The strength of characterization in Sailor Moon is, in my opinion, what has made it such an enduring series. When we were children, we chose our favorite and used her to represent who we were and who we hoped to be. And there was such a diversity of choice—they’re tomboys, wannabe idols, obsessed with video games, brilliant students, lazy students, quiet, exuberant and everything in between. Today, when I reflect upon the cast, they feel like sisters—to each other, and to me. So I’m sitting here, beginning a series where I intend to focus on each senshi individually, facing the question of who to begin with. And suddenly, it’s obvious: Makoto.
Makoto is a wonderful symbol of what makes the characters of Sailor Moon so lasting—she fits no formula, she bucks gender conventions—but I don’t want to reduce her to that. In and of herself, Makoto is such a unique, emotionally resonant character. She’s a bundle of contrasts, but she never feels contrived, like her traits were carefully curated by a writer seeking to create a Quirky Girl Character. She’s organic—like a real person with a real, varied personality. She’s the bruiser of the team, with her penchant for hoisting enemies over her head only to slam them to the concrete. Her character design, with its long skirt and curly hair, hearkens back to the sukeban, or “delinquent” girl—and indeed, she is rumored to have been kicked out of her last few schools for fighting. Makoto is tall and tough and will finish a fight with her fists if she has to.
But Makoto is also a person who wears tiny pink rose stud earrings and has a story in the manga devoted to how she can’t stop buying cute shit for her apartment. Makoto is a person who swoons over romance novels and dreams of baking her husband meatloaf and wants to open a flower shop someday. She prepares lavish feasts for her friends and insists, blushingly, that it was nothing. She seeks to live a life as soft, romantic, and sweetly-scented as possible. And she’s never judged for it. She is never mocked as a shallow, frivolous airhead consumed by, as the scolder might sniff, the sort of superficial nonsense girls like. Nor are her more classically masculine traits denigrated as improper or embarrassing. She is, like her sisters-in-arms, a person in all the untidy, beautiful complexity that implies.
Moreover, Makoto is allowed to be weak. She is allowed to be an ass-kicking, flower-arranging, tea-sipping soldier of love and justice who maybe doesn’t feel so good about herself all the time. She occasionally regards her more boyish traits with embarrassment and panics at the sound of airplanes, scarred, as she is, from being orphaned by a plane crash. She doesn’t always look in the mirror and see someone who emerged triumphant from tremendous sorrow, someone who is only made more wonderful by her unconventionality. And that’s okay. The story honors her insecurities without validating them. No one has to swoop in and save her, nor are her moments of self-doubt used to diminish her. Her lapses in confidence, in fact, strengthen her—she roars out of them ready to fight anew, flushed with the knowledge that she is, as Mixx translated it back in the early 2000s, “butt-kicking Jupiter.”
Makoto is brawny. Makoto is delicate. Makoto is, at times, unsure of herself. And while, in the hands of a lesser author, she might have been a cringe-worthy joke of a character—OH MY GOD SHE’S SUPER TOUGH BUT SHE LIKES CUPCAKES WOW HOW WACKY!!!—in Sailor Moon, she is simply herself. And that’s beautiful.
(Part one in a series on the senshi.)