Naru Osaka is one of those secondary characters that is incredibly hard to pin down. At first glance she’s just one of many background characters – like Ms. Haruna Sakurada, Usagi’s family, and many other members of the supporting case – but when you actually take time to look at the amount of work put into developing her character, you realize that quite a bit more work was put into her background than many others. So what do we actually know about Usagi’s best friend?
In addition to being the go-to victim for the various Youma, Cardians, and other monsters of the day, Naru is unique in that she’s the only non-Sailor Soldier to have her own birthday – January 1. This was considered to be such a significant point that at one time, early Sailor Moon fans considered Naru to be the next Sailor Soldier to be unveiled, possibly a then-unannounced Sailor Saturn.1
While it may seem ridiculous now to think that Nephrite’s one-time lover could be the latest Sailor Soldier to join the team, at the time the idea wasn’t outside the realm of possibility.
Up until then, the Sailor Soldiers were slowly joining the team in a bit of a random fashion – Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and then Venus – so it wasn’t necessary obvious to fans in the beginning how many members there would ultimately be in the Sailor Team, nor in what order they would join.
By the end of the first season and moving into the Black Moon Arc / Sailor Moon R, Sailor Saturn would be the next logical choice. But what is it about Naru that would make her the likely candidate? Well, much like Hotaru who would come much later, Naru’s birthday also coincides with the Capricorn star sign, and thus the planet Saturn.2 There are other interesting fan theories regarding an early debut of a different Sailor Saturn than the one we ultimately ended up with, but that’s a story I’ll have to save for another time.
Putting aside for now Naru’s birthday and the possibility that she might have at one time been a candidate Sailor Soldier, there’s one other point about her that lends itself to suggesting that Ms. Osaka was supposed to be a more integral character: that’d be her name.
Okay, so it’s not too surprising that we’d go back to analyzing a character’s name in the Sailor Moon universe, but the fact that Naru never actually developed into something deeper – no offense – actually makes the analysis of her name all the more interesting.
The Osaka part of her name is the least interesting of the two and, as far as I can tell, is just a way to tie in the “Osa-P” reference for her mother’s shop while allowing Ms. Takeuchi to get in an in-joke at her editor Fumio “Osa-P / Osabu” Osano. But her first name is where it gets interesting.
Naru’s name doesn’t have any kanji associated with it, so it would be written simply as なる in Japanese. While you could try to match it to various kanji to give the name some meaning, none of them seem to really fit her character or make sense.3 But what if you read her name backwards? なる (na-ru) becomes るな (ru-na)… or, luna. Writing names backwards is a pretty common way of generating name puns in Japanese, though it’s much harder to see in English. The most popular example would probably be the オリマー (or-ri-ma; Olimar) / マリオ (ma-ri-o; Mario) connection in Nintendo’s Pikmin.4
Unfortunately, we can’t really say beyond a shadow of a doubt what Ms. Takeuchi and the anime staff had planned for Naru, but as one of the earliest characters developed for the series and with more background than many others supplemental cast, it certainly seems like she may have been intended to be more involved in Usagi’s misadventures than actually ended up happening.
As for whether the series would have been better or worse off that way, I’m not really sure. I think Naru’s character developed over time to be what we know her as today, so it’s hard to imagine her as anything other than Usagi’s friend and a supporter. Even if she wasn’t ever intended to be a Sailor Soldier, I’d still love to have seen her as someone a little more intimately tied to the plot! I guess we may never know, though…