Why Was There No True Leader of the Sailor Team?

Who's in Charge?

Who’s in Charge?

Before you get all excited and start commenting that Sailor Venus was the leader of the Inner Senshi and that this is clearly spelled out in the manga, I’ll stop you right there and point out that I know this. However, outside of one or two mentions in the manga, Sailor Venus never functionally performs any leadership roles, and in the anime I’d say it’s up to debate whether she’s actually leader at all. When you consider that the the battles against the Monsters of the Day end with someone shouting to the effect of “Now, Sailor Moon!” it’s pretty hard to view anyone else but our titular character as the leader. Or… is it?

Five Girls – sister restaurant to Five Guys?

Five Girls – sister restaurant to Five Guys?

It’s no secret that the structure of Sailor Moon is based off of the long-running Super Sentai1 series, and more generally on the entire tokusatsu2 genre. I mean, the series even got it’s own tokusatsu live-action series in 2003. Even the title of the series itself – Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon – follows the long-established naming pattern for these types of shows.

As any fan3 of the long-running Super Sentai (and related) series can tell you, there’s a formula that’s pretty strictly adhered to in the formation/makeup of the team.

In a traditional five-member Super Sentai team, there is always a leader (most often red) in addition to a sub-leader (generally blue).4 You can also see this color adherence in other shows, such as Voltron.5 While I wouldn’t get too futzed about the colors in connection with the Sailor Team, I do think it’s somewhat interesting (notable?) that the first three Sailor Soldiers are red (Mars), blue (Mercury), and red & blue (Moon).

So since Sailor Moon is based on this formula, but with a more feminine spin, wouldn’t it naturally follow that there should be a leader? Well, of course… not! In fact, the story of Sailor Moon would be contradictory if there were a strong team leader.

Roget that, boss!

Roget that, boss!

And just why is that? Well, in order to answer that, we need to take a look at the villains of the series. After all, the Sailor Team are fighting for Love and Justice, no? So in order for us to know what is “just,” the fastest way is to see what isn’t; i.e., what it is that the enemy is championing.

When you break them down to the basics, you can see that the antagonists of each of the series can generally be broken down into a pretty basic structure:

  • Boss
  • Sub-Boss
  • Leaders
  • Minions

Let’s see how it breaks down in the anime, shall we?

Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon (March 1992 – February 1993)

Dark Kingdom

  • Boss: Queen Metalia
  • Sub-Boss: Queen Beryl
  • Leaders: The Four Kings (Jadeite, Nephrite, Zoisite, Kunzite)
  • Minions: Youma

Sailor Moon R (3/1993 – 3/1994)

Black Moon Clan

  • Boss: Wiseman / Prince Demande (as manipulated by Wiseman)
  • Sub-Boss: Saphir, Rubeus, Esmeraude
  • Leaders: The Ayakashi Sisters (Coan, Berthier, Petz, Calaveras)
  • Minions: Droids

Sailor Moon S (3/1994 – 2/1995)

Death Busters

  • Boss: Pharoah 90 / Professor Tomoe
  • Sub-Boss: Kaolinite
  • Leaders: The Witches Five (Eudial, Mimete, Tellu, Viluy, Ptilol, Cyprine)
  • Minions: Daimons

Sailor Moon SuperS (3/1995 – 3/1996)

Dead Moon Circus

  • Boss: Queen Nehelenia
  • Sub-Boss: Zirconia
  • Leaders: The Amazon Trio (Hawk’s Eye, Tiger’s Eye, Fish Eye); The Amazoness Quartet (CereCere, PallaPalla, JunJun, VesVes)
  • Minions: Lemures

Sailor Moon Sailor Stars (3/1996 – 2/1997)

Shadow Galactica

  • Boss: Chaos
  • Sub-Boss: Sailor Galaxia (which is one-and-the-same as Chaos, but technically…)
  • Leaders: Sailor Animamates (Iron Mouse, Aluminum Siren, Lead Crow, Tin Nyanko)
  • Minions: Phage

So, what’s my point? Good question! Fortunately, I do have one.

There's no I in Team

There’s no I in Team

You see, in each of the cases, the enemy (i.e., what is “bad”) is very hierarchical, controlled from the top-down, and creates an atmosphere of competition and disrespect. Zoisite killed Nephrite, the whole Black Moon Clan was like a dysfunctional family on Thanksgiving, Mimete killed Eudial, the Amazoness Quartet openly antagonized Zircon, and the Sailor Animamates were generally always putting each other down.

The Sailor Team, by contrast, was heavily focused on the idea of working together, on team work, and complementing each other’s weaknesses with their own strengths. Sailor Mercury may be weak, sure, but she had the unique ability of keeping the enemy distracted, finding their weaknesses, etc. Sailor Jupiter could bring to the table raw physical strength when needed, while Sailor Venus had experience as a Sailor Soldier on her side to allow her to keep her wits when things were going wrong.

The “Now, Sailor Moon!” moments weren’t because she was necessarily the most powerful or because she was the Princess. It’s because healing the enemy is something that Sailor Moon can uniquely do. You’ll notice that while she tends to end the fight, her other methods of attacking (such as her tiara/boomerang/frisbee) take a backseat as the series progresses.

I know that there are a lot of different opinions on this subject, especially when it comes to the obvious fact that Sailor Venus was explicitly declared to be the leader of the Sailor Team, but personally this has never quite sat right with me.

In a story about love, friendship, and the concept that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” the idea of having a team leader seems to be at odds with all of that. Especially in light of how the antagonists are structured.

Sailor Team (not in order of importance)

Sailor Team (not in order of importance)

But that’s just my opinion – I’d love to hear yours! What do you think about the idea of a leader of the Sailor Team? Do you think that Minako was the leader in the anime and manga? How about the idea of Rei taking over, which was briefly touched on in the first season? And that doesn’t even begin to go over who is in charge of the Outer Senshi. Let me know! I always love reading the comments.

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  1. See Super Sentai (Wikipedia)
  2. See Tokusatsu (Wikipedia)
  3. Disclaimer: I don’t actually follow any of these series outside of what I saw of the original Power Rangers as a kid, so please excuse any mistakes in my analysis!
  4. See Tokusatsu Team Colors
  5. Which finally answers my childhood confusion over why Keith wears red and pilots the Black Lion, Lance wears blue and pilots the Red lion, etc.

16 thoughts on “Why Was There No True Leader of the Sailor Team?

  1. I’m not all that familiar with the Super Sentai genre. Do they not typically have antagonists with similar hierarchies?

    • I’m sadly not all that familiar with the genre myself, but I believe they do… to an extent. I’m not sure if it follows the same pattern of having all of the villains defeated in order (from the lowest-ranking on up).

  2. Did you deliberately omit the Doom Tree cast?

    They come damn near close to meeting these criteria, although I suppose you could parse out where Ail and An fall on the sub boss vs leader continuum.

    (Despite its mixed parentage season 2 really had a consistent theme of family dysfunction)

    • Good catch! I did leave them out because although they fit, they didn’t have a corresponding manga arc. Even though most of this article is pointed at the anime, I still think a lot of it is applicable to the manga as well.

      To be totally honest, though, the Doom Tree story line is actually one of my favorite.

  3. Sorry but I would have to disagree especially since you are making a comparison to super sentai series it’s pretty clear to me that in the 90s anime Moon was clearly the leader of the team.

    – As you mentioned Rei first mentioned Usagi being the leader early in S1 questioning whether she should be. This sentiment was later echoed by all the senshi in the much despised finale to S2 (an episode DiC dubbed as “Follow the Leader”) in which each of the senshi make their case why they should be the new leader instead of current leader Sailor Moon over a series of flashbacks.

    – Sailor Moon stands in the middle and front of pretty much every formation…this is the position almost always occupied by the leader of pretty much every super sentai based team. Seriously just google image search any of them and 99% of the time you can guess the leader correctly by who is most often standing front and center. Heck it expands well beyond sentai teams…even look at the Ninja Turtles, in more images than not you will see Leonardo standing front and center despite just being four of them.

    – Sailor Moon often is the voice of the team. First of all she is the one most responsible for declaring when it’s time to transform. (Just like the sentai team leader usually does). Next there are the introductory speeches she does (either solo or else she is still the first to speak if everyone has a line). Then there is the fact that she is the one that both friends and foes primarily address. Whether it was Pluto asking for help to save Chibiusa in S2 (the whole group is there but who is she looking at the whole time…Moon), Uranus and Neptune meeting with Moon alone to tell her to stay out of their mission in S3, or Galaxia gloating when the senshi appeared in her lair in S5, etc. She’s also the one to speak up first most of the time with the others following her lead. The first to agree to save Chibiusa, the first to speak up in defense of Hotaru, the first to speak up to initiate the Sailor Planet attack against Nehellenia, etc.

    – She’s the first one back to her feet when they get knocked down. She was the one who most inspired the others. Again typical sentai team leader behavior stuff.

    – Look at the enemy pair offs. In season 1 while Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter each took on a minion DD-Girl Moon was left to deal with their boss Beryl. A pattern similarly repeated when the senshi took on the Ayakoshi sisters with Moon taking on their boss Rubeus. Again in season 3 when the other Inners are stuck battling the Daemon slime the whole time, Uranus and Neptune take on Germatoid, while Moon gets big bad string puller Misstress Nine herself. Once again if you look at almost any super sentai series this fits the pattern of the leader taking on the main boss or a primary minion while the others take on lesser foes in battles where they pair off.

    – She is the most well known and popular in universe. Again this fits the common super sentai pattern of Red (the usual leader) usually being the most popular in universe. (Usually this results in a jealousy related episode, we got close to that with Venus and school children episode in S2.)

    Also the healing argument does not really hold toomuch water for me. More than half of the Youma, and all of the Cardians, the Droids, the Heartsnatchers, and the Lemures were just straight up destroyed every time. (I’d still like to know what the bleep the writers were thinking revealing that the Lemures were once innocent people Sailor Moon was apparently killing). So basically as far as monsters of the week only a portion of the Youma (The 7 Rainbow and Kunzite’s minions), and the Phages that actually required any healing? The simple fact is that the Sailor Guardians often hit their weekly enemies with their strongest attacks and it only dazed them at best. The “Now Sailor Moon” was absolutely because she was often the only one strong enough to destroy their foe. (Unless they could have maybe used Sailor Planet Attack every time but in the original anime they apparently needed Moon to be a part of that too for it to work…so for the effort and energy that would have taken it made more sense to just let Moon do her thing on her own if it worked.)

    Now this doesn’t discount your argument that each of the Sailor Team had their own strengths, but then so too usually do the members of any sentai team. I mean if you go back to the original Power Rangers…Black was the most athletic, Blue was the smartest creating devices and coming up with plans, Yellow was the one who was the most zen and could bring calmness to the others in any situation, Pink was the most acrobatic and the best at finding the good in others. But Red was still the leader the one who had the extra special weapons/power-ups and kept the others motivated. (Although yeah he was also much more of an active directing traffic type leader than the likes of a Sailor Moon too).

    • Thanks for the comment! Always look forward to hearing your thoughts! ^^

      To be fair, I think we actually agree more than we disagree on this topic of “being leader,” though I think we’re using different terms and probably looking at it a bit differently. A lot of what you mentioned I think falls squarely into a simple matter of Usagi/Sailor Moon being the main character and also the most popular, and doesn’t necessarily imply that she’s the leader. Specifically, appearing front-and-center in a lot of imagery and in all promotions, etc.

      Taking a page from old anime, Goku always appears right in the middle of all promotional artwork, but definitely isn’t the leader of the team by any stretch (there also isn’t really a team at all, but that’s another point). He’s also the most powerful, much like how Sailor Moon is powerful due to her being Princess Serenity, but in both cases I think that’s more a case of “main character syndrome” and less a sign of their in-universe status.

      Another example would be the old “The Real Ghostbusters” cartoon. Peter (and then Slimer) was the undisputed favorite amongst kids and fans and is really all you’d see in commercials and headed up most episodes, but he absolutely was not the leader.

      Lastly! I admittedly know very little about the Super Sentai series, so I consulted with a friend of mine who watches it obsessively. It turns out that there are several cases when red is actually not the leader, but still is featured prominently simply because that’s the way it’s done by convention (a case of separating a character being the star of the show vs. being the leader).

      Mirai Sentai Timeranger” is one such case. The team is essentially lead by the Pink Ranger. Another case is “Ninja Sentai Kakuranger,” which was lead by the White Ranger — the first female team lead, no less!

      I could be remembering wrong, but I think the Tommy / White Ranger later assumed leadership of the Power Rangers in the American MMPR sometime around the Lord Zedd saga, even though he didn’t become the Red Ranger until…Zeo? Turbo? =p Forgive me, I’m old. Even then, the Red Ranger still took front and center in a lot of promotional posters and even in all transformations.

  4. Yeah I guess I shouldn’t have mentioned image searching as that muddied the waters, but I was talking about the episodes themselves. In-universe when the Sailor Guardians appeared or faced down their enemy be it the monster of the week, a henchperson, or a big bad like Nehellenia or Galaxia…that’s what I was referring to as Sailor Moon being front and center in the position that is much more often than not thought of as the leadership position.

    Like you said DBZ is a bad example because yeah there is no team and no real team or leader. You know who was a team though….the Ginyu Force. Guess which one is the leader:

    Officially the Ghostbusters have no leader. The group/business was officially started by the trio of Peter, Ray, and Egon as essentially equal partners. Although unofficially Peter Venkman is usually considered to be the de facto leader of the group. I mean let’s just look at the first movie. He was the one who had the idea to go into business and convinced Ray to fund it. He is the one the Dean primarily conversed with the group was being kicked out. He was the one who first took charge when they saw their first ghost and the other two were geeking out. He is the one who gave the final word to the realtor to buy the firehouse (after Ray blew his negotiation ploy). When Dana comes in he essentially takes lead giving approval to the others suggestions of what they could do and announcing what he is going to do. When they blast a maid cart he is the one to put his hands on the others guns to stop them. When they chase Slimer to the ballroom he is the one that directs the others where to go and when to shoot. He is then the one who negotiates the price with the hotel manager after they caught Slimer and threatens to release him again if he doesn’t pay. He is the one that speaks to the press during the montage as the Ghostbusters get popular. He is the one that first deals with and agitates government official Peck in his office. He is the one that tries to take charge adamantly protesting when Peck later wants to shut down the containment unit, He is the one who ultimately convinces the mayor to make a deal to release them from jail. He is the one that fires up the crowd when they reappear after having nearly been swallowed by the street. He orders Ray to deal with Gozer. After almost being knocked off the roof he is the one who takes charge again essentially instructing the others to ready aim fire. He is the one that insructs the others to not think of anything when Gozer asks to choose the form of the destructor. When Egon suggests crossing the streams he is the one that first questions it then gives the go ahead for that plan. While they are finishing rescuing Dana he is the one that orders the other three to go rescue the “little guy”. So yeah….seems pretty clear he was the unofficial leader of the team. (At different points in the movie each member of the team takes the middle position, however Venkman is the one who occupies it the most and especially takes it during the big moments like the ballroom with Slimer and the rooftop confrontation with Gozer.)

    So here’s the thing…even though the cartoon version of Peter was certainly portrayed less competently than the movie version often becoming more comic relief than anything he was still based on that original version of the.character who was considered to be the leader. However the cartoon of course did not have the star power issues that movie had so the team was essentially much more free to be balanced with none being featured much more prominently than the others in the actual cartoons themselves thus muddying the leadership picture. Evidence of this of course is that there was nothing close to a standard formation with any of the team taking a center position an majority time….which basically makes this fairly irrelevant to the whole positioning theory. Still I feel the need to mention Peter did seemingly retain final say on whether to take a case or not in the cartoon which is probably the strongest indicator that he was still essentially supposed to be considered the one most in charge. Though his popularity with kids and being the marketing focal point probably was mostly strongly based on his association with Slimer…

    As for the Super Sentai/Power Rangers stuff….I am in a similar boat of having not watched the stuff for a looong time and really only watched a bit here and there after the original two seasons. Season 3 started to lose my interest and then came the fleet of movies and fly by night franchise changes with characters who barely had time to grab my interest before they were replaced.
    Anyways yeah apparently the Pink Ranger became the leader of Time Force/Timeranger after the red one fake died for a while….and guess who assumed the center formation position and got the extra toys:

    Only some footage of Ninja Sentai was used in the third season of the original series as an second team but dubbed the Aquitar Rangers guess who often took center position:
    (there are indeed also some screenshots of red in the middle so I dunno if there was another leadership change over at some point. I don’t remember much about this season other than overall it was not great but still much better than what I saw of Turbo):

    Likewise with Tommy the White Ranger when he took charge at some point in Season 2 over Jason he indeed usually took over center in battle:

    Basically the only time I can find where the actual non-red leader was never front and center was Wild Force, where the Yellow Ranger was apparently leader for awhile but never took center position and never got any bonus toys/powers. (I actually sort of wonder if maybe her Japanese male counterpart was not actually the leader of that team which would explain why Red still apparently got all the traditional team leader associated stuff? Your friend apparently did not mention the Japanese counterpart to this series which would seem to further confirm my suspicions…)

  5. I definitely see what you’re trying to say in this post. There’s a teamwork effort more than structured hierarchy. But, Sailor Moon is still basically the “leader” in that she’s Serenity and the others are there to support her. (Ok, not at first, obviously. But that’s how it’s supposed to be from back in Silver Millenium.)

    She definitely does not act like a leader and does not give commands. If anything, Venus is the one that takes a leadership role early on when she first appears (both manga/anime).

    You COULD argue that Luna and Artemis are the leaders, but, they too are ultimately subordinates to the royal family.

    I think that, she’s supposed to be the leader, but her style of leadership is teamwork/democracy. She isn’t “ready” to take charge or command. In the Cardian saga, she very reluctantly returns to her duty as a senshi. I believe she understands her strength comes from her support group and relies on them. Once she gains the training and maturity she needs, then she is ready to become Neo Queen Serenity and actually be a real leader.

  6. I never really understood the whole ‘Venus as the Leader’ thing either. I mean the only real claim she has to that position, is being the first Senshi to awaken.
    Outside of that, I never really saw her display any such qualities, or take such a role at any point.

    I think it was largely down to Sailor-V making her appear as a somewhat more important character. But once Sailor Moon started, Naoko gradually moved away from her to focus more on Usagi.
    This is perhaps best noticeable in the Black Moon arc. Where she was seemingly set up to do something major, being the only Guardian who wasn’t abducted. But ended up being little more then a third wheel, and ultimately useless.

    From a western standpoint, I think the average person would naturally see Mars as more leadership material. Due to things like her colour, and possessing a more strict/commanding attitude.
    Indeed in the Live Action Series, Minako was somewhat grooming Rei to take that role. Though the execution could have been a bit better in that regard.

    However, I never really saw Usagi as the leader either. To me she’s more like the glue that holds the rest together.
    She is the reincarnation of a Princess, and the Inners are her personal guards, yes. But let’s remember before that, each of the four were treated somewhat as outcasts.
    Rei for example was seen as a creepy psychic girl. And Makoto was ostracized for her height and masculine appearance.
    Usagi was essentially the first person they met who treated them with warmth from the get go.
    As a result the reason they follow her seems to be based more on affection, then out of duty and destiny.
    It’s not so much the slandered team dynamic, but more like family/siblings. Usagi is basically the little sister of the group. They tease and sometimes loose patience with her antics. But in the end they all look out for her.
    If I can make a comparison, it’s much like the set-up for Magiranger.

    Not to get too sentimental, but Sailor Moon is a series that puts an emphasis on friendship and love. And the Inners relationship with Usagi very much reflects that. The R movie I think best showcases their bond.

    Which in many ways is why Crystal’s sloppy handling of it really irks me. Its so hollow and artificial as a result. To say nothing of how the writers kept on making the Inners look like worthless jokes, and Mamoru being far more important to Usagi then anything else…

  7. I see no reason to question as Sailor Venus is the leader of the Guardian Senshi (herself, Sailor Mars, Sailor Jupiter, and Sailor Mercury; I read in their character books that each is the leader after the other is out of commission-in order, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Mercury) during the Silver Millenium as there was no Sailor Moon. In present day, Sailor Moon is the leader as she is the Princess. Sailor Venus, however, is still the leader of the Guardians, but is only truly in charge when Sailor Moon is not around. This is seen several times in the manga, even if never actually stated.

    I read once that Sailor Saturn is the leader of the Outer Senshi, but I can’t find anything to back that up anymore. When all together, Sailor Moon is the leader of all. If Moon is absent, this falls to Venus.

  8. The idea of Mars being leader only came up in the dub, where Raye was ten times bitchier to Serena and had no problem trying to kick her out of the Scouts. In the original anime she simply didn’t think Usagi was ready for it, but didn’t volunteer herself to take her place.

  9. For one, I consider canon the manga or the new anime adaptation that follows the manga more closely. Having said that, yes, Venus is the leader of the Inner Senshi. During the Silver Millenium, she was given the sword and made the leader by the Queen, she is also the one who defetead Beryl -one of the main enemies- after the Princess killed herself. In essence, she is the leader of Mercury, Mars and Jupiter.. because in the past Sailor Moon just didn’t exist (or it did but we don’t see it, anyways she didn’t fight at the end). This is also supported as she is the only one to have an ‘advisor’, Artemis, like the Princess/Queen have.
    Sure Naoko could have made her stronger and have more of an impact but Sailor Moon is the main protagonist and when she’s there I don’t think there’s a real leader (and no, she isn’t one at all -like, come on) but they all work together to defeat the enemies and protect the Princess, on the Senshi’s side. When Sailor Moon / the Princess is in danger, Venus is the one who (supposedly) should steps forward as the leader of the senshi. That’s all there is to it.

    Also in the last new movie, it was once again reaffirmed by Venus herself that she is, infact, the leader of the Senshi.

  10. I disagree that there is no leader, to me it is clear that Sailor Moon is the leader in the anime series, for many reasons mentioned in other comments… so no need to rehash those here.

    I just wanted to add that to me, Sailor Moon’s leadership style is one reason I fell in love with Sailor Moon. Growing up in the 90’s, I felt like I was constantly getting messaging through other media that to be a leader meant to be more “masculine” or dominant– a more authoritarian, transactional leadership style, as you mentioned the villains had.

    Sailor Moon IS the leader… she just has a different leadership *style*— her leadership is transformational, and consensus-based (transformational leadership has a wiki page for info– this is a recognized style within leadership theory). That doesn’t make it *less* than the more typical hierarchical/transactional leadership style, but it makes it very different to how we are used to seeing leadership depicted in shows where it involves orders/commands. Not all leadership is vertical in nature, you can lead horizontally as well. I think the more egalitarian nature of the team, being able to inspire people at a fundamental level, which gets them to work together, rather than an individualistic, competitive focus that undermined the strategy of the villains, is part of the message of the series.

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