Why Are Sailor Saturn and Sailor Pluto’s Roles Reversed?

Just what's going on here, girls??

Just what’s going on here, girls??

Ms. Takeuchi’s near obsessive attention to detail is just one of the many things that make Sailor Moon such a great series. No matter how many times you watch or read through it, there’s always something new to discover.

And yet, despite her impressive ability to get even the tiniest details right on matters ranging from mythology to astronomy — and in a pre-Wikipedia world, no less!! — even Ms. Takeuchi messed up at some pretty crucial points.

… or did she?

Today we’re going to take a look at the ancient Moonie myth surrounding just what is going on with the Great Pluto and Saturn Mix-up. I hope you like Greco-Roman history, because things are about to get mythical!

Aww, we'd never want you to change, Hotaru!

Aww, we’d never want you to change, Hotaru!

While I’m sure many of you are already chomping at the bit, waiting to get down to the meat of this important matter, allow me a moment to provide some of your fellow readers who may not be totally up to date on Sailor Moon drama with what the whole Pluto/Saturn mix-up is all about.

The whole problem with Pluto and Saturn basically boils down to the fact that most of the Sailor Soldiers are, at least to some degree, themed after the Greco-Roman gods that their respective planets are named after.

  • Minako is the self-proclaimed goddess of love, much like her namesake1
  • Makoto is big, powerful, and even throws lighting — just like Jupiter!2
  • Haruka and Michiru have power over the sky and the sea respectively, not much unlike the gods Uranus and Neptune3

Not only do Setsuna and Hotaru buck this trend, they actually are reversed. And that’s what has caused so much confusion over the years.

They've both got staffs, too!

They’ve both got staffs, too!

In contrast with our favorite Sailor Soldier of space and time, the Greek god Pluto — otherwise known as Hades — was known as the ruler of the underworld.4 Or, you know, death/the afterlife.

Where have I heard about a Senshi like that before? Oh, right! Sailor Moon‘s galactic reset button!

Hotaru’s planetary inspiration, Saturn, is named after the Roman god of the same name.5 While Saturn is essentially an anthropomorphic representation of time.

Now that we’ve got all the background out of the way, I’m sure you can see the conundrum we’re facing here.

Over the years, many fans have taken a crack at this issue and made some compelling arguments for how Ms. Takeuchi actually got it right, and that the god reversal issue is only surface deep.67

The general crux of the argument is as follows:

Setsuna is not technically the incarnation of Pluto, but rather identifies herself in the manga as the daughter of Chronos — the Greek god of Time.8 In the manga, she even uses an attack known as Chronos Typhoon, further strengthening her legitimacy as the Sailor Soldier of time.

Read also:  What Shojo Anime Was Predicted to Be the Next Sailor Moon?

Back in Hotaru’s camp, well, it turns out that a lot of historians much smarter than me are still not entirely convinced who Saturn’s Greek counterpart is: the aforementioned Chronos, or Cronus, an entirely different Greek god who is considered to be the patron of the harvest.9 Cronus is often depicted with a sickle, Hotaru has a glaive. One reaps crops, the other reaps souls. Practically the same thing!

I... suppose that makes sense?

I… suppose that makes sense?

While I think that these explanations make for compelling reads, to me they read more like solutions that have been shoehorned in to explain the unexplainable.10

Rather than being an explanation, Setsuna’s multiple connections to Chronos actually just compound the problem. It does nothing to explain away the Pluto/underworld/death connection and simply reinforces her ties with time, which is something we never doubted to begin with.

While it is true that Sailor Pluto’s attacks often reference elements of the underworld — Dead Scream and Dark Dome Close, specifically — that still seems pretty minor when you consider the major thematic elements of her character.

Not exactly what I'd call a Silence Scythe...

Not exactly what I’d call a Silence Scythe…

Things aren’t much better for Saturn, either. While the Cronus explanation is certainly interesting, it doesn’t help explain Hotaru’s character at all. Sailor Saturn has no attacks, abilities, or character elements that reference a harvest.

Many people make the argument that the Silence Glaive is a stand-in for a scythe, but not only is that connection loose at best, but it ignores the fact that Ms. Takeuchi originally envisioned Sailor Saturn with a decorative wooden staff.11

So now that I’ve finished discussing why I think everyone else is wrong, I should probably explain what I think is going on. Was Ms. Takeuchi crazy, or did she know a lot more about mythology than we’re giving her credit for?

Personally, as boring of an answer as this is, I think it all boils down to convenience.

You have to remember that Sailor Moon was a constant work in progress, and that pretty much every story arc was written as if it were the last. I highly doubt she knew that the series would be renewed until she was already well into her story. So when she started the Black Moon arc, she had no way of knowing that there would ever be a Sailor Saturn, or any of the dozens of other Sailor Soldiers for that matter.

My best guess is that when Ms. Takeuchi decided that she wanted to tell a story about time travel and needed to come up with a new Sailor Soldier, she opted to go with Pluto instead of Saturn for both practical and thematic reasons.

Practically speaking, if she had created a Sailor Saturn this early in the story, it would lead fans to the natural conclusion that more Sailor Senshi were coming up next. By making her the Soldier of literally the furthest planet12 in the Solar System, it neatly avoids that problem.

Sailor Pluto* (*not actually a planetary senshi)

Sailor Pluto* (*not actually a planetary senshi)

Thematically, it also simply made sense to have the sixth Sailor Soldier be from Pluto. As I just mentioned, it was the planet13 furthest away from the sun, which added to the character’s sense of isolation and loneliness. It also put her out closest the Black Moon, who made their home on Nemesis, a theoretical “rogue star” at the outskirts of the Solar System that could possibly be to blame for all of the Earth’s major catastrophes.14

Read also:  How Many Sailor Plutos Are There in Sailor Moon?

Once Sailor Moon was renewed for the Infinity arc and Ms. Takeuchi was charged with creating a Sailor Soldier to serve as Sailor Moon’s counterpoint in the struggle of life vs. death, I imagine she just made the obvious choice of pairing off Uranus and Neptune and then going with what was left — Saturn.

Much like Santa Claus, the Sailor Senshi stop existing if you don't believe in them

Much like Santa Claus, the Sailor Senshi stop existing if you don’t believe in them

So, where does this all leave us?

Well, as much as I’d love to reach some sort of dramatic conclusion on the Pluto/Saturn debacle, I honestly just think it’s a case where Ms. Takeuchi chose storytelling over references and internal consistency. She was writing the story as she went, and it made the most sense to tell a time traveling story with a Senshi from Pluto at that time. As the story continued, she already used Pluto and Saturn was her next best choice.

That’s not to imply that she’s infallible, of course. But for all of the intense research Ms. Takeuchi was known for, it’s incredibly hard to believe that she’d make such a rookie mistake, especially when there are easier explanations.

But that’s just my opinion! Why do you think that Hotaru and Setsuna don’t fit in with their planetary themes? Or do you think that they do? I’d love to hear different takes on the subject down below!


References:

21 thoughts on “Why Are Sailor Saturn and Sailor Pluto’s Roles Reversed?

  1. I will say this for the planet Saturn atleast it has had a long association with Death and Rebirth along with time. Cronus or Saturn was seen as a God that held sway over creation and dissolution of all life and in many mythological systems Gods of Death were seen as associated with Time as well. However yeah really the problem with Saturn and Pluto is that these Deities being associated with creation and dissolution along with time really have very similar though not the same mythological functions. It is interesting though and I would love if you wrote an article on this however during the prototype stages of what Naoko Takeuchi envisioned for a Sailor V anime she gave Minako or Sailor V 4 team mates. One was Hikaru Sorano or Minako’s best friend from the Sailor V manga who was something of a prototype Ami. The next was a girl named Miyabi Yoruno who was a prototype Rei and the fourth was a girl named Mamoru Chino who was a prototype Makoto. On the page there were listed the names of 4 Greek Primordial Deities, Eros, Chaos, Nyx and Gaia. Besides that there were listed 6 planets with both their Greek and traditional Latin names along with what they were the Gods of. For instance you had Hermes/Mercury, Aphrodite/Venus, Ares/Mars, Zeus/Jupiter and Chronos/Saturn. Minako was linked to the primordial God Eros, Hikaru was liked to the primordial God Chaos, Miyabi aka prototype Rei was linked to Nyx and Mamoru or prototype Makoto was linked to Gaia. Of these four only 2 were linked to certain planetary Gods. Minako was liked to Aphrodite/Venus who Naoko described as the Goddess of Love and Beauty and Mamoru or prototype Makoto was liked to Chronos/Saturn who Naoko described as the God of Time. So it is interesting that on this prototype Sailor V anime she did link Saturn with being related to Time and Chronos.

  2. Actually Harvest is a cycle of life and death. You plant seeds waiting for them to grow then you reap their lives and make the offspring share the same fate. Pluto, Hades WASN’T the god of death Thanatos was! Hades is often portrayed as evil when compared to his bros he’s actually a decent guy. But Hades was also known for wealth, his invisibility helmet, and getting the bad end of the stick when it came to domains (I guess could fit Plu). But if we still lean towards the death connection… Life, Death and Time are constantly linked throughout history.

  3. As much as I’d like to argue about this just to keep the conversation going, I pretty much agree with you and came to the same conclusion years ago.
    There’s no way she’d put so much detail into everyone else only to make a huge mistake like this unless it was something she meant to do.

    In fact, in many ways, Kronos/Saturn as the harbinger of destruction may make more sense than initially appears.
    He was even associated with a goddess of destruction at one point, though that destruction referred more to war. Her name was “Lua Mater” which means “Mother Destruction”.
    It’s also interesting that Saturn had connections to Dis Pater (aka Pluto or Hades) and was owed an offering of souls or blood.

    Saturn was more powerful than the other gods, initially, and even ate them. Sailor Saturn has the ability to destroy all of the senshi and perhaps also reincarnate them. (as well as the Solar System…)
    As the god of the Harvest and agriculture he represent the cycle of death and rebirth.

    There is also this:
    Mercury is related to self-knowledge and Jupiter with philosophy, righteousness, and religious aspirations which are very different aspects of the Sun. Venus is the embodiment of happiness, an aspect of the Supreme. Saturn stands for the cause of destruction but then ultimate dissolution is also an aspect of the solar deity for its withdrawal of vital energy form the individual leads to dissolution or death.
    Bepin Behari in:The Timing of Events, Motilal Banarsidass Publ., 1 January 2002, P.xxiii

    It’s tenuous at best, but the destruction part could also be a play on “Satan”.
    https://78.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m1id6qx1FD1r35os6o1_500.png

    Saturn’s ties to time came later and it’s possible she never intended her to be associated with time.

    As for Pluto, well, she ain’t even a planet anymore so who cares? (I’m kidding, kidding!)
    Pluto’s connection to time makes little sense mythologically speaking.
    But Pluto is connected to a god called Aion (whom the Roman’s equated with Chronos, not Kronos ). Aion was even known as Aion Plutonius, and was a keeper of keys, just like Hades.
    Aion was, as his name suggest, a time god and had a female counterpart known as Aeternitas.

    But I do believe you’re right. It’s just if we go deep enough and obscure enough we can find connections.

  4. I remember there being a detailed article on Dies Gaudii (Ian Andreas Miller’s site) back in the day that went into detail about why Pluto and Saturn’s associations were just fine, and you kind of touch on them here, but honestly; I don’t feel like they got switched, and the headline is misleading.

    I found archival versions here: https://web.archive.org/web/20041026065241/http://antares7.absoludicrous.net:80/saturnpluto/index.html, https://web.archive.org/web/20050122211502/http://antares7.absoludicrous.net:80/saturnpluto/index2.html, https://web.archive.org/web/20071115225546/http://antares7.absoludicrous.net:80/saturnpluto/index3.html, http://antares7.absoludicrous.net:80/saturnpluto/index4.html

    Basically, if we assume a switch happened, it’s not simply enough to claim that Hotaru should be Sailor Pluto and Setsuna should be Sailor Saturn; it would create more problems than it would solve. It’s a gross oversimplification to think that Pluto = Time and Saturn = Death, and they are only associated with Hades and Cronus, instead of their actual Roman counterparts.

  5. Well, to be fair, the term used in the manga to refer to the Silence Glaive (w/ furigana) is 沈黙の鎌, or “the Sickle of Silence”, so there’s that. (Edition 2, vol.8, p.94, if you want a random reference.) Why is it called a “glaive”, of all the words that could be used to describe it, I’ve no idea; if we are going into the fan theories territory anyway, then グレイブ can also mean “grave”, but that’s a stretch. I’m betting Takeuchi simply referenced some specific object again and we just have to find it. 🙂

    Also, what *is* that staff Saturn has in that picture? Is it based on something, too, or is it some random thing?

    • I’ve touched on it before, but some of the kanji choices that Naoko used for attack names and items in the series are a bit of a stretch. Basically, she applied kanji to fanciful attack names, and not the other way around.

      So, at least in my opinion, “Glaive” is actually her first choice for the name of the item and “sickle” is just the best Japanese substitute she could probably find.

      • Fair enough, but that still seems a little too convenient… Oh, and it’s also called 沈黙の鎌 (this time w/ regular reading) in the second Nakayoshi Anime Album for Sailor Moon S, but that book was released way later.

        And also this bit –

        > “Sailor Saturn has no attacks, abilities, or character elements that reference a harvest.”

        …if one links “harvest” with “cycle”, might make more sense. Because in the manga, the whole plot involving Saturn came from the fact that *she had already awakened and used her destructive powers once in the past*, and was about to do this again. And she even gets to revert to a baby and start over (though it doesn’t stick).

        Or, you could link the scythe with the Grim Reaper image and go from there…

        Pluto does make things really messy, though. Her only connection with “death” is her sacrificing herself at the end of the Black Moon arc… but then, Saturn kinda does the same in Infinity. In fact, contrasting Saturn, Pluto explicitly *prevents* the end of the world from happening. Though the scale is implied to be different in both cases.

        And there’s one neat detail that *maybe* indicates the two senshi were meant to be linked, in a manner (you can interpret it as Takeuchi acknowledging the “mix-up”, or just as another interesting choice). Their designs contrast each other:

        – Pluto: dark skin, long hair, the oldest of the team.
        – Saturn: pale skin, short hair, the youngest of the team (minus Chibimoon).

        …Unless Saturn’s short, dark hair and dark eyes are meant to make her look like *Usagi’s* opposite. Could be both, though!

  6. This is confusing. However, from all the things I’ve read things seem to be confusing also because there is a lot of mix up of who is who. For example I remember reading that Saturn is Cronus and not Chronos which people keep confusing each other for. Cronus is the god of harvest which makes sense in terms of Saturn and her destruction to me anyway. Pluto is related to the underworld which she does make the connection to. The time part I am not too sure about. I want to say they are correct as they are, but I would have to read more into it. However, I don’t see any readings about these specific things.

  7. Sailor Saturn controls time!! Because she goes back in time (to the big bang) to start everything from scratch. Back (in time) before the beginning! BUT, we ended up calling it destruction by lack of understanding.

    Pluto is the underworld guardian. She was chosen to guard the door of time (far far away). She eventually ended up controlling the door and it’s time related abilities. She ended up with the power of time, because of the door not because of her destiny.

    • Um.. um.. the guardian of the gate to the underworld happens to be a Titan Goddess named Hecate… I like to think that is who Pluto is portraying.

      • I’ve never heard of Hecate as the goddess/guardian of the underworld. That’s a new one to me. I mean, her HOME is in the place known as Hades (the Underworld), but she just lives there; she’s not the guardian of those gates. That’s Cereberus’ job. And Chiron is the ferryman that guides people across the river Styx. She is said to hang around the souls of the deceased, but that’s mostly a thing from later Greek writers.

        Cf. https://www.theoi.com/Khthonios/Hekate.html

  8. I have a problem with you saying Minako is “self-proclaimed goddess of love” because it’s not true. She truly IS the reincarnation of Aphrodite as stated by Artemis IN THE FIRST VOLUME OF CODENAME: SAILOR V! Which came out before Sailor Moon.

    • I think Artemis was just waxing eloquent about Minako’s appearance… he was kind of snooping on her in the shower, after all. ^^;;

  9. I believe that Sailor Saturn fits what the planet means in astrology to a T and her association with it was no accident. The movements of Saturn, also known as “The Great Malefic”, made ancient astrologers very nervous because of the intense fear, poverty, ill luck, and death they brought. At a personal astrological level, the planet brings misery and personal limitations. Hotaru had both of these in spades with the severe pain, disability, and loneliness she endured. The word “saturnine” even means depressed. The sufferings that Saturn inflict are meant to help people grow and persevere.

    A few interesting articles on this:

    https://www.thoughtco.com/saturn-in-astrology-206367

    https://vicdicara.wordpress.com/2010/05/28/saturn-i-am-misery/

    https://theoutline.com/post/2382/the-sadness-of-saturn?zd=1&zi=sxynwnny

  10. In ancient times, BEFORE the discovery of the trans-Saturnian planets, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, Saturn was the final star that could be viewed with the naked eye. Thus, it was always viewed as the planet of boundaries, the planet of death, and endings. Ancients believed our universe or Heavenly sphere ended with Saturn. Ancient astrologers called Saturn the greater malefic. Basically, they believed, and still do believe, that Saturn is the “dark” planet, the heavy planet, the planet that brings extremely painful but necessary lessons and experiences. Not only was Takeuchi drawing from mythology, but she also drew heavily from astrology. And many astrologers do not even view Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto as particularly relevant, certainly not as relevant as the main 7 wandering stars (sun, moon, mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn). This is why it made sense for the three outer senshi to be more supporting characters rather than a part of the main squad. In ancient times, planet Saturn was feared and dreaded by all, not Pluto (no one even knew it existed). Think Voldemort, the one people dare not even speak his name. So knowing this, it makes perfect sense for Saturn to be the Senshi of destruction. Naoko didn’t screw that up, IMO.

    • The whole issue with Saturn being the furthest observable planet, however, leads to interesting questions as to why a Sailor Saturn was never added to the story sooner, and not as a member of the normal Sailor Team.

      Though Saturn is kind of in a team of her own as it is, so it all kind of works out in the end.

      • I totally agree and always wondered about it myself. Perhaps it has something to do with the almost magical, tokusatsu recipe which (usually) always involves a strictly five-person team. So Saturn ended up being “sacrificed” until later given the opportunity to be included when she began creating other Sailors.

  11. if sailor pluto and saturn had their powers changed, pluto would take revenge of the others for not being a planet too!, after all she is of the sign of scorpio the sign of revenge and intense passions, Sailor Saturn in turn is stronger than sailor moon.
    She could kill all the sailors and then she would be a new villain of the series that could indeed mark a new story.

  12. Maybe I have an explanation, or at least theories.
    At first the harvest thing: Someone who does agriculture and farming also decides about the death of plants, right? And before you can put in new seeds, you need to “destroy” the old ones first! This is exactly what Saturn does.
    I also just looked up the Greek god Kronos/ Roman Saturn. There is the story where he eats all of his children – so pretty cruel. (But I think that applies for many gods in greek mythology.) The (German) Wikipedia also says about him that he stands for misfortune, but for order, too.

    For Pluto: I think she might be based on Chronos and Hades. As you said, she has underwotld themed attacks and is the senshi of the underworld. She even has a musical song called “Forbidden Hades”. But why Chronos? Hades is the son of Kronos (Saturn). And many people mix him up with the god of time, Chronos. And even some antique sources say they are the same (but they actually aren’t). So maybe Naoko also thought they were the same and decided to give one of Kronoses/ Chronoses children time powers?

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