Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon was originally a manga illustrated by Naoko Takeuchi. The series involves preteen soldiers, who in a previous life were members of the ancient moon kingdom Silver Millennium. These magical warriors were destined to save Earth from the forces of evil in between chasing boys and studying for exams. Sailor Moon was then adapted into an anime and broadcasted 1991-1997. After reaching popularity in Japan, Sailor Moon was broadcasted in Spain, France, South Korea, the Philippines, Poland, Peru, Brazil, and Sweden before reaching the United States. From its origins as a manga to its international dispersion, Sailor Moon underwent many alterations. The targeted age group was changed from young adults (manga) to young girls (anime). The change was a hurdle in the dubbing process to make the content age appropriate, which resulted in the censorship of LGBT characters. I believe this act of ‘normalizing’ characters was a tool used to maintain gender and sexuality boundaries and binaries.
The range of censorship amongst countries signifies the subjectivity of age appropriateness and the social and cultural construction of sexuality and gender. Many countries, especially the United States, chose to conceal gender-bending characters and water down the sexuality (hetero-, homo- and bi-) of the sailor scouts. The changes included rewriting to hide relationships (which drove fans crazy and poked holes in the plot) and changing the gender and sexuality of characters to avoid confusing children and making parents uncomfortable. Two characters, Zoycite and Fisheye, were originally gay effeminate men in the Japanese anime, but were portrayed as women in the English dubbed version to normalize their romantic relationships with other men. Later episodes weren’t ever dubbed in English due to new characters’ abilities to change genders and question the normalcy of romance. However, due to time constraints, I focus on Sailor Uranus’ portrayal in the English dubbed version of Sailor Moon S (season 3). Because I’m focusing on the alterations of the English dub, I will use the English names and episode timeline as I elaborate on the desperate attempt to normalize Sailor Uranus’ queer nature in order to maintain Western gender and sexuality boundaries.
Sailor Uranus, or Amara, is a cisgendered woman, meaning she was born biologically female and identifies as a woman. However, she performs masculine gender roles. In the manga, the young scouts can’t help but be curious about Amara’s gender. When Serena (Sailor Moon) questions Amara’s gender, Amara responds, “Man, woman. Why should something like that matter”? In another chapter, Sailor Neptune states that Sailor Uranus possesses both genders, but this is not to confuse Amara as an intersexual. Amara moves freely between both genders as she pleases. Basically, Amara does whatever she wants. Outside of her Sailor Scout uniform she chooses to dress more masculine and participate in male dominated activities. Despite her masculine performance, Amara identifies as a woman but also questions the importance of labels/identities (que queer!). So from its origins in the early 1990’s, we see Sailor Moon involves important questions and messages about gender identity and sexuality.
Flashforward to the early 2000s. Season 3 episode 92, Amara is finally introduced and Serena and Mina (Sailor Venus) mistake her for a man. Entranced by Amara’s masculine features, the two young girls fight for her love and attention.
Season 3 Episode 92
Serena and Mina first seeing Amara Season 3 Episode 92
It’s not until the end of the episode, when Amara isn’t cloaked under her schoolboy uniform, that the girls realize she is actually a woman. Interestingly, despite knowing Amara is a woman, the young girls still find her overwhelmingly attractive. In later episodes both Rei (Sailor Mars) and Lita (Sailor Jupiter) both experience moments of enchantment for Amara. Although English writers try to conceal this by emphasizing that Rei and Lita simply look up to Amara, the visuals tell another story that young viewers, including myself, were able to pick up on.
Rei flirting with Amara
Lita “admiring” Amara
Sailor scouts were not denied boyfriends or love interests, however their romantic interest in Amara is ignored. Apparently, the writers couldn’t allow the sailor scouts to crush on Amara after she revealed herself as a woman. The English writers covered up the young scouts sexual and romantic attraction for Amara with desire to be “best-friends” and the need for a role model. What would it mean to young viewers to see their role models attracted to both genders? And to learn that girls who like boys can also be attracted to women too? The original Japanese anime opened the door to a sexuality the United States (and many other countries) weren’t able to deal with. The sailor scouts’ romantic interests questioned the normalcy and naturalness of sexuality. What if biological men and women aren’t naturally and magnetically attracted to one another? Amara created the space for young girls to imagine this gray area and writers couldn’t allow that. But children aren’t stupid, especially westernized young girls who are predisposed and trained to aspire to romance and love. We could see the signs! I know I did. Young children, who may not have even heard of the word ‘homosexual’ before, began to understand its intricacies and it’s forbiddances. Which goes to show that although parents may not have been talking about sexuality, young children were still being taught gender boundaries through popular culture.
Whereas U.S. writers couldn’t do anything about Amara’s masculine performance, they could alter her lesbian relationship with Michelle (Sailor Neptune). Making one of the worst decisions of Sailor Moon dubbing history, the writers decided to make Amara and Michelle cousins. The move to avoid the conversation of lesbian characters resulted in a borderline incestuous relationship. Claiming that Amara and Michelle have been inseparable at birth to explain their intimacy poked holes in the story and confused viewers even more.
Interestingly, their relationship was altered differently between countries. In Russia, Amara is left as a man in civilian form to normalize the relationship, but the Albanian dub skipped season three and five to avoid the relationship. In the Italian and French dub they are portrayed as close friend, but the Mexican and Brazilian dub kept the relationship. The different range of acceptance and respectability amongst countries shows that sexuality is not a one-size-fits-all type of deal. Cultural beliefs and norms directly shape what is considered appropriate, subversive and forbidden in terms of sexuality.
Michelle telling Amara, “I’ll handle it, Cuz”
The multiple relationships between Michelle and Amara signify the prominence of social influence on sexuality. The censorship used in different countries was implemented to control the sexualities children experienced. Deciding to hide a lesbian relationship all the while promoying boy-crazy teenage girls is a product of heteronormativity. The fear of what this sort of representation can do to young children is what I believe sparked the censorship. If sexuality is biologically determined and naturally heterosexual, why worry about children witnessing same sex couples? If sexualities weren’t socially or culturally influenced what’s wrong with two girls in a consensual relationship? The genders and sexualities of a few fictional anime characters had (have) the ability to cause a pyschosocial catastrophe.