Or, asked in a more direct way: why is Pharaoh 90 a “pharaoh” in the first place when there are otherwise no tangible connections to Egyptian mythology in the Sailor Moon‘s Infinity arc?
Well, I’m really glad you asked!
Today we’re going to take a deep dive into the real world history and religious references surrounding one of Sailor Moon‘s more perplexing villains to see if we can suss out at least something about the background behind Pharaoh 90, Mistress 9, and their home back in the Tau Star System.
If Sailor Moon minutia makes
you walk like an Egyptian your world turn, then today’s your lucky day!
This isn’t actually the first time that I’ve taken a deep dive into the origins of Mistress 9 and her master Pharaoh 90, actually. At least with respect to their names.
While Sailor Moon‘s Infinity arc is one of my favorites (due in no small part to finally having Hotaru join the cast), I’ll be one of the first to admit that the “big baddie” of the season felt more than a little shoe-horned into the plot. Kind of like a certain sorceress from the future who is overly concerned with time kompression.1
To be fair, most of the other Sailor Moon seasons weren’t a whole lot better. Queen Metalia was nothing more than a sinister voice that spoke to Queen Beryl up until the climactic final battle where the two combined into Super Beryl. The final Chaos reveal at the end of Sailor Stars wasn’t a whole lot better.
But be that as it may, one thing in particular has always bothered me about this Johnny-come-lately villain: why is he a Pharaoh when the story arc is otherwise mostly devoid of Egyptian references? If anything, Christianity is the prevailing theme, though I’ll readily admit that Cardinal 90 doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
Once I was committed to trying to answer this question, it was time to start researching.
And then give up researching. Then start again. Rinse and repeat as needed.
The biggest issue with trying to get to the root of certain Sailor Moon issues is making sure that you’re asking the right question in the first place. There’s paltry little information about Pharaoh 90 out there and he obviously isn’t based on any real world figures, so we need to step things back a bit. Like, for example, where he and Mistress 9 make their home, back in the Tau Star System.2
Though the series canon itself is mum on the matter, fans have long-since theorized that the “Tau Star System” in Sailor Moon is in reference to the real world (other-world?) Tau Ceti.3
For well over half a century, Tau Ceti has been a favorite go-to among sci-fi authors as a location for extra-solar lifeforms. Even Star Trek got in on the game with the infamous Kobayashi Maru calling the city of Amber on The city Amber on Tau Ceti IV home.4
As if that wasn’t enough, the system has long since been the subject of heavy scrutiny by astronomers in the hopes of finding signs of life.
What does this have to do with Pharaoh 90, I hear you ask?
Just hang on, we’re almost there.
Tau Ceti, like many other celestial bodies — and by extension, Sailor Moon characters — gets its name from Greek origins. The 19th letter in the Greek alphabet “tau,” to be specific.5 But of greater interest to us right now is the object known as the “tau cross,” or crux commissa, one of the four basic types of iconographic representations of the cross. As Wikipedia tells us:6
The Greek letter tau was used as a numeral for 300. The Epistle of Barnabas gives an allegorical interpretation of the number 318 (in Greek numerals τιη’) in the text of Book of Genesis 14:14 as intimating the crucifixion of Jesus by viewing the numerals ιη’ (18) as the initial letters of Ἰησοῦς, Iēsus, and the numeral τ’ (300) as a prefiguration of the cross…
It then continues on to explain:
Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215) gives the same interpretation of the number τιη’ (318), referring to the cross of Christ with the expression “the Lord’s sign”…
With all the Christian iconography in Sailor Moon‘s Infinity story arc (the Holy Grail, references to the savior and the messiah, etc.), I feel like we’re making some decent progress with this Tau angle. And, wouldn’t you know, the tau cross is no stranger in Egyptian culture as well… kind of.
I’m sure most of you are familiar with the ancient Egyptian hieroglyph known as an ankh — a symbol of life. But what many likely do not know is that early Christians in Egypt, known as the Coptic Egyptians, adapted the symbol of the ankh into the crux ansata, a variant of the Christian cross with a circular loop similar to the ankh’s oval one.7
And the base of this crux ansata, you ask? Well, aforementioned tau cross, of course.8
In summary, I think that we at least have a decent connection here leading Pharaoh 90 all the back the the prevailing themes of Christianity that permeated the Infinity arc.
Tau Ceti → tau → tau cross → crux ansata → ankh → Egyptian concept of eternal life → Pharaoh 90
Whether or not this is truly the correct answer or just one of many false roads the series sends us down is unfortunately anyone’s guess, but it’s an interesting intellectual exercise at the very least.
Personally, I do think that the Tau connection back to Christianity does hold up in explaining why Ms. Takeuchi chose Tau Ceti to be the home of Pharaoh 90, even if that’s where the references end. It fits in quite nicely with the rest of the narrative she set up.
But, as per usual, this is all just my opinion! What do you think about all of this? Do you have any other theory for where the pharaoh angle comes into the story? I’d love to hear it!