Image source: 結城友奈は勇者である on Twitter

You won’t find Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon on my list of favorite anime series. However, it has had an undeniable impact on my life and sort of transcends any list I could make. In the past, if asked to name my favorite magical girl series, I would have said Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon with no hesitation. I hesitate now, because honestly, Yuki Yuna Is A Hero has probably replaced it.

For those who have been living under rocks for the last quarter century, Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon is probably the most influential magical girl series of all time. While far from being the first magical girl series, it could be thought of as the refinement of all of the primary features of a magical girl series. It is the quintessential magical girl series. The epitome. The model for what a magical girl series typically is.

Image Source: VIZ Media on Twitter

There is a cry-baby, low-performing teenaged female protagonist who is informed by cute character that she is secretly a magical girl warrior (and eventually princess). In time, she makes friends who also turn out to be her magic girl teammates. Together the save the world over and over (and over). Through love and perseverance, the incompetent whiner becomes the most powerful warrior ever. It is a model that would be rebuilt over and over in the last twenty-five years. 

This is a pretty significant shift for me as a fan and worth discussing because of what Sailor Moon has meant to me personally. When Sailor Moon was dubbed into English and broadcast in parts on a few different channels in Canada and the United States, I was in junior high school. Despite the fact that I have particular reasons to think junior high school is an incredibly important time (which is why I am a junior high school teacher specifically), it also has the capacity to be the worst period in someone’s life. Sadly, this was the case for me. Although I had been bullied in elementary school, in junior high school, attacks became particularly violent. One of those attacks could have broken my neck, had I landed differently.

Image source: Author’s Personal Photo

Through the power of hindsight, I can recognize that in many ways I was stereotypically queer and it never really occurred to me try to hide it. Although I had already been watching Robotech (SDF Macross) and StarBlazers (Space Battleship Yamato) and Voltron as a small child in the 80s, they didn’t have the kind of effect on me that Sailor Moon did—partly because of the messages, partly because of friendships, and partly because of the feeling of being in a “secret club.” This was especially true once I finally got access to the internet and discovered communities like alt.Fan.Sailor-Moon. It also kickstarted my interest in learning more about anime and Japan, although I would still say that Kimagure Orange Road probably was more influential after that initial point.

Given that I already generally was having a rough time in school, and had spent most of my young life being mocked for my preferences, it really didn’t add any additional stress to be so clear about my interest in Sailor Moon, and this interest gave me something to care about. Literally, Sailor Moon got me up in the morning, as it was on during breakfast and before I went to school each morning. It isn’t a stretch to say that it’s quite likely that Sailor Moon was a big part of the reason my periods of profound depression didn’t actually paralyze me. After all, there were always arguments to win with people on USENET, right? There was always one more chance for the Minakochanians to finally win the OtakuWars.

Sailor Moon made my life a little bit easier. And for that reason, it has always had a special place in my consciousness.

Image source: 結城友奈は勇者である on Twitter

Controversial, I know, but my view, nearly two and half decades after I first discovered Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon is that Yuki Yuna Is A Hero is, well, just a better story. Being a magical girl series, it superficially has aspects that play off of, recall, and allude to what came before. This, of course, absolutely includes Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon, but there are significant differences in story structure that make Yuki Yuna Is a Hero better as a franchise.

Before getting into this, we should consider what Yuki Yuna Is A Hero has in common with Sailor Moon and other magical girl series. They both have a character who doesn’t quite seem to be the best choice (although Yuna is probably more competent than Usagi in the beginning), both have a team of magical girls with transformations and costumes, and both have cute characters. They do both fight villains but this is really where the similarities ends.

Image Source: VIZ Media on Twitter

Sailor Moon is very much tied into the demographic target of the magical girl genre. It has a very clear episodic formula that is resolved on a smaller scale within each episode and on a large scale within each arc. It’s really the episodic resolutions which make Sailor Moon not stand up in comparison to the magical girl series examples we have now and from a definite adult perspective. In comparison to western, especially American, animation of the early to mid 1990s, the complexity of the characters in Sailor Moon and some of its storytelling was unmatched. This is why so many marginalized kids, for so many reasons, found Sailor Moon to be compelling in North America. When we take Sailor Moon outside of this context and place it back into the context from which it originates, we start to see that Sailor Moon may be the best of the typical magical girl formula in Japan, but it is still, ultimately, a series that was squarely and stereotypically aimed at young girls.

Yuki Yuna Is A Hero is far more aware of the diversity of its audience. Indeed, it’s far more aware of the shifted age demographic of its audience. This is not to suggest that young girls aren’t watching Yuki Yuna Is A Hero in Japan, however it is indeed likely that very young girls are definitely not. Sailor Moon actually always was considerably better as a series for inspiring an older demographic of viewers that some of its rivals for merchandising yen. The primary series that serves this demographic now, Pretty Cure, really isn’t in quite the same league as Sailor Moon, and there appears to have been a divergence as the fans of Sailor Moon and similar complex character magical girl anime have gotten older. Yuki Yuna Is A Hero feels like culmination of this trend because it abandons episodic resolutions and doesn’t remove immediate or existential threats on a clockwork schedule.

Image Source: VIZ Media on Twitter

Over the last couple of years, I’ve tried twice to rewatch Sailor Moon, and both times in the original Japanese, as opposed to how I first discovered the series through the DiC dubbed version. Honestly, I found the series to be a slog in the way binge watching Yuki Yuna isn’t. This is primarily due to the episodic resolutions the Sailor Moon owes to the commercial interests behind its anime production. Trying to binge watch 200 episodes on a spin cycle of “something weird happens, then one of the senshi gets ensnared in it, then the monster shows up, then Usagi whines about having to destroy it before destroying it and then we all live happily ever after until next week” is a recipe for disaster. In the end, I didn’t succeed either time.

Compare that to the fact I have now binge watched all that is available of Yuki Yuna Is A Hero twice. True, we are talking substantially fewer episodes, and I did mention 200 episodes in the case of Sailor Moon, but number of episodes isn’t the issue. Flow of the episodes is. Sailor Moon itself as a story still holds up, and holds up well (after all, they did make Crystal), but its format doesn’t work as well for today’s viewership trends. The episodes of Yuki Yuna Is A Hero are both cut in such a way that watching them episodically works, but binge watching them works well because they flow together. Skipping opening and ending titles makes this process even more seamless. The episodic resolution nature of Sailor Moon makes this impossible for the older series, even if you skip the openings and endings.

There are two other reasons for me personally to enjoy Yuki Yuna Is A Hero more than I enjoy Sailor Moon, and that is the setting of the State Shinto theocratic imperial state of Shikoku and the character of Washio Sumi. My favorite characters in Sailor Moon have changed somewhat since the mid-90s. I believe my initial favorite character, based on the dub, was Ami. Later, as I watched the series in Japanese, it became Minako (hence my association with the Minakochanians of the OtakuWars!), and I guess Sailor Venus (or really more Sailor V) remains my favorite of the senshi. However, my favorite character has, for a very long time (almost 20 years?) been Chibusa. Largely in response to a great deal of fan hate and a misunderstanding of some of her background. Sumi, frankly, commands much more interest from me than any of the characters from Sailor Moon ever did.

Image source: 結城友奈は勇者である on Twitter

Sumi’s very worldly nationalism, patriotism, religiosity, and cultural make-up has really no comparison in Sailor Moon. The closest comparison would be Hino Rei, who is a miko, or Shinto priestess, but we never see the kind of devotion to Shinto ideology (especially State Shinto ideology) that we see from Sumi. What’s more, Rei’s history as a sailor senshi and princess of Mars pretty much implies that her powers come not from the religion she has been raised in, but rather from magical powers she already possessed. Rei’s religion isn’t the kind of all-encompassing sense of personal identity for Rei that is for Sumi. I can think of no other magical girl so tied up with the idea of Nadeshiko (or the ideal Japanese woman) as Sumi—and certainly none that are reflective of Japan’s imperial period.

Sumi herself is a product of Shikoku’s unique government structure underneath the God-Emperor-Tree deity Shinju-sama. While Usagi and her friends are born and raised in Japan, and reflect Japanese attitudes, preconceptions, values, and opinions, they do not do so intentionally. They are not even human, well, at least not Earth-Human (except for Mamoru, of course, who was Prince of Earth). Sumi and her cohorts are called to serve their nation-state in an overtly Japanese imperialist society (which is a smart move on the part of Shinju-sama). It’s far easier for my mind to whirr with questions about the politics and philosophy of Yuki Yuna Is A Hero than about Sailor Moon. The older series largely keeps its heroines separate from wider social interference (at least until the 30th century and the Crystal Millennium, of which we are shown very little). 

Modern Anime Is Challenging Our Beliefs About What Makes A Magical Girl Series

For these reasons, as much I as I enjoy the fact I enjoyed Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon, I may not find it easy to watch through all the way again, and indeed, doing so may actually wear away some of the nostalgic feelings I have for it. In comparison to Yuki Yuna Is A Hero, the newer series is has a more modern viewing experience, far deeper questions, and characters that are far more intertwined with the world that they save as Heroes and as magical girls. For these reasons, Yuki Yuna Is A Hero is now probably my favorite magical girl series.

The original Yuki Yuna Is A Hero can be watched on Crunchyroll and theSumi Washio Chapter can be seen on Anime Strike.

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  1. How Yuki Yuna Replaced Sailor Moon as your favorite Magical Girl Anime You Take That Back Kat Callahan

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