What the Imperfect Feminism of Sailor Moon Taught Me About Being a Dad

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Vivian, 9, knows every word to the Sailor Moon theme song, “Moonlight Densetsu,” which is a little complicated, culturally speaking, since Vivian doesn’t speak Japanese. She’s big into phonetics, though. And singing aloud. And she’s irrepressible, performative, quick to execute any number of dance-and-song routines for TV theme songs she likes.

She has magical girl energy, in other words, and so Sailor Moon is up her street. I introduced Vivian to the classic 1990s anime about three years ago and together she and I have watched 59 episodes, one at a time, whenever there’s a few moments before bed. Fifty-nine is not an impressive total given that there are 141 to go, and that’s before we get to the Sailor Moon Crystal reboot series from the 2010s (39 episodes), and the two new Sailor Moon feature films that Netflix has just released. Vivian and I may be novice Moonies but we’re completists, so we’ll get there.

Nearly thirty hours of television, and watching them has been complicated—that word again—in all the ways that raising a girl in 2021 can be complicated. Sailor Moon is what’s called a shoujo anime, which means that it’s Japanese animation expressly designed for young girls: candy-colored, giggly, and studded with excitingly mounted action set pieces. The premise is that a 14-year-old named Usagi Tsukino discovers that she can transform into a superhero named Sailor Moon with magical powers, and teams up with four other sailor guardians to fight a series of otherworldly monsters and villains, and do teen stuff like fall in love and wear makeup and go shopping along the way.

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I’m treading lightly here because I’m an anime-culture dilettante who began watching Sailor Moon as a parent, out of desperation. Logging TV hours with young kids is basically awful—a watchdog exercise in tedium that gives rise to dinner-party-silencing claims like the How To Train Your Dragon films are surprisingly great. I turned to anime as a way to liven things up, vanquish the likes of Paw Patrol and Masha and the Bear, and because I’m a Gen X’er who believes the ‘90s are the decade to beat. Sailor Moon’s iconography was familiar to me. Vivian likes princesses. The episodes were all there on Hulu. I pressed play.

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