Sailor Moon draws from many different myths, folktales and legends. The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. The moon goddess Selene and her human lover, Endymion–just to name a few. Sailor Moon also draws from classic western fairy tales. In Act 4 of the manga, Takeuchi-sensei draws from Sleeping Beauty to render the first kiss between Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask. For feminists, the Sleeping Beauty story is a problematic one and this re-telling is no different.
But let’s start at the beginning. It’s a tale as old as time. A beautiful young princess falls unconscious and only a dashing prince can awaken her with his kiss. Snow White and Sleeping Beauty both follow this trope. And while a kiss doesn’t seem like a big deal, this trope isn’t as innocuous as it first seems. In one early version of the Sleeping Beauty story, the princess isn’t awoken by a kiss, but by giving birth. That’s right, our dear princess was sleeping when she got knocked up. Or, to put it in so many words: The Prince rapes the Princess. While the modern re-tellings do not include the rape and pregnancy, Sleeping Beauty still can’t say no, and she can’t say yes either. The Sleeping Beauty kiss remains a symbol for normalizing passive female sexuality and aggressive male sexuality.
In Act 4 of the manga, the sailor guardians attend a masquerade. There are no poisoned apples or cursed spindles that make Sailor Moon fall asleep. Nope, Sailor Moon gets drunk. After battling the Dark Kingdom, a thirsty Sailor Moon drinks what she thinks is a glass of juice, but it’s really a martini. Hiccuping and woozy, Sailor Moon bumps into Tuzedo Mask who picks her up and lays her down on a bench. There, Tuxedo Mask kisses her on her lips. It’s a scene that is both deeply romantic and problematic. On one hand, our star-crossed lovers have found each other again. On the other, Tuxedo Mask is kissing a semi-conscious drunk girl. (This puts him in company with other creepers who target intoxicated women.) Even Sailor Moon‘s editor, Fumino Osano, noted this scene would never pass censors today.
Fast forward to 2014, and fans wondered how this scene might play out in episode four of Sailor Moon Crystal. Some fans hoped that the kiss would be omitted. The kiss had been omitted once before–in the live action tv series, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon (PGSM). In this version, instead of arriving at a masquerade party, it’s a Halloween party. Usagi, dressed in a bear suit, trips into Tuxedo Mask, leaving her hugging him for an extended period of time. The writer, Yasuko Kobayashi, opted to make this scene humorous instead of romantic, and in doing so, she gives both Usagi and Tuxedo Mask more agency. Instead of a semi-conscious Usagi, we get a fully awake Usagi who expresses her desire for Tuxedo Mask. Tuxedo Mask is on the receiving end of Usagi’s hug, but since he’s fully conscious too, he has agency to express his displeasure that some random person has their paws on him.
Early press for Sailor Moon Crystal described it as “romantic,” so I had a feeling the kiss would be kept. Moreover, it’s one of Takeuchi-sensei’s all-time favorite scenes.
I was curious to know how this scene played out in the 90s anime, so I went back and watched VIZ’s subtitled version. And to my surprise, the scene plays out a little differently. In this version, it’s Usagi, not Sailor Moon who drinks the mistaken martini, hiccups and runs into Tuxedo Mask. He takes her to the balcony where he realizes he has kiss her before, a long time ago (Er, does that mean Prince Endymion kissed a drunk Princess Serenity!?). Usagi murmurs that the kiss feels warm and nostalgic. Some Sailor Moon fans feel that since this scene is between two past life lovers, it’s not so icky. And perhaps it’s not. But I’d like to use this scene as an opportunity for some food for thought. First, a person’s sexual status (past, present and future) doesn’t give another person a pass when it comes to sexual assault. Unfortunately, many people *do* believe this is pass. This makes going to the authorities difficult because they think consenting once means you’ve consented to everything across time and space. Secondly, Usagi’s decision making abilities have been compromised because she is drunk. Usagi says she feels warm and nostalgic–but is that because of Tuxedo Mask or the alcohol? Of course, we, the viewers, know that they are long lost lovers. But there’s someone who doesn’t know what we know–Luna.
The 90s anime episode ends with the kiss on the balcony. However, the manga and Sailor Moon Crystal don’t end there. Luna interrupts the kiss, telling Tuxedo Mask to get away from Usagi. She doesn’t know that the prince has finally found his princess–all she knows is that some strange dude has Usagi in a vulnerable position. Out of all the versions, I like this one the best because it reminds the viewer that this “romantic” scene isn’t necessarily all that innocent.
Sailor Moon Crystal did make one change that’s different from all other versions. Instead of mistakenly drinking a martini, she sleeps falls asleep. Earlier in the episode, it’s implied that Usagi has been up all night reading manga. I appreciate the change; Usagi would totally stay up all night reading manga and be sleepy the next day. Of course, it still puts Usagi in a vulnerable position, but if they were going to keep the scene, I think this was a better way to do it.
Sailor Moon isn’t the only story that’s trying to re-write the Sleeping Beauty trope. With the recent onslaught of new fairy tale movies, writers are re-imagining this trope to create new meanings. In Maleficent, the kiss is not from a prince. Similarly, in Mirror Mirror, Snow White is the one who has to do the kissing. And, of course, in Frozen, it’s an act of bravery that breaks the spell.
When the Beauty is awake, the possibilities are endless.