Walk into any toy store or shopping center in Japan and you’ll find yourself faced with many of the “evergreen” titans of the anime industry: Ultraman, Dragon Ball, Pokémon, and more.
Yet, despite it’s massive resurgence in recent years, Sailor Moon is suspiciously missing from the toy aisles. Instead, you’re more likely to find this 90s kids’ entertainment colossus relegated to the stationary section, hobbyist stores, or even lingerie shops!
Today we’re going to look at a 2013 interview with chief manga editor Fumio ‘Osabu’ Osano and Sailor Moon’s voice actress Kotono Mitsuishi1 as they discuss how this transition happened along with some of their favorite memories from years gone by!
Interviewer: Over the past half year or so, you’ve released a wide variety of products, including cosmetics, figures, clothing, stationary, and even toys that look like the items that appeared in the anime. Today we’d like to discuss with you some of the behind-the-scenes conversations that went on when making these items. I understand that you were the managing editor of the manga, Osabu, but are you also involved in product development as well?
Osabu: That’s correct. Ms. Takeuchi and I work in concert to closely review all product plans and check on the quality of the products. Even with all the merchandise coming out, I can tell that it won’t work if you just haphazardly throw something together. Products that are in touch with the fans’ attitudes go over really well, but those that just throw on some old anime art and call it a day fail to gain any traction. These women who used to read the manga back in the day are now in their late 20s or early 30s and want designs that don’t stand out or feel unnatural when they’re out and about.
Interviewer: So merchandise that blends into your daily life rather than something that feels like anime merch?
Osabu: That’s right. In that respect, cosmetics are a perfect fit. The Bandai development team were really discerning about their “Shining Moon Powder.” Of course, Ms. Takeuchi also took a look at it and engaged in discussions with them about the thickness and so on. The cosmetics have greatly outpaced our expectations.
Kotono: It was really cute! [While looking over a past Comic Natalie article] The “Shimamura” you wrote about here, is that referring to “Fashion Center Shimamura”? That’s a surprising tie-up!
Osabu: We’re really lucky to have received a lot of proposals for fusing the brand with a lot of different themes. Also mentioned in that article is Peach John’s undergarment line with its head-turning designs. The first product announced for the 20th anniversary line was the “S.H. Figuarts Sailor Moon,” and I think we can safely say that it’s thanks to that product’s success that others were also allowed to come out. Had it failed, I feared that others might not be released.
Kotono: Really, you were worried about that?
Osabu: Oh, definitely.
Kotono: It’s popularity was practically a given! Fans’ hearts were longing for Sailor Moon. You know, about 10 years ago, I went to Nakano Broadway and wandered around the floors looking for some Sailor Moon figures, but much to my surprise, I couldn’t find a single one! I couldn’t believe how the world changed!
Osabu: Hahaha. Back in those days, we hadn’t really been releasing much.
Kotono: [Fans] were practically starved at that point, so getting your hands on the “S.H. Figuarts” was a real blessing. Though I have to admit that the first time I saw it, I couldn’t believe how small it was. (laugh)
Osabu: Apparently the size of the “S.H. Figuarts” also appeals to women. There’s a ton you can do to play with it, like posing it, putting it on your desk, or even taking pictures with it. Figures were generally seen as a product aimed at men so I wasn’t sure about how well it’d do, but apparently a lot of women went out to buy it. Did you have a chance to play around with it, Kotono?
Kotono: Yep! Though getting it to stand up is a real challenge. I also tried to get her into the “In the name of the Moon, I’ll punish you!” pose, but it didn’t quite pan out.
Osabu: Yeah, there’s a real skill to working with posable figures that makes them challenging in the beginning. Just a slight change to the angle of the face, for example, can really sell the pose.
Kotono: I guess I’ve got to practice, then.
Osabu: The “S.H. Figuarts” line usually only comes with 4 different faces, but we had the initial run of Sailor Moon include a bonus one, making a total of 6. It’s worth playing around with, I think. Sailor Moon fans have a pretty discerning eye, so we decided to go all in with this launch. (laugh)
Kotono: It’s pretty interesting. Just considering how you can really move the figure around and adjust things, there was nothing at all like this back in the day.
Osabu: In addition to the “S.H. Figuarts” line, a non-posable statuette “Figuarts Zero” will be released in March of next year. Here the pose is beautifully depicted and can be displayed as-is as a completed product.
Kotono: Is this one aimed at men?
Osabu: Ultimately I’d have to agree, but it would also fit in perfectly in a woman’s bedroom as well.
Kotono: I’d have to say that this is the first product I’d seen that really feels like a Sailor Moon figure. Was there anything like this back in the series’ heyday? I mostly remember dress up figures and soft stuffed dolls aimed at little girls.
Osabu: There were a ton of Sailor Moon products in the golden age of the resin “garage” kits, around 1995-1996. In fact, JAF-CON (Japan Fantastic Convention)2 started in 1992, the same year that the anime went on the air. Up until that point, resin kits generally depicted monsters or hero character — things aimed at men — but the launch of Sailor Moon really expanded the market for anime characters. Volks, the company responsible for making the design master, created a product that feels like a really high quality resin kit from the era.
Interviewer: What do you mean by high quality?
Osabu: Well, the detail work for starters is absolutely stunning. It’s been sanded down to a flawless surface and you can even see the purl stitching in the skirt and boots.
Kotono: You’re right, it’s really beautiful! But why did you go with a pose starring the Cutie Moon Rod rather than her usual “I’ll punish you!” pose?
Osabu: The prototype artist said that this was the kind of pose for Sailor Moon that they wanted to make, and I figure that you get the best end product by allowing someone to make what they want. We’ll be moving forward with this series as well. Mercury in particularly is quite impressive.
Kotono: That’s not just your personal tastes talking? (laugh)
Osabu: No, not at all! (laugh) But Sailor Moon is definitely far and away the fan favorite.
Kotono: Oh, you don’t need to say that just because I’m here! (laugh)
Osabu: No, it’s true! (laugh) We produced a line of t-shirts that had each of the 5 Sailor Guardians’ uniforms printed on the front and Sailor Moon was the top seller. Next up was Venus and the other three all sold around the same.
Interviewer: Has the popularity of each of the characters always been the same?
Osabu: It’s changed a bit over the years. Back in the latter half of the original run, Jupiter became quite popular, so much so that she may have been one of the most popular at the end of the series.
Interviewer: I remember just loving watching the 5 girls excitedly living out their lives and hanging out with one another in the anime back in the day.
Kotono: All of us voice actresses for the Sailor Guardians were really close, so much so that there was practically no difference between our private and work lives. We even formed a band.
Osabu: Moon Rips or something like that, right?
Kotono: Umm… close. (laugh) Peach Hips!
Osabu: Aaah, no! (laugh) Sorry about that!
Kotono: Hahaha. It’s fine, don’t worry about it. We had nothing like the kind of backstage support for seiyuu events and the like back then, so everything from the practice sessions to the costumes, and even the choreography, was all just kind of thrown together by all of us. We did have a lot of help from some of the older women in our lives, though.
Osabu: You were all in your 20s back then, too.
Kotono: Yeah, we were. Of course, were were all professional actresses, on the stage and elsewhere, so we were able to figure out where we all fit in in the bigger picture to deliver an impactful experience.
Interviewer: What was the most memorable scene for you in Sailor Moon‘s long run?
Kotono: Hmm, I think it would have to be the episode when Hotaru awoke as Sailor Saturn.3 Sailor Moon could no longer access her powers and was in tears, screaming, “Let me take your place!” I loved that.
Osabu: Why did you like that scene so much?
Kotono: Well, uh, I’d rather you not ask me that. I’d hate for you to think I’m some kind of weirdo. (laugh)
Osabu: That’s not a problem. (laugh)
Kotono: There are some scenes where it feels like the character’s mouth is moving in sync with my own as I read the lines. Usually, I change my breathing and adjust the speed that I’m talking at to match the mouth on screen, but in this scene, I felt like the animation was matching my own cries as I let it all out.
Osabu: Was that the first time you’d ever felt something like that as a voice actress?
Kotono: Right, Sailor Moon was the first time I’d ever felt like that.
Osabu: Huh, I wonder why that happened in that scene.
Kotono: Weird, huh? (laugh) It’s like the god of voice acting came down to Earth at that moment. What take is ultimately used is usually left up to the director, but that time I got swept up in my emotions and went all the way to the booth to tell the staff that this was the take I wanted them to use. (laugh)
Interviewer: The Proplica Moon Stick is going on sale in April of next year. How did it feel to record lines Sailor Moon after such a long absence?
Kotono: Well, I did the narration for the “S.H. Figuarts” promotional video, but I felt nervous, almost like I was a newbie all over again. I was really worried about if I could get back to the same level I had achieved before.
Osabu: It felt just like the old days.
Kotono: Hmm, I did watch some of the old DVDs just to check. Considering none of the old staff were still around, it was a rather lonely task trying to get back as close as I could. But I definitely gave it my all when recording lines for the Moon Stick.
Osabu: And did you pass?
Kotono: Yep! I felt like I nailed it when we finished recording.
Osabu: I can’t even tell the difference between now and the old lines. I’m sure the fans feel the same as well, but we tend to glorify things in the past as time passes, so I’m sure that they’d be upset if your voice was the same as before. But I have to say that the hurdle must’ve been incredibly high to be able to be able to grow to such a level that you can make your voice sound as if nothing’s changed. I was impressed at the level of a true professional. It’s quite a treasure to have a Moon Stick with your voice in it, and I think they really went all in, from design and all, in making the best product they could.
Kotono: It feels like it came right out of the show. You definitely couldn’t sell a Moon Stick with a pointed tip like this to kids, though. (laugh)
Interviewer: Did you refer back to the manga when working on the role of Usagi?
Kotono: Definitely. I used to love reading Nakayoshi when it arrived at the studio every month.
Osabu: The perfect edition of the manga is being released now, so I was hoping maybe you’d read it… [Osabu hands volumes 1 and 2 to Kotono]
Kotono: Wow, thank you! The cover’s so beautiful! And it looks like some nice touches have been added to Usagi as well.
Osabu: Maybe the art was a little more flippant and carefree 20 years ago? Though I don’t think much has changed now. (laugh)
Kotono: Hahaha. All teenage girls are like that, you know.
Osabu: Back when the manga was in circulation, Ms. Takeuchi was greatly influenced by you whenever she was drawing Usagi. We’d look over the rough sketches together and she’d point out to a scene of Usagi yelping out and comment about how you said something just like that when you two were talking and mention how cute it was.
Kotono: What, really? That’s the first I’d heard of this.
Osabu: Ms. Takeuchi was generally quick to put to paper things that she was influenced by, so I think there are some parts of your mannerisms and personality that live on in her art. I think you can really start seeing Kotono’s influence around volumes 3-5 of this new perfect edition, so I hope you read on.
Kotono: Of course I will! Though I doubt I’ll actually notice myself in it. (laugh) In any case, I’m really happy. Thanks for telling me.
Interviewer: Do you have any parting message for the fans looking forward to the rest of the perfect release and the upcoming Sailor Moon 20th anniversary plans?
Kotono: I’m sure that all of you young girls who used to watch the anime and read the manga have grown up into fine adult women, but I hope you’ll keep the “Maiden’s Policy” forever in your heart. If you’d let it slumber, then wake it up. Irrespective of age, job, status, or anything else in life, let’s make this Sailor Moon 20th anniversary something everyone around the world can celebrate together! (laugh)
Osabu: Our plans for the 20th anniversary have only just begun and there’s a lot more in store. Stand by!
I think it’s interesting to see that the Sailor Moon franchise chose to do a complete 180° between their handling of the 10th anniversary (with the launch of the live action drama, PGSM) and the 20th anniversary.
While the former was aimed very much at appealing to a kid audience, the latter went the opposite direction and tried to reach back out to — and into the pocket books of — old fans of the series.
Though it’s purely conjecture on my part, it makes me wonder if the PGSM series may not have been as much of a financial success as they had been hoping. As Pretty Cure tells us, magical girls are still big business in Japan, so it can’t be that there’s no longer a market for shows like Sailor Moon.
Let’s hear from you! What do you think the reason for this pivot was?