The world of anime

The world of anime is extremely diverse, exploring many different themes and issues such as gender confusion (Ranma ), natural disasters (Princess Monokes) and apocalypse (Akira). This essay will be looking at the female role and the image that is portrayed in Japanese anime, focusing upon the suggestion of transformation from young girls to adulthood in Sailor Moon, and in order to realise the 'idealised / fantasised' aspect of anime, comparisons will be made to society and the stereotypical role of women in Japan.

At first glance Japan appears to be a country where traditional hierarchy and formalities still stand with great importance; a dedicated, industrious nation where the men are the dominant breadwinners working for large corporate businesses and the women are shy, submissive wives, yet wise, over-ambitious mothers fixated on their children's success in education. However, since the 1980's and 1990s women are moving away from this stereotype, relying less on their husbands to bring an income into the household and as a result, becoming more independent both financially and socially.[1] In comparison to twenty years ago, Japanese women are now marrying and giving birth much later, which, it has been suggested, is due to the bid by the Japanese Government to increase equal opportunities in employment and education. As a result, there are now more career-oriented women which are attending higher education.[2]

Education is an important factor to consider when addressing anime as school is where many relationships, friendships and emotions are explored. It is compulsory for high school students in Japan to attend two hundred and forty days a year at school; on top of this students tend to spend over two hours a day at after-school clubs, be that sport or academic related, as well as daily commuting to and from school for up to four hours.[3] Clearly education in Japan takes up a significant amount of adolescents' time and so it is no surprise that many anime are centralised around students and school life. Due to the pressures placed upon school children to succeed and attain the best grades at school, high stress levels, feelings of despondency and entrapment are all emotions that are can be often associated with adolescence. Therefore the fantasy world that is presented in manga and anime could be seen as a way to escape the complications and miseries of mundane everyday life. It could also explain why a lot of manga and anime, including Sailor Moon, is set in the familiar surroundings of education as it appeals to an exceptionally large audience, both male and female, enabling the viewer to be able to relate to the characters and engage with the storylines.

The story lines of manga and anime are quite similar because a lot of Japanese anime stems from the still imagery of manga, both of which are aimed at male and female audiences. In comparison to the Western animation industry where the vast majority of the programs seem to be aimed mainly at children, the Japanese animation industry appears to cater for a very wide age bracket too including animation for children, but also for teens and adults. These can range from simplistic tales to beautifully complex storylines addressing many difficult issues, to romance (Vampire Knight), action (Bleach), and even pornography (Wicked City). As a result, anime is very popular as there is something available for everyone, making it very appealing to the masses and an important aspect of Japanese culture.

One anime which has proved to be successful in Japan as well as in America is Sailor Moon. Sailor Moon was a popular series that aired on Japanese television from March 1992 to February 1997, only a month after the first issue of the manga was published. Compared to many other Shojo anime, Sailor Moon redefined the concept of the magical girl genre, since previous anime did not use their powers to fight evil.[4]

Although Sailor Moon is well received amongst young boys, the main target audience is young females, because as Claudia Mitchell and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh define in Girl Culture, an encyclopaedia, volume 1,

Anime is often characterised as either shonen anime or shoujo anime. Shonen anime consists of series that feature action, adventure, explosions, big robots, and battles. Shoujo anime tends to focus on the emotions and relationships between boy and girl characters. These series usually include strong female heroines and, not surprisingly, have strong female followings.[5]

Written by Naoko Takeuch, the story of Sailor Moon is a humorous, mysterious and action filled journey fused with the typical Shojo elements of love interests and friendships. The two hundred episodes follow the development of a young fourteen year old girl, Usagi Tsukino, who matures into a beautiful young woman. Upon learning of her superpowers from a talking cat, she realises she has the ability to transform into a super heroine Sailor Scout. Along with four other girls, they try to fight the evil Negaverse, and save Earth as well as humanity from destruction.

The role of gender is explored through the relationship between Usagi and Mamoru Chiba; in particularly, Mamoru Chiba's secret identity Tuxedo Mask. Tuxedo Mask always seems to come to the rescue of Sailor Moon when she is in a trouble and the classic fairy tale story of the 'Damsel in Distress' being saved by her 'Prince Charming' is played out. This is establishing and complying with Mamoru's stereotypical gender role of being stronger than women and consequently protecting them. Even his choice of weapon to help his 'Fair Maiden' of a single red rose has a very romantic feel to it since a red rose is symbolic of love and romance, which is in keeping with the shojo fantasy ideals.

At the beginning of the series Mamoru would rescue Usagi almost every episode, which seemed to suggest that the Sailor Scout had come to almost rely and depend on the mysterious masked savoir to save her from trouble. However, Tuxedo Mask never actually defeated any of the villains; it was up to Usagi to destroy the monsters that she was battling with. As Usagi grows with confidence her ability to win fights without the aid of Mamoru could be seen as a threatening Mamuro's role and masculine values. This could be reflective of society were women are choosing not to marry and lead an independent life without the traditional values of Japan. Susan Napier states, "In its fascination with gender roles and gender transgression [...] anime encapsulates both the increasing fluidity of gender identity in contemporary popular culture and the tensions between the sexes that characterize a world in which women's roles are drastically transforming" which suggests that men in Japan could be feeling intimidated by this change in women's attitude.

The characters of Sailor Moon, as well as many other animes, appear to have no set nationality. Usagi has long flowing blond hair, pale skin and large blue eyes; an image which could possibly be described as appearing more Western than Japanese. This image, coupled with the tight figure hugging costumes stereotypical of conventional American super heroes, such as Wonder Woman for example, certainly suggests that there is a strong influence. The long toned limbs, short skirts and the sailor style outfits of the super heroines accentuates the legs, the small waists, large hips and in particularly the fully developed breasts of the characters. This could be suggesting they have become a more mature, sexualised form of themselves once they have transformed.

The transformation scenes raises contradicting issues concerning whether females are purely sexual objects to be looked at and fantasised over by men, or if it is showing that developing young women are becoming liberated in modern society.

The image illustrated whenever the Sailor Scouts transform, is very suggestive of the characters being naked; they are literally being stripped in order to be reborn with new identities, that of fighters, but ultimately stronger, confident women The transformations begin with a 360 view of the characters in their naked form which portrays the characters in a rather sexualised yet somehow innocent manner. They loosely resemble the body of bare Barbie doll, which of course is related to childhood and thus connecting to the Shojo culture. A leotard is then materialized, which highly resembles the swimsuit worn during a Miss America Beauty Pageant, suggesting that these teenagers have the perfect body to which impressionable young girls should be striving to achieve. Their bodies are then wrapped in the American cheerleader style, sailor school uniforms of their super heroine character. The sailor outfits, along with any other style of school uniform, are a popular fetish item regardless of whether the viewer is Japanese or not making this transformation sexualised once again. Finally, the girls appear to be raised up in the air, almost as if they are souring upwards and as Susan Napier says in Anime, from Akira to Howl's Moving Castle "it is in images of flight that the possibilities of escape (from the past, from tradition) are most clearly realised". [6]

This gives the viewer the impression that the girls are breaking free from the bonds that are restricting them, liberating themselves, which in turn suggests the possibility of freedom, change and redemption both in context to the anime situation but also society.

The sudden body maturity that the Sailor Scouts undergo as part of their transformations therefore suggest that they are being forced to grow up quickly, both physically and mentally with new responsibility of saving the universe, when they should be enjoying their childhood. Also, Sailor Moon is the 'chosen one', meaning that involuntary changes are going to happen to her and that responsibilities are going to be thrust upon her. These are issue that any teenager encounter during puberty regardless of sex or nationally and so can be easily related to.

The transformation scene therefore poses the question of whether these images are for pure sexual gratification appealing to men and intrigued adolescents of both sexes; a cheap attempt to boost audience viewing figures with the notion of "sex sells"; or whether it is to increase the awareness of woman empowerment. Whichever way these images are viewed, the transformation scene of the girls is opposing the traditionally upheld expectations of women being shy, subordinate and obedient to men in society.

The fighting stances that each of the girls adopt certainly suggests a sudden growth from giggling adolescent school children into more confrontational adults. Sailor Moon stands with her legs wide apart and a hand on her hip appearing fearless as well as dominant; Sailor Mercury adopts a slightly more submissive position than that of Sailor Moon with her legs bent at the knees, and, in the tableau of the warriors together she is crouched on the floor suggesting the possibility of sexual submissiveness; Sailor Mars, like Sailor Moon, is stood with her legs wide apart but looking back over her shoulder at the viewer with a hand on her hip suggesting a more temptress nature to her character; Sailor Jupiter also has a wide leg stance and during her first transformation the viewer is actually able to catch a glimpse of her bottom under her skirt possibly suggesting that this Sailor Scout is more sexually mature. Throughout all of the transformations and the majority of the fight scenes, the skirts of all of the Sailor Scouts, including Sailor Venus are blown up by the wind, resulting in the viewer catching a tantalising display of upper-thigh from the teenage girls.

The eroticism and idea of strong women in Sailor Moon are effortlessly incorporated into the series even though the intended audience is for young girls, which significantly contrasts with the preconceived expected behaviour of women within Japanese society as being subservient. It is interesting to note as well that all the protagonist characters of Sailor Moon are female, be that good or evil, and the male characters are either the women's subordinates under their order and control, or their sidekicks. All these factors contribute towards challenging the traditional hierarchy values of Japan still upheld by some men and women today.

One scene in particular which challenges this notion and consequently addressing the awareness of equality between men and women is during Episode 13 entitled "Girl Power! The End of Jadeite" in a battle between the Sailor Scouts and Jadeite, who is part of the Shitennou of the Dark Kingdom.

Jadeite is openly sexist towards women, frequently claiming how females are unable to match his power or intelligence. It is ironic then that it is the Sailor Scouts who defeat Jedetite, resulting in Queen Beryl placing him into an 'eternal sleep' as punishment for losing the battle. Jedetite and his chauvinistic opinions are in other words silenced by women. As Susan Napier suggests,

"Women are growing increasingly independent, and [...] the fundamental gender division between supportive woman and libidinous male seems to remain miraculously intact. On the other hand, the fact that the women [...] are endowed with magical powers brings an important destabilizing influence [...] that defamiliarizes conventions of hierarchy, place, and status, subtextually underlining the changing currents of Japanese society over the last two decades"[7]

This could be symbolic of the increasing empowerment of women in Japanese society and the overturning of the stereotype of feminine submissiveness.

Usagi has very feminine traits, that of wanting to nurture and heal people which are seen once she discovers the use of the Moon Healing Escalation. In order to defeat many of the monsters she faces Sailor Moon has to first heal them. The constant mentioning of Usagi's body weight throughout the series raises the question of whether the writer and consequently the programme is being nurturing and understanding to its target audience, reassuring girls of any age about their body and encouraging them to be happy, or whether it is actually making young girls feel more self-conscious and obsessive over their own weight issues. The issue of the body appearance, especially in the Sailor Scouts transformations as already discussed, would certainly suggest the latter. Whilst Usagi carries many of shojo characteristics she is also has stereotypical "masculine" characteristics as she is able to fight well. As Timothy J. Craig summarises, "Sailor Moon is popular for both the female and the superhero parts of her character. As such, she is something of a hybrid, embodying conventions both of boy's culture - fighting, warriorship, superheroes - and shojo (girl') culture - romance, friendship, and appearance"

To conclude, anime, like manga, is a form of art; and like any art form anime does not simply reflect society, it attempts to bring awareness to problems within it. In this case Sailor Moon is attempting to address the issue of the inequality of women in Japanese society by switching the stereotypical roles of men and women, allowing the females characters to be the dominant social culture. The role of gender in this anime is to address the possibility of change in society, challenge the traditionally upheld values and expectations of society.


  • Craig, J. Timothy, Japan pop!: inside the world of Japanese popular culture, New York, M.E.Sharpe, 2000
  • Gravett, Paul, Manga: 60 Years of Japanese Comics, Harper Design, 2004.
  • Iwao, Sumiko, Gender, Equality and Family Life: Social and Policy Issues Facing Women in Japan, The Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, 2003
  • Johnson, L. Marcia , and Jeffrey, R. Johnson, "Daily Life in Japanese High Schools", ERIC Digest, 1996.
  • Mitchell, Claudia & Reid-Walsh, Jacqueline, Girl Culture, an encyclopaedia, volume 1, Greenwood Publishing Group.
  • Napier, J. Susan, Anime, from Akira to Howl's Moving Castle, Hampshire, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005
  • Pattern, Fred, Watching anime, reading manga: 25 years of essays and reviews, United States of America, Stone Bridge Press, 2004
  • Roberson, E. James, & Suzuki, Nobue, Men and masculinities in contemporary Japan: dislocating the salary man doxa,
  • Rudranath, Jay. Navok & Shushil, K, Warriors of Legend: Reflections of Japan in Sailor Moon, South Carolina, Booksurge, 2005
  1. Napier, Susan J., Anime, from Akira to Howl's Moving Castle, Hampshire, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, pp. 76
  2. Iwao, Sumiko, Gender, Equality and Family Life: Social and Policy Issues Facing Women in Japan, The Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, 2003
  3. Johnson, Marcia L., and Jeffrey, R. Johnson, "Daily Life in Japanese High Schools", ERIC Digest, 1996.
  4. Gravett, Paul, Manga: 60 Years of Japanese Comics, Harper Design, 2004, pp78
  5. Greenwood Publishing Group, pp 99
  6. Op. Cit pp. 156
  7. Op. Cit. Pp 197

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