One Good Thing: Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask taught me about love

Since I was a child, one of my favorite series of all time was Sailor Moon. I loved both the 1990s anime and the manga. From the epic battles to the female friendships that I always craved as a military brat who changed schools and states every couple of years, it’s a story that I come back to again and again when I’m feeling down.

For those who haven’t watched or read the series, the basic premise of Sailor Moon is the story of a teenager named Usagi Tsukino in 1990s Japan. She is given the power to become Sailor Moon, a heroine whose job is to protect the Earth from evil threats via a talking cat named Luna. She is joined by other girls like her who are called Sailor Guardians (or Scouts, or Senshi, depending on what version you consume) who represent the planets of our solar system. In her battles against extremely campy villains, she is aided by Tuxedo Mask (known in his regular life as Mamoru Chiba), a hero whose talents include throwing roses and protecting people with his cape. It’s a series that oscillates between reveling in its cheesiness and presenting surprisingly serious and emotional moments.

After the recent omicron surge and experiencing two deaths in my family close to the holidays, I started re-watching Sailor Moon with my fiancé, who had never seen the series before. It wasn’t long before I remembered what made me love the show so much in the first place: Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask’s love story. It was the first romance I, a 10-year-old tomboy who spent her time playing video games and skateboarding, ever really cared about.

Even though they are fated to be together, Usagi and Mamoru’s relationship blossoms organically. They meet while walking their usual routes to and from class, in front of an arcade that serves as the setting for several important episodes. Their exchanges on the street set the stage for a sort of friendship that eventually becomes something more, especially once they learn of each other’s identities as Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask. Their relationship hits several roadblocks along the way (including breaking up for the better part of the second season) as their destinies force them to grow up fast. When their child visits them from the future and they are caught up in a time-travel plot that forces them to reckon with their mortality and marriage, their bond becomes stronger, and you have no choice but to cheer them on.

Usagi and Mamoru bring out the best in each other, whether it’s Mamoru reminding Usagi of her responsibilities as not just a heroine but a high schooler, or Usagi getting Mamoru to loosen up and enjoy himself. It is a treat to see them go from teens who annoyingly bump into each other on the way home from class to heroes and rulers of the future Earth.

There are a few moments from the show that became particularly imprinted in my young mind, like their first dance at a masquerade ball. Given their disguises, they don’t recognize one another. But as Mamoru twirls Usagi, she feels like they have danced before — and they have, in their past lives.

Usagi showing up to Mamoru’s apartment to beg him to reconcile during their brief split also stands out to me. She cries, bangs on his door, and sinks to the floor in defeat. It is a raw (and honestly, a bit pitiful) example of teenage heartbreak, and how a breakup with your first love can feel like the end of the world.

There is another scene, a flashback to their past lives as Princess Serenity and Prince Endymion, respectively. As evil forces attack their home, Endymion protects Serenity with his cape. This parallels how Tuxedo Mask uses his cape in the present day and it was Peak Romance to me. These scenes played over and over again in my head, and when I started developing crushes, I imagined myself and the other person reenacting them, as hilariously cringey as it sounds.

However, it’s their ability to meet hefty responsibilities that I admire the most. As teenagers, Usagi and Mamoru are forced to meet their destinies as heroes and future rulers of the Earth, and must take it upon themselves to protect the world from evil. Realizing the extent of their powers is a major event that changes the trajectory of their lives.

I will say that their relationship isn’t perfect, and it’s also a product of its time in some ways: In the anime, their age gap is questionable, although they were originally written to be closer in age (in the anime she’s 14, he’s 18, but in the manga he is 16, which is less problematic). Mamoru also sometimes shames Usagi for enjoying junk food, which ranges from teasing her about getting cavities to bringing up the possibility of weight gain (jokes about Usagi’s eating habits are unfortunately common, coming from nearly every character). If you can recognize and look beyond these details, their relationship is otherwise really sweet. Not to mention, Tuxedo Mask is cute as hell and is always there to support all of the Sailor Guardians.

Even though the series is 30 years old (and definitely has its fair share of dated tropes), I think their relationship speaks to our cultural moment, as the pandemic has made us reevaluate our lives and relationships. When a threat that’s largely out of our control changes things so profoundly, it’s natural to question what we really want out of life. Whether it’s our job or the person we’re dating, the past couple of years have caused us to do some major reshuffling — or, alternatively, feel more confident than ever in the choices we’ve already made.

In Sailor Moon, the main characters’ duties to protect the planet impacts their lives as students, children, and romantic partners, and Usagi and Mamoru’s relationship is no exception as this duty strengthens and strains their bond at different times.

For some of us, that may mean recognizing we’ve grown apart from a partner, but for others, such as myself, it meant becoming closer and more serious with a significant other at a faster pace. It forced my college boyfriend and me to really think about what we wanted from life and from each other, and now we’re engaged and planning a fall wedding. Just like Usagi and Mamoru, we’re young, but we’ve already gone through a major event (that still isn’t over) and are closer because of it. I’m just happy that we’re not the ones tasked with saving the whole solar system.

Sailor Moon is available to stream on Hulu. For more recommendations from the world of culture, check out the One Good Thing archives.

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