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30 years later, why we all still love Sailor Moon


BRYNNE PRICE AND NICOLE PRICE: (Singing) Fighting evil by moonlight. Winning love by daylight.


"Sailor Moon" premiered in Japan 30 years ago this month.


BRYNNE PRICE AND NICOLE PRICE: (Singing) She is the one named Sailor Moon.

SUMMERS: "Sailor Moon" is the magical alter ego of 14-year-old Usagi Tsukino. In the English version, her name is Serena. Now, Usagi lives a pretty normal schoolgirl life until she meets a talking cat who helps her unlock her magic powers...


KEIKO HAN: (As Luna, speaking Japanese)

SUMMERS: ...And tasks her with fighting evil supernatural forces with the rest of the Sailor Scouts. Briana Lawrence is fandom editor at The Mary Sue and a longtime fan of the show. I started by asking her about her favorite "Sailor Moon" character, and she told me that when she was a kid, it was Sailor Jupiter. But as she's grown up, that's changed.

BRIANA LAWRENCE: Now I'm like, Sailor Moon's my favorite because she, like - she's the hero, but also she's like, I deserve to eat cake every now and then if I feel like it because I'm saving the world all the time and I deserve this break.

SUMMERS: And one of Sailor Moon's personality traits - right? - is that she cries a lot.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Sailor Moon, crying) I want to go home now.

SUMMERS: And you wrote that her crying - that it used to annoy you. What was frustrating about it then?

LAWRENCE: I think when I was younger, it annoyed me because I was projecting what other people would say.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) What do you think you're doing, Sailor Moon? You have to fight back.

LAWRENCE: And so I was like, yeah, why are you complaining? You're supposed to save the world. You're supposed to do this. And then, like, I got older, and I got tired (laughter). And I was just like, wait, why do I - why do I have to push myself to the breaking point to get things done? Why can't I, like, take my time? I actually am working on a book series about magical girls. And so I rewatched "Sailor Moon" while I was writing it, and I was like, oh, my God, I understand why she's crying. This is upsetting to go through. Like, you're a 14-year-old. There's a cat that tells you that you have to save the world. The cat doesn't really give you that many details.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Throw your tiara at her and yell Moon Tiara Action.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Sailor Moon) But why would I want to do that? What's going to happen?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Just hurry up and do it.

LAWRENCE: Your first fight is your best friend's mom, and she just kind of crumbles on the ground, and she doesn't know what to do. And tuxedo mask shows up, and he's like...


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As Tuxedo Mask) Sailor Moon, you have to remember that crying isn't going to solve any of your problems.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Sailor Moon) Yeah, maybe not, but I can't help it. (Crying).

LAWRENCE: And the crying is so loud that it creates, like, a supersonic wave. And so the monster's distracted, and she's able to actually use her tiara attack and finish off the monster.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Sailor Moon) Moon Tiara Action.

SUMMERS: You and I both watched this show back in the '90s, and it is just really striking to me that even now, years removed, there is this new generation of fans who are coming up and enjoying the show. You can go to the mall, which automatically makes me feel quite old, and you're going to see "Sailor Moon" merchandise at stores. What do you think it is about Usagi, the rest of the Sailor Scouts that keeps getting people drawn into the show?

LAWRENCE: I think it's a couple of things. Like, one, when we were watching it in the '90s, we got, like, the edited version. So partially, I think we're making up for lost time because now we're getting the, like, actual - here's the actual episodes unedited. Here's the actual, you know, queer content that wasn't in "Sailor Moon." Here it is now. And then the other part is just - for me personally, the staying power is the message for me changed when I got older. You know, kids are pushed hard, and when you're in the middle of being pushed, you don't see what you're doing to other people. So as an adult, I look back and I'm like, oh, God, yeah, I'm really sorry. Like, Sailor Moon was right this whole time. She should be able to go to the arcade and crush on the boy and then take a bath and relax.

SUMMERS: I want to ask you about something you brought up about the show. You know, if a person has only ever watched the English dubs of the show, they may not know that Sailor Moon, Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus were not cousins. They were a lesbian couple. And this is a show that has a really big queer fan base. Why do you think "Sailor Moon" has resonated so much among queer people?

LAWRENCE: I think for me personally it resonated because it was censored. And I'm like, oh, more queer content that we're not getting. And I came out when I was 18, and I have been with my wife since I came out at 18. We've been together for 20 years. So I remember we went to tell her parents, and their response was like, OK, but you don't have to talk about it with anybody else. Like, you can just keep it to yourself. You don't have to say anything. And I think that's why I was like, it resonated with me so much because it got locked away for so long and people thought that was necessary to do to, like, protect the children or whatever.

And when I finally saw what the content was, I was just like, God, this is what they censored? This is what they were worried about? Because it's all - it's just people being themselves. Uranus and Neptune just hang out together. They don't even, like, kiss or anything. They just, like, hold hands or talk to each other. It was such, like, a relaxed thing that we got robbed of.

There's no reason to go back to how it was 30 years ago. We can actually have this now. And so any time someone's, like, upset about, oh, this thing might have, like, a queer thing in it - and it's like, really? Are you going to go back to, like, when you turned them into cousins? Really? Is that the hill you want to die on? And it's like, no, you shouldn't. We're supposed to be progressing further than what you guys were doing when we were children.

SUMMERS: You know, it just strikes me now that the cultural landscape and the media that we all have access to looks so different than what you were consuming in the '90s when the show first came out 30 years ago. Do you ever hear from young people who are into the show? Because I mean, I think, like, it's very nostalgic for us, but it's, like, very much of today for them perhaps.

LAWRENCE: I think it's like the sense of, like, validation and freedom that they feel, like, seeing characters learn to love themselves and be themselves throughout the show. And they're also kind of, like, unapologetically gay. Like, I think that's the big impact it has. Because with Uranus and Neptune, there's no, like, episode explaining, you know, why they're gay. It is just like, no, they just are. People felt like this in 1992. Like, in the '90s, people were writing stories like this. I mean, yeah, it was censored, but the writing still happened. It's not new. So now with younger fans that are coming out, they're like, oh, there's stuff I can show. It's like "Sailor Moon" - it's like all these other things that have come out. And it's like, oh, it's just - I'm right there in, like, this media that's present today and was present back in the day. We've been here the whole time.


MISAE TAKAMATSU: (Singing in Japanese).

SUMMERS: Briana Lawrence, fandom editor at The Mary Sue, thank you so much for being with us.

LAWRENCE: Thank you for having me.


TAKAMATSU: (Singing in Japanese). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Megan Lim
[Copyright 2024 NPR]