Names are something I’ve talked about at length in this blog, from those of the main cast down to the lowly monsters of the day, and odds are good that this is something I will continue to talk about for a long time to come.
Today, we’ll be taking a look into the some possible inspirations behind the names of our favorite Outer Soldiers. Why don’t you come along for the ride?
Right off the bat, I’m going to preface that this is just a theory of my own devising, and there’s no real hard data to back this up. Then again, there’s not a lot of facts out there to support how the characters got their names, so we generally just have to make do with what we can get, right?
Now, what I’ve always found interesting about the three talisman-wielding Outer Soldiers1 is that their names really don’t fit in with the naming system Ms. Takeuchi had so kindly prepared for the rest of the Sailor Soldiers.
As a brief refresher, I’m sure you all already know that Usagi’s last name includes the kanji for Moon (月; tsuki), while Ami, Rei, and Makoto’s last names include the kanji for water (水; mizu), fire (火; hi), and wood (木; ki) respectively – which are the same kanji used in their representative planets, Mercury (水星; suisei), Mars (火星; kasei), and Jupiter (木星; mokusei).2 And Minako? Well, she’s a unique exception.
Now, what about Haruka, Michiru, and Setsuna? Well, to some extent, they do follow a similar pattern with the Inner Soldiers insofar as that their names use the same kanji as their planets: Uranus (天王星; ten’nousei), Neptune (海王星; kaiousei), and Pluto (冥王星; meiou).3 But unlike their Inner system cohorts, their names lack the same kind of wordplay that Ms. Takeuchi is famous for. Unless she really wanted Setsuna’s last name to literally mean ‘Hades.’4
So what do you do when you don’t find the answer you’re looking for in the obvious place? Look at the less obvious place, of course! And that brought me to ask the question: do their first names have any special meaning?
It’s not entirely without precedence, either, as the series progressed. I mean, Hotaru is named after the Japanese word for firefly,5 because fireflies are often used as a metaphor for the supernatural, or even the souls of the dead.6
I have two theories for what their names could mean, actually, but we’ll start with the simplest.
In Japanese, はるか (遥か; haruka) means ‘far off’ or ‘distant.’7 The first character in her last name, 天 (ten; ama; ame), can mean anything from heavens to sky.8 遥かな天, in that case, could be in reference to the far off, distant skies.
Possibly of note – or possibly not! – is that there was a semi-famous song released in 1991 which contains the lyrics about a bird flying off to the distant reaches of the sky.9
Up next, Michiru! Her name is probably the simplest for us to guess. Kanji-wise, it’s pretty much a sure bet that her name would be 満ちる (michiru), meaning to be ‘full.’10 Though you wouldn’t say that the ocean is itself full, you could say that the ocean is full of something. Or, more naturally, that the tide is full (high) – 潮が満ちる (shio ga michiru).
Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about Setsuna. I’m not the Sailor Moon anime, after all!
Her name comes from 刹那 (setsuna), which means to be ‘momentary’ or ‘ephemeral.’11 The kanji used in her last name, 冥 (kurai) is an alternate kanji used for 暗 (kura), meaning ‘darkness.’12 So, basically, ephemeral/fleeting darkness.
Now that’d be a cool name for a punk rock band.
Referential to Usagi
Now, this theory is probably the less likely of the two in my opinion, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point it out.
Basically, all of their names can be easily applied to the word ‘moon’ and be equally meaningful:
- 遥かな月 (haruka na tsuki) – the distant moon
- 満ちた月 (michita tsuki) – the waxing moon
- 刹那的な月 (setsunateki na tsuki) – the ephemeral moon
If I were to break out a poetic license, I personally like this second interpretation much better, since it further affirms the connection between the Outer Soldiers and their Moon Princess… but seeing as their names make equally – if not more – sense when paired up with their own last names I think it’s too much of a long shot.
Of course, both of these theories could be totally wrong! But I’d love to hear which one you think holds more water, or if you have any idea of your own.
As for the proper way to write their last names (Tenoh, Tenou, Ten’ou, Ten’oh, Ten’o), I’ll leave that discussion for another time, though I will say right now that there is no right answer, and the Japanese government’s answer is something I’m pretty sure every fan would hate. But for what it’s worth, I prefer the spellings with an ‘h’!
- Sorry Hotaru fans! I’ve already talked about her, so I didn’t want to retread old ground here! ↩
- See 水星 (Jisho.org), 火星 (Jisho.org), and 木星 (Jisho.org) ↩
- See 天王星 (Jisho.org), 海王星 (Jisho.org), and 冥王星 (Jisho.org) ↩
- See 冥王 (Jisho.org) ↩
- See 蛍 (Jisho.org) ↩
- See The Light of the Firefly: What is its Role in Japanese Culture? ↩
- See 遥か (Jisho.org) ↩
- See 天 (Jisho.org) ↩
- See 旅立ちの日に ↩
- See 満ちる (Jisho.org) ↩
- See 刹那的 (Jisho.org) ↩
- See 冥い (Jisho.org) ↩
24 thoughts on “Do Haruka, Michiru, and Setsuna’s Names Refer Back to Usagi?”
What if, instead of both wrong, if they’re both right? 😮 We know how intricate the backgrounds of the characters are. It’s entirely possible that the moon connection may have been placed in there as an added layer to the mix.
That would definitely be interesting it were actually both! I feel like that’s a bit of a long shot – mostly because I’m not sure the Moon connection makes sense, even if I can probably justify it with enough explanations. The main reason why is because almost none of the other characters’ names are every in reference to anything outside of their own personalities or elements. Having it tie back into someone else would be a bit odd.
THAT SAID! You could probably argue that Mamoru’s name is tied back to Usagi. I.e., Mamoru = “protect,” and Mamoru’s job is to protect Usagi. But I think that’s kind of a stretch too.
Is it that? That was my first impression when I heard of the name’s meaning. Furthermore, Mamoru was an old-fashioned name already back then, something grandpa would have as a first name. There is even a grandpa Mamoru in my extended Japanese family. Why on earth would she choose such an out of fashion name over Kosuke or Keiji if she didn’t want to insert the meaning of protection. Of whom? Who else is there but the moon princess Usagi. And Ms. Takeuchi has stated that Mamoru stands for her ideal man. So it can’t just be a general protector of Earth thingie.
As with all anecdotal stories, there’s no easy answer. There’s a guy in his 20s named Mamoru in my company right now, and I’ve known a few throughout my time in Japan — some are old men, but some are young and in their 20s.
If they are that young, they could really have got their name because of Sailor Moon or some other anime with similar name puns. I even read once that SM added popularity to the then rather old-fashioned name.
Furthermore, Mamoru is written with 衛 instead of the normal 守. That’s definitely a pun on 衛星, the star or planet that protects. Okay, I know that it refers to the Moon or moons in general but, well, the settings of the anime are the opposite.
Btw. I actually think one should stop thinking in terms of beautiful translations as you could do it for the inner guardians. It’s basically just a rare surname with a real or realish sounding first name.
As Tenou would be the sky king, she just choose a regular name that evokes fitting images. Haruka can be written in many different ways. I even had a 悠 as a student. Live a life in dignity wouldn’t be such a bad description for dear Uranus, either.
Ditto Michiru. It’s a word associated with the tides and that’s why the ocean, Neptune’s power source, but it doesn’t exactly mean full.
Setsuna is no name, and hardly a name any Japanese sane in their mind would give their daughter as it sounds too much like setsunai. But it’s a fraction and thus also period in time length and sounds a bit like a name because of the -na. So it’s perfect for the guardian of time, especially as her background story is so setsunai. But it does not infer some adverbial expressions.
Considering Uranus (or to be precise Ouranos) was the God of the sky/heavens, Haruka’s fits quite well.
Odd thing is, her planet uses the Greek name rather then its Roman counterpart, which would be Caelus.
You know, I never realized that Uranus was the Greek name. Thanks for pointing that out! I just read up on the history of it and why the Greek name was chosen, and it’s pretty interesting.
But I’ve always loved astronomy, ever since I was a kid. I kind of wonder if that partially influenced my love for this series.
Another interesting fact I’ve just recalled, Uranus had an entirely different name when it was first discovered. And it actually stuck for quite a while.
So amusingly we could have almost had a Sailor George.
I wonder what that would have done to Neptune and Pluto. Once the pattern was broken, it seems entirely possible that they would have just stopped following it for the other planets as well.
Interesting to think where this could have gone! And it also would have affected the Japanese names, since they’re also translations from the Greco-Roman gods.
I wonder what Sailor George’s element would’ve been…
I think both theories make sense. I definitely know the first idea holds true at least in Chinese. Haruka’s name/character means “far/distant” and usually is part of a two character phrase that means “far away”. However, if you look it up even the character by itself(the first character in the name that is also a Chinese character can mean far). Which makes sense like you said meaning distant skies since she is the soldier of the skies even though I also associtate her with the earth as well because of the attack “world shaking”. Setsuna which means “in a moment” or “momentary” as you said. I think they actually changed that name for sailor stars but I haven’t watched it in a while so I don’t remember. I just remember they did not use the actual name setsuna which in Chinese would also mean “momentary” in sailor stars. Michiru’s Chinese character means full. I think there is a Chinese saying about the sea being full, but I don’t remember how exactly it is said. Their last name/sur name mean sky king, sea king, dark/underworld king or something to that effect.
This just reminds me that they really missed the opportunity to give the outer soldiers episodes that focused on them. I wish they gave the outers some equal focus. In season S, even though they were new characters, we did not get enough focus on them certainly not Pluto/Setsuna or Saturn/Hotaru. Even Uranus/Haruka or Neptune/Michiru sometimes they would barely appear.
Wow, thanks for all the info on the Chinese series! Out of curiosity, I sometimes browse through Chinese wiki pages or fansites about Sailor Moon just to see what information I can find about the characters, but obviously I’m very limited in what I’m able to pick up. From studying Japanese I can read kanji okay and sometimes understand the general meaning of a Chinese sentence, but that’s pretty limited.
If I recall correctly, the character used for Rei’s name changed multiple times across Chinese versions (Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Mainland China?).
As for the Outers kind of being deprived of the limelight – I totally agree. There were many episodes where it felt like it Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune were the new characters, and not Haruka and Michiru.
That problem possibly arose from wanting to play up the more mysterious/badass aspect of their characters.
I know this is probably not a popular opinion. But the biggest issue I always had with Haruka and Michiru, in particular. Was how seemingly ‘perfect’ they were continuously made out to be. As in, there was nothing they weren’t brilliant at.
They were this close to being full blown Mary Sues at times.
I also never cared much for how Naoko essentially had them replace the Inners in the Infinity Arc. Reducing them to borderline damsels, just so they could look better. Crystal was even worse about that…
THANK YOU! Yes, this.
While I love Haruka and Michiru’s characters in theory and I think that they had some really good and noteworthy character traits in addition to things to add to the plot, dear god, there was nothing they couldn’t do. Rich? Beautiful? Smart? Talented? All of the above. I don’t have any qualms with them having their own talents to add to the story or to make them unique, but basically they could do anything the inner senshi could do, and more.
They always felt like really great ideas, but had a really flawed execution.
That said, though, I still like Haruka and Michiru as characters insofar that the dynamic of having two “enemy” Sailor Soldiers fighting against the Sailor Team was a really awesome story arc.
On the flip side – and I know that people will hate me for this – I don’t like Haruka and Michiru’s relationship. Haruka openly flirts with other women right in front of Michiru, and apparently we’re all supposed to think that’s okay. If Mamoru were to flirt with Minako, call her a sweet nickname, and even kiss her… how well would that go?
I know the story was written in a different time, but the fact that Michiru always put up with infidelity bothered me. It’s not ‘cute flirting,’ it’s being unfaithful.
Aaaaand, queue people lining up to kill me.
It always bothered me, that after that infamous kiss between Haruka and Usagi (not a good way to endear yourself), neither Mamoru or Michiru raised any issue at all about it. And just brushed it under the carpet.
Right? It seems so weird that everyone was totally cool with this. Then again, something I see fans bring up once in awhile is the fact that there are so many episodes where Usagi is jealous and goes on about Mamoru even being around other women (… or men?), but throughout the Sailor Moon series, I don’t think Mamoru ever shows any jealousy about Usagi and her wandering eye. He’s older and more mature, sure… but she is clearly interested in some guys that show up (and Haruka, of course).
Personally? I think it’s because it’s just so hard to do a “jealous boyfriend” scene without moving over into “creepy controlling boyfriend” territory. That line in the sand is so easy to cross that it’s not worth trying to write the scene.
But that’s just my take!
It just seems to be something of a cliche in Japanese media. Girls can be as flirty as they like, and it’s all harmless fun. But when a boy does it, he’s branded unfaithful or a pervert.
However for me, the true low point when it came to Usagi, is her behavior towards Chibi-Usa (of all people) in the Black Moon arc. Seriously, her clinginess, jealously, and over the top paranoia around Mamoru there was just plain ridiculous. Really turned me off the character in the manga…
Treating ChibiUsa as a rival for Mamoru’s affections was absolutely absurd — totally agree on that. But honestly, I feel like the Black Moon arc was pretty weak in terms of character development. Too much time spent on the pointless breakup, too little time spent on other characters, and Usagi and ChibiUsa spend half the season just yelling at each other.
Though, oddly enough, I find that Sailor Moon R is often listed by many as their favorite season.
To each their own!
I’m glad I’m not the only one who was a little confused by the whole Haruka/Michiru fidelity thing. Let’s also not forget that Michiru had her moments as well with Mamoru (and in the anime, a brief moment with Seiya).
You know, it’s never really SAID that the two are in an official, committed relationship, is it? I wondered if maybe they had an open relationship, OR, that there is mutual attraction, but they never made it official because of their duties as senshi? The only time I remember anything “official” is when some classmates were gossipping at them dating in the manga. Or maybe a time in Stars when Usagi commented on them briefly. I know that’s a big maybe, though.
And totally agree on how lame it was for Usagi to be super jealous of Chibi Usa as a romantic rival. I can understand not liking that Mamoru gave her a lot of attention, but to make it pervy was just weird.
Hmm, to be fair, I think it was never actually directly stated in black and white and Haruka and Michiru are dating (hence there’s been so much “controversy” over the past 20 years from fans who don’t want to admit it), but I think it’s pretty much a given. Add to that how the Death Busters arc was handled in Sailor Moon Crystal, and I think it’s safe to consider them an official couple.
The strongest theory I’ve heard is that Haruka and Michiru actually weren’t dating at the beginning of Sailor Moon S, but later got into a relationship as they worked together and got to know each other better. They’re generally pretty open about how they feel toward each other, so this theory helps explain away why Haruka and Michiru denied that they were dating when Usagi asked – maybe they weren’t dating at that time.
OMG YES ARE YOU ME???
Haruka and Michiru did actually kiss in one of the musicals. Can’t remember which one. But I have seen a clip, and I think the performers actually improvised it there and then.
There was some moments of innuendo going on between them in Stars. And Haruka blushes at a suggestive comment by Michiru in the SuperS movie.
But Japanese media does have an odd attitude when it comes to homosexuality.
They’re quite prepared to throw lots of yuri/yaoi bait into their work for fetish purposes. But never (to my knowledge) ever pursue it in a serious manner. And tend to either be ‘ew’ towards it, or treat it like a joke. Not sure if you’re familiar with ‘Hard Gay’.
Yeah, unfortunately Japan isn’t quite as open toward homosexuality and alternative lifestyles as people would like to believe. Sure, it’s okay in some anime and manga – but let’s be real, most of that stuff is BL / fujoshi fan service. Not to say that I think it shouldn’t be there, since I think representation is very important for all groups, but Japanese media doesn’t really make much of a realistic attempt to actually expose people to realistic and healthy homosexual relationships.
Outside of anime and manga? Yeah, it’s still sadly very much a joke when it comes up on TV. Not to say that American TV is much better, but Japan definitely isn’t the haven that many fans think.
Actually, Minako’s name makes sense pattern wise to me. She’s the soldier of love, Venus is generally attributed to love and beauty, her full name roughly means “beautiful child of love”, and Minako can sometimes be read as “Venus (Biinasu)” which would make it sometimes sound as if her name is “Venus of love”. So, minus the kanji, I’d say her name fits the naming pattern XD