anonymous asked:

Do you remember there being a gag about Usagi always writing in a certain script? I think I saw a post explaining it a while back, where there was a screenshot of a letter she wrote to Chibiusa, indicating that she still did it after becoming queen. I didn't know anything about Japanese scripts when I saw it so I'm not really sure what the joke was. And obviously it's not something that would be easy to translate.

That’s from S, episode 104, where Chibi-Usa comes back from the future with a letter from her mom (NQS) “explaining” why she’s there (which basically just turns into “hey thanks for looking after my kid”).
[Some of you may be familiar with this scene already, so skip to the bottom for some new info/speculation!]

You’ve mostly got the gist of the scene. What actually happened is that NQS hadn’t used any kanji when writing her letter.
There are three alphabets in written Japanese; hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Hiragana and katakana (grouped together as kana) are phonetic alphabets, i.e. they transcribe sounds, not meaning. They are learned during a child’s first year of school. Kanji have inherent meanings and are made up of radicals (basically, smaller, simpler kanji), and there are so many of them that they’re taught throughout a student’s school years.
It’s a bit hard to explain the functional difference between kana and kanji without an example, so; take the word kaeru, which can have one of many meanings. If you use kanji, you can convey which meaning you intend; if you write 帰る you’re saying “return", if you write 変える you’re saying “change”, and if you write 蛙 you’re saying “frog”. If you write it in just hiragana or katakana, かえる or カエル, it can have any possible meaning of the word “kaeru”, and you need to rely on context to know which one.
There are some kanji that everyone is expected to be able to read/write because they’re common or important. These are known as joyo kanji. There are over 2000, and kids are supposed to have learned just over 1000 of them by the time they finish elementary school (around age 11-12).
Going back to the kaeru example, 帰る (return) and 変える (change) both use joyo kanji, but 蛙 (frog) does not. As a result, if a person wants to write “frog”, they generally only use hiragana or katakana, meaning that if you read the word かえる you assume the writer means frog, and not return or change. But if the writer is a child, for example, you might not know.
That doesn’t mean that every Japanese person knows every single joyo kanji by heart or that they never have problems remembering/reciting them, just like you might not still be able to spell every single word you ever had to learn in English class. But the assumption is that even those who are bad at kanji will remember some of them. And if you don’t, you can check how to write them by using a kanji dictionary, especially if you’re writing something important.

NQS used both katakana and hiragana in her letter, but no kanji. None. At all.

Given that kids are supposed to have memorised a thousand of them by the time they’re 13 years old, and she’s the Queen of the World, this is naturally a huge shock to the other characters, and it’s no wonder that Usagi is this embarrassed when it’s revealed:

It’s not as though NQS didn’t have the opportunity to use kanji, either; there are several words there that utilise joyo kanji. Ami points out that you can see where she tried to write kanji, but got them wrong and erased it; Artemis asks why she didn’t just check a dictionary and Rei says it’s probably because NQS thought it would be too much of a pain in the ass. It’s almost unthinkable that someone in a position like Neo Queen Serenity wouldn’t use kanji that are considered “common use”, which is exactly why it’s so funny (and in-character).

It obviously doesn’t translate 100%, but it’s really not impossible. Here are some similar scenarios using English;

  • The letter has no punctuation or capitalisation and is just one long run-on sentence
  • The letter is full of basic spelling mistakes, and/or only utilises very easy-to-spell words, because she forgot how to spell longer ones so she just swapped them out for simpler alternatives
  • The letter is full of text-speak/abbreviations, like “thx” and “pls” (note that NQS full-on drew a love heart in the letter so you could throw in some emojis too)
  • A little more exaggerated, but only a little; the letter is written in crayon

Interestingly, even though the characters in the 21st century made fun of her for it, just 20 years later it actually doesn’t seem unreasonable that Neo Queen Serenity wouldn’t remember many kanji. Japanese people forgetting how to write kanji is actually a documented problem due to the rise of smart phones, computers and tablets, which automatically suggest any possible kanji for the words you type. [1] [2] [3]
I can only imagine how different the world would be in the 30th century, and how much more prevalent technology would be in writing & reading. Obviously people aren’t quite at NQS’s level yet, but it’s not hard to imagine a future where hand-writing kanji without any digital assistance is so antiquated and referencing a dictionary so laborious that she would find it genuinely more convenient to write it all in kana. This theory seems to be strengthened by Usagi’s reaction; while she isn’t the best student, she probably does remember quite a few joyo kanji at her current age, so she seems mortified at the suggestion that she’s even worse at it as an adult. Just another way Sailor Moon is ahead of the curve, I guess~!

Edit: I just realised that I made a glaring error and said NQS had used both hiragana and romaji in her letter. What I meant to say was hiragana and katakana. Katakana is a Japanese script, but “romaji” is the word used to refer to the English alphabet in Japanese. Technically NQS did use romaji (you can see she wrote the English letter “Q” in her signature in place of the word “queen”) but this was not the point I meant to make. Hopefully that wasn’t too confusing!

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