Sakura's Rebuttal to The Otaku Senshi 'Mary-Sue' Ploy
A look at the term 'Mary-Sue' and what it's effects are on the otaku senshi community - June 2004
First of all, who or what is a 'Mary-Sue'? Well, for starters, the term 'Mary-Sue' originated in a Star Trek fandom when a woman named Paula Smith wrote a fanfiction that featured a beautiful and perfect character named Lieutenant Mary-Sue. Everyone in the story loved Lieutenant Mary-Sue even though she had no reason for being in to story or the timeline and no hisotry as part of the crew; Lieutenant Mary-Sue was the prettiest and the smartest! In the end, it was all because of her that the day was saved, though very tragically, she was killed. Of course, everyone mourned her dearly and it was all very dramatic and fun. Except, since she was not really a well-developed a fan-made character, Lieutenant Mary-Sue was incredibly out of place and corny. She came from nowhere and everyone loved her little highness and she could do no wrong. She was made of elements of self-insertion on the part of the author and was in almost every way, flawless. This is the TRUE nature of the term 'Mary-Sue.'
Now, in the online otaku senshi community one might hear the term 'Mary-Sue' used quite frequently by new fans, old fans, role players, and reviewers. The truth is, most of the otaku senshi that this label is applied to do not actually fit the original description of a 'Mary-Sue.' In essence, the otaku senshi community craves originality. They want to see otaku senshi with well thought out histories, personalities, and attributes. They do not want to see 'clones' of original characters, or even clones of other fan made characters. Like any fandom, they are looking for new and exciting stories and characters. Unfortunately, when one finds an otaku character to be cliché - when the character uses elements that have been done over and over again in otaku senshi fandom - one might be tempted to place that 'Mary-Sue' label on without hesitation.
The problem created here has two tiers. The first and most obvious problem is that for all intents and purposes, the label of 'Mary-Sue' for a cliché or commonly themed character is not accurate unless the character IS a perfect and wonderfully loved character with no detectable flaws, no plausible history, and no reason for existing. More often than not, when creating a character for the first time there is bound to be some elements of self-insertion. Naoko herself often talks about how her characters in BSSM are actually major part of her personality, particularly how much she is like Usagi. It's just something that is natural because it is easier to write what you know. However, in the otaku senshi community there are also common themes that new creators of otaku senshi often gravitate towards which older members of the community are quick to recognise.
Most readers will be familiar with these clichés: Sailor Sun (Sol, Solaris), Sailor Star (Supernova, Nova, Black Hole, Quasar), Sailor Comet (Shooting Star), Sailor Earth (Terra), Sailor Universe, Sailor Neo-Anything (new generations descendant from the original senshi); the list goes on. The reason these are such common themes is because of the way the Sailor Moon universe is set up. In the manga, the Starlights tell Usagi that select celestial bodies receive the gift of a Guardian Sailor Crystal and thus, a Sailor Senshi of that celestial body. Therefore, senshi are most often aligned with planetary or celestial bodies of some sort. When creating an otaku senshi, many people opt for these well known heavenly objects or stick with the ones already identified by Naoko. Other common themes include Zodiac Senshi, Weather related senshi, Elemental Senshi, constallation Senshi, and Color Senshi. The reason for these commonalities, I feel, is because these are easily defined and recognized groups that can be made into teams of senshi. That is not to say that senshi fitting into these categories cannot be quality well-developed characters! However these senshi in general, though often cliché and redundant, are NOT always perfectly happy wonderful all-loved characters. They are NOT simply a 'Mary-Sue' because they are cliché.
The second, and probably less recognized problem with the 'Anti-Mary-Sue Campaign' is the personal effects it has on the creators. Anyone that has created an otaku senshi knows how special that creation becomes to them. Like any artist, it is very difficult to disassociate yourself from your work. The term 'Mary-Sue' has developed more than just a negative connotation - it is now a downright insult. People use the term when they are spiteful or even when they have no helpful advice to offer. It is a stigma that brands character and creator one in the same by saying quite simply, "this character isn't worth my time." The implications of this could range from hurt feelings to a complete abandonment of otaku senshi creation. Neither of which are of positive influence on new otaku senshi creators in this community.
For a few years now I have been advocating the use of phrases such as "less-developed characters" and "new otaku senshi" to describe character that are in some need (or some SEROUS need) for revision. There is nothing wrong with the term 'Mary-Sue' when used in the proper context and I do not with to preach any form of Sailor Moon Political Correctness. However, with the disdain and disregard that some otaku senshi creators and fans treat new or cliché characters I feel that a slight alteration in the language could go a long way in the lines of respect and building community.
This catch-all use of the term 'Mary-Sue' is a stake in the heart of an already disjointed community. There are many things that fans of Sailor Moon will not agree on, and like any Fandom, there are various points of contention and debate. Still, if we do not foster the development of new and younger otaku senshi creators then we do nothing by limit the amount of creative energy excahnged from which we can learned and develop our own ideas. I feel the term 'Mary-Sue' is not well understood by those in this community, and I feel as though many people who use it are not aware of the implications it brings.
I charge every member of this community with the challenge of respecting and tolerating (if not appreciating) everyone that has the guts to attempt the creation of a fan character and share it with the online world. I understand clearly the need for interesting and believable otaku senshi, but I urge you to consider the importance of the learning process through which new members of this community will benefit.
"Human diversity makes tolerance more than a virtue; it makes it a requirement for survival."
Rene Dubos: Celebrations of Life, 1981
('Mary-Sue' origin information obtained with permission from: http://littlecalamity.tripod.com/Text/Dictionary.html)
Questions? Comments? E-mail Sakura: Sakura@sailorastera.com