What Was the Inspiration Behind Zoisite and Kunzite’s Relationship?

Who could it be?

Who could it be?

Among all of the liberties that the anime took when it came to redefining the characters of Sailor Moon — and there were certainly plenty — the reworking of Zoisite and Kunzite’s relationship is one of the examples that stands out strongly in my mind.

Today, we’re here to talk about the 1978 manga and subsequent 1982 anime that may have served as an inspiration for how Zoisite and Kunzite’s relationship developed into what we saw in the anime.

And if that doesn’t sound interesting, well then, I guess I just don’t even know who my readers are. If you’ve made it this far, then, I hope you join along for the ride!

"Let me read you a bedtime story, Zoisite."

“Let me read you a bedtime story, Zoisite.”

In the grand scheme of things, the rewriting of Zoisite and Kunzite’s relationship from that of a mentor and fresh-eyed newbie in the manga to that of romantic lovers in the anime is pretty small when compared to some of the other changes the Sailor Moon anime did.

The near complete reworking of Rei’s character is probably the greatest example, but the changes that Mamoru underwent weren’t minor by any stretch of the imagination either. Heck, while we’re at it, the whole idea of them dating was an anime invention.

I guess the reason why Zoisite and Kunzite’s relationship stands out so strongly in my mind is because my first introduction to Sailor Moon was through the old DiC dub, wherein Zoisite has changed into a woman. When I first learned about the manga, there still weren’t any official English translations at the time, so my only exposure was with fan-written summaries.

This, kids, was before “scanlations” were a thing. Yes, I’m old.

So anyway, here I learned that not only was Zoisite a man, but there was no relationship with Kunzite to be seen. Huh, okay. But that means that in the anime…? Right, they’re both men. And they’re in a relationship. Before I had even heard about the relationship between Uranus and Neptune, this was first introduction to the diversity of relationships in Japanese anime. And I imagine it was for many others, as well.

But what about young fans in Japan?

As it turns out, this is far from the first time that a gay relationship was prominently featured in a prime-time children’s anime.

Boku Paralliro!

Boku Paralliro!

The credit for that goes to Boku Patalliro! (1982-1983), the anime adaptation of Patalliro!, a long-running shojo manga that started in 1978 and continues on till today.1 This show, also by Toei Animation – the studio behind the Sailor Moon anime – is credited as the first show to bring shonen-ai (gay relationships) to Japanese tv.2

Though I don’t have any direct proof of this, I believe that the relationship depicted in this show is what served as the basis for Zoisite and Kunzite’s relationship that we see in the anime.

Specifically, I’m talking about the relationship between Bancoran – the so-called “pretty boy killer” 27 year old MI-6 agent and the titular Patalliro’s bodyguard – and Maraich – an 18 year old hot-headed assassin.

If the age difference and personalities seemed like a mere coincidence, why don’t we take a look at their character designs.

Bancoran and Kunzite

Bancoran and Kunzite

Okay, okay, so Kunzite doesn’t lay the eye shadow on quite like Bancoran does, they do have the serious demeanor going for them and the never-smiling attitude.

Maraich and Zoisite

Maraich and Zoisite

Zoisite and Marich, on the other hand, do have a lot more in common in terms of basic character design and mannerisms, with both of them being hot-headed and underhanded, but both exhibiting feminine mannerisms in their respective relationships.

Like a mentioned above, I don’t exactly have any proof here that the relationship between Zoisite and Kunzite was meant to mimic Maraich and Bancoran, but the way they interact with each other does remind me a lot of what I’ve seen in Patalliro!.

As for why they would put the relationship in when it was entirely absent in the manga? That’s actually pretty simple – for the same reason shows at the time, such as Ranma 1/2, were so well known for t&a: it draws in viewers. Apparently back in the early days of Sailor Moon, there were quite a few fan made doujinshi comics focusing on this relationship,3 and the Zoisite and Kunzite pairing was – and is! – quite popular.

Edited to add: Commenter Retrosofa (down below) kindly pointed out a very important detail that I missed – the voice actor Kazuyuki Sogabe lent his voice to both Bancoran and Kunzite!4 If that isn’t a final nail in this coffin, I’m not sure what would be!

Actual screenshot – anime was a little more hardcore back in the day

Actual screenshot – anime was a little more hardcore back in the day

Just to be clear, this is just my own observations on the situation and my thoughts on how the relationship between Zoisite and Kunzite developed the way it did. It’s entirely possible  (likely?) that I could be wrong and this might just be nothing more than symptom of tendencies in popular girls’ anime.

On the other hand, it seems that this theory crops up quite often in Japanese fan circles, especially among those who grew up watching Patalliro! first and then later encountered Sailor Moon. The manga is hugely popular and, since it still is running today, has quite a fanbase. The anime ran in syndication for many years and has quite a few fans even among those who weren’t alive when it was on air. So in that case, it may not be too far out there that this was something of an homage.

But that’s what I think. I’d love to know your thoughts on this – why do you think the anime decided to add in this dynamic between Zoisite and Kunzite?


References:

  1.  See Patalliro! (Wikipedia)
  2.  See p. 90 of Manga: 60 Years of Japanese Comics, by Paul Gravett
  3. See this fan comment on the Patalliro! and Sailor Moon connection
  4.  See Kazuyuki Sogabe (Wikipedia)

10 comments

  • You forgot the biggest connection – Kazuyuki Sogabe voices both Bancoran and Kunzite!

    A lot of people seem to gloss over the fact there’s *some* homosexual subtext in the manga. Not a great deal, but it is there. There’s one shot in particular where Zoisite is sitting on Kunzite’s lap, which certainly evokes the image they had in the anime. Then, there’s of course, the fact that Zoisite crossdresses in the manga. Unfortunately a lot of manga/anime seem to blur the stereotypes of the LGBTQ community into one. If a character is gay, they tend to have stereotypical traits, or share traits from the opposite gender. Take Fisheye for example, who the producers certainly thought of as “gay”, yet he wasn’t only attracted to men, he looked female, and would crossdress to seduce (possibly straight) male targets.

    • Wow, thanks for pointing that out – I can’t believe I missed it! A note has been added to the article now.

      As for Fisheye, I’ve been meaning to write an article about this and about how his sexuality and gender may have been perceived in Japan by fans, but currently I’m still on a self-imposed limit of only discussing Sailor Moon S/Death Busters and earlier. I should be branching out into Sailor Moon SuperS/Dream later this year… maybe?
      Somewhat applicable to Zoisite too, but I think, strictly speaking, Fisheye would be what’s classified as an “onee” character. That would explain the “mixing” of the various LGBTQ stereotypes.

      You can read more about it here, but I intend to eventually get around to writing an article on the Fisheye issue!
      LGBT People in Japan Mass Media

  • Whoa! I can totally see the similarities! Plus+ I laughed so hard when you mentioned about the fan-written summaries! I remember those!! That’s how I learned about the manga too! That means… I’m old too.
    I loved this article, I always wondered why this was a thing in the anime and not in the manga.

    • Back in the good ol’ days, right? When loading even screenshots of anime episodes would take minutes at a time?
      And yet, I still loved reading through those manga (Alex Glover?) and anime (Hitoshi Doi) summaries and desperately trying to imagine the action taking place on the page.

      Kids nowadays, ya got it so easy!

  • JAMES TROTTER

    not having seen the other show i cant offer my thoughts on this but here is some thinking when i look back on season 1 of sm i always think the show was not all that good at first it was ok but it did not really start to get you in until sailor jupiter comes in to it it sort of does just before it when they start doing the Nephrite and Naru thing but when jupiter arrived the episodes seemed to get a bit better the show was starting to do more with its cast then the bad guys doing bad stuff while the good guys ( good ladies ) were just doing every day things then stop the bad guys the only episodes that really stay with me from the early episodes of season 1 are the intro episodes for the salors and a few others the tennis one the boat one the speeding up time one and Jadeite last one and …..what does this have to do with this well may be around the time jupiter arrived thepeople who made the show were thinking the same thing that it was not as good as it chould be and tryed to do some new things to make the show better they started to finally do some thing with sailor moon and tuxedo mask sailor mars had a new boy come to live with her at the temple the hunt fot the 7 crystals thing was doing some thing new and the Zoisite and Kunzite thing was one of the meny things they added that made the show more then what it was so my thinking is may be they said hey do you remember the two guys on that show why dont we do some thing like that with two of the four kings so what i am saying is i think you might be right but not having seen the other show i cant really say

  • Wow! This actually makes sense because of how many outside influences came into the Sailor Moon universe.

    I too had no idea Zoisite was male for the longest time, only seeing the DiC version early on. Even in the manga, he’s drawn to be very feminine, and I believe he was the one who dressed as a woman during an interview to seek the Silver Crystal. Even now, I still have trouble seeing him as a man.

    But just some observations of the anime: The four kings were always really nasty to each other, whereas they didn’t seem quite so competitive in the manga. It almost wouldn’t make sense for Kunzite and Zoisite to be “friendly” while Jedite, Nephrite, and Zoisite all hated each other. I guess having them in a relationship kind of helped make sense of them teaming up, while adding a more dramatic layer to their story?

    • The relationship between them added a whole new dynamic to their characters that I think the series desperately needed, since the anime rarely ever bothered to give the villains any motivation at all. It does raise questions for me, though, as to how Kunzite thought of Nephrite, especially since he was obviously okay with Zoisite’s open betrayal of their comrade.

      This is probably either a missed point, or was overlooked because they’re all “bad guys,” and thus they would readily betray each other without a second thought.
      I would have loved to see them all interact together, though.

  • Thank you so much for this article! These two have always had a special place with me, and now I have a new manga to enjoy! 🙂

  • In Cygnus and in Health

    I imagine that a significant number of boys who had a crush on dub Zoisite received a very rude awakening when finding out the truth years later. >_<

    But the fact they managed to successfully get away with that shows just how the character (like Fisheye) had a particularly effeminate/gender neutral looking design and mannerisms to begin with.

    I get the impression that a lot of Classic was something of a learning curve for the people working on it. Coming up with more nuances and quirks for characters. We started of with rather bland standard bad guys like Jedite, and over time we started to get more charismatic antagonists. This is possibly why they did the whole Naru/Nephrite thing.
    A wise move on their part, because Naoko was in all fairness pretty crap at writing interesting villains with individual characteristics.

    Indeed, Sailor Moon (to my knowledge) seems to be one of the earliest shows that tried to portray a number of its designated 'bad guys' in a more sympathetic manner. Before that, most kids in the west would mainly have received the Dick Dastardly level of substance.

    • Absolutely agree with you here on just how huge it was for Sailor Moon to portray the enemies as actual decent, likable characters that you were sad to see die, at least in America. Having grown up with Cobra, Skeletor, and the Decepticons (all of which were evil for the sake of being evil), it was amazing to see that the bad guys actually had motivations and there own characterizations.

      That was one of the points that first drew me in to anime and Japanese gaming, really.

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