Japanese film, manga and anime narratives are a convoluted wonder. Eschewing anything resembling coherency or logic, you either go with the flow or sit, puzzled, in an uncomprehending fog. You can't think about it too hard, or you'll be too busy picking up the pieces and miss all the fun.
Just check out the massively popular cartoon series Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon. The premise: Queen Serenity sends her magical cat Luna back in time to warn a grade-school version of herself that she must defend the world from an encroaching evil. Luna, a black feline with a crescent moon on its forehead, tells the child—a clumsy blonde with oversized pigtails and a sweet tooth named Usagi—that she and four other girls are powerful incarnations of interstellar royalty. All they have to do is say specific magic words, and they get pulled into the air, lose their clothes, whirl around naked for a bit, and transform into battle-ready beauties wearing sexy versions of traditional schoolgirl sailor uniforms.
Time travel; previously mundane and now murderous objects possessed by demons; reincarnation; and the Japanese fetish for round eyes, white skin and grade-school children nestled amid fan-service staples of near-nudity, lesbian love and panty shots—the exploitive aspects are never gratuitous and always focused on girl power and strength.
"Moon Crisis: A Tribute to Sailor Moon" at Rothick Art Haus, 170 S. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 829-8283; www.rothick.com. Open Sat., noon-5 p.m. Through Aug. 30. Free.
Created by female artist Naoko Takeuchi in 1991 and aimed at young women, the series spawned a merchandising deluge: popular toys, arcade and video games, musicals, and snack foods. Premiering on American television in a bowdlerized version a few years later, it became one of the most influential anime series of all time. In celebration of its 20th anniversary and the 2014 reboot Sailor Moon Crystal—available via Hulu—curators 3tArts are clearly in love with the show, letting their pop-culture flags fly with "Moon Crisis: A Tribute to Sailor Moon," now at Rothick Art Haus. By offering Disneyfied, eroticizied or romanticized drawings, giclees, sketches, paintings, dolls, sculptures, photographs, clothing, skate decks and characters, Jane Estantino, Stephanie Han and Katie McAtee have covered the gallery from floor to ceiling with art inspired by the show. There's something for every taste, and with almost 130 pieces on display, here's a far-too-brief mention of pieces that caught my eye.
Jackie Huang's finely sculpted layers of cut paper, silhouettes of Luna and the Sailor Senshi, their individual backgrounds splashed with color, each a labor-intensive marvel. Glenn Arthur's sexy, painted pinup of Ami in the acrylic-on-wood Mercury Power, throwing a sideways glance from behind a pair of thick, black nerd glasses. The dream-like installation "Through my Window" by e.D.Xu echoes the series' closing-credits image. Paigey Pumphrey's movie poster in the style of R. Crumb. Yue Li's affectionate, personality-driven cartoon portraits. Sara Richard's mixed media reimagining of the Sailors as Art Deco icons, complete with Luna as a black panther, is elegant and spot-on; Aimee Steinberger's delightful Go Usagi! captures the character in motion, tripping, falling and transforming.
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One of the censorship battles the series endured when it came to America was the homophobic editing and dialogue re-dubbing it underwent, suggesting Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus weren't actually lovers, just affectionate cousins. I'm pleased to say the love that dare not speak its name shouts from the rooftops in "Moon Crisis": Alice X. Zhang's black-and-white print of the two lying on a bed in each other's arms in Sailor Kiss (based on Tanya Chalkin's Kiss); Uranus lovingly carrying a smitten Neptune in Naomi Hicks' markers-and-acrylic My Hero; Pat Mao's ink-and-acrylic depictions of the two in street clothes and preparing for combat present them as hip ass-kickers; lastly, Claire "Shoom'lah" Hummel's Admiral Tenoh gives us a cocky, uniformed Uranus strolling confidently, sword at her side, the flaps of her military jacket waving in the breeze.
On the flip side, not much is gained by Greg De Stefano's Moon Bitches, punk-influenced photographs of the Senshi as trashy bad girls in skimpy outfits. To my mind, the male gaze of flipped digits, sexist insults and hooker shoes works against Takeuchi's intentions. Likewise, Eric Pietrangolare's photos of half-naked models decorated as various characters resemble little more than cheesy glamour porn shots to me.
I don't pretend to understand all of the ins and outs of the show's plotting—I brought my Sailor Moon-adoring husband along to fill in the blanks—but even with my limited knowledge (based on a dozen episodes from Sailor Moon S), I was fascinated by what I saw and appreciative that so many female artists were getting their work seen. Based on the flood of cosplay-clothed young women (and a few men) waiting in line to get inside as I left, Estantino, Han and McAtee have tapped into something deep and, dare I say, important. Get there quickly, however: Even before the show opened, I saw a lot of little red stars, indicating that sales were brisk.