Did the Sailor Moon Anime Make Haruka More Masculine?

Sailor Uranus – A Sailor Soldier Not Restricted by Gender

Sailor Uranus – A Sailor Soldier Not Restricted by Gender

I generally try to avoid topics that require an understanding of Japanese to begin with, since it’s much less fun for those involved and has a very “inside baseball”1 feel to it if you’re trying to follow along with a bunch of different terminology. Of course, it can be very interesting sometimes and since we’re talking about a series which has undergone many incarnations in being brought to the Western world, it definitely is worth discussing sometimes. The case of Haruka, and how her gender and sexuality is conveyed in the anime and manga, is certainly one of those issues worth a closer look.

Haruka needs to relax sometimes

Haruka needs to relax sometimes

Japanese, as I’m sure many of you are aware, has a lot of personal pronouns.2 In fact, if you take a look on the Japanese Wikipedia page,3 you’ll find that they list fifty-one different ways to say “I” or “me.” This leads to an interesting problem in translation, since in Japanese these all express information on the way that the speaker views both themselves and their relationship with the listener while there’s no other choice than to translate them all as “I” when putting it into English.4 While most anime fans have undoubtedly heard of the common terms like watashiatashiboku, and ore, there are many others like honshoku (本職; used in business correspondence, often by government officials) and wagahai (我が輩; used by kingly sorts and despots, like King Koopa from Super Mario and well known in the title of “I Am a Cat” by Natsume Soseki5) which, though slightly less common, are just as important to Japanese culture and communication.

So when it comes to Haruka, it’s obviously a great point of interest how she refers to herself, since it expresses a part of her character that doesn’t really come across in English. While researching this, though, I came across an interesting issue: the anime and the manga treat Haruka’s use of personal pronouns differently… and in a pretty peculiar way.

The Unstoppable Sailor Duo

The Unstoppable Sailor Duo

How does the anime treat it? Well, irrespective of whether she is Sailor Uranus or Haruka (and both before and after Usagi discovers Haruka is female), she refers to herself using the pronoun boku, which is typically reserved for males but is not seen as completely verboten when used by younger girls and up through university. Where things get interesting, though, is in the manga. Ms. Takeuchi did not stick to just one personal pronoun for the character, but actually uses two – atashi and ore, which are seen as explicitly feminine and masculine, respectively. So when appearing as Haruka, she identifies herself more as a masculine and strong personality while taking on more of a feminine touch (on the same level as the way Ami refers to herself!) when in the form of Sailor Uranus.

To be honest, I’m rather disappointed that the anime did away with this for a simple across-the-board use of boku rather than going through the effort of trying to show Haruka as more of a fluid character, transcending above the simple male/female gender choice, as Ms. Takeuchi hinted at in the manga by switching between two extremes.

Ultimately, this is all a relatively minor issue, but it’s unfortunately one that’s lost in translation since there really aren’t any direct ways to address it in English other than changing the rest of the character’s speech patterns. I’d love to hear about how other translations dealt with it, though. Especially ones which do have gendered pronouns!


References:

  1. I love this metaphor, but I understand it may not mean much to non-Americans; see Inside Baseball (Metaphor) (Wikipedia)
  2.  See Japanese Pronouns (Wikipedia)
  3.  See Japanese Personal Pronouns (Wikipedia)
  4. I apologize for this conversation being English-centric since I know that other languages do have gendered pronouns, but unfortunately I only speak English and Japanese and can’t comment further.
  5. See I Am a Cat (Wikipedia)

6 comments

  • To be fair, I prefer that this thing was lost in many translations, people are becoming so obsessed about pronouns and “gender” (whatever it means nowadays…)

    • Oh, I agree! It’s a shame that things like this are lost to an English speaker, but on the other than, I’d rather read a NATURAL-sounding translation that one that gets pedantic about accuracy.

      In a really insane scenario, I’ve seen “fans” try to re-write a translation to always put the verb at the end of the sentence because it’s “more accurate.” It was also nearly unreadable…

  • This was an interesting read. I would love to see a post about Fish Eye one day.

    For me they were always clearly transgender and I always referred to the character as ‘she’ however lately I’ve been rewatching SuperS and I noticed that Fish Eye uses different pronounce depending on how they want to appear to others.

    For example when Fish Eye is at the bar with the Amazon Trio or reveals their true identity to the victim I think they go by “Boku” and perhaps “Ore” (but I may be wrong here) but when cross-dressing they use strictly female pronounce.

    I’m not a fan of using ‘they’ but Fish Eye seems so non-binary that I no longer know can I just call them a ‘she’.

    Fish Eye is clearly transfeminine and androgynous but being transgender myself I just prefer to call them – her since for me she’s simply a transgender woman. I don’t think that’s what the creators were going for though. Probably just a cross-dresser or ‘otokonoko’ / ‘otoko no musume’.

    Japan is so open when it comes to cross-dressing and fluid gender identity but at the same time it seems they struggle with acknowledging a quite simple concept of transsexuality.

    • Fish Eye is definitely an interesting character, and one of the instances where I feel like the anime did a lot more with him than the manga, probably due to having a lot more time to devote to each character. It also kinda feels like the anime used the Amazon Trio story arc as a kind of “holding pattern” while they waited for Ms. Takeuchi to develop the manga further (and move on into the Amazoness Quartet)… but that’s neither here nor there!

      I have to admit that I haven’t actually taken the time to listen to Fish Eye speak in the anime, but I’d definitely be interested in taking a look (listen?) to see how this was handled. Just going off perception (and with zero facts to back this up right now…!), Fish Eye always felt to me like s/he expressed more masculine tendencies when ‘getting down to business’ (meeting with the victims, attacking the Sailor Soldiers) and was more feminine when in his/her day-to-day, relaxed, personal life. I’d definitely like to see how this theory plays out, though.
      Unfortunately in Japanese, people rarely use pronouns at all anyway, so it takes quite a bit of time of staring at the TV with a pen and paper in hand. =p Still, it’s fun!

      Thanks for reading and for your comments!

  • Again keep in mind that Fish Eye was an actual fish, and that there are some species of fish which are hermaphrodites. They can not be defined as being either male or female as they possess both male and female parts either at the same time or switching back and forth between the two genders over time to fit their needs for survival.

    I guess the question then is…can we identify what kind of fish is Fish Eye supposed to be? I know some people have said lionfish due to the spiky stuff, although lionfish are not one of these gender fluid fish. However lionfish are part of a larger grouping known as scorpionfish and indeed some other members of this group display the gender swapping/neutral nature.

    • There is a lot to be said about the gender connection with Fish Eye being a fish, and I definitely want to take a further look at that a little bit later, when I actually move into the SuperS and Stars arc (shooting for… later this year, maybe?). Not only are there are there a not-insignificant number of fish which can be defined as either/or (or neither/nor) on the binary selection of gender, but there are some species of fish which actually can swap genders if/when they find themselves in a situation where there are too many fish of a single gender (and thus few possible mates).

      I don’t recall all the exact details, but if I recall correctly, the clown fish in Finding Nemo actually do that.

Any thoughts? Leave a comment!