How Sailor Moon changed my life with the power of friendship

Sep 11, 2015 at 9:35 a.m. ET
Image: TV Asahi

It’s the 30th anniversary of the magical girl manga, created by Naoko Takeuchi.

If you're not familiar with the show, Sailor Moon, or Serena, as I knew her (Usagi in the manga and Japanese show), is a whiny, self-centered, 14-year-old girl with a heart of gold. She’s also got magical powers, as she’s the Princess of the Moon Kingdom.

Serena and her friends must fight the forces of darkness by transforming into superheroes dressed in sailor suits. The show is simple and fun, and the backstory is fascinating. Millions of girls like me rushed home from school every day to watch the show live or to make sure their VCR taped the airing during the day when we weren’t able to watch.

But it’s a TV show. It was one of many I watched, and they don’t have the same fascination and nostalgia. I might smile when I hear the theme song, but I don’t immediately stop what I’m doing to listen. I don’t have CDs of their music or tiny plastic collectibles in a box in my basement. What makes Sailor Moon so special was its impeccable timing. When I started watching it, I was in a lonely place. It helped me feel less alone.

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I was 14 years old and newly graduated from elementary school. I was heading to high school, but I had no friends. That summer was lonely. I spent every day trying to figure out someone to hang out with, someone I could trust not to spill my secrets or get the boys who tormented me to call me on the phone, pretending to be nice so they could make fun of me later. I attended a classmate’s birthday party and was pelted with balloons and insults, all while I tried to smile and ignore them. I ended up leaving early, tears in my eyes, before they cut the cake.

I flipped on the TV that day and stumbled across a brightly colored TV show starring a girl with blond hair and Princess Leia-like meatballs on her head. I snickered at her whining and admired her black cat with a perfect crescent moon on its forehead. I got hooked — and that’s when I realized the girl in the show was alone and trying to discover who she was, just like me.

She was also 14 years old, preparing for high school, and had some of the same issues I did. She struggled not to be teased by her classmates. Her family didn’t always understand her. She had an annoying younger sibling. But what she had that I didn’t were friends. Her friends stood by her, at all costs.

I started to dream about having a group of friends like that, people I could trust, have fun with. I dreamed about calling them on the phone to chat without fear of what I said getting to the wrong people. I fell in love with the different girls, their personalities and their interests. I wanted friends like that, people who cared so much about me that they would stand by me through thick and thin.

As I went into high school that fall, I kept watching the show. Slowly, I stopped caring about what the boys in the hallways said. I ignored the catcalls and the insults, remembering that Serena would simply turn her nose up, even if she’d whine later. I realized there were many people like me, misfits in a school of popular people, and that they were looking for friends, just like I was. What’s more, they had interests that matched mine. I gravitated toward these people and found myself with a group of friends that really cared about me, just like Serena had.

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As I went through high school, and my life got busier with parties, movie nights and weekend hangouts, I would make time every night for Sailor Moon. I’d sit there in the dark, watching her fight evil. But what I really lived for was the time with her friends. I felt like she was part of my life, too. I felt like her group of friends were my friends, too.

I eventually stopped watching the show, catching some of the latest dubbed seasons on a kids’ channel while I flipped through the TV channels to find a show for one of the kids I nanny. I’d occasionally look at my collection of manga art books and collectible figurines, and smile, but they got packed up and placed in boxes with the rest of my childhood toys. Eventually, my love for Sailor Moon dimmed to a faint memory as I grew into adulthood and away from the need for a magical girl and her group of friends to feel like I belonged.

Now, I watch the show when I need a moment of comfort and pure joy. I admire the beautiful art and coloring. I giggle at the voice acting while adoring the old story, playing out over and over. I know every bit of it. I know every piece of trivia. And yet it’s new to me, every time. When I take the time for Sailor Moon, I’m visiting an old friend with a new story.

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I don’t display my collectibles anymore. I don’t need to draw the faces of the characters or hang their posters on my wall. But I do watch sometimes, just to remember how good it felt to have friends like the Sailor Soldiers. I remember the lonely girl I was. I remember how my friends supported — and support — me, then and now.

I remember. And I’m glad I took the time that day for a whiny 14-year-old anime character. I grew up, but she never will. And sometimes, I need to remember in order to keep going forward.

Thank you, Ms. Takeuchi, for creating Serena. She was my first real friend.

How do you remember Sailor Moon and her friends? Share in the comments, below!