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!
- See Kisekae Set System (Wikipedia) ↩
- See 着せ替え人形 (Jisho.org) ↩
- See Otaku World ↩
14 thoughts on “My First KiSS – Playing Dress Up With Digital Sailor Moon Dolls”
Yaaay! What a sweet little feature for your site!! Thank you! I think I came to the KiSS dolls a little later even though I was around when Otaku World was still going strong. I first saw them on the old Sailor-V Games site and on Senshi Playground. You’re right… Soooo many hours spent XD. I always preferred sets that had at least one or two casual outfits from the anime but only if there were lots of other outfits in the set too. Mixing and matching was the whole fun of it! I think at one point I used a doll as a sort of checklist for my cosplay progress, putting on each piece of the fuku as I completed it in real life. That was a really satisfying thing!
I don’t imagine it’ll get much use, but when I found out that there was a way to make old KiSS dolls playable in the browser without needing to rebuild all the files, I thought it would be an absolutely perfect feature to add.
To be totally honest, I tried playing around with them now and have zero clue what was so entertaining about it back in the day. But those were simpler times, I suppose, and I had a whole lot less to do with my time. They’re still a fun little time capsule, though, especially when you consider that most of the casual outfits are based on clothes that were popular at the time!
I liked the KISS dolls that made sounds. Some got so dirty! Lol. Oh man, early days of fandom and internet.
Let’s just say that there are quite a few KiSS dolls that were just a tad too risque to put up on the site. But lots of fun ones, too!
I never thought much of the KISS dolls and the entertainment value seemed very limited to me. But it was something related to Sailor Moon and it was free, so of course I had to download them and try it out. That makes me think… whenever I upgrade from one computer to another, I always transfer my files over and I’ve got a jumbled mess of folders going back I don’t know how many years. I wouldn’t be surprised if I still have those KISS doll programs in there somewhere.
I do remember being impressed by one set that included a lot of the actual everyday outfits the characters wore regularly on the show. And I got a couple minutes of amusement by seeing how each character would look if they belonged to different planets (Minako in the green Jupiter outfit, Ami in the red Mars outfit, etc.)
As you mentioned, I think my favorite sets were the ones that let you actually mix and match some of the more common outfits (or the sailor uniforms) between characters, or even give different hairstyles to everyone.
I used to play a lot of pen-and-paper RPGs when I was younger, and one of them was about Sailor Moon, so KiSS dolls were a great way to get ideas for what outfits the characters would be wearing on their different outings.
I loved these. I too would DL a bunch at a time and sort through them. I used them to play with when dialup was king and I needed something to pass the time while someone was on the phone.
Some of them were straight up digital masterpieces with animation, sound clips, pixel perfect recreations of rare outfits… I remember one was a ridiculously detailed Sailor Moon with brooches that changed with a click, a Saturn that animated the end of the Silver Millennium when you clicked the glaive, and a Ranma that changed sex when doused with water.
I wonder how these would fare today in the land of OCs, crossovers, and fanfic.
I probably still have my favorites on a zip drive somewhere.
OCs and crossovers have always been a huge thing (at least a remember a ton of Yu Yu Hakusho or Dragon Ball / Sailor Moon crossovers back in the day), so I remember having quite a few KiSS sets with extra costumes from other anime, video games, etc.
What I love most about looking at these now is that the clothing is so very obviously a sign of the times when the dolls were made. Especially the ones that were made in the US, you can see the Sailor Soldiers wearing a lot of popular band t-shirts or clothing styles that were “hip” with the cool kids back in the late 90s.
It’s like dusting off a time capsule!
OMG, that one at the top is the one I made! I was way back in high school when I did, and I did it on a Windows 95 laptop with 256 colors with a copy of Paint Shop Pro that was on day 9,001 of its 30 day free trial.
Whoa, no way… really?? Talk about a small world!
You did an amazing job, oh so many years ago!
I remember these I was really disturbed as a child to remove all the clothes and actually see the Senshi naked with nipples…
It really depends on the fan artist who made them. Some were more… detailed than others.
You said “no one in their right mind”, but I don’t think I’ve been in my right mind for a while now and I’m honestly so tempted to try and download some of that stuff. Especially since I have a good ol’ WinXP on my hands, so. You know. Less software problems.
Yup! I have a Windows XP virtual machine running on my PC just for all those times I need some good old-fashioned gaming…