We all know that Sailor Moon was — and is — an economic powerhouse, and that plastering the cast’s likenesses on a product is basically a license to print money. But with all the talk going on nowadays about the sharp increase in anime production costs, and the suspiciously missing-in-action Sailor Moon Crystal: Dream movies, I think it’s about time we address the pink rabbit in the room:
Just how much money is Toei Animation making off of Sailor Moon, anyway?
I hope you brought a snack, because we’re going to talk about a bunch of really big numbers!
As for how much Sailor Moon as a mixed-media property actually makes in total, that question is far more difficult — if not impossible — to answer due to the complicated situation over what entities own the rights to the series and the limits of how far we want to go down to the rabbit hole.
Taking an extreme example, do we stop at how much money Toei Animation made from licensing the anime to Viz, or do we go out even further and try to find out how much money Viz made in media sales?
Since there’s no way that we’d be able to answer any of these questions anyway, I figured it’d be best to just restrict this conversation to something that we can (reasonably) get to the bottom of: Toei Animation’s profits from Sailor Moon.
Toei Animation Co., Ltd. is a member of the Toei group, and an affiliate of Toei Company, Ltd.1 The good thing for us is that since Toei Animation is a publicly listed company, that means that they’re required by law to disclose their earnings to investors, which gives us a nice look at some of the numbers behind their biggest properties, including One Piece, Dragon Ball, Pretty Cure, Digimon, and Saint Seiya. Yes, I’m just as surprised as you that those last two made the list.
Toei Animation (for simplicity, we’ll call it “Toei”) splits out their income from their animated series into three different categories:2
- Domestic Licensing
- Overseas Film
- Overseas Licensing
Now that we got the good news out of the way, unfortunately I have some bad news: Toei only provides the income for their top four performers in a given category for each fiscal year, which means there are a lot of years in which we don’t have any information at all on Sailor Moon.
In a way, however, that does tell us something. That means that, in many years, Sailor Moon is actually not a particularly strong earner for Toei in terms of sheer profits. The numbers are still nothing to sneeze at, and I’d be more than happy to take a piece of that pie, but it’s still interesting all the same.
For the sake of simplicity, I’ll only be showing the years in which we have concrete data.
This category is pretty straight forward. Basically, how much money did Toei make licensing their characters, story, universe, names, etc. to other companies for making products. This will cover your lunch boxes, coloring books, tennis shoes, and all that good stuff.3
Between fiscal years (FY) 2004 through 2017, Sailor Moon only ranks in this category twice — in FY2015 and FY2016.4 It makes sense when you think about it, since the series was pretty dormant for most of this time, with the exception of the live-action PGSM show.
As you can see here, Sailor Moon accounted for just a paltry 5-6% of the profits brought in by the top four series in FY2015 and FY2016, at 339 million (~3.16 million USD) and 341 million yen (~3.18 million USD) respectively.5 One Piece, by comparison, brought in over ten times that.
But it’s not all doom and gloom — this is only the domestic market. Let’s see how the series does abroad!
I’m not entirely sure how this category differs from Overseas Licensing, but my best guess is that Toei separates income that comes directly from its actual animation and films (which is licensed to overseas companies for subtitling/dubbing) and income that comes from licensing out the story/characters/worlds in its series for products, etc.
Sailor Moon was absent from this category until FY2012, but has had a reasonably strong presence ever since.
As you can see, our sailor-suited warriors of love and justice actually do pretty well in international markets, especially in recent years. In just five years, Sailor Moon income from overseas films has nearly quintupled, growing from 89 million yen (~831,260 USD) in FY2012 to 429 million yen (~4.00 million USD) in FY2017.6 I was also pleasantly surprised to find out that Sailor Moon tends to out-earn the Pretty Cure series consistently, even if just barely.
Nothing against the Pretty Cure girls, of course. But I will always swear allegiance to the Moon Princess, and nothing can change that.7
And that leaves us with…
That brings us to our last category: basically, all the merch made for sale outside of Japan that has the Sailor Moon brand or characters plastered somewhere on it. It’s worth noting that Toei is not the only license-holder for the series — Bandai and Naoko are in line for a payout, for example — so it’s not entirely clear to me how the royalties are actually split up when a company licenses Sailor Moon, but at the very least this is Toei’s cut.
In the past 13 years of investor-relations documents that I read through, the series only topped Toei’s top four earners in FY2010 and FY2015, but my guess is that it was just surpassed in the fourth place slot (by Slam Dunk in FY2016 and Digimon in FY2017) and that it’s not because Sailor Moon is earning substantially less money.
First and foremost: what the heck was going on with Dragon Ball licensing in 2010?? 2009 was also absurdly high, and then it drops to one-fifth of that in 2011. Maybe this was from royalties for the Hollywood travesty, Dragonball: Evolution?8
In terms of revenue, Sailor Moon does pretty respectably, bringing in 65 million yen (~607,100 USD) and 115 million yen (~1.07 million USD) in FY2010 and FY2015 respectively. Though pretty impressive, that’s only about one-third of the Japanese FY2015 licensing revenues.
So what’s our conclusion here?
For me personally, this explains a lot about the delays in announcements for the Dream arc of the Sailor Moon Crystal anime. Though the series does pull in a fair amount of money globally, I’m not sure if it’s bringing in a sufficient amount of money for Toei to continue to justify the expenses associated with animating full seasons. I
‘m pretty sure we’ll still get the promised movies, but unless the numbers turn around — or there’s a reversal in the recent talent-crunch in the Japanese animation industry — I’m not sure how optimistic I am about seeing a Sailor Stars arc reimagined in Crystal. It wouldn’t be the first time we were robbed of a Sailor Stars movie.
But maybe I’m just being far too critical about these numbers. What do you think about Toei’s revenues from Sailor Moon? Is this more, less, or about on target with what you thought they were earning?
- See Toei Animation’s homepage ↩
- See Toei Animation’s IR Library ↩
- Totally unrelated to anything, but when I was a kid I was absolutely obsessed with Ninja Turtles. I had shoes, backpacks, everything. I was a walking TMNT billboard. I kinda imagine that’s how kids in Japan were with Sailor Moon in the early 90s. ↩
- Toei Animation’s fiscal year is from April 1 to March 31 of the following year. So FY2015 starts on April 1, 2015 and runs through March 31, 2016; see Fiscal Year ↩
- JPY to USD converted at the rate of 107 yen to $1, current as of February 27, 2018 ↩
- It’s worth noting that the FY2017 are just estimates, and actual results will have to wait until the fiscal year closes out on March 31, 2018 ↩
- Similarly, I am an unapologetic Marvel > DC fan, and firmly believe Star Wars is superior to Star Trek. TNG was really good, though. ↩
- See Dragonball: Evolution (Wikipedia) ↩