With such a long-running and beloved series like Sailor Moon, it’s easy to overlook some of the more basic details of the series as obvious and just part of “the way things are,” but when you actually stop and take a close look, you can’t help but wonder why that’s how things turned out. The fact that there were originally five members of the Sailor Team, for example, is one of those. Often referred to as the “Inner Senshi,” the original five sailor-suited beauties making up the core team are simply seen as the staple of the series, but when you actually stop and think about it, things don’t quite add up. Though there’s been no direct word from Ms. Takeuchi on this issue, there’s a surprising amount of tradition in Japanese TV, manga, and traditional theater culture as well which supports this five member team, so let’s see if we can make some sense of it!
Before going any further, it’d first be a good idea to clear up a common complaint (if you could call it that) on this subject that often comes up, in that the five original sailor soldiers are often referred to as the “inner” senshi (内部太陽系戦士; naibu taiyoukei senshi), a title which supposedly corresponds to the concept of the “inner” and “outer” planets1 in our solar system. Since the cutoff point between the inner and outer planets is the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, this would explicitly prevent Makoto from belonging to the team. However, the term “inner senshi” didn’t come up until Sailor Moon S and beyond (when Uranus, Neptune, and Saturn joined), so this was likely more of an oversight and a desire to fit astronomy back into the structure of the team and not actually a factor in the creation of the original Sailor Team.
The simplest explanation is that the four planetary guardians plus Princess Serenity are intended to correspond to the four kings and Prince Endymion. As previously discussed, the Four Kings come from Buddhist tradition and refer to the four gods governing over the four compass directions. Since they obviously have a fixed number, one could easily make the assertion that the four members of the Sailor Team were chosen to match up with the kings of the Dark Kingdom and balance out both sides. When you take a look at other Japanese media, however, I don’t think this is the case and, in fact, it’s more likely that the four kings themselves were chosen to match up with the full Sailor Team.
Why’s that? Well, as anyone who grew up in the early 90’s (and probably through today) could tell you, Japan has an incredibly long-running series of transforming superheroes who use a mixture of martial arts and magical powers to fight the forces of evil known as the Super Sentai Series (スーパー戦隊シリーズ) in Japan and as Power Rangers in the West. This series has been running since 1975, when Himitsu Sentai Gorenger (秘密戦隊ゴレンジャー)2 first debuted on TV Asahi, and has been a huge influence on pretty much every team-based fighting superhero series to appear ever since. The concept at its most basic core is that they are a team made up of five members, each with a very similar uniform which differs only by their primary colors. Not only was Ms. Takeuchi apparently a big fan of these shows, but they were also produced by Toei and aired on TV Asahi – the same companies which produced (in the case of the movies) and aired Sailor Moon, respectively. It wouldn’t be too much of a leap to assume that TV Asahi asked for five team members during the initial negotiations with Ms. Takeuchi when planning the debut of the Sailor Moon manga and anime.
While we could just leave this off here and that say that the inspiration for the initial five members of the Sailor Team was in the long-running Super Sentai Series, I feel it would be a bit too easy to just leave it off here. This answers the direct question behind where significance of five comes from for Sailor Moon directly, but why is it that Toei chose this number for the Super Sentai Series in the first place?
The inspiration behind the makeup of the original Himitsu Sentai Gorenger team comes from an old kabuki play known as “Five Men of the White Waves” (白浪五人男; Shiranami Gonin Otoko)3, with “white waves” (白浪; shiranami) being a reference to thieves. In Acts 3 and 4, for example, the group wears costumes (kimonos) in order to steal an artifact and then fights off police forces after revealing their true identities. When deciding upon the structure of the original Himitsu Sentai Gorenger team, the opinion within Toei4 was that:
Three is too few, and four is unlucky. Seven is way too many.
There may be some other reasons out there for why Ms. Takeuchi decided to structure the Sailor Team in the way that she did, but at the very least this provides a nice contextual explanation for how the team of inner senshi came to be as we know it today. Who would have guessed that something as simple as this could have been tied all the way back to old kabuki plays dating back to the Edo period!
- For more information on the distinction between the inner and outer planets, see The Inner and Outer Planets (Universe Today) ↩
- See Himitsu Sentai Gorenger (Wikipedia) ↩
- See Five Men of the White Waves (Wikipedia) ↩
- See Super Sentai Series (Wikipedia); specifically, pp. 12 – 13 of the book titled “Dissection of Super Sentai ’75 ~ ’79” ↩