Yeah, it’s taken me a long time to get to Sailor Moon.
There are a couple reasons for that. I’m overage … I don’t have time enough left in my life for series that run to hundreds of episodes. And I’m not even remotely interested in straight up (no pun intended) Magical Girl stories. I’m just not the target audience.
But you know, Work From Home, too much free time, isolation isolation isolation yada yada yada. Looks like I have a chance to see what all the fuss is about.
And, you know, through the first ten episodes it popped right out at me. The other Sailors are starting to come out of the woodwork, but at the start it’s just Luna and Usagi, and from a story-telling perspective if Usagi doesn’t work, bye bye, no more series. Remember, the one of the functions of the beginning of a narrative is to hook the user, and at the start it’s just Usagi. If she’s not a good character, it doesn’t matter what comes after, because no one’s watching.
Here’s the hook: From a writing standpoint she’s such an awful person that she’s a dream character.
Usagi Tsukino: In the name of the moon she will punish you.
No, she’s not a BAD person, but let’s break her down in the usual way: Brains, Looks, Personality.
Brains: Dude, she is LAST in her class. Last in the entire class. Her grades are a despair, and she doesn’t even give a darn. She’d rather read manga than study. (Is that a Japanese stereotype?)
Now, she’s not actually unintelligent, as we’ll see in a minute. But she’s clearly unused to bothering to think. I mean, seriously, in every episode Luna has to remind her to use her powers! In the first several episodes her successes are just the cat telling her what to do.
Looks: Yeah, she’s cute, but everyone is cute except the baddies. Don’t forget that “looks” subsumes all her physical aspects … and she’s a total klutz, right? She falls all over herself all the time. She drops everything she picks up, the messier it is (ice cream cones seem to be a favorite), the better. But she doesn’t run, she doesn’t jump, she plays no sports. We never see her walking and chewing gum at the same time. I’m not sure that’s a coincidence.
Personality: Now, she’s not a nasty person, but she’s clearly lazy. Worse, she’s a terrible crybaby. When things don’t go her way her mouth opens up big enough to swallow a fully-inflated basketball and she wails and tears stream from her eyes. And when she’s not crying she’s whining. She’s completely immature.
And I am told she is worse in the manga, if such a thing is possible.
She has school chums, particularly Naru, but they don’t seem to be close friends. She has a crush on the video store guy, but gets tongue-tied and screws up every time she tries to talk to him.
There you go. That’s the trick.
Remember how a protagonist is built: The protagonist is a _____________ but ____________. The protagonist usually has the powerz – physical, intellectual, emotional, whatever – to drive the plot to completion. The “but” is a point of weakness that makes it possible for them to fail.
Usagi, at the start of Sailor Moon, turns that upside down. She’s got no powerz, and even when she gets them, she doesn’t know what to do with them. Again, it’s Luna who’s actually running the show. Usagi is a loser …
… BUT …
… she’s kind.
Right? She sees some little kids mistreating a cat and she runs right over and makes them stop. She doesn’t know it’s really Luna. She doesn’t know the cat will give her a whole new life. She doesn’t know anything except that she has a kind heart and therefore she can’t stand to see those kids abusing a poor animal. That’s the first positive action she takes on her own.
It’s hidden under her loserhood, but it’s a powerful strength, and it’s a strength that makes the show work. Because she is kind, because she wants to help people (and cats), she’s willing to become Sailor Moon. Because she is kind, we like her and empathize with her.
Because at the start she’s a Loser but kind, what that does structurally is give her LOTS of room for character development. It starts though the first few episodes, particularly after Sailor Mercury shows up: they become closer friends than she has had before, take study breaks together (although Usagi reads manga instead of her books). The three of them, Moon, Mercury, and Mars are chums; they go on trips and cruises together, form a sisterhood.
As the story progresses Usagi starts – just barely, but she starts – to proactively use her talents instead of waiting for Luna or one of the other girls to tell her what to do, starts to think about what needs doing and how she can do it. She starts – just barely, but she starts – to become analytical. She’s experiencing character growth.
We know that more growth is coming. We know that later on she will have a long-term loving relationship, a terrific daughter who is a chip off the old Usagi block, that her talents will emerge, that she will lead the Sailor Soldiers. But in making her a loser to start with the writers invite the viewer to watch her as she grows; by making her kind they give the viewer a reason to watch her.
By making her a loser, they make her plot, Rags to Riches, start in the right place. The only real trick is that she can’t stay a loser for long, and she doesn’t. Her growth starts immediately. She’s at the bottom, but she’s not staying there!
Good for her!
Look at me. I’m cheering for a Magical Girl. What a great character!
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.