Sailor Moon and the paranormal… those aren’t typically two subjects that you’d put in close proximity with each other, but surprisingly there were some strong influences on the creation of the series and how it developed.
Today, we’ll be taking a look at what sort of influences the paranormal had on Sailor Moon, and why those influences may have slowly died off in favor of traditional fantasy. Let’s take a look!
While my love of Sailor Moon is probably established at this point, what may be less well known is that I’m also a huge fan of true-crime – a hobby directly traced back to my childhood of watching Unsolved Mysteries, Scooby Doo, Jonny Quest, and other shows devoted to solving a mystery. That right there should probably explain a lot about where this blog came from, and my mindset in approaching it.
Basically, I want to have an old man yell at me about being a meddling kid.1 But that’s neither here nor there.
What is relevant is that you couldn’t possible expect me to turn down an opportunity to talk about connections between the paranormal – or, the occult, as this is generally classified under in Japan – and how it inspired Sailor Moon and some of the characters in it – particularly, the Black Moon Clan. And it all starts, surprisingly, in the 1970s.2
More specifically, we can trace the beginnings of this cultural phenomenon back to 1973, with the back-to-back releases of the two best-selling books “Japan Sinks” by Sakyo Komatsu3 and “The Prophecies of Nostradamus” by Ben Goto.4 The latter of the two was the first introduction many Japanese had to Nostradamus and sold 1 million copies in just 3 months – the 15th book since the war to reach a million sales.
Who cares about what happened in 1973? Well, I do. And so should you.
You see, a semi-famous woman by the name of Naoko Takeuchi was both in 1967,5 thus making her a child of the 70s and growing up right during this boom. Not much unlike the United States – and I imagine it was the same with other western countries – at the time, there were books, magazines, and TV shows everywhere dedicated to these topics.
As with all things that skyrocket up in popularity, it always dies down, and by the early 1980s the occult fervor was starting to wane. Fortunately for us, this was brought right back to the forefront of pop culture with the availability of affordable video cameras, leading to a great deal of TV programs dedicated to ghosts, UFOs, and the oddly-named UMA – a Japanese-native “English” abbreviation for Unidentified Mysterious Animal, or a cryptid to you and me.6 You know, Big Foot, Tuxedo Melvin, the Loch Ness Monster… that sort of thing. Crop circles first started appearing in Japan in September 1990, adding fuel to the fire.7
This whole category of different mysterious – and generally scientifically unsound – ideas falls under the category of “the occult” in Japan.
I’m pretty sure you’ve kinda figured out what I’ve been leading up to here. And in case you haven’t, it’s basically explaining the background behind the themes of the Black Moon story arc.
Ms. Takeuchi held no punches when it came to adding in every possible theme related to the paranormal. These themes are reflected all throughout the Black Moon’s story, even down to the abilities shown off by the Ayakashi Sisters. Just a few examples include:
- crop circles8 and the Black Moon’s UFO
- the Medium Calaveras, who we see using her power for channeling9
- spontaneous human combustion10
- the Pendulum-using Berthier and her abilities to divine through dowsing11
… and undoubtedly quite a few more examples I’m missing.
Now, of course, it might have just been a one-time theme and Ms. Takeuchi may not have intended to continue to use these paranormal-inspired ideas in later stories anyway. But even if she had planned to do so, these stories quickly fell out of favor in the media almost immediately after the March 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway by the Aum Shinrikyo cult.12
There are other cases, of course, where we see instances of the paranormal – from Rei’s visions in fire to Mamoru’s psychometry – appearing in the world of Sailor Moon, but in no other season was it as front-and-center as it was in the Black Moon story arc.
Honestly, I would have loved to see her do more stuff like this. As absurd as it must sound, it actually adds an even more real overtone to her carefully-crafted universe. After all, if Sailor Mars is so easily able to practice psychokinesis, it stands to reason that there would be other examples of things we have written off as mere “stories of the occult.”
Weird question – were you already familiar with many of these paranormal phenomena when you had first read or watched Sailor Moon, or was this your first introduction of things like human combustion, dowsing, and the like? For people of my age (I know, I know…), it was all over TV growing up, but I remember seeing a lot less of this stuff from the early 2000s. I’d love to know what other people’s experiences were like!
- See You Meddling Kids ↩
- See this blog write-up on Japan’s occult boom ↩
- See Japan Sinks (Wikipedia) ↩
- See The Prophecies of Nostradamus (Wikipedia) ↩
- See Naoko Takeuchi (Wikipedia) ↩
- See List of Cryptids (Wikipedia) ↩
- See Crop Circles (Rise of Popularity in Japan) (Wikipedia) ↩
- See p. 158 of vol. 4 of the original manga ↩
- See p. 28 vol. 5 of the original manga ↩
- See p. 81 of vol. 4 of the original manga ↩
- See p. 132 of vol. 4 of the original manga ↩
- See Aum Shinrikyo (Tokyo Subway Attack) (Wikipedia) ↩