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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Across The Pond And Beyond - Sailor Moon

Is it just me, or do female superheroes get overshadowed by their male counterparts?

It seems that for every female superhero there is about twenty-five male superheroes, waging the war against crime, putting evil-doers to justice, and saving the world from total destruction over and over again.

Or, so I hear, as I never really got into the whole superhero craze where I had to own every Batman comic book, or watch every Superman movie, or collect every DVD of every cartoon that featured a superhero.

Well, unless you count the 1960s Spiderman cartoon. 1960S Spiderman rocked.

But I can't really recall there being a lot of female superheroes that girls could look up to. I mean, yeah, girls had Wonder Woman, and back in the day when she was popular, I imagine that lots of girls dressed up as her for Halloween. Some of the X-Men characters (both heroines and antagonists) were female. Heck, one could argue that Disney's Kim Possible, and the pink and yellow Power Rangers represented female empowerment as well.

Other than that, in North America, you may struggle to come up with a definitive list of female superheroes.

(In fact, I'm going to offer this up as a challenge. How many female superheroes can you name? Maybe there's more out there than I even thought!)

But that's in North America. You take a trip across the Pacific Ocean to the country of Japan, and you'll find dozens upon dozens of anime cartoons which feature female protagonists.

As it so happens, today's blog post is all about one of these anime cartoons. It's about a teenage girl who discovers that she has special powers that she is supposed to use to save the world and the universe from being taken over by the forces of evil. The whole series details the growth of this young woman from naïve, ditzy, scatterbrained teenager to being a more mature version who is determined to use her powers for good.

Today's blog subject is the Japanese anime series, Sailor Moon.

Now, this is a topic that I really had to do my research on thoroughly, as I don't even remember watching the show when it first arrived in North America. I may have maybe seen one episode at the most. But because I strive to make this blog suitable for both genders (and who knows, maybe some guys are huge Sailor Moon fans too), I figure I'd give it a whirl for this week's Across The Pond and Beyond topic.

All right, so Sailor Moon debuted in Japan on March 7, 1992. The original name of the series, loosely translated into English from Japanese was “Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon”. Over the years, the show would be known under four other titles and incarnations, but just for the sake of argument, we'll just focus on the first season of the series.

Though the series began in 1992, it wasn't until years later that the show would develop a following in the United States and Canada. And on September 11, 1995, the first English dubbed episode of Sailor Moon was broadcast.

In Canada, the show ran well into the year 2000, and was a mainstay on the television network YTV for many years. In the United States, it aired on the Cartoon Network, and on some NBC affiliates.

But what's interesting is that when the show was dubbed into English from Japanese, some scenes were left on the cutting room floor. In fact, a total of five episodes were eliminated from the show's Japanese line-up, and two episodes were actually spliced together into one episode.

But why was this the case? Inappropriate conduct.

You see...the original Japanese version was a lot more...shall we in nature? Take a look at this clip from one of the later Japanese shows to illustrate what I mean. Don't worry...there's subtitles.

And since Sailor Moon was designed to air in markets that catered to children't programming, it was decided it was best to just leave those scenes out, and just work around the episodes they could use. Minor editing was done to street signs in the cartoon to change them to English, and some scenes where people were slapped or spit on were edited out. At the end of each English show was a segment called Sailor Says, which taught a life lesson and moral based on the theme of the episode. Here's an example of this below.

Now, many anime purists hated the edits and changes, and made no secret about broadcasting their disdain, but when you have a culture that has a different set of broadcasting standards as another country, there's not a whole lot one can do...unless of course you learn Japanese and import the Japanese episodes...

Anyway, getting back to the show, the main character of the show is a 14-year-old girl named Usagi Tsukino (who was called Serena in the English translation). She's a typical teenage girl who loves music, loves the arts, loves hanging around the video arcade so she can throw herself at the boys who play the video games at said arcade. And she has a super humongous sweet tooth! Seriously. In any episodes that I watched to research today's entry, Serena's almost always gobbling down some sort of sweet.

It's a wonder that she still has all her teeth!

Anyway, the show kicks off with Serena coming across a black cat named Luna. In a lot of cases, some people believe that a black cat crossing your path is doomed to bring one bad luck. But not so here.

Turns out that Luna and Serena had a bit of a connection that was literally out of this world.

Thousands of years ago, a magical kingdom existed. The official name of the kingdom was the Silver Millennium, but in the English dub, it was more or less referred to as the Moon Kingdom. The inhabitants of the Silver Millennium enjoyed a long lifespan, and each inhabitant only had two duties. One was to protect the Silver Crystal, which was a powerful stone. The crystal had the power to revive an entire world that was in the cost of the user's life. Basically, it's a crystal that if it ever fell into the wrong hands, it could be very, very costly. The second duty for the people within the kingdom was to watch over the evolution of Earth and protect it from any negative influence.

Oh, did I mention that during this time, there was a prohibition on any sort of romantic relationships between an Earth person and a Moon person?

Try telling that to the crown prince of Earth at the time, one Endymion and his four guardians (Jadeite, Zoisite, Nephrite, and Kunzite). Like a classic Romeo and Juliet style romance, Endymion fell in love with Princess Serenity of the Moon, and despite the fact that it was unacceptable, it seemed as though nothing could break the two up.

That is, until a peasant woman named Beryl let her jealousy overcome her, and became evil. Under the influence of the evil Queen Metalia, Beryl riled up the citizens of Earth to do battle with those of the Moon. Long story short, both the Earth and Moon kingdoms were completely destroyed, and the evolution of life had to start all over again.

Flash forward to the 1990s, in modern-day Tokyo. As a result of the warfare, everyone in the kingdoms was doomed to death. The Queen of the Silver Millennium knew that she was about to die, and she wanted to make sure that her daughter, Princess Serenity, could be reborn again when the need arose. With the last of her power, the queen sent Serenity, Endymion, and a group of young soldiers known as the Sailor Senshi (or Sailor Scouts in the English translation) to Earth so that they may be reborn during the 20th century.

The Sailor Scouts are reborn as four typical girls. Endymion is reborn as Mamoru Chiba (otherwise known as Darien Shields in the English version), and Princess Serenity becomes Serena Tsukino.

Wow...Serenity becomes Serena. Who would have ever guessed?

So that's the basic plot of the Sailor Moon series. Serena comes to terms with the fact that she has special powers that she can use to save the world. Of course, when she first hears of this destiny from Luna, she doesn't quite believe it. As a side effect of being resurrected, her previous memory of who she was a thousand years ago was wiped clean. She eventually gets it back over time though.

But Serena didn't want the responsibility. She just wanted to be a normal kid. This proved to be a source of much conflict and much comedy as Serena tried to balance her personal life with her quest to protect the Earth from Queen Beryl and her servants (who ended up being the former guardians of Endymion, who ended up turning to the forces of evil). But over time, Serena managed to find her inner courage, and proved to be a formidable fighter, whether it be retrieving the seven rainbow coloured crystals that formed the legendary Silver Crystal, or stopping monsters from draining the life energy out of the citizens of Earth, Serena embraced her Sailor Moon persona and did her best to be the bravest one possible in some rather tight jams.

Of course, Serena isn't completely alone in this fight. Her cat Luna proves to be a valuable mentor to her, even if Serena can be a bit stubborn and refuses to listen to her. And she has a love-hate relationship with Darien (who unbeknownst to either of them were love interests many moons ago). They make up, break up, she insults him, he calls her Meatball Head...yeah. Stuff like that.

But the relationship between Serena and Darien is definitely one of the recurring themes of the show, and Darien actually has an alter-ego who goes by the name of Tuxedo Mask. Appropriately enough, in many battles that Sailor Moon has, the enemy is ultimately defeated when Tuxedo Mask and Sailor Moon join forces.

Imagine that.

And then there are the Sailor Scouts. In the first series of the show, we meet four of them, but there are reportedly a total of ten, with each one named after a part of the solar system. Serena has her own relationship with each of them, both in regular kid and in Sailor Scout form, and each one has their own set of powers.

Sailor Mercury, for instance, is the first Sailor Scout introduced in the series. Her human form is that of 14-year-old school brainiac Ami Mizuno. Ami is very intelligent, with a reported IQ in the 300s (which may or may not be a possibility...don't ask me...mine isn't THAT high), and is very quiet and studious. Basically the anti-Serena. Though she and Serena are very close, and in many ways, Ami is probably Serena's closest ally out of all the Sailor Scouts. She's the most practical of the group, and she wants to become a doctor like her mother. But she also has a secret love of pop culture and romance novels, which embarrasses her greatly if this fact were pointed out. In battle, Sailor Mercury uses the magical power of water and ice to freeze her enemies cold. Her colour is blue.

There's Sailor Mars, the next one to join the group. Her human identity is that of 14-year-old, Rei Hino. She is a shrine maiden of a temple that her grandfather is the head priest of. Like Ami, Rei is very serious minded, though not with her schoolwork. Rei has a very short-fuse, and she is very passionate about what she believes in. She also seems to have a very short fuse with Serena, and more often than not, Serena and Rei end up at each other's throats at least once per episode. Deep down inside though, Rei cares a lot for Serena, and whenever Serena is indecisive about something, Rei will often make the decision for her, for Serena's best interests. With Sailor Mars mastering any magic involving fire, the enemies of the Sailor Scouts are sure to get burned. Her colour is red.

Sailor Jupiter is the next featured scout. Her human name is Makoto Kino, but on the English version, she goes by the name Lita. Lita is kind of like the Peppermint Patty of the group. Very tomboyish, very tall, very loud and boisterous. At fourteen, Lita's had a rough go in life. Her parents were killed in a plane crash years earlier, and she now struggles to take care of herself. For being just a teenager, Lita's resourcefulness shows clear through, and she probably has the most inner strength of all of the scouts. She's close to all the Sailor Scouts, and when she has to go into battle as Sailor Jupiter, she uses the power of lightning. I wonder how well she got along with Sailor Mercury. Her colour is green.

Last, but certainly not least, we have Minako “Mina” Aino...otherwise known as Sailor Venus. She's a different sort of character. At the age of fourteen, Mina had a career as an actress, playing the role of the beloved 'Sailor V' for various television programs and films. Like Serena, she has a pet cat named Artemis, who happens to share a connection with Luna, surprisingly enough. On the show, she has a dream of being a famous singer, as she feels that she would be loved and respected if she were. She's kind of similar to Serena, as she gets a bit dopey at times, especially when a man is involved. However, as Sailor Venus, she has a huge role. She's the leader of Sailor Moon's four inner guardians, and she uses the power of love and beauty to make the enemies very unpretty indeed. Her colour is orange.

Together, they make up the Sailor Scouts, and together, they fight to rid the world of Beryl and the dark kingdom.

And really, that's all I have to say in regards to Sailor Moon. But, I will say that there are some rather emotional scenes in the cartoon series, and I can maybe see why some people got really into it back in the day. I'll leave you with one of these scenes.

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