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.
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!