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I took my kids to see Sailor Moon: The Super Live about three weeks ago, and I’m still not entirely sure what we saw – except that it was phenomenal.
To tell the story from the beginning, I heard in passing that Sailor Moon: The Super Live would be playing two shows in the U.S. this year; one in New York City, and one in Washington, D.C. as part of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. Here’s how wild it was getting tickets for this show: I signed up for a fan newsletter in a language I do not speak and kept scanning for the official festival images; when I saw them, I clicked on the link and bought tickets immediately. Half the show was already sold out. I’m not sure there were tickets left by the time the Festival officially announced the show; I know that other people around town were astonished that I’d gotten them.
I first got my kids (11 and 8 years old now) watching Sailor Moon last year. We’ve been watching the updated dub; while I will always have a secret love for Serena and Darien and “bun-head,” I wanted to show them a more accurate and comprehensive translation. I also did not want to deal with the “cousins” nonsense that happened when we eventually got to Haruka and Michiru.
The show roughly lined up with my younger daughter’s 8th birthday, and when I mentioned the show, she said that yes, going would absolutely be a great present. I got us tickets way in the back, along an aisle, so that if she got overwhelmed we’d be able to make a quick exit, and we all settled in for the excitement.
I had absolutely no idea what we were going to see. There were few details available online. I knew the show had an entirely female cast, and that there was going to be a lot of singing. Oh my god was there a lot of singing. The show is performed in Japanese, and screens to either side of the stage offer subtitles. I found that watching them distracted me from the action on stage, so I tried to ignore them as much as possible. The show has also done a fairly good job of making verbal language only semi-necessary through most of the performance; physical action propels the narrative, along with familiar attack songs and moments.
Sailor Moon: The Super Live is a rough retelling of the first season of Sailor Moon, going from Usagi’s first transformation through Tuxedo Mask’s betrayal, near death, and eventual rescue. We meet all of the inner Senshi and see each of their individual attacks; we also see many of the combined attacks. We see Kunzite, we see various daimons. We see Queen Beryl, and we see Usagi come painfully close to being destroyed.
But explaining all of that gives you only a fraction of an understanding of what we saw. What was on stage was only a fraction of the experience. As it is with so many types of media that have become phenomenons on their own, the audience was a big chunk of what I loved about Sailor Moon: The Super Live. Many of the audience I saw were roughly in my age bracket: those in their 30s or late 20s who had grown up watching a young girl, called clumsy and a cry-baby for demonstrating her emotions, save the world over and over through her powerful love and devotion to her friends.
And scattered throughout the crowd I saw a few kids whose age was closer to mine. Maybe the kids had discovered Sailor Moon on their own and begged their parents for tickets, but I think it’s more likely that they were kids like mine: second generation geeks whose parents showed them Sailor Moon in hopes of generating the same love for the show that we felt.
I was about 20 when I saw the Toei dub of Sailor Moon. It was the first anime I’d ever seen, the show that taught me about the difference between dubs and subs, subs and manga. It was the first time I’d ever seen a character like Haruka, a gender-bending character who caught my attention in a way that really ought to have clued me in to my own queerness. It was the first time I remember seeing a magical girl fantasy on that scale, the idea of a regular girl magically transforming into a superhero who fought for love and justice. My love for Sailor Moon has always run deep, and sharing that love with my kids feels absolutely incredible.
There have been many different adaptations of Sailor Moon over the years, from live-action to Sailor Moon Crystal to many different musical versions of the show. What we saw at the end of March was just the most recent version to make it to the stage.
After the retelling of the first series in Sailor Moon, the show shifted into the “concert portion.” The Sailors each performed their individual attack songs, and then singing the best known songs from the early series. The closing theme had been used during the show, slowed down into a painful dirge for the dying Usagi. The Sailors performed it again at the speed we know from the credits. And then, as the last piece of the night, they performed the opening theme to the cheers and the delight of the crowd.
Sailor Moon: The Super Live was the kind of musical experience that I struggle to explain. Frankly, I was expecting to be slightly underwhelmed by the show. How do you improve on something that you’ve loved for 20 years, the thing that was your gateway drug into an entire world of media that isn’t quite like anything else? The answer turned out to be that the experience wasn’t the same at all. It wasn’t exactly like a concert, and it wasn’t really like a musical. The show didn’t invite audience participation so much as it knew that audience participation was going to happen no matter what, so it left space for it.
This show hardly ever plays in the U.S., so I’d have a hard time saying that you should get tickets to see it; it would be a taunting statement, not a kind one. You can check out the soundtrack online, and if you do get the chance to see it, I couldn’t recommend it more. Don’t go in expecting to see Sailor Moon performed on a big screen in front of you, but do go in expecting to see something incredible.
And my kids even enjoyed it.
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