Is Usagi Much Smarter Than the Series Implies?

This Might Not Be As Bad As It Looks

This Might Not Be As Bad As It Looks

Or, an alternative title for this question could be: “Is Usagi Really Just a Victim of Circumstances?” What I love most about answering these questions is having the opportunity to stop and take a look at the accepted facts of the Sailor Moon universe, break them down, and analyze them with respect to how they fit into the real world. When it comes down to the core elements of Usagi’s personality – the titular character in Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon – her supposed lack of intelligence is one of her defining attributes. I know I’ve talked a lot about intelligence already, but I think Usagi deserves a second look… and maybe even an apology.

Minako's grades (top) vs. Usagi's (bottom)

Minako’s grades (top) vs. Usagi’s (bottom)

So, what do I mean when I say that Usagi may be smarter than we give her credit for? If you look at her scores in the opening of the series – a dismal 30 points in both the first act of the manga and episode of the anime – and take into account her comments about how angry her mother will be, it’s quite apparent that she’s not doing well in school. But when you take a look at many of Usagi’s peers (Ami, Umino, and Urawa for example), you realize that she’s actually surrounded by massively intelligent people.

In a 2007 study of academic abilities for students of 50 elementary and junior high school districts in the Tokyo metropolitan area,1 Minato ward (where Sailor Moon takes place) ranks 14th place. Back in the 1990s, Japan (and still today in Tokyo and other parts) was very strict about students not attending public schools outside the district they live in. Even still, all students are required to take tests and essentially compete to get into more difficult schools within the same district – competition which is pretty severe and which students (and their parents) start preparing for up to a year or more before graduation. In fact, most cram schools focus their “junior high test prep” classes toward fourth grade students.2 But what does this all mean?

Taken in aggregate, this means that Usagi lives in a school district averaging higher in rankings (and thus difficulty). We also know that the students who attend that school needed to compete to get in. It’s hard to believe that Ami and Umino would both have settled for low-ranked schools, especially when you consider Ami’s competitive streak (as shown in the episode where Urawa shows up and how badly she takes not having the highest scores). In order for Usagi, Umino, and Ami to all end up in the same school, Usagi must have had respectable elementary school scores and done decently on the entrance exam.

“But wait,” I can hear you say. “Look at her scores! You can’t deny she’s a poor student!”

Vol 1, p. 50 of the original manga

Vol 1, p. 50 of the original manga

And you’re right. I can’t (and don’t) deny that she’s a bad student. But Usagi’s scores need to be taken in context. First off, granting that Ami is brilliant, that presumes that the tests are actually difficult. After all, getting first place on an easy test doesn’t mean anything. Mamoru himself is also incredibly intelligent, so his critiquing her scores should be taken with a grain of salt. Compared to the elite school he goes to (which even Ami talked highly of), it’s no surprise he’d make fun of her low scores.

Second, we need to take into account that no scale is provided with their scores. I know it may seem obvious, but all of the instances where we see Usagi’s scores, these are always point totals and not percentages. The natural assumption is that these are out of 100, but it’s not uncommon for schools to modify these point totals to be a maximum of 80 (or even 60) depending on how important they believe the subject is, and thus how much it affects your total grade. This doesn’t change too much, but a 32/60 is definitely different from a 32/100.

Finally, it’s important to know that until 2002, Japanese schools used a relative ranking system (grading on a curve) for grading students that had nothing to do with your raw scores, and everything to do with the raw scores of your peers. Students were given a score of 5 (the best) through 1, depending on how they did relative to the rest of the student body. The scoring was as follows:3

  • 5:  Top 7% of all students
  • 4: Upper-middle 24% of all students
  • 3: Middle 38% of all students
  • 2: Lower-middle 21% of all students
  • 1: Bottom 7% of all students
Studying the Inside of Her Eyelids

Studying the Inside of Her Eyelids

This means that in addition to Usagi being in an objectively more difficult school, by virtue of being surrounded by intelligent classmates, her relative scores (and report card) are pushed even lower… simply by not being exactly as smart as the others.

Since Usagi’s intelligence is the butt of a lot of jokes throughout the series it would be going way too far to argue that she’s actually brilliant, but it is worth noting that a lot of Usagi’s poor performance can actually be blamed on her possibly just being in a school that was slightly out of her league. When you consider that she ends up in the same high school as the rest of the team in the Sailor Stars arc, this would show that she might actually be smarter than we were led to believe!


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5 comments

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  • Well… 2 facts:
    1) When Ryo Urawa showed up, she actually WAS HAPPY for him to get such a score despite him taking test during the literally first day in school – results are published in a day in which she states “he transferred yesterday”. And an at the end of the episode she says that he can come visit her no matter about test scores. And that was when he actually cheated using psychic power, robbing her of the first place and admitted that to Ami.
    The situation when she was incredibly jealous with guy gone by peudonym Mercurius.

    2) In the same episode, when Ryo gets 900/900, Usagi has 586/900 and Makoto has 600/900 so it is not that bad… that’s 64% and 66%.

    • On point 2), unfortunately it’s hard to use the scores as-is for Usagi and Makoto (though admittedly I’m surprised that they’re both so close). While they are at 64% and 66% respectively, without knowing what the average score is, it’s really hard to say for sure if that’s a good score or not. In a perfect world, average would be 50% (450 points), but that’s rarely how it works.

      Case in point: the test for non-native English speakers for their mastery of the English language, TOEIC, has a maximum score of 990, meaning an average score should be 495 (50%).
      In reality, the averages across genders are female: 593; male: 559, or 59% and 56% respectively.

      • Whole point of giving 64% and 66% was just supporting that they didn’t completely flunked the exam from objective standpoint and shown that they were not that dumb, as most of people who were not graded like that would think – in most of the countries 66% on regular test (not on the special exam, like certification exam or theoretic part of exam for driver’s license – e.g. in Poland you still fail if you have 67/74 =90,54%) would give an average passing grade. Sure, it would not be enough to satisfy Ikuko, but it would not be a complete tragedy.

        But from point of view of Japanese education, they did fail, because their score was most likely below average in their school – their names were far on the left side of a board and it’s safe to say that school is of higher than average standard – Ami and Umino are there, after all. Even Usagi and Makoto’s reaction clearly show that’s a bad situation.
        Besides, it’s quite realistic that someone saving the world in secret would have lower grade than someone of similar abilities but not burdened. Ami is more of an exception here – Makoto and Minako don’t have spectacular results in that field either.

        On the side note: of all the Inners, we don’t know at all about Rei’s performance. I’m quite curious how her grades would be presented, though she is portrayed as someone rather intelligent than not.

        • To be honest, consider that Makoto grew up as an orphan, seems to have had a rough background, and isn’t really big on studying, I’m not too surprised by her scores.

          But you’re right that we really don’t have much info on Rei, scholastically speaking. It’d be interesting to see how she did in her classes!

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