Here’s Why Sailor Pluto Had a Darker Skin Tone Than the Rest of the Sailor Scouts
If you were a Brown girl fan of Sailor Moon growing up, like myself, one of the things you might have instantly noticed in the original anime is Sailor Pluto’s complexion. Compared to the other Sailor Scouts, Sailor Pluto (or Setsuna Meiou) was drawn darker than the other scouts. In the pages of the manga, this is emphasized even more by shading that makes her look very dark.
As a young Black girl, this made me drawn to Pluto—this statuesque, mysterious, powerful, and beautiful woman with the power to control time. She was written in the manga as a kind maternal figure equal to Neo-Queen Serenity. While pulling from multiple fantasy elements, all the characters in Sailor Moon are canonically Japanese. However, since most depictions of Japanese people in anime tend to have fair and light complexions, there has often been speculation about why Pluto is so dark.
Who is Sailor Pluto?
Sailor Pluto first appeared during the Black Moon arc. There are slight differences between the manga and the anime, but the general story is that Pluto guards the Space-Time Door, unlike the other scouts who protected the Moon Princess.
There were three taboos that she could never break:
1) She must never leave her post.
2) She could not allow anyone to travel through time.
3) She must never use her powers to mess with the flow of time.
If she broke the last taboo, it would mean her death. Eventually, to protect Chibi-Usa, Pluto breaks that taboo and dies. Later, she is brought back to life and becomes a full member of the Outer Sailor Scouts.
In interviews with creator Naoko Takeuchi, she stated that she wanted to “make Pluto a dark Soldier, so I gave her hair and skin a black tone.”
That is pretty much how anime and manga character designs are. Coloring to fit an aesthetic and vibe rather than always being an ethnic or racial marker. (Which is why blonde hair is not always an indication of whiteness).
We know Takeuchi was inspired by American and Western fashion in the 1990s, and in 1993, when Takeuchi introduced the character of Pluto, there were significant Latina and Black models. For example, a Chanel dress that was the inspiration for one piece of Sailor Pluto art was modeled by both Latina model Christy Turlington and Black-British model Naomi Campbell.
So the idea of a dark-skinned mysterious, tall woman could have been something she took from that influence. I remember there being rumors that Setsuna was part Romani, and that was the explanation for her skin.
So, is Sailor Pluto Japanese?
In many ways, the desire to explain or develop a theory as to why Pluto is darker than some of the other characters speaks to our colorism issues—that there’s an impulse to explain away her Browness by making her something other than Japanese.
While the Yamato people are the predominant ethnic group in Japan, other Indigenous people, like the Ainu people, exist in Japan. Pluto is darker, and she is Japanese. The two don’t have to be a contradiction.
But that doesn’t mean her skin tone didn’t matter. For many Brown girls, the dark complexion of Sailor Pluto was an indicator that we belonged in anime. While that complexion may vary depending on animation and adaptation—when I look at the black and white pages of the manga, I see what she meant to me. Sailor Pluto made me, and many others, feel like we too could have Sailor Planet Power.
(featured image: Naoko Takeuchi)
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