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The Sailor Moon Manga Act I Hate the Most

Usagi and Chibiusa are in swimsuits looking at fishes swimming in front of them

When Kodansha re-released the Sailor Moon manga in 2013, I was ecstatic. I eagerly purchased the new volumes even though I owned all the old Tokyopop editions. Based on the second generation format of collected volume that were released in Japan in 2003, in this edition, all of the side stories were taken out of old volumes and collected in two separate volumes–Sailor Moon Short Stories 1 and 2.

It had been a while since I had read the manga, and I had mostly forgotten about the side stories. I was eager to revisit them with some fresh eyes. While most of them were as fun as I had remembered, it was Chibi-usa’s Picture Diary #2: Beware of Tanabata that left me the most confused and frustrated.

The story of Beware of Tanabata should be a straight forward episode of Sailor Moon, where Sailor Chibi Moon is the hero of the day and we learn a bit more about the popular Japanese festival, Tanabata. Instead, it’s a hot mess of gender roles and expectations. I’m not sure exactly what Naoko Takeuchi was going for, but I’m going to try to. So, let’s start with the time and place of the story, Tanabata.

Michiru and Haruka wear Mugen high school female uniforms. they see a tree with tanabata wishes on it.

Tanabata is an incredibly popular festival in Japan that occurs on July 7th. During the festival, both children and adults write wishes on colorful pieces of paper and tie them to bamboo branches. The festival celebrates an old Chinese folktale of the stars Vega and Altair whose love was forbidden. In the Japanese version, we have a few more details. A young weaving woman, Shokujo, was married to a cowherder, Kengyu. However, after they were married, they shirked their chores, so Shokujo’s father separated them, only allowing them to meet once a year. It’s a story that seems to talk about the tension between love and duty, a theme that runs through Sailor Moon itself. In other stories in Sailor Moon the guardians choose duty over love, but this story is much more complicated.

The story opens with Usagi and Chibiusa receiving gifts for their birthdays on June 30th. Tanabata is only a week away, so Chibiusa and her classmates have written their wishes on paper and attached them to bamboo tree. Chibiusa and her friends run into Haruka and Michiru on the street while she’s carrying the tree. Haruka and Michiru remark with displeasure that all the wishes involve getting the love of boys.

A mysterious figure suddenly appears explaining the story of Tanabata. Chibiusa’s friends react with disgust at the story–one says she’d never stay with a guy who would only see her once a year. Chibiusa’s friend Momo agrees and adds you need a husband with lots of money. Haruka, Michiru and the mysterious figure all groan. I’m guessing they are all groaning because they know there’s more to life than boys and money.

Chibiusa friends discuss what makes a great husband

Translation: MissDream.org

Back at the Sailor Moon headquarters, the inner guardians are explaining the Tanabata legend to Chibiusa and Diana. Chibiusa and Diana both wonder how Shokujo and Kengyu can maintain their long distance relationship. Chibiusa declares she could never do a long distance relationship since it would breed mistrust. Ami and Rei are taken aback by Chibiusa’s declaration, saying that it’s just a legend.

Later that week, Chibiusa wakes up in the middle of the night, with her watch that she received from the mysterious figure telling her to go to Ichinohashi Park. At the park, Chibiusa finds the the mysterious figure telling a crowd of young women that “The Age of Autonomous Woman is upon us! Let us hold jobs and careers, be independent, and live to work! Menfolk cannot be trusted! We don’t need men! We can survive and get by fine without men in our lives!” (Kodansha, page 43) Chibiusa thinks she’s brainwashing the young women and transforms into Sailor Chibi Moon.

It’s really odd seeing the idea female autonomy looked down upon in Sailor Moon, because that’s basically the whole motivation of the sailor guardians. Most of the sailor guardians have put duty before love. In Ami’s First Love, we see that Ami is allergic to love letters. In Casablanca Memory, Rei declares that her mission and her friends are more important than falling in love. In the Sailor V manga, Kaitou Ace curses Minako saying that she will be always unlucky in love, so she doesn’t have to choose between duty and love. That said, all of those stories appear after Beware of Tanabata, so perhaps Naoko is working out some conflicting feelings in this story. After all, the famous scene where Rei and Minako declare they don’t need men doesn’t occur until the final arc of the series.

Rei and Minako wearing school clothes say they don't need men

Translation: Tokyopop

But back to Beware of Tanabata. Sailor Chibi Moon finally confronts the mysterious figure and here’s where one of the most awkward scenes in the whole manga occur. Sailor Chibi Moon shouts “You’re mistaken, lady! Without men, there won’t be offspring. Women can’t just live on by themselves!” (Kodansha, page 44) Which, I just want to say, that yes, Chibi Moon, women can absolutely 1) live happily without men 2) have kids without men 3) and yes, the human race could potentially end if women don’t have babies, so society should really get it’s shit together.

Sailor Chibimoon declares women cant live alone because men are needed for babies

Translation: MissDream.org

However, I do want to give some props to Chibi Moon in this scene. She does actually make a good point, in a way–how useful is the story of Tanabata in people’s every day lives? If marriage is about having babies, the odds of Shokujo getting pregnant after one night per year is slim to none. It’s too bad that in this scene Chibi Moon is confronting Shokujo–she should really confront Shokujo’s father. It’s Shokujo’s father who decides to separate Shokujo and Kengyu and allow them to meet only once a year.

So after we have one of the most awkward scenes of all of Sailor Moon, we get another one. In next page the cloaked figured unveils herself, claiming to be Sailor Moon. Sailor Chibi Moon immediately calls bullshit….by fat shaming her.

Sailor Chibimoon declares that the sailor moon imposter cant be the real sailor moon because her thighs are too fat

Translation: MissDream.org                                                                                                                  I dunno, I think Shokujo’s thighs are pretty sexy. Speak for yourself, Chibi Moon!

The Sailor Moon imposter turns out to be Shokujo herself. She’s revealed to be a deeply insecure person. In her unhappiness with working all the time, she just eats and watches TV. She tells Sailor Chibi Moon that her husband saw her once without her makeup once and this is the reason why they haven’t seen each other on Tanabata over the last few years. Just as Chibiusa has suspected, Shokujo’s long distance relationship is full of mistrust. Baddies Zeta and Epsilon stoke Shojoku’s insecurities before Sailor Chibi Moon takes them out with Pink Sugar Heart Attack.

In the final pages of the story, Kengyu appears, reassuring Shojoku that after 3,000 years, of course he still loves her. He also razzes her in the final page–saying that he had to do it again, he’d marry someone cuter, but a “steady-headed woman is best for a wife.” (Kodansha, page 49) Shokujo’s slaps him playfully in response. I suspect we’re supposed to take this scene as comical and leave us feeling that everything is ok in their relationship. However, the scene still leaves me uneasy.

The story ends with Chibiusa writing in her diary that she hopes for the best for Shokujo and Kengyu. She writes that she  would “rather the people I love be at my side every day” meaning that she couldn’t do a long distance relationship like Shokujo and Kengyu. Perhaps that’s the overall moral of the story: the story of Tanabata isn’t romantic. Society forcing you to choose duty over love does not make anyone happy. Long distance relationships suck.

However, even knowing that, this story leaves me feeling very conflicted. What do you think about Beware of Tanabata?

Ami and Rei tell Chibiusa not to analyze the story, chibiusa says she thinks long distance relationships are terrible ideas

Translation: MissDream.org                                                                              I think Ami and Rei are trying to tell me something, but I’m too much of a Chibiusa to let it go! LOL 

Images via Sailor Moon Wikia, Miss DreamPictame

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Avatar Anonymoon March 17, 2018, 06:54

    My first time visiting this site, and I’m very pleased to see someone else who agrees with me. Finally! I thought this story was completely messed up, like the total antithesis of what Sailor Moon is usually about. I was basically WTF-ing the entire time I was reading the thing. I almost wondered if the powers that be forced Naoko-sensei to write that in order to push back on some of the Girl Power that they might have viewed as a “bad influence” on young girls. I know that makes no sense, but I simply can’t fathom what was going on in Naoko-sensei’s mind otherwise. Was she starting to doubt her own feminist viewpoints? Was she trying to make a silly romantic comedy on a deadline and it fell flat? Did she get accused of being a man-hater and rushed to assert that guys are actually really hawt and society would totally collapse without them as a way of overcorrecting? It’s really confusing.

    I’ve yet to take a look at any other articles on this site, but I do think Sailor Moon as a whole, whether it’s the manga or the original anime or Crystal, is a mixed bag when it comes to feminine empowerment. I think it’s actually hard to call it one thing or the other. On one hand, you have a team of magical, goddess-like superheroines kicking ass, but the core of the story centers around the hopes and dreams of a fairytale princess so wrapped up in her One True Love that she even committed suicide over losing him (in the manga and Crystal). Her biggest dream is to get married and have a family with him. Nothing inherently wrong with that, but when you see the most powerful being in the universe just pining over some guy and having everything handed to her on a silver (crystal) platter while her friends sacrifice everything, including their own dreams and chances at romance, to support her, well… it leaves kind of a bad aftertaste, to say the least.

    This is getting long, can you tell I have a lot of thoughts about the series and feminism? Ha ha. One other thing I noticed about this particular side story that you didn’t mention: Haruka and Michiru, our famous, beloved lesbian couple, show up here, and… are basically wasted in a story like this. They don’t seem to get much of a chance to react act all beyond exasperation at the kids’ antics. And while I’m aware that Manga Haruka dresses more femininely than Anime Haruka after it’s revealed she’s a woman, seeing her here in the *girly* Mugen Gakuen uniform, especially within the context of this story, really made me cringe. It kind of felt like a conscious choice to feminize the toughest and most butch (read: threatening to men) senshi and downplay her relationship with Michiru (who was going on about getting love letters in school, WTH?) while reassuring the Menz that we helpless ladies still need them to be good little wives and make babies and stuff.

    Okay, I’ll stop here, but thank you very much for this article and I look forward to checking out the rest of your site.

  • Anne Lee Anne Lee March 17, 2018, 14:37

    I’m so glad you enjoyed the article!

    “Was she starting to doubt her own feminist viewpoints? Was she trying to make a silly romantic comedy on a deadline and it fell flat? Did she get accused of being a man-hater and rushed to assert that guys are actually really hawt and society would totally collapse without them as a way of overcorrecting? It’s really confusing.”
    I had these exact same questions! This particular story appeared in Nakayoshi’s sister magazine Run Run. Maybe that had something to do with it? I was thinking maybe that magazine was aimed at younger girls, but from what I could find, it was just a magazine where they would try stuff out.

    “One other thing I noticed about this particular side story that you didn’t mention: Haruka and Michiru, our famous, beloved lesbian couple, show up here, and… are basically wasted in a story like this.”
    I was totally going to mention Haruka and Michiru and then the Writing Pixies stole them away. *cries* I think what’s really interesting is that this is the *only* instance where Haruka wears the female Mugen uniform. I find that utterly fascinating because there must be a particular point to it because Haruka exclusively wears the male uniform at Mugen. I think you can take it a few ways, maybe it’s negative, but maybe it sort positive as well? Cuz Haruka and Michiru certainly don’t need men and they aren’t necessarily going to be having kids to sustain civilization. Yet Haruka and Michiru’s lives are awesome and totally legitimate. I’m guessing it was Naoko being really indirect.
    “I do think Sailor Moon as a whole, whether it’s the manga or the original anime or Crystal, is a mixed bag when it comes to feminine empowerment.”
    Yeah, Sailor Moon isn’t always the feministy dream I want it to be. I have a few other articles floating about my brain regarding this, but sometimes they aren’t always the funnest to write, so I get a little lazy about it. LOL

    Thanks for reading! 🙂

  • Avatar Anne April 8, 2018, 20:18

    While I agree that indeed women can now have kids without male involvement, Chibiusa knows that she descended from a man. In other words, it is reasonable for her to see the “not needing men” message as an existential threat and thus reject it strongly.

  • Avatar Guestie April 18, 2018, 20:23

    While the fat shaming in this Picture Diary chapter isn’t great, I think what Naoko was trying to do in that “empowerment” scene was poke fun at herself. She does come across as a feminist or, at least, aligning with some feminist views, and, as a kind of intersectional feminist myself, I had a good chuckle at my own expense reading that part.

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