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!
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:
- They transform instantly and the whole 34-40 second animation sequence is purely for the viewer’s benefit;1
- They are teleported elsewhere to a prism… zone and perform their transformation there; or
- 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.
Why? Glad you asked!
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.”
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:
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
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.
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.
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!
- And also to take up more time, reuse pre-baked animation, and save on animation costs. But let’s not be too negative here. ↩
- See the review for episode 34, comment 21, p. 46 of the Nakayoshi Anime Album Volume 2 ↩
- See comment 25, p. 47 of the same ↩
- Which is a sentence I never expected myself to have to write ↩