Ian Andreas Miller. 22 August 2005.
What exactly does the katakana-character combination アイビーム in the Japanese song キラリ☆セーラードリーム！ (“Kirari☆Sailor Dream”) represent? That question has been asked more than once by fans of Bishōjo Senshi Sērā Mūn when they first saw it written down in the official sources. Well, this article explains why one of the two popular translations is more relevant than the other.
Some fans think that the アイ in the アイビーム approximates the English word eye because that combination of katakana characters usually does so. In that case, アイビーム approximates eye beam, eye-beam or even eyebeam. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the best English dictionary out there, an eye-beam (or eye beam) is a beam or glance of the eye. The dictionary shows examples of quotations that use the spellings eye-beam and eye beam, but the main entry uses the spelling eye-beam. For that reason, this article will continue to use that spelling when referring to the idea that the アイ in アイビーム approximates eye.
Other fans have decided that the アイ actually represents the reading ai of the kanji 愛, meaning love or affection. Moreover, the アイビーム is merely a different way to write 愛ビーム, meaning love beam or affection beam. There are other kanji that have the reading ai, and the アイビーム combination does not specifically say whether 愛 is the intended kanji (if it does represent a kanji). It seems that the proponents of the “アイ represents 愛” idea settled on that particular kanji because love or affection is an important theme of the series.
Either one of those two ideas is possible according to the rules of the Japanese writing system. The Japanese like to create puns, so it is likely that アイビーム is intended to be a pun. Some fans might fall for the delusion that this is a debate between eye and love, but that is not particularly accurate because アイ does not approximate love. It is more accurate to say that this is a debate between eye and the kanji 愛 because the アイ can represent either one. If we just consider the spelling アイビーム and the two possible explanations, we would not be able to decide on which explanation is more relevant to the particular situation. We should look at some of the other evidence.
During the song, Sailor Moon says “kuchibiru yori” while bringing her hand to her lips. When the singers say “アイビーム,” Sailor Jupiter brings her hand to her eyes. It seems that we are given visual clues! According to that visual clue relating to the eye, the アイ in アイビーム refers specifically to eye, not the kanji 愛. So, the アイビーム should be approximating eye-beam. As far as we can tell, nothing in this case specifically indicates that kanji. At best, the kanji is being referred to indirectly as a pun because of the importance of love to the overall story.
A fan might say that love beam or affection beam fits the trend of love throughout the show and just generally makes more sense. There should be no earnest argument that love is important to the show. However, an analysis that concludes that アイ should represent 愛 because it fits the trend of love is too broad. What might be true for a whole (“throughout the show”) might not be true for its parts (the アイビーム instance). In order to avoid the fallacy of composition, it is better to look for evidence (such as emphatic word patterns) for particular instances, or parts of a whole, before we make generalizations that apply to the whole. The visual clues stated above (i.e., the girls pointing to parts of their faces) show us evidence for a particular instance. Sure, there is a trend of love throughout the show, but we are dealing with a particular instance that indicates eye instead of 愛 or love. Moreover, when we consider that eye-beam is a real word, and we have a visual clue that indicates the eye instead of love, it becomes difficult to argue that love makes more sense in this particular instance.
It has been pointed out that it would be weird to see 愛ビーム 1. That might be true, but is it not weird to see アイ used instead of 愛 to come up with アイビーム when there is no direct evidence that the アイ represents 愛? Perhaps it would have been much easier to use the less-ambiguous combination ラブビーム instead.
One of our tools that we can use in deciding on logical conclusions is the principle of parsimony, otherwise known as Occam’s Razor. According to Occam’s Razor, entities (main parts of a theory or explanation) should not be multiplied beyond necessity. New principles should not be invoked if existing principles already provide an explanation. If, however, the explanation with fewer entities does not cover all the details, then additional entities, or parts of the theory or explanation, are necessary. The reasoning behind Occam’s Razor is that if the theories can explain the data, and there are more entities than necessary, then there are more leaps in logic than necessary. If there are more leaps in logic, then the theory gets further and further “off track” from the actual data. As new data comes in, another theory may become parsimonious, or more favorable according to Occam’s Razor. (Notice that I am using “theory” in the scientific sense. In that sense, a theory is a collection of statements that explain an observed phenomenon. In ordinary language, however, a theory is a guess or an imperfect fact.)
How can we apply the principle of parsimony, or Occam’s Razor, to the アイビーム dilemma? Let us consider exactly what the two competing explanations are saying:
- Explanation #1: アイ approximates eye (as it usually does).
- Explanation #2: アイ is actually representing something else: a kanji. The kanji 愛 is chosen because love is important to the story. 愛 can mean several different things, but the usual English translation that is chosen is love.
We can express the two explanations with symbols (where “E1.” is “Explanation 1,” “E2.” is “Explanation 2,” and “A” is “アイ”):
- E1.: A = Y (where “Y” is “approximates eye”)
- E2.: A = R + K + L (where “R” is “representing something else,” “K” is “the kanji 愛,” and “L” is “the usual English translation love”)
Clearly, the first explanation has only one term (“Y”) while the second one has three of terms (“R,” “K,” and “L”). What all of this means is that while first explanation covers the details, the extra entities in the second explanation do not really seem to improve the situation. The extra entities are therefore redundant, and Occam’s Razor slices the second explanation away. We are then left with the first explanation, which is the one we would call a parsimonious one.
Proponents of the “アイ approximates eye” explanation might say that even if the eye is directly referred to, and the kanji 愛 is indirectly referred to, it would be best to write “eye(love) beam” in a translation of the song. Is that really the best thing for us to do? Is it necessary to have both words? Let us take some time to consider another word in the Bishōjo Senshi Sērā Mūn world that is in an analogous situation: the レッド in the name セーラーレッドクロウ (“Sailor Lead Crow”). The レッド can approximate either red or lead. Both words are relevant to the character (Lead Crow has red hair, and “lead” fits the metal-name motif of the Sailor Anima-Mates), but she is usually referred to as “Sailor Lead Crow” instead of “Sailor Red(Lead) Crow.” We do not usually write “Sailor Lead(Red) Crow” although it is clear that both red and lead are relevant to the situation. Just “Sailor Lead Crow” suffices, where the directly relevant word lead stays, and the indirectly relevant word red is excluded. So, by analogy, if eye is more relevant to the アイビーム situation than the kanji 愛, and it is unnecessary to include the indirect word in the translation, then writing “eye beam” suffices by itself. Notice that the principle of parsimony, or Occam’s Razor, has been used again (“eye-beam” has fewer terms than “eye(love) beam”).
By now, I think it is obvious that when the “アイ represents 愛” explanation of アイビーム goes against the “アイ approximates eye” explanation, it fails the context test (by not being directly relevant to the visual clue that relates to the eye). It also fails the test of Occam’s Razor (by having redundant entities). Of course, that it not to say that the “アイ represents 愛” explanation is not relevant at all. It is just that it is not as relevant as the other one. Moreover, I say that if we are going to decide on writing “eye(love) beam” instead of “eye-beam” we might as well start writing “Sailor Lead(Red) Crow” instead of “Sailor Lead Crow,” too.
 “DoseiNoSenshi.” Forums for Genvid and Dies Gaudii. (Forum entry); http://www.prettyguardiansailormoon.com/viewtopic.php?p=23463#23463 (12 March 2004).