As a translator, one of the most difficult issues to deal with is that of trying to figure out what an ambiguous word means when you don’t have enough context. This issue becomes infinitely harder when you’re working within a fantasy setting and there quite simply isn’t any further information for you to look up.
The debate surrounding Kinmokusei is one such problem. In Japanese, it could just as easily be either a planet or star (but thankfully not both).1 But depending on which one it is, that kind of changes our perception of where the Starlights come from.
Today, we’re going to see if we can try to unravel this mystery. Get suited up, it’s gonna be a rocky flight!
Long-time readers may recall that I’ve actually already touched on this issue in the past. But since that was a quick discussion of the issue from the perspective of the difficulties of translating the world of Sailor Moon, I thought it’d be worthwhile to take another look.
Oh, and also my answer is different this time around. Kinda. But not really. Anyway, you’ll just need to keep on reading for this to make any sense.
First off, a little background:
What makes this issue so complicated is that Japanese tends to slap the Japanese character for star (星; hoshi/sei) onto the names of celestial bodies.2 Examples include:
- 水星 (suisei; Mercury), 金星 (kinsei; Venus), 火星 (kasei; Mars)
- ハレー彗星 (haree suisei; Halley’s Comet)
- 中性子星 (chuuseishisei; neutron star)
- 赤星 (akahoshi; traditional Japanese name for Antares)
- 青星 (aoboshi; traditional Japanese name for Sirius)
- 星 (hoshi; the “Planet” in Final Fantasy VII)
While this may seem like a jolly-jack-splendid3 idea in Japanese, it makes things absurdly complicated in English translations. The Final Fantasy VII example in particular is good, because it shows how a translator could very easily mistake what’s being discussed if they didn’t have the proper context. Even a native Japanese speaker wouldn’t necessarily know what a fictional name is supposed to refer to without additional information.
And that’s where Kinmokusei (キンモク星) comes in! The name is a clever word pun that can be read as either “planet/star Kinmoku” while also serving as a a homophone for kinmokusei (金木犀 or キンモクセイ), otherwise known as the flower osmanthus fragrans.4
So for that reason alone, even in English I would probably translate the name as Planet/Star Kinmokusei in order to keep the flower connection. But that’s neither here nor there.
As fascinating as that may be, the question we’re here to answer is whether it’s a planet or a star. And the simple answer is…
… it’s both.
Which is, I’m sure you’d agree, the worst possible cop-out answer imaginable. But before you leave in anger and disgust, hear me out!
Strictly speaking, there actually is no Kinmokusei in the anime, since the home of Kakyuu and the Starlights was never referred to by name. If we were to assume that they’re from the same place — Kinmokusei — in the manga and the anime, then we should be able to affirmatively say that it’s a planet.
Why? Well, because the anime shows the Starlights’ home world, and it happens to be a planet.
As much as I’d love to call it a day and say we’ve wrapped up this mystery, the manga throws a wrench into that plan.
When Sailor Kakyuu makes her appearance in the manga, she introduces herself as:
Or in English (literally):
You will now be facing against me, Sailor Kakyuu, soldier of the Kinmoku Star!
And that pretty much removes any and all uncertainty about what Kinmokusei is in the manga, since she even uses the English word “star” (スター; sutaa). Since Kakyuu also refers to it as “Kinmoku Star,” that also clears up the debate of the proper name in English (Kinmoku rather than Kinmokusei).
How do we deal with this discrepancy? Well, the easiest and simplest answer is simply that the anime and manga were inconsistent. I mean, we’re talking about the season where the Starlights went from pretending to being men to literally transforming from men into women. And don’t make me talk about the “who the heck is ChibiChibi” insanity.
The other option would be to say that both the anime and the manga are canon, in a way.
As I mentioned above, the planet in the anime goes unnamed, which makes it entirely possible that it isn’t Kinmoku, but is rather the planet that Kakyuu and the Starlights live on. After all, Neo Queen Serenity and the Sailor Soldiers all live on Earth in the time of Crystal Tokyo, and yet Usagi/Serenity still technically possesses the Moon sailor crystal. So living on your own celestial body is obviously not a requirement. This is also why the Sailor Kakyuu being from Kinmoku issue fans often discuss doesn’t bother me.
So going back to the question we posed at the very beginning, what is Kinmokusei? Though everything I know about Sailor Moon seems to imply that it should be a planet, the fact of the matter is that it is most definitely a star. The name Kinmokusei is a manga-only invention, and the manga states it’s a star. To be fair, this also ties in better with the Starlights name.
What’s your take on the whole situation? Did Kakyuu and the Starlights actually live on the star, or did they live on some other planet (or even space castle, like the Outer Senshi had)? It’s definitely an interesting issue, and I really have no good answers!