Out of the Celluloid Closet

Sailor Moon embraces her queer icon status in this series

· Updated on January 31, 2024

Created by Naoko Takeuchi in 1992, the manga Sailor Moon tells the story of a 14-year-old girl named Usagi Tsukino who transforms into the magical superhero Sailor Moon. The series has been adapted into a plethora of media, including an iconic 90’s anime adaptation and Sailor Moon Crystal, a 2014 anime reboot that follows the storyline of the manga. The most recent iteration is the two-part film Sailor Moon Cosmos, which serves as the finale to Sailor Moon Crystal and was released in Japan in June 2023.

Even though the global release date is still forthcoming, Sailor Moon fans or newcomers can still revisit Sailor Moon Stars. the fifth and final season of the original 90’s anime that serves as the template for Sailor Moon Cosmos. In this particular season, Usagi Tsukino is allowed to shine her brightest as a queer icon. 

When Sailor Moon Stars‘ main storyline begins, Usagi’s destined male lover Mamoru goes overseas to study abroad. At the same time, three new female Sailor Guardians known as the Sailor Starlights appear as a mysterious new enemy appears and starts turning humans into monsters by taking their life source known as a Star Seed. 

One of the most notable things about Sailor Moon Stars is that the Sailor Starlights transformation sequence sees them change from male to female. Their civilian identities are the male idol singing group The Three Lights, which plays an important role in the storyline. Another factor is that Seiya Kou, one of the Salior Starlights, develops an unrequited crush on Usagi Tsukino. 

While the manga depicts The Sailor Starlights as female characters who crossdress as a male idol group, their anime counterpart allows for a more flexible interpretation of their gender identities. A viewer could see them as transgender women, genderfluid, or nonbinary. Not to mention, Seiya Kou’s crush on Usagi is never belittled by Usagi despite her being in love with Mamoru. 

Prior to this season, the original Japanese version of Sailor Moon was already resplendent in queerness. Season 3 introduced Haruka Tenoh and Michiru Kaioh, two female Sailor Guardians who are a couple. Since Haruka wears masculine clothing in civilian form and a skirt as Sailor Uranus, some people have interpreted her to be transgender. 

In a piece on Sailor Moon for The Mary Sue, writer Tash Wolfe states, “Although Haruka was not written as a ‘trans character,’ he is noted as an inspiration and role model for many readers and viewers while swimming through the fluidity of their own genders.” Some of the antagonists were queer as well; there was a romantic relationship between the male characters Zoisite and Kunzite. Given that the original English dub of Sailor Moon censored any overt LGBTQ references, it was remarkable that some viewers could pick up on the subtext.

When it comes to Usagi herself, Seiya’s unrequited crush on her is evidence of queer subtext because it implies that Usagi is bi. It is entirely possible for a bisexual person to be in a romantic relationship with one person while being the object of a crush for someone else. Moreover, Seiya is the second non-male person to flirt with Usagi in the 90’s anime, as Haruka Tenoh did something similar when they first met Usagi. Unlike with Seiya, Usagi briefly crushed on Haruka when she assumed that Haruka was a boy. 

As for Seiya themself, their crush on Usagi is significant because Usagi reminds them of the person the Sailor Starlights are searching for, Princess Kakyuu. Both Usagi and Princess Kakyuu possess powerful Star Seeds and they are also loyal and self-sacrificing. In episode 178 of the anime, Seiya states to Usagi, “The stronger the light of a star, the more they shine. Yours is especially bright. I like your light.”

Not only are Seiya and Usagi are initially unaware of each other’s true identities, but the Sailor Starlights’ violent approach to handling Phages initially causes tension between the Sailor Starlights and the Sailor Guardians. Ironically, Usagi’s cheerful and friendly nature causes her to gradually win over Taiki and Yaten, the civilian forms of the other Sailor Starlights. In episode 179, Usagi’s clumsiness causes her to ruin a cooking show Taiki is taking part of, but Taiki manages to laugh for the first time in ages. Eventually, the Sailor Starlights and the Sailor Guardians must reconcile their civilian and superhero identities and their goals to work together and save the world.

Sailor Moon Stars’ characters, campiness, and magical aesthetics laid the groundwork for the movie Sailor Moon Cosmos. The teaser trailer featuring the Sailor Starlights retain their colorful appeal while making room for something new. Other trailers show Usagi herself looking beautiful as always while showing glimpses of a new potential. Whether you are a veteran or new Sailor Moon fan, Sailor Moon’s light is worth basking in.♦

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Tags: Bisexual Manga
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