Sailor Moon taught me the inherent power of being a girl, and now my daughter is learning, too
Following this summer’s Magical Girl Day hosted in Texas—a day-long event to celebrate beloved anime series Sailor Moon—HG contributor Samantha Chavarria reflects on what the series meant to her, and what it now means to her daughter.
Middle school is rough for everyone, but at that age, I was especially going through a hard time. We had moved away from the home of our large extended family to a brand new town that lacked the same familiar connections. I was entering a new school mid-year while navigating the onset of puberty. I was uncomfortable in my own body and had made the bold (and misguided) decision to chop off all of my hair. My parents were working more than ever, but we were constantly broke. All I wanted to do was go back home—to my real home.
What I really needed to help me cope was friends—girls my own age who would make me feel less alone. However, middle school girls aren’t always the most welcoming, and I had a hard time making lasting connections. I was overweight, awkward, and never knew what to say. I didn’t watch 7th Heaven or read Seventeen. I didn’t wear anything remotely trendy. I didn’t know where to find my clique and felt lonely on my own. With my parents working so much, my younger sister was more my ward than my friend. She resented me for being in charge and I resented her for putting me in a position to be in charge. Our relationship stayed combative for years.
Without those kinds of friendships, reading was how I spent most of my time. I hoped books would let me escape this new reality, but reading often ended up making me feel more alone. In the stories I read, heroines always survived tragic circumstances with the help of their own talents. Why couldn’t I? I felt that I was lacking. I didn’t feel clever or brave or strong. Most of the time, I was just awkward, scared, and alone.
So it surprised me when I soon found a leading lady I could actually relate to—who just happened to be a superhero.
One day, I came home from school and turned on Cartoon Network. That was the first time I saw Sailor Moon.
A Japanese anime based on Naoko Takeuchi’s magical girl manga, Sailor Moon introduced me to Usagi Tsukino, a crybaby underachiever who suddenly finds herself tasked with fighting evil and defending the earth in the name of the moon.
Like me, Usagi doesn’t think herself up to the task when faced with this new challenge. What’s worse is that she starts off alone in her journey. However, it’s her pure heart that draws people to her and eventually unites her with her fellow superheroes. It’s through her that the team comes together and the Sailor Senshi get their powers. Not only are these girls her partners in fighting evil, they also become her best friends. Those friendships save the day more than once during their adventures.
As I was mostly friendless, the concept of a destiny shared by this group of friends appealed to me—but it was Usagi’s growth that taught me the most. She wasn’t instantly good when she transformed into Sailor Moon. She was still clumsy and a crybaby; she wasn’t as smart as Sailor Mercury or as physically strong as Sailor Jupiter. She failed and she complained plenty. Sailor Moon was more likely to face plant than to take out an enemy, and that felt relatable to me. In fact, it made me feel powerful.
Sailor Moon was just a normal girl—she liked eating, reading comics, and playing video games just as much as I did. Even with super powers, these facts of her personality couldn’t be concealed. If people needed her, she rose to the challenge. Sure, sometimes she failed, but she wasn’t afraid to rely on her friends. And she wasn’t willing to back down. Just like me, she found herself in a new world with new responsibilities where she had to grow to meet challenges.
It seemed that the only difference between us was a tiara and some super powers.
As I grew older, I eventually made good friends and fell in love. While I wasn’t alone anymore, I’d still visit the world of Sailor Moon to enjoy the escapism that I so needed in middle school. I still saw parallels between myself and this superhero, especiallyh when I had my own daughter.
Just like Usagi, I found in my daughter a beautiful friend. Someone who I can love and teach so that she never has to feel the same loneliness that I once felt. And, of course, that also means having someone to introduce to the world of Sailor Moon.
My daughter doesn’t see the same things that I saw when she watches the cartoon, but that’s because she doesn’t need the same things I needed as a girl. Still, there’s something uniquely there for her in the iconic anime. That’s why this cartoon has resonated with so many for nearly 30 years.
It’s a story that speaks to girls about our desires to be more than who we are. It’s about the power of realizing that we were exactly who we needed to be. It didn’t matter if you were a klutz or a nerd or boy-crazy. You could be brave and strong. You could be kind and good. You could find your clique—even if who you most relate to is a group of animated, sailor-suited teenagers.