Featured image: Totally a real screenshot from the film and not some crazy cosplaying by GeshaPetrovich.
Sailor Moon R: The Movie, directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara. Screenplay by Sukehiro Tomita. Starring Kotono Mitsuishi, Aya Hisakawa, and Michie Tomizawa. Toei Animation, 1993. In limited release from Viz Media, 2017. Dubbed. Runtime 78 minutes. Rated PG.
We’ll get to the meaning of the deliberately provocative clickbait title of this review in a moment. But first, let’s cover the preliminaries.
So, I just saw Sailor Moon R: The Movie, the first North American theatrical release of a Sailor Moon film, courtesy of Viz Media, which now owns the North American distribution rights. The film originally came out in 1993 and runs a mere hour and eighteen minutes. I hope some other showings around the country are more successful than the one I attended, or Viz Media is going to go broke, and I don’t want them to go broke until they finish releasing the series.
I was, I kid you not, literally the only person in the theater. It was so embarrassing that some photographers showed up from The Onion and took a photo.
I figured there would at least be a handful of pimple-faced teenagers or obese lesbians, but no.
Anyway, accompanying this release are two extras. The first is an interview with three members of the English voice cast: Stephanie Sheh, who plays Usagi/Sailor Moon, Robbie Daymond, who plays Mamoru/Tuxedo Mask, and Ben Diskin, who plays the film’s villain Fiore. I’m not a particularly big fan of interviews or voice-over commentaries, mostly because I share the opinion Plato puts in the mouth of Socrates in the Symposium that most artists are idiots when they talk about their own work. This interview didn’t change that opinion: it’s a lot of fangirlish sqeeing and very little substance, and it goes on for several minutes. Most of what I got out of it is that Sheh, Daymond, and Diskin really, really like Sailor Moon.
As they should, since she writes their checks.
They also talk smack about Tuxedo Mask, and I didn’t find their comments to be fair. Yes, Tuxedo Mask is subject to Sailor Moon‘s version of the Worf Effect and gets kidnapped or brainwashed a ridiculous number of times (including once in this movie!), but he’s not a complete pushover. All the times the sailor scouts have to snap him out of a brainwashing is just to make up for his having to save their sorry butts almost every damn week. According to Robbie Daymond, this movie contains the first instance of Tuxedo Mask’s signature attack (throwing a red rose like a dart) being effective, but that’s not true: it’s almost always effective; its purpose is to wound or distract a monster long enough for Sailor Moon to cast her finishing move. That is, in fact, the purpose of most of the characters’ attacks.
Following the interview is the short film Make Up! Sailor Guardians, which is merely a recap episode meant to aid any poor schmuck who’s unfamiliar with the franchise but has been dragged into the theater by an overenthusiastic daughter or gay boyfriend: in it, Usagi and Chibi-Usa are eating ice cream in a cafe when they overhear some girls talking about the sailor scouts. This serves to introduce each of the main characters with clips of their transformation sequences taken from the TV show. The television animation used in this short does not transfer well to the big screen and in fact gave me a headache.
This is the first time I’ve seen a dub—any dub—of Sailor Moon, so I confess that it was jarring when Usagi opened her mouth and Stephanie Sheh’s voice came out. The sub vs. dub debate in anime fandom is endless, and it is also mostly pointless as it revolves primarily around personal taste. I don’t want to be one of those weeaboos who sees a dub for the first time and then takes to Tumblr to express his butthurt, but I will say that I found the dubbing distracting. I believe that is, however, more because I am unused to it than because there’s anything particularly wrong with it. I have said before that I think only Kotono Mitsuishi can really play Sailor Moon, and I stand by that, but Sheh’s performance is more than adequate. She comes across as bright and giggly and bubbly, which is exactly how Sailor Moon should sound.
The actual movie, having been made for the theater, has much better art and animation than the short film, though without any departure from the look of the series. I’m not sure it’s quite what I would call movie quality, but I’m not in a position to judge, as the last time I saw a twenty-year-old animated film in a theater would have been twenty years ago.
Its chronological location in Sailor Moon‘s animated corpus is uncertain, but it appears to take place sometime during the last third of the Sailor Moon R story arc, as Chibi-Usa, Sailor Moon’s daughter from the future, already knows that Usagi and Sailor Moon are the same person, but has not yet returned to the Thirtieth Century. No events from the TV series get mentioned, however, so the sailor scouts are apparently taking a break from battling the Black Moon Clan in order to fight some other aliens instead. Chibi-Usa plays only a small part in the movie and is apparently on hand mostly to be a mascot character—a role more appropriate for her than the excessive attention she usually gets.
The plot develops Mamoru’s backstory. In both the anime and manga, Mamoru was, as a child, in a car accident that left him orphaned and with Hollywood amnesia. The film expands this further to reveal that, while recovering in the hospital, he befriended a boy named Fiore, who was actually a space alien. After they assuaged each other’s loneliness, Fiore had to leave, as the Earth’s atmosphere was toxic to him or something … though he apparently handles deep space without a spacesuit just fine. Don’t think about that too hard. Anyway, before he went, Mamoru handed him a rose, and Fiore promised to return the favor by finding him the most beautiful flower in the universe.
In the present day, Fiore has grown up and returned to Earth. As his English voice actor correctly notes in the preliminary interview, he is something like an overgrown child, a little kid with magic powers and an adult body, but with his emotional development retarded at a preadolescent stage. He has been drifting through space alone, the memory of his brief friendship with Mamoru his only comfort. Vulnerable as he is, he’s picked up a parasite, the Kisenian Flower, which intends to use him to absorb all of Earth’s human energy (it’s always about the human energy!). Fiore, upon his return, immediately grows jealous of Mamoru’s relationship with Usagi, and Usagi, being Usagi, reciprocates.
The story builds quickly to an action sequence on an asteroid, to which the sailors travel by pulling a teleportation spell out of their butts … well, to be fair, they also perform that same teleportation spell at one point in the TV series, but there they definitely pull it out of their butts. Once on the asteroid, which is rendered with really bad (but probably cutting edge in 1993) CGI, they discover that Fiore, brainwashed by the Kisenian Flower, is planning to scatter flower seeds all over the planet, which will drain us all of our human energy and thereby exterminate mankind.
Fighting ensues, and in one of the most memorable sequences in the whole franchise, Fiore crucifies Sailor Moon while telling her that she is going to be alone forever and that she’s a lousy friend, basically projecting his own pain on to her. During this sequence, the other sailors go through flashbacks in which they remember their own loneliness before they met Usagi and banded together to battle the forces of evil. In other words, as in all good magical girl shows, it’s all about the friendship.
After being crucified, Sailor Moon dies and rises again from the dead (she does that a lot), and then the film moves on to its ending, which echoes the opening without bludgeoning the audience over the head with the parallelism, a rare moment of subtlety in a generally loud and flashy franchise.
It plays like an extra-long episode of the TV series, but it manages in its brief running time to recapitulate some of the franchise’s major themes. In particular, there’s the christological allegory: Sailor Moon makes occasional but overt borrowings from Christianity, and its titular protagonist pretty much has dying and rising and bringing salvation in the process as her day job. The crucifixion scene in this film is particularly appropriate because it echoes a scene from the Sailor Moon R television series that you can bet your micro-mini got censored out of the old DiC dub in the Nineties:
Crucifixion imagery, though not ubiquitous, shows up in a few other places in the franchise.
Now let us come to the question cheekily asked in this essay’s title. I was wandering around the internet after learning of this film’s imminent release, and I ran across a vitriolic discussion, even before the film was out and the evidence in, over whether Viz Media’s dub would be sufficiently gay. One guy in the argument insisted, though the movie had not been released yet, that it just wouldn’t be gay enough.
Aside from his unwillingness to wait until the dang thing actually came out, he did not appear to me to appreciate the difficulties of translation. Nuance and innuendo are the things that one can expect to disappear first when a work moves from one language to another. No translation is ever perfect, so I think he was asking too much, and about the most frivolous subject.
But if he could ask whether the new dub of Sailor Moon R: The Movie is gay enough, I can just as easily turn around and ask if it’s too gay. Indeed, given some suspicious lines in the film, mine may be a better question.
The original English dub from DiC, of course, attempted to tone down the homosexual content in Sailor Moon, often with unintentionally hilarious results. Back in 2014, Puppies: The Blog produced a mostly complete (and entertaining) chronicle of DiC’s futile effort. Of most interest to us is his comparison between DiC’s translation of one particular scene in this movie and a (presumably fan-produced) translation of the original Japanese.
The scene in question is this: Usagi, having seen Fiore get clingy with Mamoru, is waxing jealous and wondering what sort of relationship the two of them have. The other sailor scouts are with her and begin speculating wildly. This is the transcript that Puppies offers, and it is more or less identical to what is in the current dub (keep in mind that the blog post I’m quoting is from 2014, so this is not a transcript of the Viz translation):
Sailor Moon: Is he thinking too much? But they didn’t seem like just friends … No, Mamo-chan wouldn’t ever do that!
Sailor Mars: Mamoru looked rather serious too …
Sailor Jupiter: Oh yeah, he suddenly said he was going to go home, too …
Sailor Venus: I wonder if the guy we met at the botanical garden was an acquaintance of Mamoru’s.
Sailor Jupiter: You haven’t heard anything, Usagi?
Sailor Moon: No … Come to think of it, I know next to nothing of Mamo-chan’s past …
Sailor Mercury: Mamoru seems to be popular with men …
Sailor Mars: Such a comment from you, Ami?
Sailor Venus: Ami, you’re a perv!
Artemis: Ah, they had THAT kind of relationship.
Luna: I guess that ends today’s meeting.
Sailor Mercury: N-No! I didn’t mean it THAT way …
Sailor Mars: Then which way did you mean?
Sailor Mercury: W-Well, I meant …
Sailor Venus: You know, there’s a couple in that kind of a relationship at my school, too …
In the new Viz release, after the camera cuts away from the girls, there are additional snatches of dialogue, including the lines, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” and “If it’s natural to you, then it’s okay.”
My resources at present do not allow me to demonstrate it, but I strongly suspect these are lines that Viz added in, partly because they are overheard in the background after the image has cut away, partly because they sound suspiciously anachronistic, and partly because they don’t fit the tone of the conversation that precedes. I can’t prove my suspicions at the moment; I have studied French, German, Hebrew, Latin, and Spanish, but I have no Japanese, so I couldn’t produce even a rough translation myself, and I have no (legal) access to the Japanese original in any case. However, Viz’s subtitles seem to be reasonably faithful, so when the subbed version becomes available, we’ll be able to see if these lines are in there.
Before we go any further, allow me to point out that the sailors are off-base in their speculations. This scene of gossip and conclusion-jumping is similar to a later scene in Sailor Moon S in which the girls convince themselves that Makoto/Sailor Jupiter is crushing on Haruka/Sailor Uranus. In fact, as it turns out, they’re mistaken: Jupes is not in fact trying to get in Haruka’s manpants, but merely admires her because she’s strong and independent and butch and catty and foul-tempered … or something like that.
The girls are similarly mistaken here: Fiore is not sexually desirous of Mamoru and may not be sexual at all. He is more like a prepubescent child who doesn’t understand why his best bud is getting interested in girls. He clearly does not comprehend Mamoru’s relationship with Usagi, and Usagi may even be partly the instigator of the conflict that ensues: when Fiore first sees Mamoru after years away in deep space, he grasps Mamoru’s hand; Usagi then seizes Mamoru, pulls him back, and says, “Sorry, but he’s my boyfriend.”
Fiore, having no social skills whatever, apparently takes her at her word: friendship with Mamoru must be exclusive, so he then takes steps to ensure that he gets Mamoru rather than she.
In other words, though Sailor Moon R: The Movie includes a conversation about homosexuality, it actually contains no homosexuality. But though I can’t prove it (yet), I think Viz is now taking the opposite tack of DiC and making the franchise gayer than the original.
If you raise an eyebrow at this, let me give you an example to demonstrate that this is not an unrealistic concern: take the case of Fire Emblem Fates, a Japanese videogame that includes a female character who has a “weakness for cute girls,” apparently because of some homosexual inclinations. The protagonist gradually helps her get over her weakness, which can in turn lead to romance. The American localization of the game censors all of that because the idea of a homosexual getting over it is now considered offensive.
You are of course allowed to go from straight to gay according to current fads, as that allegedly makes you strong or brave or something, but you’re not allowed to go the other way. I have personally known someone who was homosexual for years and then left it behind, so it does indeed happen, but the current fashion of homophilia makes such a person persona non grata.
In other words, we’ve gone from censoring homosexual content from Japanese media to censoring lack of homosexual content from Japanese media. I oppose censorship; I hold that an artist’s work should be left untouched (except for faithful translations, of course) and should be seen, ignored, or criticized exactly as-is, but I certainly acknowledge that some of the old censorship, such as what DiC did with the Sailor Moon dub, at least had a rationale behind it.
The new form of censorship, by contrast, is merely insane.