One of the most identifiable of Usagi’s character traits – if not the most identifiable – is her signature hair style. It’s what earned her Mamoru’s teasing nickname お団子頭 (odango atama; or “meatball head” in the DiC dub) and led to multiple important elements in the series, from her hair decorations to ChibiUsa’s rabbit-inspired modified hairstyle. But what was the inspiration behind giving her that hairstyle in the first place and was there any other precedent for it before Usagi came into the picture? There’s surprisingly more to it than you’d imagine!
Before we get started, we need to break down the elements of Usagi’s hair into its two main components, which are often mistaken as one related hairstyle: the odango and the twin tails. Both of these hair styles are prevalent in Japanese anime and manga (though odango not so much in real life, it’s definitely not unseen or unheard of). I’ll explain the details of both as we go, but I apologize for just throwing terminology and foreign words left and right.
The odango – or, the balls/tufts of hair on the top of Usagi’s head – actually come from a hair style that Ms. Takeuchi herself used to wear back in her university days.1 In Ms. Takeuchi’s own words:
“You see, [the reason for Usagi having the odango hair style] is because Princess Naoko (the author) used to often wear that odango hair style.”
Back in university before the manga was in print, I used to leave my house like this.
It’s a Chinese style!
I tied it back with a rubber band and randomly twisted it up together.
So the simple answer is that the inspiration for Usagi’s hairstyle comes from how Ms. Takeuchi used to do up her own hair in university. But as we’ve come to learn, the simple answer isn’t always all there is to the story. Namely, you’ll notice that she mentions that it was a “Chinese style” that she was imitating. In fact, if you take a look at the portrayal of Chinese characters in Japanese anime, manga, and video games, you’ll run across this hairstyle quite often. Much like the well-known “Chinese dress,” it’s become something of a staple for Chinese female characters in Japanese media.
So, what is it about this hairstyle that makes it so intrinsically Chinese? Well, like the aforementioned Chinese dress and Chinese fortune cookies… nothing. That’s right, according to a Japanese blogger on Chinese otaku culture,2 the hairstyle actually isn’t particularly popular in China, though it is known among Chinese anime fans as 包子 (baozi; steamed bun)3 style. Even adorable Momoko, ChibiUsa’s friend from Sailor Moon R and beyond, sports both the Chinese-inspired clothing and hairstyle.
As for how this hair style got permanently fixed in the Japanese psyche as associated with China, Japanese Wikipedia suggests4 that it can be traced back to a popular hairstyle worn by the ruling Manchu during the Qing dynasty (1644–1912);5 namely the qitou hairstyle.6
Since Ms. Takeuchi herself took a liking to the hairstyle and since it also evoked the “bunny rabbit” image without being too out-of-the-norm, it seems like it would up being a good choice for Usagi’s hairstyle, even if the name itself is a translation nightmare, since food names rarely translate well between cultures!
Finally, that takes us to…
The Twin Tails
As you’ve probably noticed in the discussion above, the odango hairstyle actually only addresses the ball-shaped bunch of hair on top of the head (and can occur individually or in pairs). However, it doesn’t have anything to do with the twin tails part of her hairstyle, or what’s known in the west as “pigtails.”7 If it weren’t for her the dual locks of hair reaching nearly to the ground, we’d be missing out on a lot of what made Usagi unique. So where did this hairstyle get its name?
From here, of course. The villian/monster named Twin Tail8 from the 1971 Return of Ultraman TV series. Now how we got from this ugly beast to a popular hairstyle for elementary school girls through grown women is a bit of an interesting story.
The Japanese word twin tails is what is known as wasei eigo, or “Japanese-invented English” (i.e., English-sounding words created in Japan that don’t exist outside of Japan). Other examples include office lady,9 adult children,10 and NG,11 to name a few.
According to the blog of filmmaker Satoshi Imai,12 this name dates back to 1988 with the release of a doll named Meilin in the Jenny13 toyline. There was an independent fanclub, which Mr. Imai was a member of, that communicated over the then-budding internet and discussed the new dolls as they were released.
She came sporting the popular hairstyle then-known as a “two-tail” (as in, two ponytails) look, though Mr. Imai and other fans corresponding over BBS started to refer to it, in reference to an old childhood favorite show Return of Ultraman, as the twin-tail look, referring to the monster that had two tendrils/tails sticking out of its back-end, which it kept elevated in the air.
Though the background behind the term has slowly faded and the word is used normally in casual conversation and fashion magazines, just as “pigtails” is used in the west without much thought toward pigs, it is interesting to note that while a quick google search for “Sailor Moon” and “twin tails” in Japanese will yield nearly as many results as odango will, according to Mr. Imai14 her look was referred to by fans back in the 1990s purely as the odango style and wasn’t yet associated with the twin tail look – a fashion that picked up later on.
And there you have it, for more than you ever thought you could want or need to know about where Usagi’s hairstyle came from, its roots (if you’ll pardon the pun), and how the understanding of it has changed over time. Now, if only someone would explain how ChibiUsa can get that perfect cone shape!
- See vol. 3, p. 236 of the shinsouban re-release of the manga ↩
- See Japanese and Chinese Culture Exchange Blog ↩
- See Baozi (Wikipedia) ↩
- See Ryouhatou (Wikipedia) ↩
- See the Qing Dynasty (Wikipedia) ↩
- See Manchu Hairstyles ↩
- See Pigtail (Wikipedia) ↩
- See Twin Tail ↩
- A woman working a white collar job, generally administrative or secretarial ↩
- An adult who grew up with alcoholic parents. ↩
- = “no good,” meaning that something failed or cannot/should not be done ↩
- See Satoshi Imagi’s blog ↩
- See Jenny (Wikipedia) ↩
- See February 3, 2015 Tweet from Mr. Imai ↩