Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on Ellie’s Facebook, and she was kind enough to let us repost it here.
On September 23rd, I was lucky enough to see the most recent incarnation of the Sailor Moon Musicals, AKA Sera Myu, put on by an all female cast in Tokyo, Japan. Here is what I think about the experience I had seeing the Sailor Moon Musical live… But first, in order to really understand how I feel about it and why, you’ll need some background about who I am and my relationship with the Sailor Moon franchise more generally.
Beware, some minor spoilers may be ahead depending on how much you know about Sailor Moon!
I have been pretty much a life long anime fan. I was four years old when my dad’s coworker gave him a random laser disk (remember those?) or Studio Ghibli’s “My Neighbor Totoro” and while it instantly became my favorite movie, I had no idea it was “anime,” or even Japanese in origin. Then when I was 5 years old, my dad went into a little shop in San Francisco’s China Town after seeing a Totoro stuffie in the window he wanted to buy for me. When he went to the counter to make the purchase, he spotted a poster for Sailor Moon hanging up behind the register. He asked the shopkeeper, “What’s that thing with the Barbie looking girls?” and he replied, “That’s Sailor Moon, it’s the biggest thing in Japan right now and great for little girls.” My dad was intrigued and recorded an episode on UPN for me to watch when I got home from school the next day. (It was episode 59 in the DIC version, “A Charmed Life” in case you were curious.)
That one episode of Sailor Moon radically changed my life in ways I can’t fully comprehend. When I think of the butterfly effect, maybe it started with Totoro, or even before that when my dad bought a Laser Disk player or something, but the tipping point that has lead to the formation of my identity as it is today was Sailor Moon. In that one episode I met the five characters that I would come to think of some of the best friends I have, though they were never actually alive.
Sailor Moon taught me that it’s okay to be exactly who I am — I can be any type of girl and still be strong, beautiful, and worthy of love and friendship. I can be a crybaby like Usagi, a book worm like Ami, a spiritual girl like Rei, a simultaneous tom-boy and girly-girl like Makoto, a trend obsessed fanatic like Minako, a kid who is too mature for her age group like Chibi Usa, a misunderstood loner like Setsuna, a non-binary/genderfluid individual like Haruka, an open femmy lesbian like Michiru, sick of body or spirit like Hotaru, trans* and proud like the star lights, or even unable to communicate the way society expects of me like Chibi Chibi. I can be any or all or none of those things and still be powerful.
Seeing that representation was crucial to my childhood, as I imagine it must have been for millions of little girls (and boys) across the world. It gave me the courage to be outspoken when I saw my peers behaving in a way I disagreed with, using words like “fag” or “retard” or glorifying drug culture throughout my school days. It gave me strength when I was being bullied every day for being unlike my classmates, and to find peace within or to rebel against the haters with wit and tact as I felt comfortable doing so. It gave me comfort when I found myself attracted to my best friends, be they male or female, and reassured me that there was a place for those feelings in the world. Also, and perhaps most importantly, Sailor Moon was my gateway to the rest of Anime.
You know that “What 5 things would you use to summon me?” meme that’s been floating around on the internet for a while? Mine would be Cats, Anime, Sushi, Anime and Anime. It’s basically my life.
Anime gave me direction in life when I was lost and feeling alone as a kid. It inspired me to dress in funky fashions instead of trying to buy the latest trendy clothing which always felt awkward and disingenuous to me. It got me drawing, because I thought the visual style was so cool that I wanted to emulate it, which in turn helped me make friends who were also free spirited anime fans after I doodled on all of my class papers. This in turn got me into cosplay, which then forced me to learn skills such as public speaking, sewing, crafting, makeup and so much more. Cosplay then introduced me to some of my closest, lifelong friends, got me through many doors and into internships, onto TV, and even into college after I wrote about it in my application essays.
At the University of San Francisco, I majored in Japanese Studies so that I could understand the anime I was watching, because I wanted a more authentic experience. I had the opportunity to study abroad in Japan and met many more friends. Since I grew up in San Francisco, I had never had a “going away to school” coming of age experience until this point, so through getting along in Tokyo on my own, I learned that I could live alone and survive without my parents with me.
All of that has culminated in me seeing the Sailor Moon Musical this past week. I have an amazing job with bosses who trust me enough to let me do this, I speak and understand Japanese enough that I can navigate this country well enough to get into the musical, watch it with comprehension, and just be in this space where everyone is celebrating this *thing* that has made me who I am. I posted about it on my Facebook and as my friends swarmed to comment and like the post, I realized just how many incredible people Sailor Moon has indirectly brought into my life and I am floored.
I pretty much think of myself of having had three major spiritual experiences in my life.The first, my Bat Mitzvah, when I could feel the centuries of tradition running through the synagogue as I chanted my Torah portion. The second, during Lady Gaga’s “Fame Monster” tour when she spoke to the crowd as if she was speaking to only me, and then we all answered her with one voice. The third was seeing Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, a beloved J-pop icon, live at the J-pop Summit Festival in Union Square as a photographer, and feeling my dearly departed dad, also a photographer, was with me and that we were shooting her together. This would be the fourth of my life, it felt just the same: safe and warm and inspiring.
As I watched the show, based on the Sailor Moon S story arc (though closer to the manga than the anime) I couldn’t help but burst into tears at several moments — not when Hotaru revealed her scars to Chibi Usa (though that was incredibly sad and well acted), not when Haruka answered Usagi’s question of “Are you a boy or a girl?” with “Does it really matter?” (though I had to stifle a screech of delight) or when the scouts gave a moving speech to Usagi, telling her not to give up in the face of total hopelessness….
No, it was seeing the transformations, watching the attacks, hearing the actresses sing with the voices of the characters I have loved all my life right in front of me. It was hokey at times — stage acting is a limited medium in a lot of ways and things went wrong, or didn’t quite connect in a believable way… (And let me tell you, it’s comforting that the pros have the same issues as us cosplayers with making these costumes work – many gloves slipped from the elbow to the wrist as I watched!) But it was as close to real as I might ever be, and despite any flaws, it made me believe.
Whenever an actress in costume looked my way, it was like gazing into the face of a family member you haven’t seen in years — so familiar, and yet somewhat foreign. Whenever one of the singers made eye contact during the performance, I could feel my heart expanding in my chest, as if they were saying “Hey Eebs, how’s it going?” The actress who played Jupiter stood so close to me at one point, and I can tell she saw me in the audience 4 feet away, wearing all the Jupiter gear I had brought for the occaision, because she used me as her spotting point during a spin right in front of me — and smiled so broadly the second time around… And I just melted.
Jupiter was always the scout I identified with most as a kid, since she was taller than all the boys (I’m 6’ tall) and was actually sweet and gentle despite her looks. It meant so much to me that I could bring joy to a character that was my rock and role model for well over half of my life. After that I cried pretty much straight on through to the encore and curtain call, only pausing to hold my breath with wonder when Usagi finally became Super Sailor Moon in the final act.
I can’t speak to how truly lucky I am to have had this experience. I can’t put adequately into words how grateful I am for this opportunity, this community, this story that made it all possible. The bottom line is this: this is something every person who loves Sailor Moon and was touched by it in some way should have in their lives, and I know I am one of the lucky few.
Every second spent, every penny saved was worth those 3 hours. I am already excitedly thinking about the possibility of coming back next year, and the more immediate reality of getting to watch the fan-subbed DVD rip by Miss Dream once it goes up so that I can relive those feelings again. I want to feel this invigorated and inspired always, I want to absorb as much of this energy as I can — like the Negaverse, or the Doom Tree, only for good and positivity.
It makes me think about my time spent acting as Sailor Venus in San Francisco’s anime singing group Animemyu from 2007 to 2010 — the group had its flaws, but politics aside, we might have been able to bring that fantasy to someone out there. A little kid maybe, or a long time fan.
When I debuted my Sailor Moon costume at AX the year my dad passed away, a woman stopped her car in the middle of the street while I was at a bus stop so her autistic daughter could meet me for pictures. Sailor Moon had been a comfort to her and an inspiration, and I was able to make her feel like the character was real too. It was incredibly moving to hand her my wand and see her strike the perfect pose for her mom, it made me believe that there was a Sailor Senshi in all of us. I’ve never had that kind of experience in any other fandom.
I want to do it again — I want to create beautiful, sturdy costumes that would allow me to become that character for even a second to someone who could feel the way I do now. I want to assemble a team of fans whose hearts and spirits are in the right place to just have fun and show love for Sailor Moon and all it represents, just to go out and touch lives. I want to bring the Sera Myu healing energy to the states, where there are thousands of fans who will never be able to live the experience I just lived if someone doesn’t step up to try to make it happen.
Lastly, I want to be a better person because of this experience. Reconnecting with these old 2D friends has reminded me of what my goals as far as personal growth SHOULD be — not based on my size, popularity, skin, status, education level, or salary, but on my heart.
The empathy of Moon, the intelligence of Mercury, the passion of Mars, the strength of Jupiter, and the optimism of Venus – that is what I want for myself.
Thanks for reading!