What Is Sailor Saturn’s Attack – Death Reborn / Ribbon Revolution?

Death R_b__n Revolution!

Death R_b__n Revolution!

It never fails to amaze me just how popular Sailor Saturn is within the Sailor Moon universe despite how little “screen time” she gets in both the anime and the manga. While things played out for her a little better in book form, she is sadly one of the only members of the Sailor Team to have never make it into one of the movies. Poor girl.

And yet even with all that popularity and fan attention, we still find ourselves debating what should be the simplest of questions: what is the name of her ultimate attack, and what does it even mean?

Today we’re going to dissect Hotaru Tomoe’s one-and-done Infinity Arc attack, Death R_b__n Revolution, and settle this issue once and for all.1 If you’re a fan of the Mistress (9) of Death, you’ll want to stick around!

I mean, I DO see a lot of ribbons

I mean, I DO see a lot of ribbons

To be entirely honest, I had kind of thought that this whole argument had been put to rest decades ago, but a quick Google search tells me that this is quite apparently not the case.

  • “Death Reborn Revolution” = 8,720 hits
  • “Death Ribbon Revolution” = 5,060 hits

To be fair, some of these pages could very well be people discussing this very argument, making it not necessarily a clean comparison of which term is actually correct. It’s also worth noting that, before we go much further, both are actually correct… kinda. And by “both are correct,” I mean that Sailor Saturn actually uses each version of the attack, but in very different — and not necessarily canonical — ways.

Confused yet? Good! We’ll sort this all out in due time, don’t you worry.

But first off, I think it would be prudent for us to discuss where all the confusion actually comes from in the first place. Why don’t we know what Sailor Saturn’s attack is called? It’s not like we have this problem with any of the other Sailor Soldiers.2

Who doesn't love kanji wordplay?

Who doesn’t love kanji wordplay?

As Ms. Takeuchi was known to do as the series progressed, the Japanese name for the attack is rendered in both kanji and katakana, for meaning and pronunciation respectively. It’s written out in the manga as:

Kanji: 死世界変革 (shi sekai henkaku)
Katakana: デス・リボーン・レボリューション (desu ribōn reboryūshon)

The kanji, when broken down into its components, are: 死 = death;3 世界 = world;4 変革 = change, transformation, reformation, revolution.5 Basically you’ve got “death to the world and then create something new in its place.”

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I don’t know about about, but that sounds pretty close to Death Reborn Revolution. So where’s the confusion?

In katakana, the English word “ribbon” is written as リボン while “reborn” would be written as リボーン.6 You would think that this would be the nail in the coffin that we were looking for and we could just call it a day, but unfortunately it’s not quite that simple.

At least the translations weren't as bad as this Google translation!

At least the translations weren’t as bad as this Google translation!

You see, the original English manga translation to “grace” North American shores by TokyoPop rendered the attack in English as “Death Reborn Revolution.” Years later, once Kodansha had re-acquired the North American publishing rights and released their own translations, they rendered the attack as “Death Ribbon Revolution.”7 The Sailor Moon Crystal anime later went on to also use this translation.

While TokyoPop’s translations certainly suffered from a great deal of issues, ranging from totally rewritten dialogue to translations that totally missed the mark, Kodansha’s translation was not without fault and was also rife with errors. It’s a “six of one, half a dozen of the other” kind of issue for me when it comes to taking the English versions as an authoritative source.

I think what makes this further confusing to fans is the fact that Sailor Saturn is quite literally being surrounded by ribbons when she summons this attack, so it’s a pretty easy connection to make.

As often happens, Another Story just complicates things

As often happens, Another Story just complicates things

What’s more, Sailor Saturn’s attack in the Super Famicom RPG Sailor Moon Another Story is actually written in the strategy guide as デス・リボン・レボリューション (Death Ribbon Revolution) and depicts a ribbon attacking all enemies on screen, which doesn’t help matters. However, the attack is spelled correctly in the game itself.

Many fans will make the argument that Ms. Takeuchi was well aware of this word play and intentionally chose the word リボーン because of its reading as “reborn” and similarity to the word “ribbon.” I agree with and absolutely respect that view. In fact, I think it’s probably correct. Ms. Takeuchi is well known for her word play, and the vast majority of the Sailor Moon universe is built up around it.

Hotaru has some... strong opinions about this

Hotaru has some… strong opinions about this

So where does that leave us?

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Assuming that “reborn” was chosen for it’s proper meaning and that “ribbon” was just a happy coincidence in sound, I would argue that the correct translation here is to err on the side of the actual word that was used, even if that means that we do lose out on the ribbon pun.

After all, the ribbon connection is obvious in the art as it is, which is something that the reader (or viewer, in the case of Sailor Moon Crystal) would instantly pick up on. The true importance of this attack, however, is not that it shoots ribbons, but rather that it brings that which has died back to life to be born anew.

But that, of course, is only my opinion on the subject. What do you think? I imagine a lot of fans would probably side with the “official” translation used in the English adaptations done by Kodansha and in Sailor Moon Crystal, but I’d be interested in hearing what other people think about how word play should be best addressed in cases like this!


References:

  1. Until someone, possibly you, writes in the comments about how wrong I am.
  2. Well, unless you’re talking about Sailor Mercury’s Shabon Spray, but I digress; see Mark My Words: An Analysis of the Translator’s Impact on Media
  3. See 死 (Jisho.org)
  4. See 世界 (Jisho.org)
  5. See 変革 (Jisho.org)
  6. Though it’s worth noting that リボーン is far from a common loan word in Japanese, so it’s not something you’d run across in day-to-day life.
  7.  See Sailor Moon Crystal: Episode 38

25 thoughts on “What Is Sailor Saturn’s Attack – Death Reborn / Ribbon Revolution?

  1. I feel like it should be “Reborn” and leave the ribbon thing as a pun.
    I was against Kodansha’s translation (I am reading the second version now, I’ll see if they did better this time).
    Kodansha should most certainly not be taken as an authority.
    For example, “Sparkling Wide Pressure” was translated as “Spark Ring Wide Pressure”.
    Maybe it was initially a pun too, I don’t know. I mean, in the anime, it was a ring made of electric sparks.

    I am also skeptical of the “Ribbon” translation in Crystal as I feel like very little effort was made in the subs.

    • I’ve since learned that the Viz DVD/Blu-ray release of Sailor Moon Crystal apparently re-did the subtitles to “Death Reborn Revolution,” so I feel properly vindicated!

      • That’s good to hear. I own the bluray but haven’t opened it, so I assumed that they had left it as Toei had it in the initial run.

      • I just wondered how it got translated in the German version. It’s “Tod, verändere die bekannte Welt!” Death, change the world (everyone) knows!

        BTW. I had written the names of the original attacks above the German ones and wrote Death Rebirth Revolution.

        • I’m german and did not know this… (I’ld translate it to “Death, change the known world!”, tho…)
          So, Germans are once again not funny at all and don’t even attempt to play with ribbons? ._.

  2. Agree totally to your evaluation. Well, that is except for appendix 6. You don’t seem to have a daughter otherwise you wouldn’t have written that. Ribbons are something you run across in daily life quite often. At least as often, if not more if you’d live in Middle Europe.

          • When my dd was preschool and lower elementary school, she loved to talk about ribbons and adored them. But God forbid that I even dared to try to put one in her hair.

          • You don’t have to display the comment but I do wonder whether you’re aware that リボン also refers to a bow, not just ribbons themselves.

          • I always grew up calling Christmas bows (like you’d put on presents) as “ribbons” as well, so at least for me I’ve always seen the two as interchangeable even in English.

            Maybe it’s a local thing in English?
            Though on both EN and JP keyboards in Android, リボン and “ribbon” will show a familiar sailor-style bow emoji.

  3. “The true importance of this attack, however, is not that it shoots ribbons, but rather that it brings that which has died back to life to be born anew.”

    Bringing things back to life is Usagi’s job; Saturn basically clears the path for it (destroys the world so it is -possible- for it to be born anew). This is significant because Uranus & Co. misunderstood the point of her existence as a Soldier of Destruction.

    I also think the meaning of the phrase is tied to Saturn herself. She was supposed to die (in a fire four years ago), but was “reborn” (her father saved her by turning her into a cyborg), and because of that, the fate of the world changed (as Saturn allowed Pharaoh 90 to be sealed forever). Her “rebirth” is specifically brought up as an anomaly, but she plays a key part in the final battle anyway. Or you can take the “death reborn” part to mean Saturn – a senshi associated with death and the Grim Reaper imagery – reincarnating on Earth as Hotaru.

    • I grew up on the 90’s anime (I know aaaall the other jazz too, but for me that’s always gonna be my canon), so to me all the senshi have died at least twice and have been reborn/resurrected…

      But I wholeheartedly agree with the first two paragraphs.
      A term I find fitting to describe what Saturn does: to cauterize.
      The problem with her attack is, that she ‘blasts’ away everything, good and bad.

      In my personal head-canon Saturn’s power/energy – which seem to give her some sort of healing-powers, too – is something that spurs on life (being possibly ‘life’ itself? But more raw than Usagi’s hope and light (soul) version). But like water, if you add too much of it on a surface, everything will drown… but once it seeps away, the area will be great (/fertilized?) for new life to start right there, fresh and without baggage.

      Either way, like a good doctor she wouldn’t just snip-snap life out of existence without reason. Only when every other Senshi’s attempts (medicine?) fail, and the threat of the demon/shaddow-infection becoming too great and the inevitableness of it spreading to other planets/systems gets too real, she puts down her glaive. She’s the fail-safe.

      That’s my two cents… and for the ribbon/reborn thing… Well, ribbon does sound funny and is certainly more sensible than let’s say, a gentle uterus…
      But Death-Reborn-Revolution as like a kinda shortened version of “Life, Death and Rebirth” with the added implication of change (which imho is the most important factor of life, to not stagnate but grow and evolve) gives it a certain amount of depth, which I would expect from a Senshi that would give Thanos a run for his money…

    • If I ever mysteriously disappear someday, we can be fairly certain it’s because I either angered a very passionate Taiki fan, or that someone didn’t care for my stance on the Ribbon/Reborn issue.

      • One day I’m going to draw Taiki with bangs. She’d look so much better.
        Honestly, take the bangs off any of them and they look horrendous.

        The forehead isn’t my only issue with Taiki and the Starlights, though.

        • Bangs would be an improvement for Taiki, but it’s kinda like putting lipstick on a pig — it’s not gonna help a whole lot.

          Taiki’s looks really have little to do with why I hate the character so much, it’s just easy to pick on that giant forehead. It’s more about how cold, uncaring, an undeveloped Taiki is as a character.
          Sure, that’s a common character trope, but I don’t feel like Taiki ever truly redeems herself as a likable character.

  4. Thank you for writing this article! As always, thorough and well put together. I love Saturn!

      • Yeah, I completely understand you! Every time I think about the best Senshi, pretty much everyone ends up being my favorite. However, Saturn is definitely top 3 as well for me. Maybe Uranus surpasses her… as for the other spot, it changes every day lol

      • Poor Taiki!

        If I made a list off the top of my head I think it would be:

        Top 3 shuffle a bit…
        Moon
        Neptune
        Mercury
        Mars
        Venus
        Jupiter
        Uranus
        Saturn
        Pluto
        Cosmos
        Chibi-Usa
        Pallas
        Ceres
        Vesta
        Juno (worst hair)
        Kakyu
        Galaxia

        To be fair, I don’t hate any of them, I just really like some less than others.
        Star Fighter (meh)
        Star Healer (most rotten attitude)
        Star Maker (Worst design!)

  5. Well, I entered “デス・リボーン・レボリューション ” in Google Translate, and it still was translated as “Death Reborn Revolution”. However, when I pasted in “死世界変革 “, it was read as “death world change”. Weird, right? *shrugs*

  6. This article was great! That said, after reading the horrendous Google translation of the manga, from now on, every time Sailor Moon says “In the name of the moon, I’ll punish you”, I will forever say “Punishment on behalf of the month!”… and then proceed to die laughing.

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