club girls tend to refer to hir as Seiya-sama. And s/he plays right into it, of course; I can definitely understand where a lot of viewers would want to smack Seiya one.

In one way, I see Seiya as the parallel to Yaten, around the balance point of Taiki; where Yaten projects femme, Seiya displays the more traditionally masculine profile. My favorite example is Episode 174, Seiya’s first close encounter with the football team. Seiya, after showing off how s/he can slip past the rest of the team is flattened by the captain. Much to Usagi’s surprise, this results in a bonding moment and an invitation for Seiya to join the team, which is accepted. Seiya, being Seiya, responds to her disbelief by telling her she’ll never understand.

Actually, that could be true. While Usagi might understand the willingness to get pounded on in order to be the best, I doubt she would understand the aspect of taking pride in how much abuse one can endure.

In another way I would say that Seiya and Taiki are established as the outwardly focused ones in contrast to Yaten. Overall, however, the dynamics of Seiya’s personality are, on the surface, quite different than the other two. S/he’s a good deal more flamboyant; the drawing styles reflect that. In the other two, you have to watch for their expressive moments or you miss them. No one is ever going to miss Seiya’s expressiveness. More than once, this leads to the other two presenting a united front of amusement, exasperation or disbelief.

I think the trick is that Seiya’s flamboyance is just as much a defense as Yaten’s prickliness or Taiki’s coolness. The moments you have to watch for with Seiya are when s/he drops the front and deals with matters of hir heart; at that point, s/he becomes abruptly and, by contrast, extremely hesitant and fragile. It’s this sort of shift that leads me to think Fighter is a good deal less sure of hirself than appearances suggest.

This would go some ways toward explaining Seiya’s more volatile moments. Of course, division of heart would explain some of that too. It’s clear that Fighter loves Princess Kakyuu deeply; just take a look at that sappy expression when s/he’s singing to her in Episode 194. S/he also appears to be the one who’s genuinely closest to her; Fighter is the one the princess speaks directly to upon reappearing, and the one who follows her as she leaves.

None of this, however, stops Seiya from falling in love with Usagi. I find it amusing, in a provocative sort of way, that Our Directors take some trouble to carry this emotion over from Seiya to Fighter–in Episode 188, where identities are revealed, Seiya assures Usagi as the plane takes off that s/he will protect her if anything happens; after transforming, Fighter turns to Usagi and says “I told you I would protect you if anything happened.” This causes a number of problems, and not just because the other two don’t think Seiya has any business taking hir attention off the search for their princess.

I’ve experimented with actually hooking Fighter up with Princess Kakyuu, but I have a hard time getting the characters to go that way; personally I think it’s because Fighter has a whole lot in common with Uranus. I mean, it’s obvious from the start that they won’t get along because they’re too much alike, not to mention both loving Usagi, but beyond that. Like Uranus, Fighter has a lot of identity invested in being the protector. So first off, I would say that Kakyuu is more aggressive than Usagi; I doubt the balance of protector/protected would hold in an intimate encounter between Fighter and Princess Kakyuu. By the same token it looks like the…business relationship I suppose…between Fighter and hir princess came first. I think Fighter is too much Kakyuu’s senshi to become her lover.

In some sense, Fighter does seem to be Kakyuu’s stand-in among the Starlights, though: the one who works to draw the three of them together into a unit, though not in any fashion one could call diplomatic. Did I mention the word volatile? Another curious contradiction, that the one with a leader’s charisma is also the only one we see actually loose control. S/he’s also the one who pushes for cooperation with and consideration of those outside their immediate circle; it’s one of the few indications I see to support Seiya’s blood type.

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Vocals

I imagine the seiyuu for these characters were chosen to reinforce that particular dynamic. Niiyama Shiho’s (Seiya’s) voice is definitely the keystone of this trio’s musical synthesis. Together they manage an impressive combination, probably supported by a good tech on the mixing board, a real synergy, but Niiyama’s voice gives the group songs direction and motivation. (Virtual candle for Niiyama; I am immensely upset with the universe that it let the owner of such a lovely voice die.) It helps, in achieving this effect, that she has the clearest timbre and best support. Not to mention enunciation. “Ginga Ichi Mibun Chigai Na Kataomoi” (Seiya’s solo song) was obviously composed and arranged to show off Niiyama’s strengths and one of those seems to have been a very agile tongue. The vocal dynamics are also more dramatic than either Tsunoda Narumi’s (Taiki’s) or Sakamoto Chika’s (Yaten’s) solos. If you never thought Seiya had much sex appeal (and I didn’t used to) listen to it.

I’m fairly taken with Tsunoda’s solo, too, though. Of course, I’m a sucker for resonance; I’m always trying to write future stories that somehow redeem Dimando (yes, I know he’s dead, that’s never stopped anyone else, has it?) purely for the sake of his voice–rather, Shiozawa Kaneto’s voice. Another virtual candle for him. What I can’t decide is whether that’s Tsunoda’s natural timbre or whether she’s forcing her range. The more I listen the more inclined I am to think she’s forcing it (Akaiko Nozomi says she is; thanks for the tip!), because I hear everyone else doing the same thing; it produces a frog-in-the-throat effect whenever people hit the bottom of their registers. It’s most notable in Furuya’s (Mamoru’s) and Ogata’s (Haruka’s) voices. I can only conclude this is something they’ve been trained to do. I still like “Chikara wo Awasete,” though. Personally, given the huskiness of Tsunoda’s voice, I wouldn’t have leaned on the bass beat so hard, but I wasn’t the composer, and anyway I doubt there was a live person doing percussion for most of these. They have that unyielding precision that says drum-machine to me.

I find myself a bit conflicted over Sakamoto’s solo. I like the song, I think it has the best lyrics, and Sakamoto has excellent control and expression, but that’s the one I have the hardest time hearing the character in. I wonder sometimes whether that’s because, as the songs were written by Takeuchi, they may actually be the songs of different characters than developed in the anime. Perhaps Sakamoto is singing a different Yaten in “Mayou Naka Hitori.” Alternatively, perhaps her range simply isn’t low enough, singing, to consistently match the speaking voice she developed for Yaten without taking away from the integrity of the song itself (which I think Sakamoto is too much the vocal artist to do).

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Light Links

So that’s my two cents worth. Now, about links. There are few specifically Lights-oriented sites I really like, but A Pity Shrine to Taiki Kou is hugely entertaining. Star of Creation (currently down) has an excellent section on mythology and astrology; while it’s focused on Maker it has links to the source sites so one can look up similar info on the other two. Of course, it seems to have been hijacked lately; if I find it again I’ll re-link. An interesting note that–the sites for Taiki/Maker tend to be more complex than those for either Yaten/Healer or Seiya/Fighter. The latter both tend to boil down to “aren’t they hot?” and an image gallery. An older site for Seiya, however, The Original Seiya/Starfighter Shrine, is quite good and also entertaining. And, though most of it is pretty boring, the bio section of Yaten’s Corner is very cute. As a curiosity, the historical explanation linked to this page, The Real History of the Sailor Starlights is also interesting; I have yet to track down the interview it’s said to be based on so I don’t know how many liberties of interpretation have been taken. Until I know, I reserve judgment; if it is accurate, it reinforces my sense of Takeuchi as a good artist and a mediocre storyteller. But if you want good, old-fashioned, blood-and-guts fairy tales, they’re there.

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Last Modified: Aug 22, 08
Posted: Jul 22, 00