When I did a quick poll of my peer group over whether they knew when KiSS dolls were, the answer was typically broken down into two distinct categories: an emphatic “OMIGAWD YES!!!” or a blank stare.
And really, it’s kinda to be expected. KiSS dolls are one of those many things about the early days of the anime fandom where you really had to have been there to get what was so awesome about it.
Be that as it may, I still think it’s worth taking the time to talk about these wonderful time capsules from the early anime community and, for those that are interested, I’ve even provided a few here on this site for you to play with.
I hope you stick around for this blast to the anime past!
(If you want to skip the rambling and just play with some dolls in your browser, click here!)
Before I start waxing nostalgic about the joy of these simple computer toys, it would probably be helpful if I actually started from the beginning. What, exactly, are KiSS dolls anyway?
“KiSS” is an acronym of Kisekae Set System,1 which is a digital version of the the paper dress-up dolls you, your parents, and probably even grandparents played with as kids. You know the drill: cut out the character, cut out the clothes and the awkward paper tabs, then ignore all logic and put them in the dumbest combinations you can imagine.
The Japanese term kisekae itself comes from 着せ替え人形 (kisekae ningyou; dress-up doll),2 which is essentially what these things are a modernized version of.
In Japan at least, the old-school versions are still quite popular with kids, but usually in the form of magnets or stickers, allowing you to more easily dress and re-dress your character of choice.
So, what are KiSS dolls and what did you do with them?
Well, way back in the 1990s, this was a way for fans to make digital dolls of their favorite anime characters and distribute them online for others the play with. In addition to the clothes that you’re already familiar with, such as the Sailor Fuku in the case of the Sailor Soldiers, you’d often be given access to many other clothing options and accessories to dress them up to your heart’s content.
When you write it out like that, it honestly doesn’t sound all that exciting. But I absolutely loved these things, and used to spend hours as a pre-teen getting just the right look.
The biggest source of these dolls – whether for anime, manga, game, or original characters – was the Big KiSS Page, of the now-defunct Otaku World.3
Once you downloaded a KiSS player application to your rockin’ Windows 98SE machine, you now had thousands of dolls available at your fingertips, sorted by series. When the site stopped updating in 2014, there were 253 dolls dedicated to the characters of Sailor Moon. From Usagi to Nephrite, and Sailor Tin Nyanko to human-form Diana, nearly every character you could imagine was represented.
As with all fan efforts, there were definitely huge differences in quality from one set to the next. Some were… quaint… fanart efforts, while others were absolute masterpieces.
And that was part of the fun! You only had one screenshot to go off of for judging quality, so you’d just download a whole bunch at a time and then try them out one by one, deciding later which ones you’d be keeping. Or, at least, that’s how I did it.
Though I’d love to just keep rambling on about this and other digital toys and websites from yesteryear, I’d rather you just have the experience yourself!
Since I know that no one in their right mind will go out and try to find a working KiSS player and then blindly download dolls, I’ve added a player to my blog and a selection of dolls, so you can play right from your own browser. Check it out!
So how many of you actually used to play with these back in the day? While I kinda fell out of my KiSS obsession, I did collect a ton of dolls when I was really into it. If fact, I’m pretty sure that I can directly connect my love for customizing my characters in modern video games to all my wasted afternoons as a youth spent dressing up my favorite anime girls.
As I’ve mentioned before, I like to keep this blog from getting too personal, since the goal here is to answer questions about Sailor Moon mysteries and not my experiences as a fan, but… hey, it’s the weekend. Anything goes! If you have any other suggestions for topics like this, I’d love to hear them!