The Product of a Chemistry Major
Towards the end of 1991, anime and manga changed forever when Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon debuted in the pages of Nakayoshi magazine. Shortly after, the anime made its premiere and both entities became a big hit in Japan and would play a huge role in the international rise of anime and manga in the 1990s. So who is the original creator of Sailor Moon? That would happen to be Naoko Takeuchi from Yamagata prefecture. While she always wanted to be a manga artist since her childhood, at the insistence of her father, she studied chemistry as a fall back if work as a manga artist didn’t produce any results. Thanks to her success as a manga artist, she happens to own a Ferrari and is married to fellow manga author, Yoshihiro Togashi, the creator of Yuu Yuu Hakusho and Hunter x Hunter.
Much of Takeuchi’s life experiences would influence her immortal masterpiece. For starters, the names of her family members happen to be Kenji, Ikuko, and Shingo, which happen to be the names for Usagi’s family in Sailor Moon. During her time as a student, she participated in her school’s manga and astronomy clubs, and many outer space elements obviously play a part in her creation. During her college years, she worked as a Miko or a shrine maiden at a Shinto shrine, and she would use that with Rei. However, as portrayed in the original anime and manga, Usagi or Sailor Moon herself wasn’t the original Sailor Senshi.
Code Name wa Sailor V
During the summer of 1991, Code Name wa Sailor V debuted in RunRun magazine. As all hardcore fans know, Sailor V is Sailor Venus or Minako Aino. The story takes place a year prior to Sailor Moon and shows how she met Artemis, how she gets her powers, and how her story intertwines into Sailor Moon. The manga became an instant hit and Toei wanted to make it into an anime. Initially, an OVA of Sailor V was going to be made but Takeuchi, Kodansha, and Toei ended up making Sailor Moon instead as a homage to Super Sentai, shows that are adapted as Power Rangers in the US.
While Sailor Moon was in publication, Takeuchi would occasionally make chapters for Sailor V. Even before Sailor Venus made her official debut in the Sailor Moon series, her appearance was foreshadowed through her arcade game that Usagi would enjoy playing, and that game would be used as a special communication device between Luna and Artemis.
A Domestic and International Hit
While Sailor Moon wasn’t necessarily the first ever-Magical Shoujo series, it certainly popularized it in every way imaginable in Japan and all over the world. You have everyday Japanese schoolgirls wearing uniforms, glittery transformations into superheroes, gimmicky villains, unique attacks (with names that sound quirky in English but works in a Japanese context), romance, and mystery. The series primarily took place in the Azabu Juban district of Tokyo’s Minato Ward, one of the richest sections in Tokyo. In case some of you didn’t know, Minato Ward is home to Tokyo Tower, which would be featured in a handful of parts in the series as a significant plot device.
It gave viewers distinct female role models they can relate to and each character has qualities that brought viewers in. Usagi is a clumsy academic underachiever, but her lack of brains is made up for with her huge heart. Makoto, or Sailor Jupiter, comes across as physically imposing but once you get to know her, she’s probably the most feminine of the group. Ami is the brains of the team so she knows how to keep things together when they fall apart. Rei can come across as a snobby elite, but she’s a very nice person who is never afraid to be there when it counts. Minako is a representation that we all have dreams that we want to pursue. And Mamoru or Tuxedo Mask gets repeatedly captured and brainwashed in the manga series so it’s nice to see the girl save the guy for once.
Initially, Takeuchi wanted to end Sailor Moon after finishing the first story arc, but because of its instant popularity, Toei Animation and Kodansha persisted that she continues the series. She kept the series going until 1997 (with the manga having 18 volumes and 200 episodes for the anime). With the assistance of Fumio Osano, her editor (she even pays tribute to Osano through Usagi’s best friend’s mother’s jewelry store, OSA-P, his nickname), she continued to make new stories despite having some severe health issues when she started the series. After its success in Japan, it debuted in neighboring Asian countries, Europe, and Latin America. Then during the summer of 1995, it debuted on North American airwaves. Not only did international fans see the series as a gateway to anime, but to elements of Japan.
Though many edits and changes were made for localization for many nations such as giving Western names, unlike some other localized anime before its time such as Robotech or Voltron, Sailor Moon still maintains a feel of its Japanese origins and identity. Through this series, international audiences are exposed to sailor uniforms as the standard school uniform for female students and gakurans for male students. They learn how exams are highly valued in Japan and they get to see Tokyo Tower, Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, and the elegance of Azabu Juban as if they’re really there.
Last, if some international viewers saw Sailor Moon during the initial broadcasts in their home countries, it was also their first exposure to the bombastic hairstyles of anime, the big eyes, sweatdrop tropes, bento lunches, a young lady rushing out of the house with a slice of toast in her mouth, miniaturizing characters to make them cute, and glittery transformations.
Complicated North American History
While Sailor Moon premiered in North America in 1995 (late Aug in Canada and middle of Sept in the US), it had a very complicated road getting there and a much longer road to long-term success. Prior to DiC getting the official license, Toon Makers wanted to license the Sailor Moon property but not the anime itself. Toon Makers wanted to do an original Sailor Moon series that would mix original Western animation with live action segments. You can see the trailer on YouTube, which has been mistakenly called Saban’s Sailor Moon. Once you watch it, many of you will be pleased it never came to fruition.
DiC would get the license and adapted the first 89 episodes (but reduced to 82). In addition to changing the names, some edits were to the transformations so it wouldn't emphasize certain outlines of the female anatomy to stand out. Considering the relationship between Zoisite and Kunzite (who is renamed Malachite), Zoisite is changed to a woman since his appearance easily passes him as one. Naturally, the deaths of the Sailor Senshi at the end of the first season were cut out.
If Japanese parents complained about it (which they did), just imagine how North American parents would react. And while the in-series soundtrack is entirely changed (and has some original and memorable English tracks such as Rainy Day Man and I Wanna Be a Star), the English version still does an excellent job of adapting the original melody of Moonlight Densetsu, and giving it a flavor appropriate for North American audiences.
It was a rating failure in the US because it aired on dead times in numerous networks meaning whatever times it got, it couldn’t capture their target audiences since they were in school and/or asleep (some networks would air it at 4:30 am and others would air at 9 am on weekdays). Despite initially being a rating failure, it still captured a cult audience.
This was also during the time when the mainstreaming of the Internet was in its infancy (but a little before broadband), and many fans got together to make the Save Our Sailors campaign, or SOS, to appeal to networks to bring Sailor Moon back. Some can dispute that this group is one of the first Internet fan driven movements to bring a show back. But during that time period, many fans resulted in getting VHS fansubs of whatever episodes and movies they could get, and some could also argue this paved way for fansubbing to increase.
While the USA Network would briefly air the initial 82 episodes again in 1997, it didn’t get its true break until the following summer on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block, which heavily emphasized on promoting anime. It became a hit that it was meant to be and Toonami would air the remainder of the series up until SuperS. Despite being on cable, edits were still made in regards to Haruka and Michiru relationship such as being localized as cousins as opposed to being close lovers, and Fish Eye was adapted as a woman.
As for why Stars, the final season was never aired, many fans understandably assume it was because of the Starlights, a new team of Sailor Senshi who are men who become women when they would transform. Despite this long popular theory, the only official reason why it didn’t get an international release for the longest time is that Toei, by their admission, refused to license it.
However, after more than 20 years after its broadcast, VIZ has managed to get the license and they plan on releasing it in North America towards the end of 2018. And speaking of the Starlights controversy, in the original manga, they were women, to begin with, and Takeuchi personally didn’t like that the anime made this change since she said only women can be Sailor Senshi. However, the Starlights did disguise themselves as men in the manga, but they only dressed up as them and not biologically change into them.
After Sailor Moon finally found its niche on Toonami towards the end of the 1990s, some Hollywood studios were reportedly interested in making a Sailor Moon movie, but Takeuchi would personally turn these offers down. Even though Sailor Moon never got its Hollywood adaptation, shortly after the anime and manga premiered, it resulted in having numerous musicals starting from August of 1993. The musicals would adapt select story arcs of the series and loosely expand them. For ten years, they were the closest things to a live action that fans in Japan would get and they were a hit. Even after the anime and manga ended in 1997, the musicals managed to continue into the next decade and even toured some neighboring Asian countries such as China.
Thanks to the long success of these musicals, a live action TV series premiered in the fall of 2003. The series was naturally met with negative reactions and its ratings never hit that of the anime, but some fans praised it for maintaining elements that were very faithful to the original manga and bringing back Keiko Han as Luna. Its practical effects with the monster designs were more oriented for fans of Super Sentai and Kamen Rider. In fact, much of the production staff came from Super Sentai and Kamen Rider. Its lead writer is Yasuko Kobayashi, who has written numerous tokusatsu series (Gingaman, Kamen Rider Ryuki) and animes (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Attack on Titan), and one of the directors is Ryuta Tasaki, who has directed Kamen Rider 555, Gingaman, and Akibaranger.
Keiko Kitagawa, who played Sailor Mars, became the breakout actress from the live action show and is presently one of Japan’s biggest actresses and models. Unlike some Kamen Rider and Super Sentai actors who try to distance them from these roles, Keiko Kitagawa speaks positively of her time on the live action Sailor Moon and is still friends with her castmates (and they even attended her wedding to Japanese rock star, Daigo). Miyuu Sawai, who plays Sailor Moon, still continues to act in tokusatsu shows such as having guest roles in numerous Kamen Rider installments. Jyoji Shibue, Tuxedo Mask, would also star as a Kamen Rider in Kamen Rider Hibiki.
Sailor Moon Crystal
For its twentieth anniversary, Sailor Moon finally got a new anime, Crystal, which would air on Japan’s famous video site, Nico Nico Douga. It has been met with some negative reaction but its criticisms and flaws are made with haste, and when criticisms are made, fans are looking are not considering certain factors.
For starters, many people criticize it for its animation. However, many viewers and critics need to remember that the series was being broadcasted for FREE with NO commercials. When you take that into account, Toei is doing this with a limited budget and even regular TV anime operates on a limited budget, to begin with. If anything, Crystal is a professional passion project without crowdfunding, so it’s a take what you can get kind of deal, especially when it’s free.
Thankfully, the Bluray releases offer improved quality and Bluray sales are what pays the bills, and that paved way for improvement when the Death Busters arc premiered. While some fans criticize its animation, other fans praise it for being a 100% faithful representation of the original manga. Upon the uploading of this article, fans are still awaiting the two-part film based on the Dead Moon arc to premiere in theaters. Last, it is comprehensible that it is a disappointment that other than Mitsuishi Kotono, none of the original cast members are back to reprise their roles.
The Sailor Moon Effect
During the height of Sailor Moon’s popularity and even after, Magical Shoujo shows popped from out of the woodwork coming off its coattails. Even a good number of Toei’s staff members from Sailor Moon were contributing to other Magical Shoujo projects such as Wedding Peach and Revolutionary Girl Utena, which both became big hits. Without Sailor Moon, we probably wouldn’t have Cardcaptor Sakura, Magic Knight Rayearth, and Pretty Cure. Considering that anime in the 1980’s such as Hokuto no Ken, City Hunter, and much of the mecha anime at that time were more masculine, Sailor Moon at its debut in the 90’s paved way for more feminine titles that still had a huge universal appeal.
Beyond its televised adaptations, Sailor Moon was overall a hit franchise. It had toys, purses, dresses, makeup kits, a promotion for safe sex practice, and video games. Many of its games are cult hits to its international audiences such as its beat ‘em ups for the Mega Drive and the Super Famicom. If you find yourself at a game store in Akihabara, you can find Sailor Moon games for pretty much all consoles from the 90’s including the PC Engine. Some are must-haves such as their beat ‘em ups, and there are others you may want to ignore such as the fighting games for the Saturn and PlayStation. Another appeal to the original anime was how its seiyuu cast released numerous albums featuring image songs in character. In case you didn’t know, they even have a Christmas Album.
Another effect Sailor Moon has had in the West for its fans and media is the praise for its representation of LGBTQ characters, and how its fan base is strong in that community. Whether or not Takeuchi had any intentions of having a pro-LGBTQ message is still a mystery, but the fact that this series resonates with the LGBTQ community in most non-Japanese countries possibly demonstrates a non-intended positive side effect that everybody just happens to roll with, and many Westerners see that as a great thing.
Someday, someone (and that someone probably being from Honey’s Anime) can interview Takeuchi to go in depth on this issue. Considering how the image and acceptance of the LGBTQ community have changed between Sailor Moon’s debut and now, it would be great to re-examine this with Takeuchi first hand. But many fans of that respective community feel that Sailor Moon gave them that representation and presented them with themes they could relate with and for some people, that’s good enough regardless of what Takeuchi’s intentions may have been.
Even twenty years after ending, Sailor Moon continues to endure all over the world and a good number of international celebrities happen to be hardcore fans. In the Barenaked Ladies breakout hit, One Day, it is briefly mentioned in its lyrics. In Germany, a group of fans started a pop group called Super Moonies in the late 1990’s and contributed to the German soundtrack. French pop sensation Alizee has a tattoo of Sailor Moon on her arm.
In 2016, 2018 Figure Skating Silver Medalist Evgenia Medvedeva gave a Sailor Moon inspired routine to its iconic theme song at a competition in Tokyo. And to shock, some of you, Star Trek actor William Shatner has shared on his twitter account that he’s a fan and Megan Fox has admitted she’d like to play the character. The fact that Sailor Moon has endured all over the world for over 25 years for every reason imaginable is a testament to how truly revolutionary and groundbreaking it is. While other Magical Shoujo anime have come and gone and found respective success, they can never measure up to the impact of Sailor Moon.