Why Doesn’t Setsuna / Sailor Pluto’s Story Make Any Sense?

Setsuna's back story confuses even herself

Setsuna’s back story confuses even herself

Considering how I constantly talk about how Setsuna simply serves as a third wheel to Haruka and Michiru, it may comes as something of a surprise that she’s one of my favorite characters… in theory. The idea of a single Sailor Soldier surviving all the way from(and possibly prior to?) the Silver Millennium is a fascinating concept — even more so when you think about the emotional hardship she must have gone through living all on her own for centuries at a time.

Sadly, in stark contrast with this vast amount of potential her character had, neither the anime nor manga did much with Setsuna. And what they did do didn’t even make sense.

Today, we’re going to talk about how utterly non-sensical Setsuna’s university education is.

Setsuna, ready for work... or school... or something

Setsuna, ready for work… or school… or something

Okay, so “non-sensical” is probably not the right word. “Absurd” might be a better choice.

But before we can talk about what’s wrong with her educational career, we need to talk about what she’s studying in the first place, now don’t we?

According to the manga, Setsuna is a first year student at KO University, where she majors in Elementary Physics in the Department of Science. It turns out that even right here we’ve got a lot of problems, though.

First and foremost, KO University — where Motoki and Mamoru also attend — is most assuredly a reference to Keio University.1 This is important, because Keio University does not have a Department of Science. Nope, they have a Department of Science and Engineering.

“But Jason,” I can hear you screaming at your monitor, “this is too pedantic even for you!”2

Well, dear reader, I actually am that pedantic — because here it actually is relevant.

In the case of Keio University, their Department of Science and Engineering developed out of an Engineering Department, and not out of pure academic sciences. Thus, they do not offer Elementary Physics as a major. The only physics majors they do offer are related to how the physics of the natural world impact engineering.3 Making matters worse, due to how Japanese universities work, you’re not even able to declare your specialty until your second or third year in the department.

Setsuna stating she's a freshman and her major

Setsuna stating she’s a freshman and her major

Considering that Setsuna goes to work after graduation at an astronomical observatory, we should probably assume that she actually studied something like astronomy, which falls under her declared major of “Elementary Physics.”

But wait! Did someone just say “graduate”? Why yes, I did.

I may not be a mathematician,4 but there’s something fishy about the fact that Setsuna goes from a freshman at university to graduated and working at the Tokyo Bay Astronomical Observatory (based on the real National Astronomical Observatory of Japan)5 within one year.

Honestly, I don’t know how it is that Naoko overlooked this fact, other than that I guess she simply forgot that she had already set Setsuna as a freshman in university.

This also does weird things with her age: she would have been 18-19 years old in university,6 and thus 19-20 when she graduated. Or do we assume that she did the full four years and that the “freshman” detail was incorrect? That puts Setsuna at 22-23 when we see her at the observatory.

And yet, we’re still not done with Setsuna’s incomprehensible background.

Setsuna now as a school nurse?

Setsuna now as a school nurse?

Later in the manga,7 we see that she’s working as a school nurse at ChibiUsa’s school. So in the course of 1-2 years, she was a freshman in university, then a technician at an observatory, and then a school nurse.

Where this gets tricky, though, is that school nurses in Japan are actually considered teaching staff — meaning that you must be a certified teacher.8 Though they don’t actually teach, they work closely with other teachers and are considered a member of the teaching staff.

In order to obtain a teaching certification, you need to belong to an educational department within your university… which does not fall under the science umbrella, and her previously mentioned Elementary Physics major would preclude her from.9

So where does this leave us? Basically, when taken in aggregate, Setsuna’s life as portrayed in the manga is impossible. Whether this is an oversight or Ms. Takeuchi kept changing her mind isn’t clear, but if I were to try to explain it away, I’d say that she continuously was changing who she wanted Setsuna to be, and thus the most recent characterization was “correct.”

Don't be sad, Pu. It's not your fault your story makes no sense.

Don’t be sad, Pu. It’s not your fault your story makes no sense.

This would mean that, while at one time Setsuna may have been an 18-19 year old student of Elementary Physics, by the end of the manga her character had been revised to be a 22-23 year old school nurse who had graduated from a teaching program.

But that’s just my way of explaining away the situation. What are your thoughts on all this? Is it a continuous re-write of her character, or was our favorite third wheel just forgotten and reimagined as needed?

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  1.  See Keio University
  2. Okay, even if you didn’t scream it, this must’ve crossed your mind. Don’t worry, I’m not offended.
  3. See Keio University’s Department of Science and Engineering
  4. Indeed, I’m a Japanese History major, which I think is as far away from mathematics as you can humanly get.
  5. See NAOJ
  6. See Japanese school years and ages
  7. See volume 16 of the original manga
  8.  See School Nursing (Wikipedia)
  9.  See Teaching Certification (Wikipedia)

35 thoughts on “Why Doesn’t Setsuna / Sailor Pluto’s Story Make Any Sense?

  1. Well, one possible theory could be that someone (maybe herself or a Guardian from the future) is messing with timelines to make changes in her life. For example like if her previous professions/educations could lead to really bad disasters, but being a school-nurse ensures that they won’t occur (like some kind of a butterfly effect or something).
    Just a thought I had

    • That’s an interesting idea, assuming that Setsuna (the Earth reincarnation of Sailor Pluto) still is able to freely move about through time as she pleases. I guess it’s also possible that she might not even really have a “normal” identity and just puts herself in a place that’s most convenient to help out the other Sailor Soldiers.

      Though that doesn’t quite fit in with any of the (limited) info we’re given.

      • That second option was how I understood it when I first read the manga as a kid – as in she has had no human identity at all before she assumed the role of Hotaru’s co-parent, and simply put herself in convenient places if and when that seemed necessary, and only for as long as it was necessary, because she still had that big door to guard at all other times.
        Now, I’m aware the followig is just an attempt to make lose ends meet and a pure speculation, but… seeing that Setsuna had been alive and super lonely for millenia before Sailor Moon even started, she’s probably had a chance to learn anything and everything in the meantime, and thus was able to believably act as a physics student, a technician at an observator,y or a beginner school nurse. Note how she’s never chosen an ‘experienced’ position that would require her to show a lot of practiced skills. That’s because reading books at her big white door was probably the only thing she could do, and manipulating time to get herself a degree where necessary would have been less time-consuming than following the same with years of gaining real-life experience and connections (that could actually cause her problems if someone recognized a “physics student” working as a school nurse when she was theoretically supposed to be a second year student. In that context, her being a student of a non-existent division, and having a specialisation specified already in her supposed 1st year could be Setsuna’s own mistake in getting the timelines and current university rules mixed up! (although honestly it’s probably Naoko’s mistake just as you sayXD)

      • If she did not put all theses PhDs in her CV, they where as much not exist. In 1990’s Linkedin, google and facebook did not exist yet…

  2. Hmmm, it could be she just kept manipulating time and had multiple degrees 🙂 If anyone could do it, it’s her.

    • That is one thing I considered. Since she was stuck guarding the gate of time for so long, maybe she just read a LOT of books over the centuries, and could get any degree she wanted? =p Maybe she attended distance-learning schools and got her degree by mail?

    • That’s always a possibility. Maybe she just fakes new degrees/background to put herself in whatever situation is the most convenient at the time?

  3. Doctor Who, has an appropriate term for this sort of thing. It’s called ‘timey-wimey’. Basically, you’re obliged not to try and think too hard about it.

    But I think with Setsuna, it was largely the problem of Sailor Moon being an ongoing series that was constantly having to retcon itself due to the runaway popularity increasing its length. Since each arc was written with the intention of being the final one.
    And in Naoko’s case, characters tended to come second to the storyline. Outside of Usagi/Mamoru/Chibi-Usa, focus and development was something of a precious commodity. And Pluto was pretty much resurrected for the sake of having the full set of Senshi.
    In fact, I recall her actually mentioning somewhere, that she would have done the Black Moon stuff much later on if she’d known, possibly saving a lot of headaches.

    As for the third-wheel status, I’d argue (at least in the context of the Manga) that Michiru was more underutilized. After her brief flirt with Mamoru, she’s quickly relegated to the background for the remainder of the series. Especially since Haruka spent more time interacting with Usagi then her.
    Heck, she didn’t really even have a personality there. She plays the violin, and that’s practically the full summery.

    • If I didn’t think too hard about stuff, this blog wouldn’t really have a point, now would it? Thinking too hard is what I do best.

      Anyway, the sad reality is that, even more than any of the other Sailor Soldiers, Setsuna was little more than a deus ex machina – she simply existed in order to solve a given problem in a certain scene or story plot. Need someone to go to school with Reika and solve some story issues with getting Sailor Pluto back in the series? Bam! She’s a university student at KO. Need someone to have access to a astronomical observatory? HELLO! That’s Setsuna! ChibiUsa needs someone nearby to keep the story flowing? Hi Pu!

      For third wheel, I think Michiru still gets a decent amount of play in the form of Sailor Neptune at least, no? While Haruka is very clearly the more represented character of the duo, Michiru still at least has a few good scenes. Even if it’s generally limited to her character through her interactions with Sailor Uranus (such as the death scene).

    • I agree with Cygnus.
      Outside of the royal family, no one truly gets much development. Gosh, if you look careful, even Mamoru don’t even have much attention. He is there to be the romantic interest of the main character. And since Neo Queen Serenity seems to be really busy, he also fits for raising Chibiusa.
      In the 90’s anime, it’s mostly infered that he wanted to be a doctor. I mean Ami explicits say that she wants to be a daughter like her mother. What about Mamoru?

      Since Chibiusa was sent back to Crystal Tokyo, what sense made send Mamoru to America? He was still freshman at Med School. Indeed if you analyse the timeline (manga), he may had been attending at KO for as lil as as few months….and let’s take into account he fell ill during most part of Dream and was confined to his bed, what I believe make it hard to attend any sort of classes who dare say Med school.
      Since the story starts after Usagi’s 14th b day and finishes right after her 16th birthday, it gives around 2 years for 5 arcs. It’s around 5 months to each arc.
      So, Mamoru kinda spent at least a few good weeks, maybe even over a month ill. What does he had as background to go to Harvard? And not to mention Harvard starts in Sep. And in Japan classes starts on April.
      It’s like they said “okay, Chibiusa is gone, so Mamoru is no longer needed to take care of her – he is already developed as a romantic interest, future king and got his crystal, let’s take him out now”
      He got his own Crystal, Earth and Elysion are saved, the love of his life is safe, Chibiusa is back to the future….and he even enjoy the time of peace with his beloved and just left for God knows how long?
      Nah. He and Michiru has a lot in common. Michiru just got enough development to be Haruka’s love interest. She only flirts with Mamoru for like a panel…while Haruka actively pursues Usagi…and things go as far as kiss. And Michiru doesn’t even mind that her girlfriend flirts with every other attractive girl in the vicinity.
      Poor Michiru, like Pluto is there for the sake of having a complete set of senshi. And to give Haruka a pair….while Haruka isn’t acting in prove that Usagi is the most attractive female character.

      As for Pluto, I prefer to interprete that she is at the planetary invited by a professor (she usually had dinner with a professor, at least whenever Reika invites her for dinner, so we can imagine she is close to him?). She is really inteligent, maybe she is just there as trainee? Or some sort of internship?
      As law student, we can work at a law office, following the routine of a laywer. And that after only 6 months of classes. I was a intern at law office, working with one of my professors at my 2nd year. So, I assumed it was something similar with Setsuna. As for the nurse thing…I assumed she was a volunteer.

      • If it helps, I don’t think the Japanese are so strict about majors and capabilities to be become assistants. I had a friend at university who studied economics but worked as an assistant for a biology professor who was specialized in birds.

  4. I never analyzed Setsuna’s life but on the anime I was always thought of her as an adult with work, somewhere, period. Now that I’m reading your analisis, thanks for that, I have a “just now” theory. She has thousands of years, thousands of “alone time”, and I’m pretty sure she has access to books… She has the knowledge for all those professions. About continuity, she has a transformation pen like Usagi’s, maybe even that one, borrowed from your highness, Neo Queen Serenity, that allows her to change her looks and fool everyone for short, mid and long periods of time, thanks to her vast knowledge. That, for me, would be enough explanation, even if in reality they just did a complete mess with her life/plot without thinking ahead -something really strange in Sailor Moon’s world.

    • Hmm, I guess that could also be an interesting take on the story – the idea that maybe Setsuna isn’t actually living a normal human life anyway, and that she simply comes and goes as needed within the story line in order to help out the other Sailor Soldiers.

  5. I enjoyed reading this because Setsuna/Sailor Pluto is one of my favorite characters in Sailor Moon. I think both the author of the manga and the people involved with the anime messed up her story. The problem was because Naoko wrote the story as it went, I believe. When she introduced Sailor Pluto she probably was just going to have her die(my theory) and she thought her manga was going to end there. When she had to continue then she had to create a human identity and involve Pluto so that all the soldiers would be revealed. Naoko wanted to involve her in what she had planned for the other outers. Because with that storyline Pluto should have died with Saturn, Neptune and Uranus and been reborn as humans in the present world. She should not be guarding the door of time. Someone else should have been since that was her job before she was killed at the end when Saturn ended them. Because she had to rework Pluto into the story it conflicted with her story in the second arc. I mean she cannot be the only one that does not die. That seems odd, to me at least.

    The university subject I can believe because even though it was based on the school I guess she never claimed that it was that school that she based it on. However the other logistics still apply so in that sense Naoko messed up. Frankly she should have made Motoki, Mamoru, Reika all attend high school like Haruka and Michiru and just one year older if at all then Usagi and the rest. This would have made things easier for everyone and not have that revolving door of occupations Setsuna suddenly takes on.

    It makes no sense and I did not even pick up she was working in the observatory. The school nurse thing makes no sense from any stand point. I was like huh? Isn’t she going to school when did she graduate. This could have all been avoided if they made all the soldiers the same age in present day.

    Frankly maybe if she had known how long the manga would have went on she could have planned accordingly and have Setsuna’s story make more sense. For example she claims in notes that Setsuna likes fashion, but we never get a sense that she does. There isn’t enough manga pages. Maybe if they gave her more pages or more time Naoko could have came up with a better story. This way Pluto/Setsuna would make more sense. As it stands it just looks like a re-write every time. Like she forgot that she made Setsuna even younger than Reika and somehow she suddenly is working.

    I actually don’t mind her being the third wheel I saw a fan comic that was funny about them all living together. What is also always odd is Setsuna/Pluto is supposed to be the tallest but they always draw Uranus as being the tallest at least from when I noticed it. Maybe Naoko should have just made Uranus the tallest.

    Either way what should be done is now knowing where the story would or might end (depending on if she had any other ideas) Naoko should just do a new manga retelling the story and make it make sense. She should dedicate 30 chapters each story arc. Spend at least a few on Setsuna/Pluto and her studying science and fashion and make her much younger and the same age as the others.

    • For all the background work that Ms. Takeuchi did in writing her story to have tons of small references to mythology and science, she sadly never really seemed too concerned about whether or not the characters’ lives were terribly believable.

      As it is, the home lives of almost all of the Sailor Team are a complete mystery, or resort to something being dead in most cases. All we really know with regard to families is:

      Usagi – father, mother, brother
      Ami – mother (father is divorced)
      Rei – father (absent) and grandfather (mother is dead)
      Makoto – deeeeeeeeeeeead
      Minako – mother and father (Sailor V only)
      Mamoru – deeeeeeeead
      Setsuna – ??????
      Michiru – ??????
      Haruka – ??????
      Hotaru – father (mother is dead)

      It seems like once we hit the third arc (Death Busters), the real lives of the Sailor Soldiers took a back seat to the story, and she just kind of shoe-horned them into situations as she needed for the sake of the plot, which seems to be what happened to Setsuna at nearly every turn.

      It’s a shame. While I love the compelling story about the battles the Sailor Soldiers were facing, what makes the series great to me is the characters in it, and I think it could have benefited a lot from more of the ChibiUsa Picture Diary-style stories, or the other side stories.

  6. I have a sort of relevant question about the manga. Does she know she is Sailor Pluto when she’s at the university? I feel like this is kind of ambiguous. Like it SEEMS that she knows who she is, and she’s hanging out in that same area. After all, those three buildings and the three senshi’s family names are all the same. But then, she seems to have an awakening? So I wasn’t entirely sure if she REALLY knew she was Sailor Pluto at first until that “awakening” happened.

    Side note: These three senshi don’t seem to have families like the others. I wonder if their “family names” were actually from family, or were they more or less assigned? Hmmmm

    • Hmm, that’s interesting! I never really thought about the idea that Setsuna could have not been “awakened” when she first appeared in the manga and just took it for a given that she already knew she was Sailor Pluto.

      • To tell the truth, I felt she thought of herself just a normal girl similar to Hotaru. I could agree to a similar situation as Rei, who was wondering about her latent powers. But Setsuna seemed to be too surprised about it.

        As for the working at the planetarium, I find that far less unrealistic as the school nurse thingie. I used to have a friend studying for an undergraduate economics degree. And apparently from her first year onwards she worked as an assistant to the biology professor, who was doing research into birds. She wrote and corrected essays and presentation for him and did everything assistants do. She acquired quite some knowledge of birds. But, well, her main studies were business relations between countries, not migration patterns of some rare birds. I’d say in Japan it’s not as unlikely as it may be in the States.

  7. Another thing to point out (which people seem to always forget or ignore) – in the official profiles for all the characters, Naoko states that Setsuna’s special talent is sewing and her dream is to be a fashion designer, which makes college freshman/assistant astronomer/school nurse Setsuna all the more bizarre.

    • You know, I always assumed that these official bios were, for the most part, anime inventions. The earliest ones I see appear in the anime memorial books, and I think I’ve seen them on the backs of trading cards (the cardass ones?). I might just be totally spacing out, but I figured the bios were anime-based, probably with input from Ms. Takeuchi.

  8. I noticed an earlier commenter suggested that she could be volunteering as a nurse at Chibiusa’s school. Is that possible?

    • If you want to go strictly with how Japanese schools work, nope, that wouldn’t be possible. It’d be a huge liability to the school, and danger to the kids, if they let just any random person in their early 20s volunteer to be in charge of kids’ health!

  9. Yeah, it’s a magical girl anime. If Usagi had a pen that could change her into a ships captain necessary to pilot a boat to escape from a youma, Setsuna could probably use her rod to learn anything she wants and do it in 0 seconds.

  10. Also. How is she fluent Japanese? Who taught her? She’s been at the door for thousands of years.

    • This is an interesting question, now that you bring it up.
      Though I suppose we have to assume that the language of the Moon Kingdom was Japanese when you consider that the Sailor Senshi were able to communicate with Queen Serenity and that Queen Nehelenia, Queen, Beryl, Sailor Galaxia, and a multitude of other non-reincarnated people (Phobos & Deimos, Helios, etc.) all speak Japanese as well.

  11. What’s even more confusing is that Sailor Pluto DIED! How is she even there as Setsuna, or even a 20 y/o?! I know that she was reborn as she says in the manga (volume 7) to carryout a mission but that still doesn’t explain how Setsuna aged so quickly but not awaken until she was suffocating from the plant thing in volume 6.

    • I always assumed that Setsuna was reincarnated in the past before the start of Sailor Moon (i.e., in the 1970s) so she would be old enough to join the Sailor Team in combatting the Death Busters.

      • Do you mean that Setsuna was reborn while Sailor Pluto was still guarding the time gate? That would make more sense and that she simply awakened as Sailor Pluto after Pluto #1(?) died and regained all her memories of being Sailor Pluto. It could’ve been that with the death of Pluto 1 in mind, Setsuna was born not-awakened, meant to be awakened after Pluto died. That doesn’t really make sense does it?

  12. Well in the 90s anime atleast since Sailor Pluto didn’t die in the Black Moon part half of R as she did in the manga. From what I believe in that canon Setsuna never died after the fall of the Silver Millennium/Golden Kingdom and so remained guarding the Door of Space-Time. So unlike in say the manga where after her death in the Black Moon Clan arc she was reincarnated in the past in the anime from what I have seen she simply came to Tokyo and created a fictitious identity as Setsuna Meiou and I imagine with her time abilities and other magic she was probably able to forge some fake credentials etc. Also as some said since Setsuna is definitely a very intellectual sort of character and is extremely long lived I could see her studying and reading through many books while guarding the door gaining numerous knowledge on many fields and plus the Silver Millennium and Golden Kingdom were way more technologically and magically advanced then us she she probably has access to knowledge that we ourselves don’t have.

  13. I always figured that because Setsuna is ancient, only younger than Queen Serenity herself, she doesn’t actually need to study… Well, anything… She had a lot of time guarding the Time Door. Maybe she studied. Maybe she was endowed with certain knowledge from the gods. Either way, she could pass in any role she took on for either senshi or personal reasons. And that she was capable of manipulating the memories of whoever she was around much like Chibiusa and Chibi Chibi did. So when, for the sake of the mission, she needed to be around Chibiusa, she fashioned herself a nurse. When she needed to keep an eye out for the Dark Moon clan, she studied or worked wherever she might best accomplish that.

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