With all that business about the Best Sailor Venus Cosplay Ever, Triple J mentioning the Sailor Starlights in the most recent episode of Brain Food, and my own posting on the issue of whitewashing and dubs, how can I ever hope to stop having Sailor Moon on my mind.
Just kidding. I always have Sailor Moon on my mind.
I love the anime for a variety of reasons, and one of them is –you guessed it– the romances. Using only my memory, I can identify four significant romantic relationships throughout the five seasons of the anime. While all of them are flawed, it is pretty notable that the queer relationships make up the majority of all the romances.
While I will be focusing on the anime, I would also be making a few references to the manga to perhaps give things more of a perspective.
Firstly, let’s start with the headlining romance. Spoilers are sure to follow.
Usagi and Mamoru
In a world where the male romance protagonist is always an ALPHA MALE “I MAKE YOUR DECISIONS I AM MAN AND THEREFORE YOU ARE MINE TO DO AS I WISH WITH” ASSHOLES, Chiba Mamoru is the one man who frees you from all that shit.
I admit, I did not like Chiba Mamoru at first for the way he treated Usagi. I am generally not a fan of the trope of two people constantly at odds with each other ending up together, because it is overdone and also because it tends to have a man enacting misogynistic behaviours and it is somehow okay once they’re in love. Do you know what kind of relationship something like that would result in? Yes, an abusive one.
Even as Tuxedo respects Sailor Moon despite her initial shortcomings as a superhero, Chiba Mamoru seems to take pleasure in bullying Tsukino Usagi. Yes, sometimes Usagi is the one at fault and I don’t really mind some arguing. What I have issue with is when Mamoru sometimes comments on her not meeting the femaleideal (e.g. eating too much, speaking too loud).
But after the two of them learn of each other’s true identities, Mamoru’s jerk side disappears. Where that went, I don’t know and I’m glad it is gone, though it returned for a while in the filler arc for the second season. Following that, Mamoru sees doom in the future if he stays with Usagi and tries pushing her away. I never understood why he could not just discuss the premonitions. It’s not like he had to keep it a secret or else.
It is only then do we finally have Mamoru permanently stop being an ass to Usagi. Still, for the overall time when they are in a relationship, Mamoru has always been a supportive presence to Usagi. Like how he would buy her reprieve during battle, he would make up for her shortcomings through encouragement and aid. Instead of laughing at her test scores, he tutors her in school work. When she tries baking for the first time, he recognises that it was for his sake and finishes it anyway to show his appreciation. Ham-fisted, yes, but at least he did not start making fun of her for not being like “a proper woman who can cook”.
As the series goes on, both Usagi and Mamoru start developing nurturing characteristics towards their future daughter, Chibiusa. Yes, they had none of that bullshit about children being solely the mother’s duty. Towards the end of season 4, they even had a bit of a role reversal when Sailor Moon and friends go on to fight evil and secure peace for the world while Mamoru stays behind to protect and support his daughter.
Despite a problematic start, the two of them grow into a healthy relationship where the love and the commitment is mutual. In a typical het romance, the man would have been jealous of the woman being more powerful (in fighting evil monsters, that is. Their personal dynamic is a balanced one).
Zoisite and Kunzite
When I first discovered that the two of them are lovers, my initial response is to be happy. I really did not expect to find a gay couple in the show and the surprise was a pleasant one. Of course, I wised up to the problems very soon. Gay villains? Check. A “man and woman” dynamic? Check. Dying? Check.
It is interesting to note that the two of them were not a couple in the manga, a lesser consumed media. I struggle to understand why it is introduced. Japan’s heterosexism has never reached the kind of feverent dedication as it did in the West, but it still exists no thanks to Western imperialism. Despite the sterotypicality, the love these two had was not presented as something disgusting. Not something to be laughed at. When Kunzite, the last of the Dark Kingdom’s Four Heavenly Kings died, I’m pretty sure we are supposed to sympathise with him as he calls out Zoisite’s name one last time.
Those of you who grew up with the US dub would surely remember Zoisite being a woman. Yeah, fucked up isn’t it?
Haruka and Michiru
You all knew anime’s golden couple will show up here the moment you came to this page, and so here they are.
Obviously, they are a step up from the above in that they are heroes. Well, anti-heroes to be exact. Lesbians who get to be hard arsed badasses, well how about that.
But yes, we all notice that they have a “man and woman” image going on too. Now, a bit of a background. The image of Haruka and Michiru are inspired from the Takarazuka Revue, a Japanese all-women musical theatre troupe, with crossdressing actors being common. Unlike Zoisite and Kunzite, their relationship was in the manga and the creator, Takeuchi Naoko, claimed to have wanted to make Haruka and Michiru lovers just because.
I have mixed feelings about Zoisite and Kunzite, and I also have mixed feelings about Haruka and Michiru though it is in a different way. As annoying as it is for the “man and woman” dynamic to show up, I do really like the fact that Haruka is someone whose interests and choice of appearance are those coded masculine without being derided even once for it. I certainly like how in one episode, Usagi got drunk and revealed herself to still have a small crush on Haruka despite knowing that Haruka is really a woman. There were probably a few other moments too. Also in the same episode, after Haruka’s awesome lead had Usagi look like she was great at dancing, everyone in the room wanted to dance with Haruka. Even the men. Make of that what you will.
Haruka’s gender representation is not as rigid in the manga. Though she does still wear “masculine” clothing and gets mistaken for a man, she does still wear “feminine” clothing which isn’t her Sailor Soldier uniform. Though this has the effect of somewhat making her relationship with Michiru less evocative of the typical image of a het couple, it is still evoked at times even if unintentionally. But we all know intention don’t count for shit.
Also, in both the anime and the manga, Haruka is shown only flirting with girls while Michiru usually flirts with men.
Even with the gendered coding, like Usagi and Mamoru, Haruka and Michiru’s romance is absent of an unequal power dynamic.
For people who are familiar with only the US dub:
Actually, just watch it if you want to laugh at the US dub’s pathetic attempt to write out their romance.
Seiya and Usagi
True, this pairing was never consummated but season five was pushing for a possible romance between them (even if it is obvious that it won’t happen since season two established Usagi and Mamoru’s future marriage). Nevertheless, this pairing is strong enough that some fans wish Usagi and Seiya could have been together.
The same fans would insist that Seiya is a man. I hate that because when they think man, they really think cis man who just transforms into a woman.
Personally, I am not entirely sure what to read of Seiya. A woman who simply assumes a be-penised body for her mission? A man who is able to walk among Earthlings in his desired form even if his soldier duties require to take another? Perhaps he is comfortable in both his forms? Someone who identifies as both or neither? Even if Seiya identifies as one of the two binary genders, they certainly never expressed any discomfort with either forms.
Whatever Seiya is, this pairing is not cishet and I will always hate it when fandom insist that it is.
So that’s that, and it’s awesome that Usagi does somewhat reciprocate. What prevents me from fully supporting this ship though is that Seiya is such a jerk at the beginning. Sure, Mamoru was also a jerk at first but Seiya is the one who constantly tries to make Usagi go on a date with them despite knowing that she already has someone. Woah Star Fighter, just because you’re posing as an Earthling male doesn’t mean you have to perpetuate rape culture.
Seiya also pulls the condescending “I’ll protect you” quite often though to be fair, they are an alien superbeing and they think that Usagi is just a normal human.
So in conclusion? Sailor Moon’s romances are not perfect but it is a shame that so many things can’t even meet it on the same level. I’m hoping that the 2013 version, despite staying closer to the manga, would not take away Zoisite/Kunzite and Usagi/Seiya but improve on them. Oh, and Haruka and Michiru better continue stealing the show whenever they’re on.