Sailor Moon fans have eagerly anticipated the appearance of Black Lady, the villianess version of Chibiusa, in Sailor Moon Crystal. She has finally arrived in all her evil glory and yet many fans have gotten more than what they bargained for–Black Lady passionately kisses the younger version of her father, Tuxedo Mask, not once, but twice. While some fans have reacted to these cringeworthy scenes with disgust, others have tried to poke fun of Chibiusa’s “Electra Complex.” But what is an “Electra Complex” exactly? Does it even exist? And does Chibiusa really have one?
The phrase “Electra Complex” was coined in 1913 by psychologist Carl Jung to refer to Sigmund Feud’s theory of psychosexual development in girls. In Feud’s theory of psychosexual development, both female and male children sexually desire their mother. However, since female children do not have penises, they cannot fulfill this desire and instead transfer it to their fathers and thus compete with their mothers for their father’s attention. If the female child can identify with her mother instead of compete, she’ll become a healthy adult who marries and bears children. If she does not successfully come to terms with these issues, she will desire to “dominate” men as an adult.
As you can imagine, many feminists have given Freud’s theory the side-eye over the years. The theory is quite male-centered (i.e. mothers being sexual objects, penis envy etc.) as well as being heteronormative. He also believed that clitoral orgasms were “immature” whereas vaginal orgasms were “mature.”
After reviewing Freud’s theories, I’m struck by how they try to explain power dynamics between the sexes, but in the end completely ignore the social lens through which he saw sexual behavior. Anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski had a similar criticism. In his studies of matriarchal societies, male children feared their maternal uncles who disciplined them, not their fathers. Any psychological hangups are due to power, not necessarily biology.
Which brings us back to Chibiusa. Chibiusa seems to be the perfect poster child for Freud. Despite being 900 years old, she still has the body of an 8 year old child. She would love more than anything to identify with her mother, both in body and in spirit, but she can’t.
Chibiusa’s inability to identify with her mother has dire consequences that go beyond herself. Without an adult body, she is unable to marry, bear children and continue the royal line. Without power, she can’t become the next Sailor Moon and protect the Earth. But this just isn’t a personal problem for Chibiusa; her peers know this too.
This bullying that leads Chibiusa to drastic measures. Freud posits that girls who wish to possess their mothers end up with penis envy, but Chibiusa seeks to possess the real power in her life–the Silver Crystal. And here, Chibiusa comes close to the literary Electra, the princess who orchestrates her mother’s death. By stealing the Silver Crystal, she indirectly causes her mother to be struck down by the Black Moon, leaving her in a coma.
But we’re not done yet! Chibiusa has not yet crossed over to the dark side; she does not become Black Lady–no, not yet. That honor doesn’t go to her mother, but her best friend: Sailor Pluto. Chibiusa secretly sees Sailor Pluto and her father speaking. She notices that Pluto is smiling and blushing. Chibiusa has never seen her so happy–she thought Pluto only smiled like that for her. It’s at this point, that Chibiusa goes off the deep end.
What’s fascinating about this is that this isn’t sexual jealousy over her father. No, Chibiusa is angry and hurt because she’s losing Sailor Pluto’s affections. While Freud’s theory may have some traction here (i.e. Chibiusa wanting to “possess” the maternal figure, Sailor Pluto), this scene reminds me of that point in a young person’s life when you realize your best friend would rather hang with their boyfriend or girlfriend more than you. It’s that real-life stage when puberty hits, hormones take over and childhood friendships change. Chibiusa doesn’t have power or an adult body like Sailor Pluto. She’s getting left behind.
This time, instead of making grab for the Silver Crystal, Chibiusa answers Wiseman’s call. If no one else needs her, he definitely does. He can give all she wants–but at a price. Black Lady may have power and an adult body, but instead of becoming her mother’s successor, she becomes the complete opposite. Instead of becoming Earth’s protector, she is now its annihilator. Instead of becoming Queen of Crystal Tokyo with her own prince charming, she is now the Queen of Nemesis, with her father’s past self at her side. And I think it’s important to note that when she does kiss Tuxedo Mask in front of Sailor Moon, she’s not only sticking it to Sailor Moon, but she’s sticking it to Sailor Pluto as well. Chibiusa can finally play the “game” Sailor Moon and Sailor Pluto have been playing and it is NOT pretty because, you know, Evil. Perhaps we can apply more of Freud’s theories here–Black Lady is the pleasure-seeking id, Chibiusa the reasonable ego and Sailor Chibi Moon, the moral super-ego. But we’re not done yet with Chibiusa’s Electra complex. There is one more final, tragic event to make the complex complete: Sailor Pluto’s death.
Sophocles’s play Electra is a play about the morality of revenge. Electra’s father, the King, is murdered by her mother after she takes a husband. Believing her mother killed her father, so that she could be with her new husband, Electra is consumed with revenge. She persuades her twin brother murder their mother and her lover. In Act 24 of Sailor Moon Crystal, Wiseman asks Black Lady to bring him both Neo Queen Serenity and Sailor Moon so that the past and future Silver Crystals can be put to use. This leads to Prince Demande stealing the crystals from Black Lady and forces Sailor Pluto to stop time which causes her death. It’s Pluto’s death that finally makes Chibiusa realize that they are not adversaries.
In Freud’s theory of psychosexual development, the sexual competition between the daughter and mother ends when the daughter finally identifies with the mother. In Sailor Moon Crystal, Black Lady finally breaks Wiseman’s hold when she lets go of her insecurity and anger and remembers that she and Pluto are friends, not enemies. Her powerful emotions of sadness and love over her friend’s death become the catalyst for transformation into a sailor guardian. Finally, Chibiusa has become the champion of love and justice!
But Chibiusa hasn’t only found her own power, but she’s now making progress on her path to becoming an adult. As I described in this post, there’s evidence to suggest that becoming a sailor guardian is also a metaphor for entering puberty.
So what are we to make of Chibiusa’s so-called Electra Complex? Freud’s theories may not have held up to time and the scientific method, but they do provide a jumping off point in the discussion of identity. The Electra Complex is less about a daughter’s sexual desire for her father, but much more about the relationship between daughter and mother; the female child and her best friend. Works like Electra and Oedipus read like horror stories, but they do touch upon a real human anxiety: the eventual succession of the child to the role of parent. Sailor Moon Crystal takes these stories and puts a new twist–what if the child cannot succeed the parent? Or what if puberty pulls friends apart rather than bringing them together? Sailor Moon and all its incarnations has always been about shojo power–or the power of young women and girls. Chibiusa’s journey from eternal child to evil queen to champion of justice is an extension of that theme.
[Editor’s Note: Today’s post title “Beautiful Like You” is a lyric from the awesome and badass song Beautiful by the 90s band Joydrop.]