Moonlight Destiny: Sailor Moon Turns 20

In June, I was working on finalizing my memoir-in-essays manuscript, which features a story set in adolescence with a Sailor Moon frame. I was obsessed with the show in my teens, when it was still playing an afternoon Toonami slot on Cartoon Network. There is so much in that bizarre show that speaks to a girl stuck in high school purgatory, unsure of who she should be versus who she wants to be. Usagi Tsukino, an ordinary Tokyo schoolgirl, has a destiny. She is a reincarnated princess and warrior, and must reawaken her powers in order to save the world. Along the way she must find the other Sailor Senshi, who helped her defeat evil back in the old days on the moon (conveniently, all these girls are located in the same Tokyo school district).

While I couldn’t articulate why I was drawn to the show in my teens, the magnetism seems blatant now. Sailor Moon was the first TV show I watched, animated or American or otherwise, where the women outnumbered and outshone the men. Unlike other child-of-the-90’s shows like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, where the girls were token characters delegated to the pastel spectrum, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, when April O’Neil simply reported on the badass shit the guys were doing, girls were charged with saving the world. In Sailor Moon’s world, the guys were secondary. Sailor Moon’s character may have been in love with Tuxedo Mask, but she was first and foremost loyal to her friends. The inner senshi—Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Pluto—didn’t have boyfriends or love interests. Their extracurricular time was taken up with stuff like playing video games, meditating in temples, and staying up late to exterminate demons. Despite their saucer-sized bug eyes and legs the length of telephone poles, they seemed much more real to me than the live-action Barbies in Beverly Hills 90210.

Back then, I could only explain my love in terms of “the story is cute!” and “I love their outfits!” It would take that second adolescence we call the twenties for me to understand how a fictional girl in pigtails kept me afloat as a strange girl in a small town, and how fiercely she still rules my heart.

While I was making final edits on my memoir essay, I migrated over to Google, the procrastinator’s bottomless Bible. A search of the heroine brought up a smattering of newer articles, all citing the series’ 20th anniversary. Twenty freaking years. Enough time to cross through forgotten back into a nostalgic cash cow for those who grew up with it and are now pushing 30, and become and Hot Topic newfound cool for the whippersnappers. There were rumblings of a new anniversary special, re-releases of boxed manga sets, and news that hit within days of my search—a commemorative figurine. “Sailor Moon fans have been waiting two decades for this level of collectible,” fans and PR pros raved.

We have? Apparently I had no idea what was missing from my life, until I watched the Japanese commercial.

Do I understand it? No. Did I order it within fifty seconds? Duh.

Since the figure was only on pre-order, I had a chance to forget about her over the summer. But last week, the company that had long-ago taken my $50 popped into my inbox to let me know she was on the way. I plugged in the tracking number incessantly, stalking her UPS truck across the Midwest. I’d like to say that finding the package on my doorstep made me feel fifteen again, but that ship has sailed. I brought her inside calmly, along with a DirecTV bill and a West Elm catalog. I waited until I put away my gym bag and lunch Tupperware before neatly opening the box with a scissor, versus the girl I used to be, who would have mauled the thing open with her teeth.

I set Sailor Moon up on my writing desk, and placed the crescent moon wand in her hollowed-out fist. I used to have a lipstick compact in the same shape, abandoned with my other treasures when I left for college. I stared at her. I stared and I stared, and I’m still staring, at last understanding what this image meant to me. Thirteen years ago, I had dreams. Random and sporadic, fantastical and unsure. Dreams of going to Japan, or writing a book, or living in a city loft, or drinking frilly cocktails in a bar. I had no idea where I was going or why I existed. I just knew I wanted to get out, and I wanted to do something bigger with my life. I wanted to have a destiny.

Now I have a destiny, but it’s one that I had to write for myself. I had to fall on my face, fail, be humbled, be humiliated, be confused, be erratic, be so many things I shouldn’t and couldn’t be to discover the woman I wanted to become. Maybe what I want to do with my life isn’t written in an ancient space prophecy, but now that I can see it, it feels just as precious and vital to me. Sailor Moon bridged the gap between my early confusion to my grown-up focus. She gave me hope that a random schoolkid could grow up into something more. She may have had a talking cat and magical accessories to illuminate the way, but I had the most incredible friends, teachers and family that anyone could ask to meet. So I think we ended up on the same playing field, in the end.

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