Sailor Moon From Manga to Anime: What does systemic villainy look like?

By: Anthony Gramuglia August 9, 20230 Comments
Sailor Moon looks up at her foe.

Spoilers for all of the Sailor Moon manga and 90s anime

When people talk about Sailor Moon and its characters, they often neglect to mention the villains. Beryl, Nehelenia, and Sailor Galaxia are some of the best anime villains of the 1990s. What’s interesting, though, is how the villains differ between the anime and manga. This difference in perspectives creates a fascinating contrast that helps explore the nature of evil.

The manga and its ‘90s anime adaptation differ in regards to its themes on morality and how that affects its villains. While the anime promotes the idea that evil is individualized and people are capable of redemption, the manga argues evil is an inherent force that, in reality, cannot be destroyed without damaging reality. It also proposes the idea that evil people cannot be simply “redeemed.”

In effect, Sailor Moon’s narrative asked if individuals commit acts of evil or if evil is an inevitable force, and came up with two separate answers.

Queen Beryl looks directly at the camera, a sinister red orb in hand.

Are People Evil or Are Systems Evil?

When people discuss the nature of evil, they are often divided on whether or not systems or individuals are capable of acts of evil. Sailor Moon’s manga and anime adaptation both address this question differently, resulting in dramatically different systems of focus.

Each arc of the series introduces a new team of villains, including the Dark Kingdom, the Black Moon Clan, the Death Busters, the Dead Moon Circus, and Shadow Galaxia. While all these organizations appear in both the source material and the adaptation, the anime spends more time developing the individual members as characters, examining their wants, interests, likes, and relationships. This is in contrast to the manga, which often simplifies them to just antagonists; establishing them as units versus individuals, usually with one or two more developed exceptions.

The manga does this in part because, as we learn in the final arc, all the main leaders of these organizations are incarnations of Chaos—a primordial evil that sought to become a star, only to fail. It serves now as a shapeless evil.

Usagi wakes up crying from a nightmare of a melting face

Chaos thrives not only on the power it derives due to its numerous incarnations, but also on ambitious individuals that she can use as puppets. These include characters such as Sailor Galaxia, who is directly recruited into Chaos’s ranks, or Beryl, who is manipulated by Metallia into destroying the Moon Kingdom and, later, helping to resurrect the Dark Kingdom to power.

While Chaos does play a key role in the Sailor Moon anime, it exists as a corrupting force that drives Sailor Galaxia to do evil. Conversely, Metallia, Death Phantom, Pharaoh 90, and Queen Nehelenia are not manifestations of Chaos.

The manga later reveals that Chaos exists in the center of the Galaxy Cauldron and aims to rule reality. The only way to defeat Chaos is to destroy the Galaxy Cauldron, which would in effect ensure that no new stars can ever be born. If evil is to be extinguished, life will, essentially, end.

Zircona has Mamoru in her evil clutches.

Poor Choices, Human Individuals Choosing

As Chaos plays a far smaller role in the ‘90s Sailor Moon anime, villains are presented in a very different fashion. All of the villains have their own personal motivations. For example, the Black Moon Clan wants revenge against Neo-Queen Serenity. The Dark Kingdom wants to enact conquest over the modern world and resurrect their Great Ruler, Metallia. 

But within those organizational goals, there are individuals. While the Black Moon Clan wants revenge, Prince Diamond wants to possess Serenity in mind, body, and soul. While the Dead Moon Circus seeks to free their queen Nehelenia from the Black Mirror, Nehelenia fears both old age and being abandoned by those who admire her.

While the individual henchmen serve the greater goal of the team, they often have secondary, more personal goals. The Witches 5, a subgroup of the Death Busters, all want to draw the admiration of Professor Tomoe, which results in petty squabbles amongst their ranks—which ends in them killing one another. A similar dynamic is present among the Spectre Sisters, who all want to draw the respect or admiration of Rubeus. What’s striking is that their personal motives are often self-destructive and toxic, either putting the villains in positions of self-harm or interpersonal violence.

Zoisite standing, arms outstretched, in front of an injured Kunzite

The motives are ultimately very human, and not all of them are entirely bad or evil. For example, while Nephrite does wish to serve Queen Beryl, his motives shift as he begins to form a bond with Naru. Kunzite and Zoisite also share a personal motivation: love for one another. This is in contrast to the manga, where the Four Generals are all under mind control and thus not responsible for any of their actions. By giving them humanity, the anime equivalent of the Four Generals act with intention. They aren’t cogs in a system: what they do has meaning. 

This results in more nuanced characters with a more complex morality. In a sense they are part of a “system” of evil as Ikuhara would explore it in his later works, ultimately contributing to evil acts because they can’t or don’t wish to achieve their goals through other means. But because they have humanity and autonomy, they can also change their ways.

the Amazon Trio all receive their own dream mirrors

Redemption in the Machine

The Sailor Moon manga has a surprisingly low number of genuine redemption arcs. The Four Generals in the manga are actually Prince Endymion’s generals and companions, brainwashed and influenced by Metallia. They are freed from their mind control at the end of the first arc at the cost of their lives. The only group to truly get redemption are the Amazon Quartet, who become Chibiusa’s Sailor Guardians.

If you’re a villain in the Sailor Moon manga, often, your fate is sealed. This is in part because the villains all exist essentially as a byproduct of the core evil—Chaos. You can’t rationalize with a system that actively harms everything. You can only fight it.

That’s not to say that Sailor Moon herself is without empathy. When fighting Galaxia, Chaos ultimately turns against its servant, sending her falling into the Galaxy Cauldron. Sailor Moon saves her from certain death, a move that breaks Galaxia’s drive to continue fighting. She dies, but she dies acknowledging that Usagi is a force of pure good. However, it’s also worth noting that this Galaxia is far more violent than her anime counterpart, effectively melting down the cast’s Star Seeds in the Galaxy Cauldron.

Sailor Moon understands the nature of the various evils she fights against.

Because the Sailor Moon anime humanizes its villains so much, however, the anime focuses less on the institutions of evil and more on the individual choice to do bad. Multiple antagonists—Nephrite, the Spectre Sisters, Professor Tomoe, and most of the Dead Moon Circus, including Nehelenia herself—all undergo redemption arcs over the course of their stories.

This redemption is usually when their personal objectives or goals come into conflict with the organization–-or their priorities shift by getting to know the main cast of characters. While Nephrite’s redemption is one of the most well-remembered, Koan’s best exemplifies this. She’s a part of the Black Moon Clan because of her family and her admiration of Rubeus. When she fails repeatedly at her missions, Rubeus convinces her to try to kill herself in an attempt to take down the Sailor Guardians. It’s only when Sailor Mars protects Koan from an attack and Sailor Moon purifies her of dark energy that Koan turns good.

From there, Koan is instrumental in taking the remaining Spectre Sisters out of the Black Moon Family, helping illustrate the toxic environment the Black Moon Family—and particularly Rubeus–-had created for them. Ultimately, the Spectre Sisters’ personal motivations are what lead them out of the Black Moon Clan, whereas in the manga they’re all unceremoniously killed. 

Mars defends Koan from Jupiter's attack

Some villains can barely be defined as evil at all. The Amazon Trio are animals, transformed into soldiers under the Dead Moon Circus’s acting leader, Zirconia. While they do invade the pure dreams of their targets in search of Helios and the Golden Crystal, it’s just a job to them. On one hand, this can be seen as a depiction of the banality of evil and how individuals can do terrible things while emotionally separating them from their works. On the other hand, if they weren’t assigned to search for Helios, they’d be happier drinking with one another at the bar.

The only arc in the anime where the villains are forced to be evil is in Sailor Stars. During this arc, Sailor Galaxia has stolen the Star Seeds of her minions. They only remain alive thanks to the bracelets Galaxia gives them. When Sailor Moon destroys one of Sailor Tin Nyanko’s bracelets, she is ultimately divided between her true nature and the evil influence Galaxia has over her. Galaxia ultimately kills her before she can make a true redemption.

While the manga focuses on systemic evils, the anime focuses on the individual nature of evil. It explores the individual reasons a person does evil and how that ultimately can be just as toxic and self-destructive to themselves as it is to other people. Anyone can do harm, but they can just as easily do good, too. 

Queen Nehellenia looks at her reflection with deep sadness in her eyes.

The Question of the Outer Guardians

In the anime, there is one group of morally ambiguous characters that strides the line between antagonist and protagonist like no other: the Outer Guardians. In particular, Sailor Uranus and Neptune. Neither are villains in the sense that they’re evil, but rather because they oppose Usagi’s moral standards.

In the anime, Usagi is ultimately a figure of love. If she can redeem someone, she will. When people are transformed into the episode’s monster of the week, she often will find a way to heal them rather than fight them to the death, something the rest of the Sailor Guardians assist with. Usagi tries to find solutions that help everyone.

Uranus and Neptune, however, are pragmatic. They take on the journey of finding the Talisman and the Holy Grail in Sailor Moon S knowing that they might have to kill whoever’s pure heart is a Talisman—even if it’s someone they love. When it turns out that Uranus and Neptune’s pure hearts are both Talismans, they’re both willing to die if it means the greater good. It’s only thanks to Usagi that both can survive and use their Talisman as weapons in the fight against Pharaoh 90.

Later still, when they discover that Hotaru is Sailor Saturn, a being capable of destroying the solar system, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto decide the only solution is to kill Saturn. Usagi refuses, defending Hotaru even as her body is overtaken by Mistress 9. Ultimately, Hotaru does regain control and attempts to sacrifice herself to stop Pharaoh 90. It’s only thanks to Usagi diving in to save Hotaru does she manage to survive.

The conflict with the Outer Guardians continues into Stars, culminating in a “Hail Mary” attempt to kill Galaxia, with Uranus and Neptune pretending to join Galaxia in order to get close enough to remove her Star Seed. This fails. It’s ultimately Usagi, again appealing to Galaxia’s humanity, that saves the day.

Sailor Galaxia sits proudly upon a galactic throne.

A Question of Morality

Sailor Moon’s anime focuses on the nature of individualized evil, while its original manga highlights the dangers of systemic evil. Both present powerful messages about the nature of evil.

The anime takes a humanist approach. All people are capable of enacting harm, but we can mitigate, and even stop, that harm at any time. Evil is something that is harmful to ourselves just as much as it is to other people. Evil is a choice—one that often hurts us and those around us. The anime is ultimately a story about healing from the toxic choices that hurt those around us, as well as ourselves. 

While each individual villain creates systems of evil, the villains are less cogs in a machine than they are people who can act and change on their own. Villains can choose to stop supporting evil—sometimes at their own peril, but always by their choice. This is different from the manga, where evil is an external force, disconnected from humanity. Evil is a thing that is done to people or has a will of its own. It’s not a choice. It simply is.

The manga explores how evil can become ingrained in our world and might be impossible to ever fully defeat. Chaos is undying and continues to return, even into the future era of Sailor Cosmos. Usagi and friends defeat multiple villainous teams, and, while there is peace, we also know that future threats will come, including the Black Moon Family, and that their return is inevitable.

If Sailor Moon’s anime is a story about humanism, the manga is one about radical revolution, where the systems of evil are uprooted. Evil cannot always be reasoned with. Similarly, it cannot be managed. Even the people involved with furthering the evil can’t do anything to stop it once the ball gets rolling. Sailor Moon’s manga enacts a radical idea that the individuals perpetrating evil are less dangerous than the systems that they help enact. 

The only solution? Radical change. 

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