Tomoe Hotaru is abused by her father. She suffers from an illness that leaves her breathless, weak and wracked with pain. She is picked on by her classmates. Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune are planning her murder. Her magical senshi power is to bring about the apocalypse. She possesses healing abilities, but their strangeness only further ostracizes her. She is friendless, neglected, and odd. In another story, Hotaru might have been a tragic character: the wan little waif who wasted away in the name of Righteous Suffering. But this is Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon, and hers is a story of triumph.
Hotaru’s victory is, in my opinion, one of the most viscerally stirring of the series. She retains her spirit and strength when possessed by the demonic Mistress 9 and eventually overpowers her for the sake of saving Chibiusa. She leaves behind her past of misery and abuse and gains a second childhood. It’s easy to roll one’s eyes at happy endings, but I love Hotaru’s—I love how unabashed it is. She gets to grow up all over again in a idyllic country house with three loving mothers who teach her the names of the planets and how to play the violin and only fume a little when she breaks their fine European china. I love that she retains her strangeness: she quotes Einstein, ghostly forms appear when she practices violin, she grows at an inhuman rate and Michiru notes that even as a little girl, she maintains a slight aloofness, that her eyes sometimes “turn ice cold….like Saturn.” She’s sweet and happy and loved but she is still Sailor Saturn and she is still frightening.
But that’s ok, because Hotaru is all about fear. She is called, over the course of the story, “the guide to death,” “the goddess of destruction,” “the soldier of silence,” “the journeyer from the valley of the dead,” and “the messiah of silence.” She’s the grim reaper of the Sailor Moon universe, the senshi who only appears when armageddon is nigh. Even after her reincarnation, her powers revolve around silence and ruin and she tends to loom at the back of the group, clutching her black glaive. She’s terrifying to the point that she drives her fellow senshi to attempt homicide. She is death, and we fear death because we see it as an end, as a doom, as a presence to be fought at all turns. We struggle away from it even as it asserts itself all around us.
But as Hotaru herself notes, she, as death, is essential. Without her, there can be no rebirth, no progress—she is the forest fire that prepares the land for new growth, the blood that feeds the soil. We fear her because we do not understand her. We cast her out and drive our thoughts away from all she brings because we’re frightened. Because our conception of the world is narrow. But Hotaru’s story is about accepting the pain and hardship of life and the interconnectedness of all things. It’s about understanding that fear is temporary and that we can endure it. That we can come out the other side and realize that there was a beautiful future waiting for us just beyond the darkness—and that it would not have been so beautiful without the darkness. She emerges from the horror of her home life, from possession and ridicule, to find that she was a heroine all along, despite what the world told her. She discovers that her strangeness makes her strong—she discovers that she was always strong. She discovers that without fear, there can be no courage.
We’re afraid of death. We’re afraid of the bizarre. We’re afraid of the different. We’re afraid of fear. Hotaru teaches us that we must accept this, and let it pass through us. It’s okay to be afraid. It’s not something to fight—it’s an emotion, like all the others. In accepting her, Usagi and the senshi accept the necessity of destruction, and further, of darkness and death; they accept their fear and as such destroy it. We fear, we struggle, and we die. Without these facets of life, there can be no courage, victory or life. We could run from Hotaru, or we could embrace her, as the series itself does, and achieve a fuller greatness. In Sailor Moon, death isn’t just a friend—it’s a comrade. A goddess. A pale little girl in a dimly-lit room. A beautiful child in the arms of her family. A sister.
(Part three in a series on the senshi.)