Category Archives: Pop culture

The oddly nasty future of Sailor Moon

One of my happier discoveries last year was that the Sailor Moon manga was being rereleased in the United States with an all-new translation. To put this in context, the original English translation from the 1990s was so wretched that the promotional campaign for this edition features statements like, “An entirely new, incredibly accurate translation!” and “This version of Sailor Moon will be completely true to the original.” I waited until most of the new translation was published, and then started rereading the story for the first time in twelve years.

Sailor Pluto on book cover

Sailor Pluto.

You know, Sailor Moon comes across as a straightforward magical girl series aimed at a preteen girl audience. All the right elements are there. To start with, you’ve got a princess. Sure, Usagi is a junior high school student (and the magical girl heroine Sailor Moon), but she’s also the reincarnation of Princess Serenity, who died tragically when the Moon Kingdom was destroyed a thousand years ago. There’s a handsome prince, whose love is eternal. There are good friends who have magical powers of their own, and are sort of minor league princesses in their own right. And don’t forget the princess’s magical crystal, a variety of cruel villains, and talking cats (this is not a Disney property, although it does sound like one when you make a list like this). In other words, you’ve got the ingredients for a fairy tale. And yet somehow, it doesn’t quite gel.

Consider: It’s explained that when Usagi reaches age 22 or thereabouts, she becomes Neo Queen Serenity, ending her days as Sailor Moon. She creates the presumably wonderful city (land? country?) of Crystal Tokyo, which in the glimpses we get of it seems to be a juxtaposition of 20th-century Tokyo (skyscrapers) and spiky crystal points. As reincarnated natives of the first Moon Kingdom, she and the other senshi automatically enjoy a lifespan of about a thousand years of youth (no explanation is offered about the aging process after that thousand years), but in accord with the general wonderfulness of it all, everyone who lives in Crystal Tokyo has that same extended lifespan. True romantics, she and King Endymion are still deeply in love after centuries together. They have one daughter, named Usagi S(mall) L(ady) Serenity after her mother, although apparently everyone calls her Chibi-Usa so as not to confuse them. Peace and tranquility abound.

But some things just don’t make sense. Usagi/Serenity has created a sterile paradise, for one thing. Despite a millennium of intimate relations, Serenity and Endymion have produced exactly one child. It seems unlikely that health reasons were involved, given the Legendary Silver Crystal’s miraculous healing powers. Of course, they may have wanted a small family from the get-go. However, that no one wants more than one child seems a little unnatural. Luna and Artemis have one kitten, Diana. Okay, sentient cats aren’t likely to have the litters of their nonsentient counterparts, but again, we’re talking over a thousand years here. I have a dim memory that an extra story included in one of the art books revealed that each senshi had had one daughter (fathers not mentioned). As for Chibi-Usa, she stopped aging around age 8 or 9. She’s been a preteen for 900 years, and despite being older than some civilizations, has neither aged mentally nor emotionally. How exactly does someone have 900 years of life experience and have absolutely none of it rub off on her? She does not grow: another sign of sterility (she’ll never reach puberty at this rate, so Serenity had better not be expecting grandchildren any time soon). In the few glimpses we get of Crystal Tokyo when it hasn’t been turned into rubble, we just see buildings and crystals. No trees. No animals except for the talking cats.

Other worrisome points: our heroine, whether she’s Usagi, Sailor Moon, or Princess Serenity, is known for her loving heart. She’s a klutz, she’s kind of lazy, and her grades are shaky, but all is forgiven because of how much she loves people. Yay! But with no explanation that I’ve found in the books yet, this loving teenager grows up into a woman who has no time to pay attention to her one and only child. (What is keeping Neo Queen Serenity so busy? There don’t seem to be many people in Crystal Tokyo, and there haven’t been any enemies for centuries.)  The minute an opportunity comes to pack Chibi-Usa off to the 20th century “for training,” Serenity does exactly that, turning her teenage self and her own parents into long-term babysitters. (No, dumping your daughter on your younger self does not qualify as spending quality time with her.)

Perhaps it’s just a general antipathy to Chibi-Usa? (I’d sympathize. She really is obnoxious.) But no. Serenity has also ordered Sailor Pluto to be the lone guardian of the Gate of Time, since she’s the only one whose magic is suitable for such a position. No visitors. No vacations. No calling in sick. Just centuries—centuries!—of solitary guardianship. Long-term solitary confinement is considered inhumane for prisoners; I can’t imagine that long-term solitary guardianship is much of an improvement. And in case this seems like just one woman’s heartless policy, we will learn later that the original Queen Serenity of the Moon Kingdom had Sailors Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto all maintain solitary vigils in the outer darkness.

These sorts of incongruities are the stuff of which fanfic is made, as writers try to reconcile story lines with reason. Much of this would make sense if this was a dark story, deliberately written to critique common fairy tale tropes. But what has struck me as totally bizarre (and creepy), both now and twelve years ago, is that Sailor Moon takes all these fairy tale bits that we’re used to, adds in a happily-ever-after future, manages to make it sound not all that pleasant, and yet leaves me with the impression that the author thought that she really was writing a happily-ever-after ending. I was kind of hoping that in rereading this, I’d “get” it this time around. Nope. It’s still just…strange. I still have several volumes to reread, and maybe there’s a last-minute explanation that will clear things up, but I don’t remember one from the first reading and I don’t want to get my hopes up. And yes, it has occurred to me that I’m struggling to piece together something that is simply the product of bad writing. But at least now I’m reasonably sure it’s not the product of a bad translation!

A television birthday

Much as I wish otherwise, Once Upon a Time is not great television. It holds my interest by being a reworking of fairy tales, and it’s a good program to knit to because I can ignore it when the knitting gets tricky without losing track of the plot. But I wish to give credit when appropriate. In this evening’s episode when Snow (or Mary Margaret, whatever we’re supposed to call her) opened her birthday present, she did so by ripping the gift wrap off, just like we do in real life. This may be the first time I’ve seen a present opened normally on TV. Usually a TV birthday present comes in a box with a separately-wrapped lid that can be opened and reopened as many times as needed until the scene is successfully completed. So congratulations to Once Upon a Time for daring to have a “realistically-wrapped” present!

More seriously: it’s clear that Snow doesn’t like birthday celebrations, not even anything as simple as Charming (or David, whatever we’re supposed to call him) making breakfast for her. We learn in this episode that her mother died on her birthday, so her discomfort is understandable. But when he asked her about it, I was thinking, Because regardless of what the culture was like in the Enchanted Forest, you now live in a society where no woman is supposed to admit to any birthday after her 29th. Heck, it probably wasn’t much better back home—we’ve hardly seen any characters there older than 30-something, and most of the ones we have seen were evil. And sure, Snow has ended up about the same age as her daughter, which most women here can’t manage (darn lack of magic!), but do you really need to ask why she’s not ecstatic that it’s her birthday?

Maybe I need to start knitting to programs that inspire no thinking whatsoever. 🙂

Blue

When I was writing “Pink,” I wondered if anyone was selling blue-splashed items to promote awareness of prostate cancer. But symmetrical as the idea would be—and surely it had occurred to someone—I hadn’t noticed any. (Were you aware that September is National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month? Me neither.)

Well, yes, it has occurred to someone that a campaign based on the color, if not the month, has potential. Today I saw that the Republic of Tea sells Blueberry Green Tea in a can with a blue stripe on it, and that a portion of the proceeds from this tea will be donated to the Prostate Cancer Foundation. I’m torn between observing that this is one of the few situations in which the women’s version of something has more publicity and is better funded, and reminding myself that this is hardly a competition.

Pink

It’s October, and while stores are traditionally decked in autumnal orange and brown, for years now they’ve also been sporting a spring-like pink. October, as you no doubt know, is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. No doubt you know this because NBCAM has been more successful than many special months, right up there with Black History Month and Women’s History Month (the only other months I can think of without having to Google them). I’m guessing awareness of breast cancer is pretty widespread in North America. There’s no need for a special announcement: the stores just turn pink and you know.

I do not always approach the Month of Pink with the solemnity that its subject matter suggests. Pink is one of my favorite colors, the result being that I own a lot of pink clothing, have ample amounts of pink yarn in my stash, and own a pink home accessory or two. My first thought when I see a pink display at a store is usually more along the lines of “Ooh, pink. Pretty!” rather than remembering why such a display exists in the first place. This is probably not what all the people  who’ve worked so hard to promote breast cancer awareness had in mind. I know I should be more mindful of the context. I’m female and I’ve reached the early mammogram stage of life: it’s probably in my own best interest that NCBAM has been so successful.

I can guess at some of the reasons pink was chosen as the color of the cause. It’s the “girl” color (men can get breast cancer, but I’m guessing it doesn’t loom as a threat the way it does for women). It suggests spring and new beginnings (remember Herod’s “rosy-fingered Dawn”?). It’s calming as long as it doesn’t get either too icy or too magenta-y. Plus, using it has that little fillip of irony: that delicate color symbolizing a tough fight to get breast cancer more noticed and better funded, not to mention the fight for survival itself. (The anti-war group Code Pink’s use of the color has similar associations for me.) But when you’re thinking about all these positive life-affirming connotations, it doesn’t really encourage thinking about the reason pink is in the national consciousness to begin with.

There is, of course, another major observance in October: Halloween/Samhain. Halloween leans toward candy, mischief, costumes, and scary fun. Samhain, to put it bluntly, has death as a theme. I think of Samhain as October goes on and the season becomes most definitely fall, with shorter days, colder winds, and piles of leaves. Fall is lovely, yes, but much of its beauty is tied to death. It is not a pink season.

In the past month, I’ve learned that two friends of mine have .  . . um . . . something. As I write this, neither has received an official diagnosis of breast cancer—it’s still early on in the diagnostic process and both have atypical symptoms—but definitely something breast-related is seriously wrong for both of them. We’re barely into October, but I’ve seen a few pink displays already, and this year they’re giving me some serious cognitive dissonance. It’s still pink, it’s still pretty, but now there’s a chill to the color that wasn’t there for me last year.

Vampires + knitting

I’m not actually dissing the book I’m about to talk about. I haven’t read it, for one thing: it doesn’t come out until September 14. The few patterns I’ve seen have looked attractive, although I’m not likely to make any of them—I don’t wear many shawls or shrugs, my diaries all have very nice covers of their own and don’t need knitted covers, and my Ravelry queue is well into its second page, so it’s not like I need more projects in my life. Really, about the only criticism I can make is that I think the cover model’s lipstick is too garish, and that’s likely to be exactly the effect the photographer was trying to create. If this book is a hit, Genevieve Miller and her publisher have been savvy about the market and have no doubt earned their reward.

Vampire Knits

Vampire Knits: Projects to Keep You Knitting from Twilight to Dawn by Genevieve Miller

Despite all those disclaimers, the whole concept behind the book irritates me. Mind you, I barely noticed the knitting books from a few years ago that featured a Harry Potter theme, and wouldn’t you think that was basically the same thing? But I don’t think that bothered me nearly so much because knitting was part of Rowling’s world, from the sweaters Molly Weasley was always knitting as gifts to Hermione’s magically-generated charitable knitting. (Clearly Hermione did not have a knitting temperament. I can’t imagine magical knitting is all that fun. Even with machine knitting, your hands touch the work.) So books that mixed Hogwarts with knitting weren’t bringing together two completely unrelated ideas. By contrast, no one has ever made a point of telling me that Bella is a knitter, so I suspect the Twilight series is fiber-free. I don’t recall reading about a knitting character in the Anita Blake or Rachel Morgan series either. So I’m trying to tell myself that combining vampires with knitting is an original approach. It’s also an innovative way to have vampires in a nonfiction context. It’s not likely to be a book about people who believe themselves to be true vampires or a guide to dealing with the psychic vampires in your life.

And I have just written all that and I’m trying to be fair-minded, but…but…look, can you jump the shark in publishing, or is that just a television term? Because if we’re getting knitting books about vampires, I think we’ve hit that point now. Is it that the genre fiction market has finally hit the saturation point, that writers and publishers now need to expand into nonfiction or wither away? Isn’t it time for a new trend yet?

[takes deep breath, prepares to back away from the keyboard]

Oh, actually, I do have another little criticism (more of an ironic observation) of the book itself, again, about something I can see without having a copy in hand. Like I said, I’ve seen some pictures of the projects at KnitPicks.com, and really, they are attractive patterns. But of the twelve photos KnitPicks is featuring, nine appear to have been taken outside in daylight. Daylight?!