If you were a brunette girl Sailor Moon fan growing up, like me, one of the things you might have noticed instantly in the original anime is Sailor Pluto’s complexion. Compared to the other Sailor Scouts, Sailor Pluto (or Setsuna Meiou) was darker than the other scouts. In the manga pages, this is further accentuated by the shading that makes her look very dark.
As a young black girl, this drew me to Pluto – this statuesque, mysterious, powerful and beautiful woman with the power to control time. She was written in the manga as a kind mother figure equal to Neo-Queen Serenity. While drawing multiple fantasy elements, all of the characters in Sailor Moon are canonically Japanese. However, since most depictions of Japanese people in cartoons tend to have fair, fair skin tones, there has often been speculation as to 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 gate, unlike the other scouts who protected the moon princess.
There were three taboos she could never break:
1) She must never leave her post.
2) She couldn’t allow anyone to time travel.
3) She must never use her powers to disrupt the flow of time.
If she broke the last taboo, it would mean her death. Eventually, to protect Chibi-Usa, Pluto breaks this taboo and dies. Later, she is brought back to life and becomes a full member of the Outer Sailor Scouts.
In interviews with designer Naoko Takeuchi, she said she wanted to “make Pluto a black soldier, so I gave her a black tone on her hair and skin.”
This is pretty much what anime and manga character designs look like. Color to fit an aesthetic and mood rather than always being an ethnic or racial marker. (That’s why blonde hair isn’t always an indication of whiteness).
We know that Takeuchi was inspired by American and Western fashion in the 1990s, and in 1993 when Takeuchi introduced the character of Pluto, there were prominent Latin and black models. For example, a Chanel dress that inspired a Sailor Pluto artwork was modeled by both Latina model Christy Turlington and Black-British model Naomi Campbell.
So the idea of a mysterious, tall, dark-skinned woman might have been something she got from that influence. I remember there were rumors that Setsuna was part Roma, and that was the explanation for his 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 her Browness by making her something other than Japanese.
While the Yamato people are the predominant ethnic group in Japan, other indigenous peoples, such as the The Ainu exist in Japan. Pluto is darker and she is Japanese. The two should not be a contradiction.
But that’s not to say her skin tone didn’t matter. For many brunette girls, Sailor Pluto’s dark complexion was an indicator that we belonged in anime. Although this complexion may vary depending on the animation and the 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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