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Sailor Moon is not a building block of what makes me a geek. It’s the whole building, and whatever else makes me a geek is maybe a broom closet in that building. I first caught Sailor Moon on TV at age 17 back in 1995 when it was dubbed and playing about a billion times a week up here in Canada. This began my love affair with anime. People would tell me that Sailor Moon was a great gateway anime, and that when they would watch other stuff they would realize that it was only the beginning. Well that never happened for me. I’ve watched a lot of anime in my life, but I’ve just never seen anything that measured up to Sailor Moon. To me it is, without question, the greatest story ever told. So bear with me as I talk about that one element of geek culture that I truly have an unparalleled passion for.
I’ll be giving a full franchise overview for those not intimately familiar with Sailor Moon, but I’ll also try to thrown in some rare content that some hardcore fans will hopefully not have seen before.
Sailor Moon is probably best known as an anime, but like most well known anime shows, it began as a manga. Going even further back, the first story was about a young blonde school girl with who is approached by a talking cat with a crescent moon on it’s head and is transformed into a magic using crime fighter in a sailor uniform. That girl… was Codename: Sailor V.
Codename: Sailor V, the original “Sailor” manga was written by Naoko Takeuchi in 1991 and published in the magazine Nakayoshi. It then continued to run in Run Run for many years, continuing sporadically while the Sailor Moon manga was being published and even shortly after it ended. It featured the character of Minako Aino, who later joins Sailor Moon as Sailor Venus. Sailor V is more of a solo character than her more popular counterpart, continuing to thwart evil until such a time when she would fulfill her destiny of protecting the Princess of the Moon. With 15 chapters the manga was originally released in 3 compilation volumes, but later with it’s rerelease it was only 2 books. Though never translated into English, the French versions are still available on amazon.ca.
The story, as it goes, is that Sailor V was not marketable as an anime series. Instead a show featuring a group of girls, more similar to a Sentai show, was preferred. From this idea, comes Sailor Moon. Here we still have a girl and her cat but this girl is joined by a ton of friends, and needless to say, this story had an appeal which was appreciated by a very wide audience. The manga ran for a successful run of 5 years, ultimately having more and more characters joining and fleshing out the universe as the show went on.
Despite this simple superhero concept, Sailor Moon has a very rich mythos behind it. It’s the story of the Princess of the Moon, her group of 4 guardians and her lover Endymion with whom she shared a tragic past. Reincarnated in the present day, Sailor Moon, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Venus join Tuxedo mask and their 2 cats Artemis and Luna in fighting off the Dark Kingdom.
Sailor Moon is ultimately joined by her time traveling daughter from the future. A bratty kid who seduces her father, befriends a girl with the power to destroy the world and has a love affair with a horse. More characters join the story representing all planets in our solar system and when we run out of those, even a few dwarf planets get represented, and then some shooting stars. What began as a story of a girl defending the Earth from local invaders ultimately develops into an epic story so broad in scope that the fate of the entire universe is at stake.
With 52 acts originally compiled into 18 volumes, later rereleased as 14, this is a story that shouldn’t be ignored, assuming of course you can actually find a copy of it. While Japanese copies of either the original or rereleased (and slightly modified) versions of the manga are relatively easy to find, the English Viz translations are very rare, and very expensive. There was a French release which is what I cut my teeth on, and though it was available for a longer time, it is also sadly discontinued.
Following the release of the manga quite closely was the hit anime series. While the story of the 5 seasons generally followed the 5 story arcs as detailed in the manga, there were some considerable differences. As with a lot of manga adaptations, the source material was much shorter, so there became a need to add what is now generally referred to as “filler”. But this was 1992, and things weren’t handled as poorly as they are now. Rather than burn through a story and then add a whole filler arc, what was common in Sailor Moon was to add episodes within the story with random monsters of the week which at times could be tedious, but in other times actually allowed for much more story and character development than was possible in the faster paced manga.
In the first season we get a lot more depth into a lot of the stories, learning far more backstory in characters such as the 4 Shitennou, and generally having more individual focus on our main group of 5 girls. By the end of the first season, the show had passed the manga’s timeline, so the season ender was not as it was in the manga, and what followed at the beginning of Sailor Moon R was an even greater deviation!
Following the epic battle against the Dark Kingdom Sailor Moon and her friends, having lost their memories, face anime original alien characters named Ail and An, a pun on “alien”. This short 13 episode arc is disliked by some fans for not being manga based, but I enjoyed it and liked the alien characters quite a bit.
Once this story wrapped up we were able to follow the manga again with the wonderful ChibiUsa, bane of fans everywhere. I never shared the hate that a lot of people do for her, and quite enjoyed the Sailor Moon R story line. I’ve always been a sucker for time travel. Again with R we get more of a chance to explore the villain characters than we do in the manga equivalent story, though at this point we don’t get as much development on the main 5 girls. Sailor Moon still gets plenty of attention but with ChibiUsa around, the others just manage to get their token episodes everyone once and a while.
With Sailor Moon S, ChibiUsa leave briefly, and we get a bunch of episodes again focusing on the main group. Then ChibiUsa drops in again, and with the introduction of more Sailors from other planets in the solar system, the core group of girls takes the back burner again. While this series has some great elements, mainly the story of Sailor Uranus and Neptune, this is surely where people really start to get a hate on for our pink haired friend. Sailor Saturn shows up, never gets a transformation sequence, and gets nearly no exposure for what seems to be a great character.
With Sailor Moon SuperS, ChibiUsa becomes even more prominent, and anyone not having a love affair with a horse is all but ignored. Sailor Moon of course still gets focused, but Sailors Uranus, Neptune, Pluto and Saturn are straight up not in the season at all. In the manga they are still around, but for whatever reason this is not kept in the anime, which generally is more the story of the first season’s core group, than the story of the whole group of 10 girls as it is in the manga. Even with the group of girls widdled down, Ami, Rei, Makoto and Minako still don’t get all that much attention in this season. If Sailor Moon S started people’s hostility towards ChibiUsa, Sailor Moon SuperS was surely the nail in the coffin. While I enjoyed a lot of individual stories in this season, and did like what few episodes did relate to the overreaching arc, I felt there was much too much “monster of the week” focus in here. It was more so than any other seasons. The hilariousness of the monsters of this season made up for this a bit, but not totally.
Finally in Sailor Moon SailorStars, the 5th and final season, ChibiUsa goes from over exposed, to disappearing without a trace. Though featured in the excellent first 6 episodes which serve as what I can only really think of as a way of telling a part of the story which should have been told in SuperS in the first place, ChibiUsa simply leaves the show with no fanfare. This is of course in a sharp contrast to the 3 other times they build up to her leaving which either never happened or didn’t last long enough to matter. I have a considerable beef with the Starlights in this season. I just can’t stand them, and they distract from the main characters much more than even ChibiUsa did. Still, the end of this season is an excellent and welcome finale to a great series.
Fans of the anime might appreciate this short featurette which shows the process behind animating Sailor Moon which was used back in the day when they still used actual paint to colour stuff. This is part of the bonus features for the season 1 volume 4 laser disc of the anime:
In additional to this 5 season long anime there were 3 excellent movies, each weighing in at a whopping 60 minutes. Sailor Moon R, my personal favourite, follows the story of a character of the same race as the aliens from the Sailor Moon R season. Though it has no basis in the manga, the second film, Sailor Moon S, is actually based on a lengthy manga story about Princess Kaguya. It is a favourite of many Sailor Moon fans because of this connection. The final film, Sailor Moon SuperS, is again not based on a manga story, and is a mix between the story of the pied piper and the Matrix, with a heavy candy and cookie sub plot, if such a thing were possible…
Sailor Moon’s popularity was very wide spread, achieving great success not only in Japan and to some extent in North America, but in countries all over the world. In fact, I’d say in the US, it seems to have been less popular than it was globally. Even Canada was much more exposed to it with Global and YTV playing the show multiple times a day during the first year it was on the air.
One of the Sailor Moon memorial discs included a bonus feature which was a comparison of 3 clips of Sailor Moon from other countries. Here they show it in English, Chinese and Spanish. While to an English person it may not seem intuitive that the English be presented as the foreign option, keep in mind this was a bonus feature on a Japanese laser disc not intended for round eyes:
The French dub was one I was also lucky enough to get to see growing up near Quebec. Check out the intro and a short clip of what that show sounded like:
The English dub was always dear to me, being the thing which first got me into the show. From a different time than more modern dubs, this one is full of changes to dialog and heavy editing for violence and other content. They even throw in some awesome scene transitions like in Transformers Generation 2. After the first 65 episode run, which was all there was for years, I had started to catch most episodes in Japanese, and generally don’t have much of a tolerance for anything beyond those in English. That being said, I do enjoy watching Stephanie “Sugar” Beard as ChibiUsa.
Sailor Moon had a large number of video games. Most of what I have played is on the Super Famicom (Super Nintendo), but there is stuff out on pretty much every system that was popular while the show was around. By far the most popular game amongst fans is “Sailor Moon: Another Story”. It’s a Super Famicom RPG with great graphics and gameplay. My main complaint would be the inconsistent difficulty level. You’ll get to a new zone and not be able to get by, and then after a bit of leveling everything dies one hit, but then you get to a boss and again can’t beat them. There were also a number of Final Fight/TMNT style side scrolling beat ‘em ups for the Super Famicom. A few puzzle games were also on the system as well as a Street Fighter clone 1 on 1 fighter. I understand the game mechanics of this fighter are such that it makes for interesting tournament play amongst expert gamers because characters recover from blocks so quickly. I’m nowhere near that level though. The Gameboy games I’ve played aren’t too great, and neither was the Gamegear game I tried. Finally, not necessarily a Sailor Moon game, but still of interest, is a game called “Panic in Nakayoshi World” which stars all manor of characters from Manga in the Nakayoshi magazine, including Sailor Moon.
Check out this compilation of footage from various games. There are more that I either don’t own or couldn’t find in my mess of a house, but this should give you a taste of what’s available:
Sailor Moon merchandise is something that’s always been very profitable. There’s a reason for which I don’t have more money than I do. Being a children’s show, the various toys were a huge deal. The live show which I’ll discuss later even had a plushie for Luna! All of the items in both the anime and live action show pretty much look like they were made to be toys. Convenient, no doubt, when the show can be riddled with nothing but commercials for Sailor Moon products. Check out this compilation of commercials that I pieced together from some Sailor Moon episodes which were taped off of TV back when Sailor Moon S was on the air in the fall of 1994:
Aside from toys there were also great things like art books. The anime had a number of art books with art from all seasons as well as the movies. The more coveted items are the manga art books featuring all colour art from the various issues of the manga. There were a total of 5 main art books as well as a rare materials collection. On top of these is the elusive Infinity art book. This book features art drawn by various people affiliated with the show from animators to actors to other manga artists who were friends of the author and artist Naoko Takeuchi. The thing which makes it so rare is that for an item that’s this appealing to fans, it was only given out as a very limited release to attendees of a specific convention. I foolishly paid 500$ for one but I have seen them sell for as much as 1000$ recently.
Here in North America there was some more geeky merchandise in the form of a role playing game system and a collectible card game. I don’t believe the pencil and paper RPG system was terribly popular but the cards are pretty hard to get a hold of so there’s some kind of market for them.
After Sailor Moon came to an end in 1997 it slowly faded from the public interest as people who weren’t obsessed with it go, but then out of nowhere in 2003 came a great surprise, a live action Sailor Moon series! It was fitting that a manga and anime that was meant to emulate Sentai programs end up become a girl’s version of what is essentially a Sentai show. Though it never got any kind of North American release it was quite popular with fans. I was particularly happy to see my all time favourite animated female Sailor Mars be portrayed by Keiko Kitagawa who’s completely hot. The series began by following the manga very closely, but before long it became obvious it had become it’s own thing. While fan reaction varied I liked the show quite a bit and would recommend it to Sailor Moon fans who may not have given it a chance.
Now at this point I wish I could just point everyone to some easy to find collection where they could revisit all their favourite Sailor Moon stuff, but it’s just not that easy. For unknown reasons, international (meaning outside of Japan) rights for Sailor Moon are pretty much non existent. All previous deals for distribution were not renewed a few years ago, and so companies are simply not allowed to produce any Sailor Moon DVDs or books in English any more. This of course means a ridiculously inflated price for all old good still out there, making even the second hand market unfeasible for anyone not willing to spend a mint to get this stuff. This said, there are English only DVDs for the first 2 seasons, English subtitled DVDs for the first 2 seasons by ADV (missing an episode, and with horrible audio/video quality) and there are also bilingual DVDs for S and SuperS. These exist, but you’ll probably not be able to find anything but pirated versions out there. Sailor Moon SailorStars was never dubbed, but you can probably find some pretty great fansubs out there.
All this being said, Japanese merchandise is very much available. The manga and DVDs were all rereleased around the time of the live action show’s airing. If you’re really ghetto, you can probably get some cheap laser discs! The quality of these is about on par with the domestic DVD releases. The first seasons has a ton of extras on them that aren’t available even on the Japanese DVDs, so I recommend those big time. There are region 2 Japanese DVDs out there that are quite expensive, but of amazing quality. There are no subs on any of these releases, so someone not familiar with the show probably shouldn’t bother. A new rerelease of these DVDs is coming out soon, packaged in season sets for a bit cheaper than the other DVDs are. The discs appear to be the exact same ones with the same sparse features as the other DVDs, but the quality is excellent so that gets my recommendation. The movies were released in a discontinued box set, but those are available individually in Japanese DVDs as well. The live action series is also available in it’s entirety in Japanese only DVDs. So much to say, lots of room to waste your money here…
So what is the current state of Sailor Moon? Well to be honest not much seems to be going on. Still some releases in Japan but around the world aside from the occasional “Do you remember back when” kind of pop culture reference, people don’t really talk about this show which at a time was probably the most popular anime franchise on Earth. But don’t let that stop you! Keep on truckin’ moonies. Don’t ever forget about this excellent franchise.
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