Thursday, January 12, 2012

In the Name of the Moon

I can't make fun of the folks who enjoy "Twilight." I just can't. And I can't make fun of the kids who like the Kardashians or Justin Bieber or the latest tween sensation who can't actually sing. When we're young we all become enamored with some godawful pieces of pop culture, only fit for undeveloped minds and future VH1 nostalgia retrospectives. I fell prey to my share of them, just like everyone else. And so today, taking advantage of this whole anonymous blogger thing, I'm going to confess that when I was in high school, I was a fan of a little Japanese cartoon called "Sailor Moon."

Let's get the most embarrassing parts out of the way first. "Sailor Moon" was the first piece of anime I was really exposed to, aside from a few children's movies and a few boy-oriented mecha cartoons. Compared to everything I've seen since, the American dub was pretty dreadful, cutting episodes to pieces, tacking "Sailor Moon Says" morals on the endings, and writing out anything remotely unconventional. They screwed with the characters' ages, turned a male villain into a female one, and never let us see anyone die. Oh, and Sailor Moon was very obviously voiced by a mature woman who did a terrible job of trying to sound like a teenager.

I didn't care. Looking back, I know exactly why I liked "Sailor Moon" - it was because of the visuals. I had never been any kind of a romance fan, and had never wanted much to do with Barbies or ballerinas or the usual girly pink nonsense prevalent in Western media for little girls. However I did like fantasy stories and loved cartoons. What "Sailor Moon" did was to introduce a different kind of visual aesthetic, the shojo manga style that was sexier and bolder with its imagery, and yet still very feminine. I'd never seen anything like it before in a cartoon, especially not at that level of quality. Most of the "Sailor Moon" animation was done on the cheap, but certain sequences, like the henshin, the transformation scenes, got extra attention, and it showed.

It helped that "Sailor Moon" was so obviously targeted at girls, back at a time when few Western cartoons were. I'd largely missed the age of "Jem" and "She-Ra," when there were still some efforts toward gender parity in kids' shows. By the 90s the toy marketers were focused on the boys, who tended to maintain cartoon-watching habits longer than girls did, and were considered easier to program to. It was accepted wisdom that girls would watch boys' cartoons, but boys wouldn't watch girls' cartoons. So "Sailor Moon" stood out immediately, for having a passel of female superheroes save the day on a regular basis. And it wasn't some cheap commercial for a doll or toy line like so many of them were back then, but something made specifically for girls right at the age when they usually stopped watching cartoons. How could I not take notice?

I didn't fall for the show right away though. Despite the eye candy, the stories and the characters didn't appeal to me. I didn't much care for the monster-of-the-week formula or all the emphasis on romance and boyfriends. I thought Sailor Moon was a ditzy airhead and didn't have much patience with her. I'm much fonder of the silly girl now, having realized she was a pretty good caricature of teenage growing pains, and always her own best comic relief. It was only after I saw a mini-marathon of several episodes over the holidays that I realized the series had plot arcs and character development and all kinds of fun stuff, once you got past the bad dubbing and edits. From that point on I was sold. I never broadcast the fact that I was a fan (I was in high school ferpetesake), but I got up early most weekdays to catch "Sailor Moon" at 7AM before school, and I started looking around for similar programs.

It's thanks to "Sailor Moon" that I went through my otaku phase which eventually got me interested in world cinema. I still have very fond feelings toward anime. My favorite to date is "Revolutionary Girl Utena," which is often described as a deconstruction of shojo shows like "Sailor Moon," and depends on knowing a lot of the old tropes and formulas. "Utena" doesn't have transformation scenes as good as the ones in "Sailor Moon" though. Nothing ever really did.

So hang in there, fanboys and fangirls, whatever your media guilty pleasure is. We all need 'em, for different reasons, and not everyone gets the same things out of being a fan. And sometimes, if we're lucky, it can lead to better things.

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