Guardians? Soldiers? What Are the Sailor Senshi?

Pretty [???] Sailor Moon

Pretty [???] Sailor Moon

This is an interesting question, since the answer is tied to not only language differences, but also to differences in culture between countries and even differences in culture across generations. First off, as you all obviously know, Sailor Moon’s full Japanese title is 美少女戦士セーラームーン (Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon), which was originally translated as Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon and then later as Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon. So which one is it? Was the original translation a mistake?

The short answer is: probably not. A quick Google image search for senshi in Japanese1 pulls up a lot of characters in armor and wielding weapons. The job of “Fighter” in Final Fantasy 1 is known as Senshi,2 the “Four Heroes of Light” are the 光の四戦士 (Hikari no Yon Senshi),3 and even the Japanese write-up for the movie “300” describes them as coming from the 戦士の国スパルタ (senshi no kuni Sparta; Sparta, the land of warriors).4 Taking this together, it’s pretty clear that the Japanese interpret the word senshi as a type of warrior, fighter, or soldier and not as some sort of peaceful guardian. The original art books by Naoko Takeuchi are even titled “Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon” in English, so that puts the origins to rest, at least.5

So where does the Guardian title come from? The earliest reference to it that I could find is in the live-action series of the same name that debuted in 2003. The best theory I can come up with is either that this is due to wanting to make the concept friendlier for young girls or, possibly, it was to further distinguish it from the live action musicals which were running at the same time. The musicals almost always included the title written in English for stylistic reasons, so seeing as they were both live action, this may have been a factor.

Sailor Moon Musical OST

Sailor Moon Musical OST

Whatever the reason for the change, it seems like it’s stuck for the franchise now and that the official English title is now Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon. We can at least say, without a doubt, that Scout6 isn’t a good translation. One thing that I would like to know, though, is how this nuance difference will be addressed when Viz finally gets around to their subtitling and dubbing of the final season, Sailor Moon Stars. The Starlights, Galaxia, and the Animamates are all senshi, which makes the title of Guardian a bit difficult. I guess I need to finally read Kodansha’s English translation of the manga7 and see!


References:

  1. 戦士 (Google Images)
  2. See this Japanese list Final Fantasy terminology
  3. See Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light (Wikipedia)
  4. See the movie review for 300 on the Japanese Star movie channel
  5. See the Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon Vol. I Artbook (Amazon); by Naoko Takeuchi and published by Kodansha in August 1994
  6. Every time I say that word, I always remember hearing old British-lady Luna shouting “Watch out, Sailor Scouts!”
  7. Frankly, I’m pretty unimpressed with how the translation was handled, but I suppose it’s better than the Mixx/TokyoPop/Smile job.

4 comments

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  • In Cygnus And In Health

    I always thought that ‘Sentry’ could have been a workable alternative, since it encapsulates both the Guardian/Soldier aspect whilst conveniently sounding similar to Senshi. And it rolls of the tongue a bit better then the other two.

    It would at least have suited Pluto.

    • The term ‘Sentry’ would definitely carry over pretty well for the outer team, especially considering they were supposedly charged with the duty of protecting against threats from beyond the Solar System.

      It’s probably just me reading too much into it, but the term “Guardian” just sounds so pedantic and like it’s looking down on the Sailor Team by virtue of being female. If they were all men, there would be no doubt about translating the term senshi as warrior, fighter, or soldier. But maybe that’s just me thinking too hard about it?

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