The Ever Changing Skin Tone Of Sailor Pluto
Written By Jessica C. Michaels
Sailor Pluto, Guardian of the afterlife and guardian of time in Sailor Moon, has quite the fan base. Especially among anime fans and cosplayers of color. She is impossibly cool, aloof, and most obviously dark in personality and skin tone according to her earlier manga appearances.
As a Sailor Moon fan, it stings a little to acknowledge this, but I’m going to get right into it: Sailor Pluto’s various skin tones has been a cause for concern for me.
Her fanbase has virtually been divided between those that, quite correctly, appreciate a browner-skinned and mostly positive character in an anime (we all know how poorly some of us with darker hues are represented), and those that range between searching for a reason for her dark skin, outright saying that the lightening of her skin in the anime is perfectly okay, or the worst excuse: her skin is dark because of a printing error.
I don’t need to tell you how important it is to people of color to see ourselves being portrayed in a positive, heroic light. Unfortunately, with the exception of a one-shot secondary character (one Elza Grey), it seems virtually every other representation of darker skin in Sailor Moon has been villainous and non-human.
Episode 66 is particularly egregious. Behold, the monster of the week: Droid Avogadora
The Josephine Baker-esque, Jungle Queen-themed, hot mess aside, this subservient (to arc villains Calaveras and Petz) wreaked havoc by contaminating all the food in a supermarket, which turned civilians into mindless, hollow-eyed zombies… with darkened skin.
The franchise seems to like associating dark skin with negativity. Check out Avogadora’s human disguise. Lighter skin equals less suspicion, it seems.
Series creator Naoko Takeuchi has released this illustration. According to her, dark skin represents a “dark personality” (and associating the only dark-skinned main character with adultery is its own very loaded topic). I do feel like this was written as a response to all the fans looking for justifications for Sailor Pluto’s skin tone because even implicit blackness needs to be accounted for. S**t, if you’re going to be darker than the standard, it had better be for a good reason!
It needs to be pointed out that Pluto isn’t actually consistently dark in the manga. This serves as some support to the claims that Pluto might be of Romani or of Greek descent (the latter of which admittedly does tie in nicely with the canon of her being the daughter of Chronos), hence her sometimes-olive toned skin.
Either way, she’s still pretty damn light in both versions of the anime. Those who say that she is “much darker” than the other characters get an eye-roll from me, since the series has established that much darker skin does exist in this universe. The defense of anime version of Sailor Pluto feels a bit like telling people of color to be happy with what little we’re offered in the series. A mahogany-hued fan won’t see themself in white-tanned Sailor Pluto – and that’s who lack of representation hurts the most.
But Even if Pluto isn’t exclusively black or mediterranean or southeast Asian, my question is, why not?! If it’s acceptable for blonde-haired, blue-eyed Usagi and Minako to represent Japanese people, then why would browner-toned Makoto, Ami, Mamoru, Haruka or Setsuna be any less plausible?
I recommend checking out this article from Shojo Power! They also shed some light on the changing skin tone if Sailor Pluto as well.