One of these episodes had much more to talk about than the other…
Usagi’s Joy: A Love Letter from Tuxedo Mask
Deep within his planeSCAREium, Nephrite asks the stars to show him Sailor Moon’s secret weakness. The stars show him a clip show of the episode where she got turned into a tennis ball. No, wait, they’re showing a montage of her being enamored of Tuxedo Mask. “Yesss,” cackles Nephrite. Or he would, but Zoisite shows up in a literal swirl of roses to tell him that Queen Beryl wants to talk to him. Once again, the Queen tells him that he’s not been doing such a great job at collecting energy, and Nephrite’s response is “The universe wasn’t created in a day.”
HOLD UP hold up hold up hold up. Your boss points out that you’ve been repeatedly defeated by three teenage girls, and your response is to compare yourself to god? Maybe they should name the next Sailor Senshi after your ego, because it is the size of a planet. Queen Beryl knows sassback when she hears it and tells him that if he doesn’t straighten out and fly right, she’ll throw him in the Eternal Sleep next to Jadite. And we all know that jackass snores. “I do not need to be told to find ways to defeat the Sailor Guardians,” says Nephrite. “I’M GOING TO WRITE THEM LOVE LETTERS.”
Usagi is just delighted to receive a letter that says it’s from Tuxedo Mask, confessing his love for her and inviting her to meet him in the mall in Shinjuku the next night. So, basically, your average OKCupid message. “How does Tuxedo Mask even know you’re Sailor Moon?” asks Luna. I don’t know, maybe because the Sailor Senshi make almost no effort to hide their secret identities? Or, that, like, Tuxedo Mask saw Ami out-of-costume in the Bus Episode? “No, Susana,” says Usagi, “It’s because the power of love can solve any mystery.” Whatever, Usagi, get on with the show. If I can accept that nobody in Gotham suspects Bruce Wayne of being Batman, I can accept that it’s implausible for Tuxedo Mask to know who you are. But, as in both cases, I still get to make fun of it.
Luna also gives some lip service to the idea that she’s still not sure if Tuxedo Mask is friend or foe. That seems a little harsh; sure he’s a disappearing dingus who couldn’t answer a question with a straight answer if his life depended on it, but he’s always been on your side.
When Usagi gets to school the next day, she is devastated to find that all the teenage girls in Juban have been sent love letters from Tuxedo Mask. Including Naru, who privately hopes that the true identity of this Tuxedo Mask is… Nephrite? Uh oh. Ami agrees with Luna that the letters are pretty weird, and goes to discuss it with Rei, who has a cold and so will not be able to come out and play Sailor Senshi just for some love letters. She’s quite annoyed that Usagi will be able to go meet Tuxedo Mask and not her. Ami promises to take care of her while she’s sick because she is literally the cutest thing, and now we’ve established that Usagi is on her own for this adventure.
Meanwhile, Naru runs into her crush: Masato Sanjoin, AKA Nephrite pretending to be a sexy tennis coach, as appearing in the tennis episode. So I guess she didn’t put it together that his visit to Rui correlated with her getting all… crazy? She asks him if he’s Tuxedo Mask, and he decides that this must be because she’s Sailor Moon, because he doesn’t realize that she’s only interested in Tuxedo Mask if he is Tuxedo Mask. Also because, apparently, he thinks it would be impossible for more than one woman to be in love with Tuxedo Mask. So then… he hits on her AND IT’S SUPER GROSS.
He says he’s been “interested” in her for a while now and that he’ll see her that night (at the mall, *wink wink nudge nudge*) and ew ew ugh ugh.
Tangent: What’s Nephrite doing wandering around in civilian dress here? Do the Kings of Heaven do their own grocery shopping?
For her own part, Usagi resolves to visit the mall in order to ask Tuxedo Mask why he would send love letters to so many girls. You know what, why would Nephrite send love letters to this many girls? Why not send a letter to every girl that says “Hey I’m Tuxedo Mask and I’m trying to meet Sailor Moon because I love her are you her if so please meet me etc., etc.” Does he think that Sailor Moon doesn’t talk to other girls ever? Get your shit together, Nephrite.
Naru and Usagi wind up being the only girls who show up at the mall after hours, because all the other girls decided, “Hey, you know what would be good? Not accepting a strange man’s invitation to meet him in the middle of an empty mall where no one will be able to hear me scream.” Usagi is held up by a call on her Sailor communicator from Ami and Rei, which isn’t particularly interesting or funny except that that’s why they show up later on so it’s necessary exposition. Naru gets there first, only to find…
“Oh, hi Mr. Sanjoin!” she greets him. “Wait,” Nephrite answers, “You can tell who I am by my voice?” “Yes,” says Naru, “That is a basic ability that most human beings have.” “Huh,” he says. “Weird. NOW SHOW YOUR OTHER IDENTITY TO ME, SAILOR MOON!”
Then, instead of saying “You’re an adult man who invited me to an empty mall at night and now you’re just going to yell at me? Fuck off, I’m leaving,” Naru says “I love you.” As she does this Nephrite senses a ton of crazy tasty energy emanating from her, and takes the opportunity to steal as much of it as he can. That’s the scene Usagi walks in on: Nephrite in a tux, mask, and hat, siphoning energy from her unconscious best friend. She immediately realizes that it’s not Tuxedo Mask, much to my eternal relief (I was not prepared to suspend my belief in the efficacy of Tuxedo Mask’s tiny mask for an entire mistaken identity subplot), and transforms.
Across the city, Mamoru doubles over in sparkly pain, and then…
And the show has finally, diegetically confirmed that Mamoru Chiba is Tuxedo Mask.
“Hands off that girl,” shouts Sailor Moon, “you Tuxedo Mask faker!”
Does Nephrite have face/voice blindness? It would explain a lot about this episode. I mean, damn, even Jadite managed to figure out the Senshi’s secret identities. Usagi kicks his hat off and rescues Naru, and then recognizes him as Masato Sanjoin. Frustrated that he’s the only person in this series who is bad at remembering who people are, he rips off his mask and whines “NO, I’m Nephrite, one of the Four Kings of Heaven from the Dark Kingdom, gahd!”
Then he summons some kind of spectral lion that’s immune to Sailor Moon’s tiara throw, but no worries! Tuxedo Mask shows up in an exaggeratedly casual fashion (see top pic). He’s here to clear his name: he’d never send girls love letters. He’d rather support their efforts with non-specific encouragement and then disappear immediately. Direct communication? Pah. Unable to defeat Nephrite’s lion, our heroes retreat to the elevator, and just leave Naru behind? Alone? And unconscious. Ok, our “heroes.”
But the elevator was a trap: Nephrite enchants it to zip all the way to the top floor and then drop them. Then he leaves without making sure they don’t escape or anything. Like I said before: ego the size of a planet. And they probably wouldn’t have escaped, since Usagi is totally overwhelmed by the idea that she’s in a small room with Tuxedo Mask and there’s definitely no way he can just nope outta there this time, but TM is all over it, bashing open the hatch on top of the elevator and getting them both out of the thing before it plummets.
Unfortunately now they’re both hanging by his fingers from the top of the elevator shaft. To distract from their doom, he suggests that they have a chat. Usagi tells him a bunch of stuff that we already know, like that she’s in love/infatuated with him and that she thinks he’s Motoki (mostly because she really wants him to be Motoki because she loves/likes/is infatuated with him). The only answer Tuxedo Mask offers is to the question “Why do you always come to save me?” He says he doesn’t really know, it’s just something he feels compelled to do. He thinks they may have some connection from their distant past; that he can almost, but not quite, remember what it might be. Usagi says that it must be because he loves her, but laughs the statement off a second later.
Fortunately, before they fall to their deaths, they are rescued by Ami, Rei, and Luna. They get Naru to a hospital, Tuxedo Mask makes his disappearance, and everything’s back to normal. In the Dark Kingdom, Queen Beryl is so impressed by the energy that Nephrite collected from Naru that she forgives his newest failure against the Sailor Senshi, much to the chagrin of Zoisite. “People in crystal houses shouldn’t throw precious stones,” Queen Beryl tells him, “so maybe you should spend less time with your catty little nose all up in Nephrite’s business, and more time finding me the motherfucking Legendary Silver Crystal.” Queen Beryl for president. I swear, I would watch a show that was just the Dark Kingdom folks being catty at each other all day long.
Stinger: Nephrite reflects that Naru is truly in love with him. I wonder if that’s a plot point that’s going to come back later. No, I’m not checking every day to see when Jupiter joins the cast…
The Summer, The Beach, Youth and Ghosts
On today’s episode: the Senshi go on vacation! Well, Luna says it’s a weekend away so that they can all focus on training as Sailor Guardians, but pffft then you probably shouldn’t have let them pick a gorgeous beach location, geeze. Also, like, that’s never mentioned again in the episode, so, good job Luna.
Rei says that the boarding house she picked has a private beach, and now, The Mary Sue Presents Usagi’s Private Beach Daydream.
The girls get caught in a thunderstorm while trying to make their way to their accommodations and nearly get lost, but they manage to find a small girl who lives at the boarding house, Sakiko, who shows them the way. The house turns out to be super creepy, and its employees all dress like Hammer Horror monsters. It’s also called the “Adams” pension house, and now I’m really curious as to whether The Addams Family had any kind of notoriety in Japan, so that I could tell whether this was a subtle reference or a clear joke.
Either way, this creeps the heck out of Usagi and Luna.
But beyond the Frankenstein’s monster, werewolf, and youma lady caretakers, there’s a man wearing black robes and evil facial hair: it’s Sakiko’s domineering father, who orders her to stop associating with the guests, especially ones that are as foolish and silly as these three girls, and get back to her room. Over dinner, it is revealed that Rei picked this place because of its cutthroat prices. “Plus,” she adds, “this note in my room says they threw in an eldritch haunting totally free. Wait, what—” A ghostly weeping echoes throughout the house, and a spectral woman floats through the hall before disappearing in a bang that blows out a bunch of the lightbulbs. Rei senses some kind of power in the house, but it doesn’t taste like the Dark Kingdom, so it’s anyone’s guess as to what’s going on.
In another room, Sakiko’s father hypnotizes her, so that’s not super ominous. Oh well, LET’S GO TO THE BEACH. The beach turns out to be a tiny isolated inlet at the base of the giant cliff. Usagi’s disappointed that there are no hot guys except the ones in her head, but resolves to have fun with both of her friends anyway. Alone, Sakiko watches the girls have fun from the top of the cliff.
That evening, as Rei prepares the dining room for inhabitation with her o-fuda, she overhears the costumed caretakers plotting to do… something, in an effort by the episode to provide a minimum of misdirection from the obvious bad guy of Sakiko’s dad. Meanwhile, Ami has a chat with the girl herself, who’s still standing alone on the cliff in front of the moon being pensive, like this was an episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender. (I’m just saying, there’s a lot of pensive cliff-side conversations in Avatar. Rebecca hasn’t really gotten there yet.)
Sakiko reveals that she’s been watching them all day, and that she desperately wants to be friends with them. Naturally, this reminds Ami of her own life before becoming a Sailor Senshi have I mentioned that I love Ami, and she agrees that Sakiko should totally become friends with them, especially Usagi because she makes everyone feel very happy. This is especially heart-string-tugging for Ami to say after a scene in which Usagi reminded her to get her nose out of her textbook and enjoy the beach with her friends. But Sakiko’s father interrupts this Kodak moment to drag her inside and berate her about talking to strangers. He warns Ami to leave before even more terrifying things happen in the house, to which Ami replies, “Like, I’ve fought a spider centaur and two living dolls in the past month, come at me bro.” (Not really.)
Inside, Sakiko protests that the Senshi are nice people, and her father responds that until he can help her get her psychic powers under control, he won’t let anyone be near her. He wants her to perfect her abilities through his hypnotism so he can show the world that laughed at his theories that such power really exists. An eavesdropping Ami observes all of this. Sakiko’s father orders her to manifest scary ghost energy in the house, just as Rei and Usagi discover the house caretakers attempting to perform an exorcism on Sakiko and the house. “Hey that’s my schtick,” Rei doesn’t have time to respond as all the furniture starts floating into the air. Before Ami can stop him, Sakiko’s father forces her to manifest the ghost again, but this time there’ll be none of that namby pamby floating and weeping. No, it’s all screaming and attacking Sakiko’s dad from here on out.
The girls transform and wake Sakiko, but even she’s not sure that she can banish the “ghost.” Rei says that the little girl’s suppressed desire to disobey her father has manifested in this uncontrollable form. Upon hearing this, Sakiko’s father repents of his controlling ways, giving Sakiko the mental strength to banish the manifestation forever. Her father vows never to force her to use her psychic powers again and we get a happy ending where all the girls play on the beach with Sakiko to cap out their vacation.
Moon Prism Power… Wrap Up!
I’ve been waiting for a good episode to use as an example for one of my favorite things about Sailor Moon, and “A Love Letter From Tuxedo Mask” sure is it. The idea that Usagi’s greatest weakness is her schoolgirl crush could be interpreted as kinda sexist, but I think it’s one of the most traditionally heroic things about her and here’s why:
Sailor Moon tells us an expertly genderflipped hero’s journey down to very precise details.
It’s very easy to interpret Usagi’s personal shortcomings as the way writers might diminish a female lead in order to make her less threatening to men. Sure, she’s got all these powers, but ultimately she’s flighty and lazy and easily distracted and worships men: she’s not a real hero. This is a very instinctual way to dismiss female characters: if they’re not perfect, they’re not as good as male heroes. (The flipside: If they are perfect, they’re unrealistically powerful.) But we’re very accepting of the bumbling male hero. Imagine this:
Irresponsible teenage boy finds out he has a grand heroic destiny and all the super powers that come along with that, and though he still loves to goof off and play video games, to sleep in, to pig out on snacks; though he’s still awkward and distracted around pretty older girls and routinely neglects his school work… he learns self discipline and how to live up to his responsibilities without ever losing his love of fun.
That’s totally normal, right? A male teenage superhero who hangs out at an arcade? Who overeats? Who never gets up on time in the morning? That’s a story that’s been peddled to kids dozens of times over by Saturday morning cartoons at this point. It’s an acceptable and well known subversion of the super-competent hero narrative of classic comic book superheroes. Fallible heroines are so few and far between because infallible heroines have yet to become such a well known trope that subverting it would have any meaning (or, indeed, be consistently distinguishable from misogynist writing).
So, Usagi is a female version of a fallible male hero character, along the lines of Spider-Man, Bilbo, or Avatar‘s Aang. The question you should be asking now is, of course, what does that make Tuxedo Mask? The answer is simple: Tuxedo Mask is the Femme Fatale. Think about it: his costume makes fundamental concessions to the gaze of the opposite sex. He shows up and nominally helps the hero, but in actuality usually just provides emotional support so as not to diminish the power of the main character within the narrative. He is frequently kidnapped and held for ransom. And then there’s the Chibi-Usa arc in the manga, where Mamoru immediately becomes the doting parent while Usagi stresses about how the presence of their child has fundamentally changed her relationship with her significant other, and becomes jealous of the attention that Mamoru now spends on their kid instead of her.
But most pertinently for “A Love Letter From Tuxedo Mask,” the hero’s affection for the femme fatal is their greatest weakness. This should sound familiar. Most hero narratives don’t go totally explicit with this, preferring to let their characters simply internally wrestle with having a heroic life or expressing their love to a woman, but a great example might be Batman: Son of the Demon, a story arc in which Talia decides to lie to Batman and say that she’s miscarried their child because the prospect of becoming a father and embracing married life has literally made Batman so bad at being Batman that he almost dies. See also: the entirety of Superman II and a strong subplot of Nolan’s Batman movies.
The clarity of the genderswapped tropes applied in Sailor Moon are one of the things I find most fascinating as an adult, at least partly because I know that as a kid they would have gone completely over my head and led met to disdain Usagi, even as I totally bought into Spider-Man cartoons.