1:1 – Crybaby Usagi’s Magnificent Transformation!
Alternative title: Being A Penniless Idiot Will Save Your Life
First aired: 7th March 1992
Usagi is a suspiciously European-looking 14-year-old Japanese girl with severe psychological disorders. Asides from just generally being kind of dumb, she has poor behavioral controls, and there’s reason to suspect that she has an eating disorder too. Nevertheless, a talking cat called Luna reveals to Usagi that she is, in fact, Sailor Moon, and must fight the forces of evil.
The very first episode of Sailor Moon spends a long time establishing the character Tsukino Usagi. She wakes up late, she forgets her lunch, she’s late for class, she gets told off for eating when she’s being punished, she gets 30% on an English test (bah! Who needs English anyway?), she’s distracted by the mention of jewelry and cries in the street because she’s such a fucking loser. I’m not blaming her – I’d cry too given the circumstances.
The whole point of this is to give us a character we can really identify with. Usagi lacks even the smallest modicum of what super heroes should be in her personality. She even lacks the typical Japanese traits – she’s lazy, unladylike and noisier than a horse in heat (that’s a saying, right?) but it’s pretty cool that these traits of independence and assertiveness in a teenage girl are sold as admirable.
This is the episode’s, and the show’s, greatest strength. Even 21 years after it was first shown, Usagi remains a hilarious, bumbling and unfortunate protagonist for the show. And it’s all here in Episode 1!
A lot of the first series of Sailor Moon acts as a sort of time capsule of life in Japan in the early 90s. This isn’t just because of the fashion styles or the music, but because the show actively tries to comment on social issues. The entire plan of the monster of the week is to sell cursed jewelry, EVIL jewelry, to superficial women, who then have all their “energy” stolen. In a sense these woman are punished for their thoughtless capitalism. You almost get the feeling that the makers of the show are trying to say something… but I challenge anyone to describe what exactly it is.
Usagi is only saved from the same fate as the other shoppers from her idiocy – her catastrophic test score means that her father would never buy her jewellery. It’s a great message – don’t try too hard or you might get possessed by a demon.
Luna the magical cat is great from minute one. She constantly has to put up with Usagi’s bitching and acts as her parental figure, encouraging and chastising her, and giving her magical shit. Hey someone had to – it’s not like Usagi’s mother gives a crap what her teenage daughter is doing sneaking out the house at night in a miniskirt.
There are some really thoughtful moments in the show that you would never find in a Western kid’s show. The very first monster is SUUUPER freaky, taking the place of Usagi’s classmate Naru’s mother, and there are some disturbing scenes of her slowly becoming more and more monstrous, eventually choking the shit out of Naru. Imagine that: your mum turning into a monster and trying to murder you. It’s awesome.
Speaking of monstrous mothers, when Usagi’s finds out she only got a 30 on the test, she kicks her only daughter out of the house and refuses to let her in. That’s how kids become homeless prostitute, Mrs Tsukino, you may want to rethink a couple of your correctional policies.
The thing that strikes me the most watching the very first episode of Sailor Moon is how visually stylised it is. There’s a lovely early-90s sheen to everything – the purples, blues and pinks are striking, and combined with the brassy refrains, it gives an artistic feel to everything that sets it apart – not only from Western shows, but even from other anime.
Like many first episodes, there’s a bunch of stuff that’s brought up yet completely ignored for the following 199 episodes – Sailor Moon defeats the monster by crying, setting off some kind of… sonic boom or something. It’s a little like Superman flinging that plastic S off his chest in Superman 2 – who knows where it came from or where it went. Thankfully Sailor Moon finally stops being so pathetic and actually kicks some ass, using her tiara as a death-frisbee to defeat the monster. A bloke in a top hat who calls himself Tuxedo Kamen turns up before then, but really doesn’t do anything other than throw a rose. I think it was intended that he look cool, but as much as I love the guy, he can be an unlikable douche.
Overall the first episode acts exactly as a pilot should – it’s character building, it’s intriguing and it makes you want to see more. It’s also distinctly un-girly, and by that I mean that it could appeal as easily to a male audience as a female one. Maybe I’m just saying that to justify why I’m watching this kids show, but it’s how I really feel.
There’s a reason why this show is associated with feminism – it shows girls being girly and imperfect, but getting shit DONE. Coming from a society as institutionally sexist as Japan was in the early 90s (perhaps still is…?), that’s mighty impressive.
On the other hand, the prominence of miniskirts might serve to reinforce the objectification and casual sexualisation of women, but what the hell do I know?
Episode Score: 5/5
Monster Freakishness Level: 4/5
Naru-chan Attack Count: 1