20 Years of Sailor Moon: The Dark Moon Arc

It would be an understatement to state that Sailor Moon was a massive hit. The first season of the animated series was a ratings smash. The manga was selling thousands upon thousands of volumes. The merchandise was making money hand-over-fist. As far as brand new franchises go, everything was coming up roses for Sailor Moon. There was just one problem: Naoko Takeuchi had only written enough material for the first arc, and she wanted to end the story there.

Like so many manga creators before and since, she found herself pressured by both the editors at Kodansha and the producers at Toei to make more Sailor Moon. After all, she was profiting just as much as anyone else from the series' success, and it would hurt the brand to stop it so soon. Eventually one of her editors, Fumio Osano, came up with an idea for a second arc: why not give Sailor Moon a daughter? Maybe she could be from the future! Takeuchi finally relented, and started work on the next arc. After all, they were running the show concurrently with the manga, and there was only a two or three month gap between the latest chapters and the latest episodes, so she had to work fast.

So after all the events of the last arc, everything seems to be going back to normal for our sailor-suited heroines. Everyone is heading back to school, and Usagi and Mamoru are taking a little time to enjoy a romantic moment. Their moment ends up interrupted by a little pink-haired girl falling from the sky onto them, and the girl in turn demands they hand over the Legendary Silver Crystal. This strange little girl, also named Usagi, ends up endearing herself to Mamoru, and he in turn convinces the elder Usagi to let the newly dubbed Chibi-Usa to stay with her and her family. Usagi remains skeptical about the strange young girl's motives and jealous of her immediate closeness to Mamoru, but eventually relents and lets her stay.

In the meantime, evil is issuing forth from the fringes of the solar system. On the shadowy planet of Nemesis, Prince Demande and his similiarly gem-themed henchmen hatch a plot under the guidance of the mysterious Wiseman. Their plan is to kidnap the Sailor Guardians until they can capture Sailor Moon. Once captured, they can steal her Legendary Silver Crystal and use it to destroy the world. On top of that, Chibi-Usa eventually reveals that she too is trying to stop Demande. She is Usagi and Mamoru's child from the future, where they reign supreme over a peaceful world until Demande attacks. Their timeline is threatened by Demande, and Chibi-Usa is certain that the only way she can reverse the damage is by returning with the Legendary Silver Crystal along with Earth's most powerful champion of the past - Sailor Moon. Now both Usagi and Chibi-Usa find themselves travelling through time, meeting up with a new Sailor Guardian, and finding a way to save both their present and their future from Demande, Wiseman, and the mysterious Black Lady.

Sadly, since so much of the story is focused on Usagi and Chibi-Usa, the rest of the cast doesn't get much in the way of development. Each Sailor Guardian gets a chapter focusing on them shortly before all but Venus are kidnapped, and that's pretty much it for them. Each of their solo chapters involves some sort of supernatural phenomenon, ranging from water dowsing to UFOs to psychometry. Some of these are simply part of the villain's plot to lure the Sailor Guardian in question to them.  Sometimes it's apparently something that comes with being a Sailor Guardian. Even Mamoru gets a super-special healing factor of his own. These strange phenomenon come to the attention of a new character that honestly got a bit shafted by the story. Ito Asanuma is introduced as Mamoru's kohai, and his curiosity about Mamoru's strange new power leads him to start poking around in the lives of the other Sailors. It's through him that the reader learns a few new things about the Sailors (mostly about their family life), and he even shares a brief romantic moment with Makoto. Still, he and his little bit of storyline are pushed to the side once everyone starts travelling in time, and I was a bit disappointed in that. Maybe I just enjoyed that someone in this universe acknowledged that all these weird monster-trigger events were not just something to be shrugged off and forgotten. I was curious to see if he would discover the truth about Sailor Moon and company, and how he would react to that. Sadly, it never came to be, because the focus shifted far more towards the most notable new characters: Sailor Pluto and Chibi-Usa.

Sailor Pluto and Chibi-Usa are alike in a lot of ways. Both have had to bear the heavy responsibilities of their roles from an early age, be it as the Guardian of Time or as the heir apparent to the reborn Moon Kingdom. Both are very lonely people because of said roles. Pluto's role requires her to stand guard over the gates of time, and as such sees practically no one. Chibi-Usa's loneliness is a bit more multifaceted. Part of it stems from her role as a princess, as she spends all her time locked up in the palace of Crystal Tokyo with no siblings, a lot of rumormongering followers, a loving father, and a distant mother that she adores. Even in her loneliness, Chibi-Usa is very much her mother's daughter - she's always able to find those who need her most and befriend them. Pluto treats Chibi-Usa like a friend instead of a mere child, giving her good advice as well as some the attention Chibi-Usa so desperate craves. Chibi-Usa in turn eases Pluto's loneliness and touches her heart with her gentle honesty. Their friendship ends up paying off thematically in the third act, when Chibi-Usa disappears and Pluto finds herself conflicted between her responsibilities as a Guardian and her love for her only friend. Eventually she sides with her heart, breaking every rule she was taught to help the Sailors in their time of need at the cost of her very life. Even as she lies dying, she is proud of her actions and only regrets not being able to protect Chibi-Usa. This sacrifice in turn allows Black Lady to transform back into Chibi-Usa. Their friendship not only brought the two comfort when and where they needed it most, but also helps the Sailors to fight back against Wiseman and his minions.

Last time I talked about how a major theme of the Silver Millennium arc was how Usagi found strength in the love and support she received from both her fellow Sailors and Mamoru, and how her faith in them all gave her the power she needed to save the day. That theme is still present, but now it's turned itself more inward. This time, the focus is more on Usagi finding the strength within herself to overcome her failings. She spends a good portion of the story seething with jealousy over Mamoru spending so much time with Chibi-Usa. She admits out loud to herself that her jealousy is irrational, but she can't help but feel hurt that her boyfriend wants to spend more time with a strange little girl than with his own girlfriend, no matter how many assurances of love Mamoru gives her. Worse still, she suffers with a heavy dose of guilt for being unable to save her friends from Demande and his minions. It comes to a head when she too is kidnapped by Demande. She finds herself unable to transform into Sailor Moon, isolated from her friends, and forced to dress up and unwittingly play along with Demande's stalker fantasies. She is alone, feeling broken and violated, unsure of what to do. 

It's at this moment that Usagi realizes she has forgotten her most powerful quality. She even states it out loud for the reader: "I lost my confidence. I forgot my trusting heart." By letting her own doubts and suspicions consume her, she lost focus on those around her who do care for her and depend upon her. She forgot about the very friendships and alliances which gave her strength in the first place. At that moment, she is able to overcome her negative qualities and refocus herself on saving her friends and her future.  Her confidence only grows as Usagi takes action on her own, eventually shutting down the inhibitors that stop her from transforming and reuniting with her fellow Sailors. It's strange to think that just a few volumes ago, Usagi would have probably confronted this dilemma by crying her head off and waiting for Tuxedo Mask to save her. Now she has the strength and self-confidence to save herself and others, to become the leader she needs to be now and taking the first steps towards becoming Neo Queen Serenity.

It's rather appropriate that Chibi-Usa should undergo an emotional arc similar to her mother's. After all, the story does emphasize that the two are very alike in more ways than one. She certainly has plenty of problems for a small child, even for one who has been one for over 900 years. People whisper that she is unworthy of being a princess. She has to live up the reputation of her mother, who is not only a powerful ruler in her own right, but the same Sailor Guardian that her father tells her about in her bedtime stories. She has no friends outside of a single woman at the far fringes of the palace. Worse still, she rashly moves the Legendary Silver Crystal just to show she can wield it, which leaves Crystal Tokyo vulnerable just at the right moment for Demande and Wiseman to ravage the city and leave her parents in magical comas. She's lonely, insecure, and now suffering from survivor's guilt, and not even traveling through time will let her completely escape that. 

Oh, Usagi's mom may be able to cosset her, Mamoru may be able to do his best to comfort her well before he's aware of his connection to her, and she may be the one who holds the literal key to lead the Sailors into the future to fight, but she still feels like a powerless outsider. She thinks that she is unable to contribute because everyone forgets her or treats her like a little girl. It's at this point that Chibi-Usa runs away, only to find herself tempted by Wiseman and transformed into Black Lady. She should be happy with that - after all, she finally looks like an adult, has all the power she wants, and even finally has Mamoru all to herself after kidnapping and brainwashing him. She has everything her selfish little child's heart could ask for, but the hollowness of those wishes is laid bare before her when she's confronted with the death of her dear friend Sailor Pluto. She thought she had everything she wanted, but forgot about her dearest friend until that same friend sacrificed her very life for her sake. Her grief at this sight becomes Chibi-Usa's moment of self-realization, and she finally is able to transform into Chibi-Moon - a Sailor Guardian in her own right. While the details differed greatly, the emotional arc that Chibi-Usa follows a very similar path to Usagi's. She was brought to a vulnerable and powerless state by her own self-doubt and negative emotions, and it was only through self-realization that she can move beyond them and discover both the power and the friends she always had.

The other major theme of note here is one on the nature of love, and more specifically how these characters are changed by both selfish and unselfish forms of love in both positive and negative ways. Prince Demande is the most negative example of this theme, where his selfish, even possessive take on love twists his heart and mind beyond the breaking point. Much of his actions are fueled in part by obsession with Neo Queen Serenity.  He believes that by killing others that he was selflessly saving humanity from stagnation, and that surely Neo Queen Serenity, that benevolent goddess in her crystal palace, will understand. When she rejects him and his cause, banishing him to Nemesis, his adoration becomes more selfish as it twists and darkens into destructive obsession. He still covets Serenity for her beauty and power, but he also figures that if he can't have her, then he'll destroy her and everything she stands for. It should be noted that his obsession does not go unnoticed by those on Demande's side. They view his obsession as strange, to the point that they are devising counter-plots without him. Demande ends up so blinded by his obsession that before he knows it, Wiseman has already replaced him with Black Lady, and he's already irrelevant well before he's defeated. 

With the Sailors, we see the more positive aspect of the theme.  As noted before, Usagi was led astray in part because she lets her selfish possessiveness towards Mamoru blind her from the bigger picture. Once she opens her eyes to how awful she's been to others (mostly Chibi-Usa), she can move past it and once again find strength in the unselfish, protective love of her friends and allies. Chibi-Usa's selfish and childlike desires not only end up harming others, but nearly destroy her until she is confronted with the fact that even after screwing up, there are still those who love her and want to protect and save her. Sailor Pluto is probably the most positive example of unselfish love on display, as her sacrifice is made in the name of her unselfish love for Chibi-Usa. Like any good friend, she would do anything to save Chibi-Usa from herself, even going so far as to lay down her life. Once again, you could boil all this down to "the power of love," a theme so simple, so pervasive, and so abused in every sort of manga that it's become cliché. Nonetheless, Takeuchi makes this simple theme work. She shows how love can both twist itself into insanity or motivate others to sacrifice themselves for the ultimate good, and she also shows that it's just as important to love and trust yourself as it is to love and trust others if you want to unlock your true potential.

The Dark Moon arc might have started out as something to please Takeuchi's producers and editors, but the end result builds upon the story and themes of the previous arc. Just like before, it takes a trite theme like "the power of love" and gives it emotional weight and resonance. It takes the kid sidekick idea and turns her into a character in her own right, with a history and emotional arc of her own that in turn complements Sailor Moon's own arc. It's not a perfect arc, as the development that Usagi and Chibi-Usa gets come at the expense of the other Sailors (save for Pluto) and the rest of the supporting cast. Nonetheless, this arc doesn't feel forced at all, but instead as a fairly smooth expansion of the world of Sailor Moon, and one that I would rate as:

Next time we'll meet the rest of the Outer Sailors, and once again see how Chibi-Usa's ability to make friends with powerful people saves the day yet again.


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