What Do the Sailor Moon Transformations Look Like to Other People?

Do they really henshin in front of people?

Do they really henshin in front of people?

Though I’m not a betting man, I’d feel relatively comfortable saying that nearly every Sailor Moon fan out there that has watched the anime with a friend or family member who isn’t a fan of the genre has had to deal with the question: “why doesn’t the bad guy just attack her when she’s transforming?”

And can you blame them? It’s a really good question.

Though fans have come up with a multitude of reasons to explain this away over the years — with answers ranging from the Youma wanting a fair fight to the Sailor Soldiers teleporting away during the henshin sequence — we’re actually here to address a much more fundamental question today.

Do these transformations actually take place, or are they like the eye catches between commercial breaks, and only for the viewer’s benefit?

Stick around, it’s about to get interesting!

Flame Sniper: not according to my keikaku

Flame Sniper: not according to my keikaku

Considering how many times the Sailor Soldiers have been interrupted during their attacks or in the beginning stages of their transformations, I have no doubt in my mind that they actually do need to call out their attack names and transformation phrases. We even see a failed Flame Sniper in SuperS, which seems to suggest to us that they are in control and on the battlefield throughout the entire attack sequence.

But that’s attacks, and we’re talking about transformations.

When it comes to the transformation sequences, there are basically three ways of looking at it:

  1. They transform instantly and the whole 34-40 second animation sequence is purely for the viewer’s benefit;1
  2. They are teleported elsewhere to a prism… zone and perform their transformation there; or
  3. The whole transformation sequence takes place right then and there and they are either protected from attacks, or are not attacked for any variety of reasons

Though a compelling argument could probably be made for any of these, in my opinion the evidence points to the answer being number three: that the Sailor Soldiers actually transform right where they are, and that the transformations happen in real time. Basically, what we see on screen is what anyone else around them would see, with the small exception that I doubt there’s any prism in the background.

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Why? Glad you asked!

Let's get this Moon Prism Party started!

Let’s get this Moon Prism Party started!

Two prominent scenes come to mind that address this issue, though there may very well be more than I’m forgetting.

Probably the most memorable one to any fan of the series is episode 34, when Usagi is trapped in an elevator with Mamoru and the two are attacked by Zoisite. Facing impending death, Usagi has no choice but to transform into Sailor Moon to save their lives.

“Wait a second,” I can hear as my ever-present fictional reader clears her throat and gets ready to set me straight. “That proves nothing! Mamoru was alone in the elevator with Usagi, and then with Sailor Moon. No matter what way it happened, he’d still be able to figure it out.”

And you’d generally be right, my fictional friend. Mamoru is a smart guy, and even if he wasn’t, it’d be pretty obvious  that Usagi and Sailor Moon are the same person in those circumstances. The key word in how right you are, however, is “generally.”

Usagi makes the decision to transform in front of Mamoru

Usagi makes the decision to transform in front of Mamoru

You see, Nakayoshi Anime Album Volume 2,2 a guide book to the first season which contains reviews of each episode and background information on the anime series, provides a little more insight into this scene from Usagi’s point of view. In it, Usagi states:

衛さんの視線がちょっとはずかしいけど・・・。「ムーンプリズムパワー・メイクアップ!」

I’m a little embarrassed about Mamoru seeing me, but… “Moon Prism Power! Make Up!”

Needless to say, Usagi wouldn’t have anything to be embarrassed about if she were either teleported away or if the transformation happened instantaneously. Later on, she follows up with some thoughts on Tuxedo Mask’s rare transformation:3

くるっとまわると、衛さんがタキシード仮面さまに。あの悪口ばかりの衛さんが、あたしを助けてくれてたの?

With a spin, Mamoru transformed into Tuxedo Mask. That bad-mouthing jerk Mamoru was the one always saving me?

So once again, it’s apparent that people are able to see the actual transformation sequence, and it’s definitely taking place in real time.

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In case you’re still left on the fence about the issue, we do have another case that I think pretty much confirms the situation: episode 71, when Ami faces off against Berthier in a chess match to the death. 4

After suffering through two attacks from Berthier, Ami is finally forced to transform into Sailor Mercury in front of her enemy. As we progress through the transformation sequence, we cut to Berthier several times, a look of surprise on her face and lights flashing in front of her — presumably from Ami’s transformation as the different parts of her Sailor uniform come together.

Berthier watches Ami henshin (episode 71)

Berthier watches Ami henshin (episode 71)

At least in my opinion, I think that pretty much puts to rest the issue of how the transformations take place in-universe. Depending on how representative you think Berthier’s reaction was, I guess you could probably also make a good argument for why the enemies don’t attack during the transformation: they’re just too dumbfounded by the whole experience that they don’t know what to do!

If there’s anything I missed, such as any other episodes where the Sailor Soldiers transform in front of other people (perhaps the Starlights?) or anything else on how the transformations work, please let me know! The topic really fascinates me, and I’d love to have a fuller understanding on how this actually works in the the story!


References:

  1. And also to take up more time, reuse pre-baked animation, and save on animation costs. But let’s not be too negative here.
  2.  See the review for episode 34, comment 21, p. 46 of the Nakayoshi Anime Album Volume 2
  3.  See comment 25, p. 47 of the same
  4. Which is a sentence I never expected myself to have to write

27 thoughts on “What Do the Sailor Moon Transformations Look Like to Other People?

  1. The Berthier scene is what came to mind and I do think that option #3 is the right one… isn’t there another scene where someone sees her transform and it’s intercut with the person watching, or is it just that one?

    However, there’s also that scene in Stars where Usagi instantaneously transforms into Eternal Sailor Moon (I see a gif of it all the time, it’s very cool-looking). Just to make the situation more muddled. xD

    • I think you’re right, I feel like there are a few times in the series where there are abridged transformations, but I can’t for the life of me figure out exact episode numbers.

      PGSM (live action) muddles things up a bit more, when Rei transforms into Sailor Mars on camera, giving us an idea of what it might actually look like “from the outside” so-to-speak. You can see the scene here.

      That is, of course, assuming that you count PGSM in this analysis, which I don’t.

      As for the manga? I’d be much more inclined to believe that the transformations happen almost instantly, maybe with a bright flash of light or something. But I can’t really say either way, I guess!

      • In the manga the Senshi and their foes are so fast and powerful by the end that I can’t see how the transformations could be anything but instant.

        As for the anime, I think both attacks and transformations must be protected somehow. Maybe the prism world is not some form of other dimension they teleport to, but a shield protecting them?

      • When you talk of PGSM, there was a Venus transformation when she was running. And she transformed instantly. I think it was in part 12, after she reconsiders Sailor Moon and decides to go and help them.

        • Ah, right! I remembered the Rei transformation one off the top of my head, but I seem to recall that other characters also transformed on the fly like that a few times as well.
          PGSM is a bit of an odd duck when trying to make comparisons with the anime and manga, though. As much as I love the series, it really is in a world of its own. Not much unlike the musicals!

  2. Since I started watching Sailor Moon as an 8 year old, I’ve always wondered how the transformation looks to the others around them. Not the actual transformation but the “scenery”.The blue and purple background, the enormous crescent moon, all those glitter effects and so on.. Maybe I’m looking a little too deep into it?

    I love your site by the way. Keep up the good work! I’d would love to read a piece on Luna and Artemis and some fun info you’ve found regarding their relationship.

  3. When this theme is discussed, I always think of the same scene in anime – when ChibiUsa discovers that Usagi and her friends are the Sailor Senshi. I remember clearly that it shown one of them transforming (99% sure it was Jupiter), and it looked like a small cloud or a hole in space (sort of), in which we could see the girl and the background used in the sequences.
    In the manga, however, it seems to me that just a quick flash of light appeared and they were done immediately.

  4. Oh, it’s THAT topic! *rubs hands*

    Back when I started my own Sailor Moon fansite, I began investigating random bits of info found on other pages, because even if the info is WRONG, tracking down its origins can lead to interesting results. But you know that already. 🙂

    Anyway, one of the supposed “Sailor Moon facts” I’ve seen was this rumor: the reason Usagi hesitated to transform in front of Mamoru during that scene in the elevator was because doing this was going to result in him briefly seeing her naked. Now, Mamoru’s shocked expression during the transformation could be attributed to him being surprised at her identity, but I also noted that Usagi is visibly blushing as she is saying the phrase…

    Turns out, there is a source for that info, although personally I think Sato wasn’t being entirely serious there. 🙂 The May 1993 issue of Animage contains large interviews with the Sailor Moon staff, one featuring the epic trio of Junichi Sato, Kunihiko Ikuhara and Hideaki Anno. Things revealed about the scene in question: 1) the blush is Sato’s work, 2) she is blushing exactly why you would think she is.

    😀

    Speaking of people watching the Sailors transform, here’s some more scenes:
    – Chibiusa seeing Usagi & Co. in action (episode 72);
    – Reiko/Seiren walking in on Usagi (episode 187).

  5. I always thought they did it in front of people but much faster or instantly.

    But I stand corrected… I also found this one: https://youtu.be/MlUVzDwRLrw

    Definitely on site in regular time. From Sailor Star Fighter stand point.

    I would add that they must be protected by their own crystal’s power somehow.

  6. If I’m not mistaken, there is a scene in Sailor Moon S when Chibi-Usa is attempting to transform, trips, and the transformation is complete when she hits the ground (I’m sorry, I don’t recall which episode specifically). Because of *that* scene, I always thought the transformations were somewhat instantaneous.

    Regarding the real-time transformations view, I also seem to recall reading an article by a man thinking the reason the Sailors aren’t attacked during their transformations is that the light/power that radiates from them is so powerful (like sun-powerful, he was implicating via science), that if enemies ever tried to attack them, the baddies would be destroyed instantly. If I find the article again, I’ll post the link here.

    • That was actually about PreCure, although the same physics apply here. I believe this is the segment in question: http://brickme.tumblr.com/post/94237039468/why-magical-girls-are-never-attacked-during-a

      And yeah, his back-of-the-envelope calculation is that the beam of transformation light represents more than 20 times the amount of energy the whole country of Japan can generate. I liked the suggestion that simply transforming near the bad guys would be more effective than any attack.

      • Honestly, the “protected by a field” explanation always adds more questions for me than answers.
        If they really do have this ability to be completely invincible at any time, you think they could just transform whenever things start to look bad.

  7. I did not know that there was an official source that gave Usagi and Mamoru’s points of view on seeing each others’ transformations! I had always assumed it was option 1 (the transformation is much quicker than what is shown on-screen) mainly because of the way Sailor Neptune’s transformation is shown in the flashback scene in episode 106. There, Michiru just holds up her wand and calls out her transformation phrase, an aqua glow surrounds her and then she’s automatically dressed in her Sailor Neptune outfit. Thus, I always just assumed that in-universe, the transformation sequences would look more like that rather than the longer transformation we see her have later in that same episode.

    My guess is that if it does take the same amount of time in-universe as it does on-screen, they are magically protected once the transformation sequence fully activates (but they can still be attacked while they are still speaking the transformation phrase), and the glow we saw around Michiru that I mentioned above might serve as or be a sign of a magical shield.

    • One other example of a faster transformation that I remembered is Sailor Chibi Moon’s in the S season. There is a longer version of it that is shown in the S movie and also early on in SuperS, but most of the time, her transformations in the S season are very quick and are closer to the Sailor Neptune example I mentioned.

      Perhaps a compromise might be that, in-universe, the transformations take less time than the longer sequences shown to the viewers, but they still might require some movements such as turning around (as mentioned in the description of Tuxedo Mask) and brief nudity (explaining Usagi’s embarrassment at Mamoru seeing her transform), the latter of which is also seen when the Senshi lose their transformations (well, naked except for ribbons or flower petals in the case of Sailor Uranus in episode 115).

  8. We do also get to see Neptune transform in front of Haruka in S, and it’s pretty near instantaneous.

  9. How about the time they all transformed in front of the Amazon Quartet?? That counts too. A barrier is obviously what protects them during instantly, slowed time or not etc, those who see them change shocked etc etc, it makes me think back to the old Sailor Moon Novels………

    • Oh, those ones written and released by TokyoPop, based on the DiC version?
      I was pretty impressed to learn that those books were actually written by a popular fanfiction writer!

  10. I totally agree with your opinion.
    I don’t think that they transform instantly, or transfer to anywhere unobservable during their henshin sequence.
    In fact, there are a couple of scenes that support your idea.

    The critical moment arises in Episode 187.
    In this episode, Aluminum Siren happens to see Usagi transforming into Eternal Sailor Moon.
    Usagi starts transforming in the empty corridor, but Siren unintentionally approaches her from the corner of the hallway, and then she eventually witness the girl amid the transformation – her shining body or ungloved hand wrapped with feathers.
    The key point is that Siren refers to the situation which is happening in the course of Usagi’s transformation. (She refers to the light from the open brooch – and subsequently tries to rip it off from Eternal Moon’s chest intended to undo her transformation.)
    It indicates that Sailor Soldier’s transformation takes place in real time, not this instant, and in the same place where they stand before transforming.

    However this doesn’t explain why Sailor Soldiers dosen’t get attacked in mid-transformation.
    In Episode 194, Tin Nyanko attacks Usagi and drives her into the corner.
    Usagi decides to transform in front of Nyanko, and actually starts her henshin.
    But Nyanko hesitates to attack her, and Usagi finally completes her eternal transformation.
    If Nyanko attacked Usagi during the transformation, she couldn’t complete her henshin, and were defeated. (And also if she successfully hit the naked Silver Crystal on the expposed brooch, she can never transform again into Sailor Soldier, lying wrapped in a bunch of ribbons like Episode 198. This is the best chance for Nyanko, isn’t it ?)
    I don’t have any evidence to explain above situation, but I personally think that the mysterious space that spreads out of the transforming Sailor Soldiers may be the protection from any attacks outside. (If so, it explains why they doesn’t get attacked in their half-transformed state, although they get de-transformed after their transformation complete – for example, by shattering the brooch.)

  11. I think it’s half of 1and 3. I want to say it’s more 1 because that is the only thing that makes sense. While there are times when people are witnessing the transformation as long as they see them you already know who transformed into who. It’s like their attacks for example we see them use shortened versions of their attacks so they can’t be taking all this time because if they did there is no way a monster would not attack them. It makes little sense if they take that long especially sailor moon because why would they not just attack her during this time?

    Also realistically they just keep reusing the animation, but when they don’t sometimes we see the shortened version for example Neptune in the episode about Uranus and neotune past or when the others upgraded in stars after all the talking they transformed with a ring of light that took 5 seconds. Chibi moon’s instant transformation in the s series. I cannot recall off the top of my head, but I am sure there are other examples.

    This reminds me of another topic I have been wondering about after they transform and look exactly alike. They must actually look different to the in story people as oppose to the viewing audience.

    • Regarding your last comment:

      This reminds me of another topic I have been wondering about after they transform and look exactly alike. They must actually look different to the in story people as oppose to the viewing audience.

      There was an interesting blog I read awhile back where the person discussed that very same topic! It was actually a commenter on this blog, but I’m afraid I can’t recall the URL right now.
      Basically, the idea is that the series was more like PGSM, in that Usagi, Ami, and the rest all really had black/brown hair and that their colored hair was simply for the viewer’s benefit.

  12. We see a few examples of near-instant transformations, including Haruka’s de-transformation.

    I believe that all transformations take about the long, from half a second to one second. Long enough to see, not really long enough to react to or interrupt. Most of the visual effects are only for the benefit of the viewer at home.

    When there’s a long transformation that someone is watching happen and they’re reacting in surprise, that 30 seconds that plays out on-screen is actually just a few seconds in real time (most of it being their surprised reaction).

    We have evidence that some transformations happen quickly, and it makes no sense for them to take a full 30+ seconds while everyone just stands there and does nothing in the meantime. The only answer that makes sense imho is that transformations take less than a second in real time.

  13. I think there is also evidence of transformations being a lot faster in real life. Not 30-40 secs (for Sailor Moon) or 20 secs (for others), but maybe about 2-5 seconds? Not really “instant” but not as long as we see it.
    As I said, there are also evidences of transformations being instant – Mamoru transforming into Tuxedo Mask for example – in Classic he got 2 different “transformation sequences” – in episodes 15 and 34. They are of different lenght, with different animations – so what we really see? In other episodes we see him transforming instantly – when he rides on motorcycle to save Usagi in Slepping Beauty inspired episode or when he talks with Outers in S.
    Also Sailor Moon transforming into Princess Serenity or ChibiUsa transforming into Small Lady is pretty fast – like we see in R movie.
    Transformations’ lenght varies. Full Sailor Moon takes 30-40 seconds and inners and outers about 20. And we often see Usagi and inners transform together, so, logically, Usagi should transforming longer, but it takes them same amount of time. And Starlights. They have 2 variants of their transformations, different lenght, again.
    So, I think transformations are not completly instant, but also not as long as we see it. I think people see senshi’s shilouette emiting a lot of light? Or, in Usagi’s case – shilouette with ribbons? And it takes 5 seconds max.
    And I don’t really know why Usagi was blushing so hard, she is not really nude while transforming. 🙂

    • And I don’t really know why Usagi was blushing so hard, she is not really nude while transforming.

      To be fair, having your outline behind a shower curtain seen could also be pretty embarrassing, especially if you’re young and in front of someone you kinda-like-but-don’t-but-maybe-you-do.

      But yeah, you’re right!

  14. Oh, and why they are not attacked during transformations? Usually they DON’T transform in public or in front of enemy and when they do, like you said, enemy is shocked, don’t know what’s going on.

  15. As for not being attacked when transforming: At the end of the first manga arc, the four senshi specifically state they will use their strongest power, their power of transformation, to revive Sailor Moon. I figure the transformation produces so much energy, light, and power, an enemy simply wouldn’t be able to react. Perhaps every time the girls shout out their transformation phrases when assisting Sailor Moon (against Beryl, Sailor Moon R movie), they’re actually calling on their power of transformation.

  16. I have always thought the transformations are instantaneous. During the 90s anime transformations, they often float in the air. Why would they be able to do that if they can’t do a similar stunt after the finished transformation?

    Furthermore, hazukashii isn’t always used for getting naked or similar stuff. My former hs students in Japan often got hazukashii when I just asked them to read something aloud or tell me an answer. Usagi was just hazukashii to change in front of Mamoru, for whom in top she had kind of mixed feelings. Most certainly not because she is afraid to show off her breasts or lady bits.

    And Berthiere is only surprised because Ami changed into a Sailor Senshi, not because she pieced together her uniform.

    • I don’t think the implication is that she’s naked and exposes all (though many have interpreted it this way — one such example is in a book titled “The Sailor Moon Generation” (link). It’s an interesting book and I exchanged a few emails with the author, but I think some of the analyses are off. Especially about the association of the concept of virginity and a “first transformation” in front of Mamoru.

      That said, I don’t believe she’s naked. But when your body is just covered by a prism effect, I think any person would find it embarrassing to be basically standing behind a shower curtain in front of a person you like. You’re not exposed to the world, but it’s more of yourself than you’d normally want to share.

      Otherwise, while I agree that the meaning of “hazukashii” is more nuanced in Japanese (after all, people even cite that as the reason they feel uncomfortable holding hands with a spouse in public), I don’t think there are any other viable explanations here, other than that she feels exposed on some level.

      As for Ami, what I was trying to explain there is that the flashes of light and length of the scene coincides with Ami’s transformation.

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