Responses

These are responses to two of the early academic essays to appear in English, on Sailor Moon.

Response to Mary Grigsby’s “Sailormoon: Manga and Anime Superheroine Meets Barbie: Global Entertainment Commodity Comes to the United States” in The Journal of Popular Culture vol 32.1, Summer 1998.

First off, I would say the article in question is a very good prospectus (outline of a project); it raises all sorts of nifty possibilities for future research like What effect does the frequency of manga/anime characters with Western features have on Japanese kids? Why, precisely, is this manga/show so popular? and so forth. But it doesn’t answer any of those questions. In fact, the presentation is sufficiently fragmented that I had a hard time deciding exactly what Grigsby’s main point actually was. As far as I can tell, she seems to be focusing on the infiltration of Japanese culture by Western standards of femininity–which is to say consumerism as womanhood. I have some problems with this.

Of course, it’s only fair to say that this article is several years old. It is based almost entirely on Act 1 of the manga. Given the scope of the investigation, the conclusions Grigsby draws are fairly justified. I expect that, if she has kept on with her analysis of SailorMoon, she has altered some of these conclusions. At least I hope so, because if we look at the later volumes/seasons some of her assertions don’t hold any more. The only thing that really troubles me is that Grigsby had access to at least the first two story arcs in manga format by the time she wrote this article, and she ignores that material completely. Doesn’t even give it a passing nod of “this could be good material for future research.” This could simply mean she rushed the article, which happens to everyone sometimes. Or it could mean she’s deliberately ignoring the complications of the material she’s analyzing, which is bad scholarship. I hope it’s the former.

At any rate, one of the things I would take issue with in the analysis itself is the idea that feminine-as-consumer is a main message of this story. She points out that a lot of the action happens in places like Naru’s mother’s jewelry store, where the girls have previously been drooling over material decoration. I have to point out that it’s Naru’s mother who gets youma-ed; it’s the jewelry store where corruption happens. Similarly, Grigsby points out the whole issue of “make-up” transformational power. The quirk here, and one of the strangest in the whole visual presentation to my mind, is that no character who makes-up actually changes appearance at all. Sailor Moon acquires some baubles of jewelry and, in the anime, some nail polish that is promptly covered by her gloves, but no make up. Now, by some of the later seasons, and especially with the older senshi like Haruka and Michiru, we do see some make up appearing; however, in the first season the presence of noticeable make up is an indicator of evil. Consider Shingo’s little doll-maker friend, Mika; when she is corrupted, she suddenly appears in lip-stick, mascara and eye-liner. These are not straightforward consumerist messages. The next point is a basic difference in interpretation, but Grigsby argues that Usagi’s power comes from outside of her. That the transformation brooch, “make up power” and “prism power” are all external powers, not internal. Now, the brooch, I will give her. And it is possible to read the make-up process as a reference to something that’s undeniably external: cosmetics. But let’s look at the powers that save the day and turn the tide. In the first story arc, it’s the Silver Crystal, which manifests from Usagi’s tear. If that isn’t internal, I don’t know what is. The trope is repeated in the second arc for emphasis. It’s a fairly consistent pattern, that the really powerful artifacts are manifestations of the internal while the nifty gewgaws are external. One of Grigsby’s supporting points is that Usagi doesn’t want to become Sailor Moon, that she’s fated to it and complains about this all the time. This is entirely true in the beginning, but a major point of the ongoing story is Usagi’s maturation; she grows into her role and eventually displays as much devotion to her ideals and duties as anyone (even Luna) could wish.

Point number two. Are those ideals and duties confined within the traditional woman’s role of family-center, relational matrix and keeper of domestic emotions? Grigsby seems a bit conflicted on this issue herself. On the one hand, she reads Sailor Moon’s first rescue, Naru’s mother, as inside the relational tradition/domestic circle. But she also points out, a paragraph later, that having the character alternate between the child Usagi and the sexualized mini-adult Sailor Moon neatly circumvents any need to place her inside the continuum of wife/mother/sexual playmate (72). She gets around the issue of how Usagi can be outside the traditional roles if one of those roles is Sex and one of her transformed characteristics is Sex by alleging that there is no adult male or clear object of romance involved. Again, I would note that this only works if we confine ourselves to Act 1. And not completely, even then, since Tuxedo Kamen does get introduced, albeit briefly. Grigsby seems to come down on the side of Sailor Moon being outside traditional roles, in the end. Whether she thinks this is good or bad I can’t quite make out.

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Response to Anne Allison’s “Sailor Moon: Japanese Superheroes for Global Girls,” in the anthology Japan Pop!: Inside the World of Japanese Popular Culture, edited by Timothy J. Craig, pages 259-278, published 2000.

I’m more pleased with this one. For one thing, Allison allows for a lot more complexity and even contradiction in her reading of this story. Let me offer the following quote, which demonstrates most of the major points Allison makes:

A girl’s desire to be desirable–a mainstay of girls’ shows in Japan and elsewhere, with their themes of romance and body consciousness–is not exactly dismantled in Sailor Moon. Nor is it totally endorsed. Rather, the show’s creators have merged two features that have traditionally been kept fairly distinct: the masculinity of a fighter and the feminity of a romantic. As her amalgamated name bishoujo senshi (pretty soldier) implies, Sailor Moon is a warrior who retains, rather than revokes or transcends, her femaleness. She bridges traditional categories of feminine and masculine–Barbie doll female and tough-guy male–rearranging, if not radically transforming, what are often viewed as opposites. Sailor Moon is certainly marketed as both a new kind of superhero and a new kind of female. As a superhero, she is softer and more ‘human,’ one whose foibles are played up rather than down and, though criticized, are never curbed. Being a sweets addict, an oversleeper, and a lazy student does not prevent Serena from turning into a superhero, a fact, her marketers point out, that makes her more endearing and easier to identify with for the all-too-human children who watch the program. As a female, Sailor Moon offers a model for girl (and boy) viewers that is positive and new; she and her friends, while concerned with fashion and romance–‘Valley Girls,’ one American mother calls them, with some distress–are fundamentally happy, fulfilled, self-reliant, and strong. (273-4)

I agree with Allison’s point, that Sailor Moon works both sides of the equation. She isn’t just SuperBarbie, but at the same time she doesn’t disavow that category. I see this story as an effort to show/find a point of balance between the extremes Allison points out. Allison’s argument, that the two categories effectively redefine each other definitely caught my attention. I think she has a good point here.

Allison also points out that this meshing and inter-interrogation of the two categories, woman and soldier, seems to have been thoroughly rejected in the US. Surprise, surprise. I really think, although Allison doesn’t get into this much, that this disjuncture highlights the different cultural locations occupied by anime in Japan and cartoons in the US. Anime is an experimental genre. Cartoons usually aren’t.

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