In the very first episode of Sailor Moon (1992), the teen superhero—overwhelmed and terrified after learning that she’s a magical guardian who must fight cosmic evils—breaks down sobbing in front of her enemy. Through her tears, Sailor Moon (a.k.a. Usagi) fearfully watches an oncoming army of brainwashed, zombielike attackers. The weepy girl is clueless about how to use her newly discovered powers, but her emotions take over. Usagi emits an ear-shattering wail that breaks the brainwashing spell and shocks the dangerous Morga. Realizing her strength, Usagi rises from the ground and follows the directions of her sidekick cat, Luna, who instructs her to finish the battle by shouting for the first time the magic words: “Moon Tiara Action!”
The pilot, aptly titled “The Crybaby: Usagi’s Beautiful Transformation,” premiered 30 years ago in Japan, marking the beginning of the Sailor Moon fandom that’s since conquered the world. Today, the anime is a favorite cosplay for everyone from comic con–goers to celebs like Lizzo and Saweetie—with merch sales totaling more than $13 billion. Created by Naoko Takeuchi, both the manga and the show have been cultural touchstones for magical heroine stories and subsequent animated shows that likely wouldn’t exist without Sailor Moon’s outstanding impact. And the Sailor Guardian universe continues to expand: Sailor Moon Crystal arrived in 2014, and the two-part movie Sailor Moon Eternal came out in 2021, all easy to watch on Netflix.
For all her power and stature, Usagi is still just a girl coping with the enormous weight of the universe’s fate on her shoulders. She’s deeply relatable to younger and older viewers alike, from her clumsiness to her adoration of food to her obsession with love—fantasizing about her future husband Tuxedo Mask (a.k.a. Mamoru) or ogling the androgynous queer icon Sailor Uranus (a.k.a. Haruka), alike. But it’s her emotional vulnerability that makes her all the more endearing—or annoying, to some. “I love Sailor Moon, but she cry too much,” Saweetie recently told journalist Victoria L. Johnson on the Sailor Moon Fan Club podcast. “It would just irk me! But now that I realize that she’s a Cancer, it makes sense…. I can’t be too hard on my girl ’cause some Cancers are sensitive…[and] some of them are crybabies.” Usagi’s birth sign is no coincidence; astrology was one of Takeuchi’s guiding concepts.
There’s plenty for Sailor Moon to cry about. Usagi learns that she’s really a princess from the future who was sent back in time, along with her fellow Sailor Guardian friends, to escape the horrific fall of their idyllic Moon Kingdom. Throughout the series, characters unpack layer upon layer of intergenerational and extraterrestrial trauma as they remember and forget, die and are resurrected. And unlike Sailor Moon’s contemporaries Buffy Summers or Xena the Warrior Princess, Usagi is soft. She doesn’t shield herself from what she’s feeling or attempt to bury it under an emotionless facade. Usagi has more in common with Bubbles from the Powerpuff Girls: Their overt sensitivity can elicit an immense albeit occasionally volatile power; many enemies mistakenly underestimate the tearful blonds.
Throughout the series, characters unpack layer upon layer of intergenerational and extraterrestrial trauma as they remember and forget, die and are resurrected. And unlike Sailor Moon’s contemporaries Buffy Summers or Xena the Warrior Princess, Usagi is soft.
Beyond their supersonic wave ability, Usagi’s tears come easily and frequently. Her emotionality is part of the show’s larger emphasis on hyperfemininity and girl power. Only women can be Sailor Guardians (though the Sailor Starlights delightfully queer the gender binary, appearing as men on Earth but transforming into women when they become Sailor Guardians). Weapons include elaborate tiaras, pink moon rods, and a chain of hearts. And, of course, each Sailor Guardian sports a cutesy schoolgirl uniform with a miniskirt, heeled boots or pumps, and signature colorful earrings—often showing off long and voluminous hair. Sure, their personalities can be one-dimensional—Mercury is the smart one, Mars is the angry one—but the show’s real depth and novelty lie in the friendship and love that the girls hold for each other. It’s an invigorating and expansive idea that changed animated shows for the better. “By allowing Usagi to be empathetic yet flawed, as well as unwavering in her conviction, sincerity, or compassion for her friends and enemies, Sailor Moon has influenced several modern American animated television series that are also groundbreaking in their centering of kindness, empathy, and queerness—in particular, Steven Universe and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power,” wrote Priyanka Bose for the A.V. Club in 2020.
Looking back at it, Usagi’s emotional vulnerability seems like more than a simple identifier to remind us of her youth or femininity; it feels bracingly honest. In our 2022 reality, Sailor Moon’s messages still resonate. Life is achingly difficult right now, and while the stakes aren’t as astronomically high as we see in this cosmic cartoon, we might all feel like we’re facing new and recurring evils that threaten to sap our energy and, more importantly, our kindness. Crying is just one response to our fucked-up world. It’s not the only one, not the one that lasts the longest, but if we try to see how it can help us grow, reflect, and get back up, it just might be our superpower.