2016 may be a shitshow, but at the last moment, anime seems to be conducting a noble effort to make the end of the year a bit sweeter. Freshman on the sports anime scene, Yuri!!! On Ice, appears to have skipped the typical queerbaiting of its predecessors and jumped right to a heartwarming portrayal of a healthy relationship between two bisexual men (fingers crossed this won’t get fucked up as it approaches its final episodes); unable to keep himself from his passion, Hayao Miyazaki has stated he’ll return from retirement for just one more feature length animated film with Studio Ghibli; and both Spirited Away and Sailor Moon R: The Movie are getting theatrical releases, Spirited Away in early December and Sailor Moon in January. As I’ve traveled back home for the holiday season, I’m about 90% sure that none of the theaters in my little town are going to be showing either of the two animated films. Like that would stop me, though.
Out of the Sailor Moon filmography, I remember watching Sailor Moon R—subtitled Promise of the Rose in the North American release—back in the wee days of my youth, and as such it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise when I say that it’s hands down my favorite of the three. Aside from the rose motif, little me adored the flower-based baddies and the romantic triangle that had a satisfying conclusion. Older me sat here not even a day ago reminiscing about the film wondering, “did this movie even have a love triangle?” I’m not doubting the shoujo genre or glossing over its flaws, but I watched the dub of the movie, and if there’s one thing I remember about the early dub of Sailor Moon, it’s that anything pertaining to not being straight typically had a shoddily woven rug thrown over it in hopes that the kiddies wouldn’t notice. And the potential love conflict between Darien, Serena, and the antagonist Fiore would have had almost inescapable implications of homosexual love between Darien and Fiore. Yet, upon watching the film again and keeping an eye out for this, I found that Fiore’s feelings probably weren’t intentionally glossed over. Furthermore, while the American dub may actually be gayer than the original Japanese, the ambiguity isn’t necessarily a bad thing in this case.
Note: since I’m mainly speaking of the dub, I will be using the names from said original dub.
Promise of the Rose takes us back into Darien’s past, back before he became Tuxedo Mask. Orphaned and injured after a car accident, his loneliness is momentarily allayed by a mysterious young boy named Fiore. However, just as their bond was at its deepest, Fiore was forced to leave. Tearfully, Darien gifts the young boy a flower, upon which Fiore promises that one day he’ll come back to return the kindness that Darien has shown him.
When Fiore returns to Earth to make good on his word, he becomes distressed upon seeing how close Serena is with Darien and lashes out at her. This is magnified by Darien not exactly remembering the time they spent together as children. As the scouts try to figure out who exactly Fiore is and how he knows Darien, strange flowers begin appearing in Tokyo, draining people of their energy and using their corpses as puppets. Fiore shows up again, taking credit for the flowers alongside the living alien boutonniere pinned to his chest, and again lashes out at Serena for tricking Darien into being friends with her. Darien shows up, denying this, and ends up taking a lethal blow intended for Serena. Horrified, Fiore takes Darien back with him to space, leaving a devastated Serena with the rest of the scouts.
In Fiore’s lair, Darien finally remembers his time with Fiore and accepts that Fiore is a real person rather than just an imaginary friend he created to cope with his loneliness. However, he fails to dissuade Fiore or combat the brainwashing powers of the alien Kisenian Blossom on Fiore’s chest. Darien is unaware of the Kisenian’s full power, but back on Earth, Luna and Artemis have given the scouts the lowdown. Kisenian Blossom is an ancient floral species that feeds off of energy. They travel from planet to planet spreading their seeds and sapping the planet of its energy, until it eventually crumbles. However, Kisenians cannot move on their own; they trick a host, one with a particularly fragile and easily manipulated heart, and convince their victim to do the brunt of the work for them, eventually discarding them once they have no further use for said victim. Knowing the full danger of the Kisenian Blossom’s influence, the scouts arrive on Fiore’s asteroid, and he, similarly, sets out once more to destroy them.
It turns out the entire time Fiore had been brainwashed by the Kisenian Blossom, which amplified his love for Darien and his jealousy in order to further the Kisenian’s own goal of sucking the Earth dry of energy. It’s only when Serena gives up in battle, relinquishing the moon scepter just so her friends wouldn’t be hurt anymore, that Fiore begins to struggle with the story that the Kisenian has woven for him—that the people of Earth abandoned Darien, and Serena has cruelly tricked him into thinking she’s his friend. As the Kisenian takes over Fiore’s body, that plan, too, crumbles as Darien throws a rose at him, stopping him from continuing his assault on Serena’s now lifeless body. As a last-ditch effort, with the Kisenian Blossom’s power still in him, Fiore sends the asteroid hurtling towards Earth. Though Serena attempts to use the power of the moon crystal to change the trajectory, Fiore grabs the crystal in an effort to rip it from her. Yet, the moment he touches it he sees a memory: the rose that Darien had given him all those years ago actually came from Serena first, because Serena had given Darien one on the same day as a symbol of their own newly-formed friendship. Seeing the error of his ways, both he and the Kisenian vanish, and though Serena perishes redirecting the asteroid, Fiore gives Darien the flower containing his life force, saving Serena as he disappears into space.
Promise of the Rose is another situation where if there’s subtext, it’s barely subtext. The Kisenian herself doesn’t have to work very hard to manipulate Fiore’s emotions to where she wants them. It’s Fiore’s love for Darien that has sustained him for this long: this is something he literally admits in the movie. If Darien hadn’t shown him kindness when he fell to Earth the first time, it’s very likely Fiore’s self-loathing would have grown, having no purpose for living and having no opportunity to form friendships with anyone as he roamed through space. And Darien, for his part, once he remembers Fiore, genuinely wants him to understand that he’s being manipulated by the Kisenian, only resorting to force when it’s clear that he’s not in his right mind and is about to kill his future wife. It’s clear they care for each other very much. However, it’s the dub itself that makes the first steps to implying that this strong relationship between Darien and Fiore may not be entirely platonic.
Near the very beginning of the film after Fiore’s made his grand re-entrance, the scouts are all sitting around discussing what Fiore’s deal was. As Serena sits in silent contemplation, it’s Amy (Sailor Mercury) who mentions with conviction that “everybody’s in love with [Darien]”. As Raye (Sailor Mars) had a well-explored crush on Tuxedo Mask in the first season of the series, and many of the other scouts in this moment seem to agree bashfully with Amy’s claim, it becomes evident that everyone believes that Fiore has romantic feelings for Darien. In the sub, Amy instead comments that Darien is “popular with men”, which could still be taken the same way in regards to Fiore, but comes off as more Amy making a large leap in logic and leads to Raye calling Amy out for being a pervert (which is problematic in its own right) instead of agreeing with her.
As Fiore grows more and more jealous in the dub, he tells Darien after kidnapping him that he “belongs here with [him]” and that “only [Fiore] will give [Darien] flowers” from now on, and goes so far as to taunt Serena when he captures her friends with “all’s fair in love and war”: all sentiments that aren’t expressed with the same nuance in the sub. The Kisenian Blossom even tempts Fiore by saying that if he aids her that she’ll make Darien remember their “special bond”. As far as I’m concerned, to an American audience, that makes it sound less like she’s speaking of a deep friendship, and more like a romantic relationship that they can’t reference explicitly because of the gay. While these are rather small things, I think one of the most explicit examples of the shift in implications is after Darien impales Fiore with his rose. Fiore, believing that Darien has chosen Serena over him, laments in the sub that “even [Darien] is leaving me alone”. However, while the Kisenian is egging Fiore to retaliate in the dub, Fiore goes into this whole spiel about how he can’t bring himself to attack Darien. The trope of forcing someone to fight their loved one is nothing new. Especially in Sailor Moon’s case, where this scene is stunningly reminiscent of when Serena was almost forced to fight a brainwashed Darien at the behest of the Negaverse’s Malachite and Queen Beryl, leaving both Serena and Fiore unable to raise a hand against the one they love. Even if this wasn’t intentional, the dub definitely made this scene feel much more romantic than perhaps it was originally intended to.
Yet while a lot can be read into a possibly romantic relationship between Darien and Fiore, this isn’t necessarily the case. In both the sub and the dub, friendship is the most mentioned word in the whole film. In the Japanese, the word Darien, Serena, and Fiore use when speaking of the friendship between all of them is yuujou: a word which is comprised of the kanji meaning “friend” and “feeling”. So, literally, “friendship” in its purest form. In the dub, Darien repeatedly tells Fiore that Serena “is [his] friend as [Fiore is]”. Later on, Fiore, too, finally quantifies his relationship with Darien as “like brothers”. As such, while you can absolutely read a romantic relationship in there, it’s not wrong to believe there’s a very deep platonic relationship either, and I would say it’s just as important as well. From an American standpoint, in the 90’s when this was released, it was incredibly difficult to find any representation of friendship between men that was open about emotions. While Fiore and Darien both fight, their friendship wasn’t forged in the flames of battle—it came about all because of a rose. Soft masculinity is something we still have problems with in the media today, but having two powerful men in touch with their emotions and most certainly not afraid to cry over their friendship would have been very important for a younger male audience to see in the 90’s.
What started out as a journey to poke fun at messed-up localization ended up more as a confused acceptance for me. With the already established relationships of Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune and Malachite and Zoycite, I knew that author Naoko Takeuchi wouldn’t shy away from having another gay relationship in her series. However, the relationship between Darien and Fiore has been left up to fan interpretation, and maybe that’s how it should stay. If you’d rather see it as a romantic one, there’s plenty of evidence backing it up—even in a dub that only deepened the evidence pile, against all odds. If you’d rather see it as a deep platonic relationship, there’s evidence for that as well. Both interpretations are completely valid, and both hold their own importance to the audience that may relate to them.