Who Was Responsible for Rei’s Change in the Anime?
I know that I’ve talked at length about how Rei was portrayed quite differently in the anime and manga, and I’m sure at some point you might be wondering when the commentary on this issue will end.
Well, depending on your opinion of the issue, I have some good or bad news for you — today is not that day.
That’s right! We’ll be looking at an exclusive interview done in the November 1992 issue of Animage1 between the magazine’s editorial staff, Rei’s voice actress, and the top production crew for the Sailor Moon anime.
Come for the trivia, stay for the drama!
In the past, I’ve already discussed the special relationship Animage seemed to have enjoyed with the Sailor Moon production. In addition to some exclusive early interviews, the magazine also held multiple contests for fans of the show which were commented on by the production team, received exclusive art, and even got some of their fan-submitted catchphrases in the anime itself.
The November 1992 issue poses an even more interesting case. Here, we find a Rei-centric feature titled “Special Operation: Plan to Skyrocket Rei’s Popularity” (特別計画 レイちゃん人気倍増計画). The feature setup reads like it’s something that the magazine came up with in order to increase Rei’s popularity, but the more you read through the interview, it starts to sound like it was setup with the anime staff to get the word out to readers.
The feature’s goal is summarized concisely right at the top:
And for those of you who haven’t spent 13 years of your life learning Japanese:
While Ami and Usagi’s popularity keeps rocketing up, Rei (Sailor Mars) just doesn’t seem to be all that popular.
We can’t let that stand! We’ve gotten Rei’s voice actress, Michie Tomizawa, together with the main staff to have a debate about Rei in order to fix this situation. We call this the “Plan to Skyrocket Rei’s Popularity.”
Do you think we can get her even more popular than Ami?
Before we go any further, it’s probably worthwhile to add a little context.
Back in early 1992, shortly after Sailor Moon hit the airwaves, Ami was
literally figuratively killing it in the ranking department. She was nearly unstoppable in monthly character polls. In the November 1992 issue where this takes place, Ami was ranked first place, Usagi fifth, and Rei at… 17.
So it looks like the magazine took it upon itself to do something about this. And/or was asked by the animation studio to do something about this. But let’s avoid accusations of journalistic impropriety.
This feature is less of a straight-up interview, and more of a “prompt an interaction with the interviewees.” Speaking of interviewees, the following people are featured:
- Michie Tomizawa (Rei’s Voice Actress)2
- Iriya Azuma (Producer)3
- Kazuko Tadano (Character Designer)4
- Kunihiko Ikuhara (Director)5
The initial prompt from the magazine’s editors basically starts off citing an earlier interview with Tomizawa,6 where she expressed annoyance at Rei being treated as a “gag” character. She then continues on with this to say that Rei started off as really cool, but later on she’s become a bully and they focus on scenes where she looks stupid.
Azuma chimes in to agree, saying that he originally imagined Rei as a hot-headed, pro-active, and overall positive girl with the power of Mars. Tadano agrees that her original design was that of an active young girl.
Addressing what changed, Tomizawa goes on to state that, looking back on it, it must have been Ikuhara who had been the one pulling the strings here. The magazine backs this up here, pointing out that majority of the “gag” episodes involving Rei up until that point were, in fact, directed by Ikuhara.7 The scene where Rei was stepped on by Mamoru, where Rei was standing outside an anime studio, and where she uncharacteristically pinched Ami in episode 26 were all directed by Ikuhara.
Suddenly — and this is what makes me thing the whole “interview” was directed from the beginning — Tomizawa makes a reversal and says that she receives a lot of fan letters saying that they like how Rei flies off the handle, or how she can be so serious and a goof at the same time. Maybe, she goes on, Rei isn’t so bad like this.
Iriya posits that this was Ikuhara’s goal all along, and Ikuhara responds to say that he’s just been trying to make Rei as his ideal type of woman.8 He further elaborates to say that it’s almost impossible not to love a straight-man character with a bit of a silly side.
The rest of the interview carries on a bit like a PR piece, where each member of the staff reinforces that they like Rei this way, and that Ikuhara’s portrayal makes her a lovable character. They also go on to say that the voice actresses’ personalities have had quite an unintentional influence (which raises some interesting implications about what could have happened to Usagi!), but they all come to the conclusion that these changes to Rei were engineered by Ikuhara.
So, I’m gonna be the first to say that I wasn’t too surprised by the results of this. From everything I know about Ikuhara’s outlook on directing, he has very passionate ideas on characters and how they’re portrayed, so him seeing Rei as a more interesting character when shown in a different light isn’t much of a surprise.
It is, however, interesting to me to see it directly addressed, and to see that (on the surface, at least) Michie herself wasn’t a fan of how Rei was shown in the anime. I’d love to see commentary from any other of the voice actresses over how their characters developed throughout the series!
With that out of the way — which is your favorite version of Rei? Manga, anime, musical, PGSM, Crystal, other (DiC or other foreign dub)? I’d love to know!
- See p. 25 of the November 1992 issue of Animage ↩
- See Michie Tomizawa (Wikipedia) ↩
- See Iriya Azuma (Wikipedia) ↩
- See Kazuko Tadano (Wikipedia) ↩
- See Kunihiko Ikuhara (Wikipedia) ↩
- Though it’s never directly stated — and I haven’t read it fully — I think this is probably in reference to an interview in the October 1992 issue of Animage ↩
- This feels a lot like a Scooby Doo unmasking scene here. “So it was Old Man Ikuhara that had been making Rei so goofy!” So tempted to put a Scooby Doo image here… ↩
- We’ll ignore the fact that she’s 14. ↩