From “The Feminism of Sailor Moon” by Rose Bridges:
Sailor Moon may seem silly, but I know personally that the storyline resonates powerfully with many fans. Before it became an animated TV show, Sailor Moon was a serial comic, which known in Japan as manga. Reading the manga version of Sailor Moon when I was in college helped me come to terms with my own bisexuality and realize that I wanted a relationship with another girl like Haruka and Michiru had.
Sailor Moon is hardly perfect from a feminist standpoint, of course. As much as some fans praise it and other magical-girl series for "weaponized femininity"—feminine-coded attacks and outfits as sources of power—some people read this more as "weaponized gender-essentialism." While characters’ civilian personalities run the gamut of gender expression—tomboy Sailor Uranus often wears traditionally masculine clothes, for example—all the crime-fighting characters transform into impractical miniskirts and high heels when they take on the bad guys. It’s awesome to show that there’s power in the feminine, but not when it’s compulsory. Plus, it’s hard to argue that their costumes are purely about “empowerment” when those tiny miniskirts result in so many panty shots.
Another common feminist criticism is that in the early anime episodes especially, Usagi (the titular Sailor Moon) often cries and acts like a damsel-in-distress, needing the mysterious man Tuxedo Mask to save her. In most versions of the story, this is fixed by character-development: Usagi’s “weakness” at first is simply due to her being a young teen who’s in over her head, and she doesn’t stay that way. As she grows in strength, she becomes more confident and the dynamic reverses itself, with Tuxedo Mask needing rescuing by the girls instead. However, looking back at the old anime, it’s inconsistent that one enemy has her charging proudly into battle while another reduces her to tears and requires the assistance of Tuxedo Mask or the other fighters.
But where it gets feminism right, it gets it very right. One of the more interesting subtexts of the old anime is how often consumerism is used to take advantage of young women. The male villain Jadeite’s many schemes to harvest human energy typically involve feminine-coded consumer activities, including a jewelry store, a fitness center, and a talent search. As a friend put it to me, “Sailor Moon feels like it’s training girls to be constantly wary of situations where people are trying to sell you things.” When Usagi transforms into Sailor Moon to defeat Jadeite, she accompanies it with a speech about the evils of “taking advantage of young girls’ dreams” for selfish, harmful gains.