In 1992, a 14-year-old Japanese girl set out to save our universe from total annihilation.
She became a hero for young women around the world, saving them from evil and from the macho male heroes that permeated the media at the time. Her name was Usagi Tsukino, but you may know her better as the one named Sailor Moon.
Two years ago, on the 20th anniversary of the release of “Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon,” the manga created by author Naoko Takeuchi, it was announced that the beloved manga character would get a reboot from Toei Animation Studios. This weekend, fans will finally get to experience the updated version — an event that should have them swooning like they’re on a date with Tuxedo Mask.
The new series is being called “Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal,” with the “crystal” being a recurring motif in the show that “symbolizes a magical return to one’s origins,” according to “Sailor Moon Crystal” producer Yu Kaminoki. “The aim of this new animation is a return to the origins of Sailor Moon — to the manga.”
The reboot will indeed follow the story and mood of Takeuchi’s manga, and include scenes that the author wasn’t able to use the first time around because of page limits and editing decisions, likely making “Crystal” the most authentic representation of the Sailor Moon story to date.
Artist Yukie Sako, who is known for slightly naughty drawings of men, and anime director Munehisa Sakai have been brought on board to lead the aesthetic direction of the new series, which starts July 5. “Sailor Moon Crystal” will air on website Nico Nico Video on the first and third Saturday of every month at 7 p.m., which happens to be the same time slot the original anime had.
On June 30, Vivi magazine held a lavish birthday party for Usagi Tsukino to celebrate the 20th anniversary and the new production at Zepp DiverCity in Tokyo’s bayside Odaiba district. Around 1,000 fans gathered to reminisce about the anime and get a sneak peek of the first episode in the new series.
“I can’t believe I got a ticket!” said 21-year-old fan Mitsuho with excitement. “I’ve been a fan since birth and I was so excited that I couldn’t eat all week!”
“I wouldn’t know my husband if it wasn’t for Sailor Moon,” said Kelley, an American fan. “I wouldn’t have learned Japanese or be in Japan right now.”
Guests were also treated to a photo session with Tuxedo Mask (Sailor Moon’s love interest, known as Tuxedo Kamen in Japanese), a mini show featuring the cast of the “Sailor Moon” musical and a live performance by big-name idol group Momoiro Clover Z, whose members lent their voices to the opening and ending themes of the new series.
The new episode elicited some nostalgic tears of joy when it began, which were followed by surprised gasps as the mesmerized audience got its first glance at the new renderings of their favorite characters.
The animation techniques have changed a lot since the 1990s. Twenty years ago the show would have been fully drafted using a celluloid-animation process, in which layers of clear sheets create one moving image. Now the artists can sketch into the computer and make the edits digitally. This gives them two new exciting tools: a wider range of colors and 3-D rendering. Sailor Moon’s transformation sequence is completely new, using 3-D CGI.
“I am so happy I could cry,” said British fan Katie, 26. “I wasn’t sure about the heavy CG at first, but the transformation sequence was absolutely beautiful! This show has had a huge impact on me, and I wouldn’t be in Japan now if it wasn’t for ‘Sailor Moon.’ ”
The roots of “Sailor Moon” can be found in a comic called “Codename: Sailor V,” which was penned by Takeuchi and planned as a short manga series to be run in monthly girls’ comic serial RunRun. When talks of animating “Sailor V” began, Takeuchi decided to expand her Sailor universe by imagining a team of powerful middle-school girls who would fight evil together. She called her main character Sailor Moon (her friends are named after the planets), and began publishing one story a month in the pages of Nakayosi. At the same time, Toei Animation Studios began animating one episode a week for Japanese TV, calling the series “Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon.” Although the characters died at the end of the first story arc, “Sailor Moon” became so popular that they brought them back to life and continued the story — and it went on to gain millions of fans worldwide. In fact, “Sailor Moon” has become one of the highest-grossing animation franchises of all time, traveling to around 50 countries, spawning films, video games, a live-action TV program, musicals and tons of merchandise.
“Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon” also became a pillar of the”magical girl” fantasy trope. It’s used in tandem with “Super Sentai” (think “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers”), or soldier group dynamic in an exciting way, bringing these magical girls together as friends and pitting them against evil for the good of humanity.
“I was weak as a child, and shy,” said Katie. “The girls in ‘Sailor Moon’ showed me that I could find strength within and also be elegant and graceful.”
Katie’s experience is one that has been shared the world over. “Sailor Moon” had strong, female lead characters, which were few and far between in the 1990s. In Japan, this kind of role model came at a time when Japanese women were increasingly entering the job market and demanding equality in society and in the workforce.
“I wanted to be sailor Jupiter so badly, that I begged my parents to let me join karate class,” says producer Kaminoki. “I ended up studying for 10 years. Now I have a husband whom I met through karate. It’s a little scary to think of the impact that Sailor Moon had on my life.”
“Sailor Moon” can resonate with people across ages and genders, according to Charlene Ingram, senior manager of animation marketing at VIZ Media.
“For me, I think the appeal lies in that it inspires one to be something greater than they are or think they can be,” Ingram says. “Usagi and the other Sailor Guardians are pretty normal girls, but they share an extraordinary destiny. Usagi knows her mission is bigger than her and, even though it is difficult, she rises to the challenge. I think we all can find that strength within us and achieve our dreams if we work hard and care for others just as Sailor Moon does.”
VIZ Media has recently announced the acquisition of the original 200 “Sailor Moon” episodes, three films and specials. The company will be releasing all of the episodes uncut and remastered, without any of the so-called modesty censorships the series endured in overseas markets in the ’90s. The English cast has been chosen by Takeuchi herself and will be announced July 5.
Takeuchi doesn’t blatantly pit female characters against the male ones in her story, and doesn’t ask her young readers to specifically consider “girl power” (also popular in the 1990s). Instead, she presents them with new ways of considering gender. In “Sailor Moon,” girls can look like boys, boys can look like girls, girls crush on girls who look like boys. Some boys will even transform into girls after a short, sparkle-filled sequence.
Takeuchi’s nonchalant way of inserting androgynous characters created a transgressive children’s cartoon that didn’t aim to marginalize, but encouraged the appreciation of all forms of love.
“A lot of the staff on ‘Sailor Moon Crystal’ now are women who joined the industry because they loved ‘Sailor Moon’ so much when they were young,” Kaminoki says. Only three members of the original staff have remained for the new “Crystal” series: Usagi Tsukino’s voice actress, Kotono Mitsuishi; Fumio Osano, who was Takeuchi’s original editor for the manga; and Takeuchi herself, who is overseeing every creative decision.
In an interview with entertainment magazine Animage, director Munehisa Sakai stated he would like to “aim this new show at the women who watched the show in real time years ago and offer them something that glimmered in their childhood.” All the while being aware that “these women have become members of society, experienced their own hardships and have experienced a reality that’s different from that childhood dream of a prince on a white horse.”
Of all of the incarnations of Takeuchi’s story, “Sailor Moon Crystal”is likely to become the definitive work. It has been a busy two years for animators trying to meet the July 5 release deadline — in fact, the first episode was only completed the week before the big day! The “Crystal” team has completed the storyboards for the first story arc, which focuses on the Dark Moon Kingdom. But with a production time of one month per episode, it’s hard to say how far the “Sailor” will go. Judging by the reaction at Usagi’s birthday party, though, the moon’s the limit.
The ‘Sailor Moon’ universe by numbers
- $13 billion in merchandising revenue
- 200 episodes aired once a week in Japan
- 60 chapters published in Nakayoshi
- 50 countries in which it’s seen
- 5 (at least) acts of censorship
- 5 Inner Planet Sailor Scouts
- 4 Outer Planet Sailor Scouts
- 3 Sailor Star Scouts
- 2 talking cats
- 1 rose-wielding Tuxedo Mask
- Millions of fans around the world
“Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal” will air on Nico Nico Video at 7 p.m. on July 5 (and the first and third Saturdays of each month). Viewers who miss the live broadcast can watch it later as it will be archived for two weeks. The series will also be aired on website Crunchyroll. VIZ Media has put all 200 episodes of the original series, uncut and remastered, on websites Hulu and Neon Alley. “Sailor Moon Crystal” will also air there Saturdays.