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.

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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 Similar Is the Sailor Moon World to the Actual Azabu-Juban?

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:

6 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.

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