Naoko Takeuchi: a name — for readers of this blog at least — synonymous with love, justice, and unparalleled stories.
But have you ever taken the time to actually look at her name? At the way she composes the individual letters and expresses herself through them?
I know I never had. At least not until a few days ago, when I found myself faced with the challenge of trying to determine if a manga purportedly signed by the legendary author herself was legitimate or not. And from there I fell down the rabbit hole1 of analyzing every aspect of her signature.
If you’re as interested in learning everything there is to know about Naoko Takeuchi as I am, stick around! We’ve got a lot to talk about today, as well as some tips and tricks to make sure you don’t end up buying a counterfeit signature someday!
This obsession all started nearly a week ago when I stumbled across an online listing for a copy of the Sailor Moon side story “Princess Kaguya’s Lover” purportedly signed by Ms. Takeuchi herself. While I’m generally not terribly interested in celebrity signatures, much less ones I didn’t acquire personally,2 this seemed like far too great of an opportunity to pass up on.
The only problem is: how do I even know that it’s legitimate? I mean, sure, I could just assure myself that it is and not worry about it, but things like that don’t work well for those of us who tend to be more than a little obsessive about the minor details.
So I did what any totally normal person would do: spent the next 36 hours fixating on finding every example of Naoko’s signature I could find and deconstructing all the provided information, all without contacting the seller. After all, it’s hard to haggle on price if you look interested.3
First off, we want to know the provenance of this item. Where does it come from, how did the seller get their hands on it, and does the story bear out?
According to the seller, they went to a signing event held to commemorate the release of the Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon Original Picture Collection Vol IV (hereinafter “Artbook IV”).4 Though not terribly interesting on the surface, this little tidbit of information gives us just enough information to start fact-checking.
The signature is dated August 25,1996. That means that in order for this to be true, “Princess Kaguya’s Lover” must be published before that date and Artbook IV somewhere on or around that date.
Hmm, okay. So the first one checks out but Artbook IV doesn’t. Or does it?
As anyone who has spent far too long on the internet can tell you, there’s a lot of bad information out there that gets perpetuated from one site to the next. While I don’t know where this October 5, 1997 date actually comes from, it doesn’t really matter because we can just check the actual book itself:
As you can see here, it looks like the book was actually published on September 25, 1996. Now that’s fitting in a lot better with the story.
But we’re not quite done yet! I searched online to see if Ms. Takeuchi did a signing event around this time. After all, if she did sign this manga, she invariably would have signed other things as well.
The result was better than I could have hoped for. Not only did I find a 2015 auction for a book signed by Ms. Takeuchi with the same exact date, but it was the exact book in question.8 So we can be pretty sure that not only was a signing event held on August 25, 1996, but it was also for the same book specified by the seller.9
At this point, I was pretty satisfied with the timeline. If this is a forgery, at least the person did their homework.
With the provenance hurdle cleared, now we just need to check the signature.
As anyone who knows me can attest, I’m not actually a forensic handwriting expert. In fact, my own handwriting is so bad that even I can’t read it. However, I am good at picking apart tiny, insignificant details, so it’s not entirely a lost cause.
At first glance, the Artbook IV and Kaguya’s Lover signatures look pretty different. But that could be a combination of factors relating to simply being tired of signing after a few hours of it, having having to write on a cramped space in the manga as opposed to the open sheet of the art book, or a multitude of other reasons.
The date in particular is a good tell that this is the same person writing it. Specifically, all the numbers were written in the same manner:
- the 9 starts at the top, doesn’t quite connect, and then goes straight down
- the 8 is much larger at the top than it is on the bottom
- the top vertical line of the 5 is drawn last and doesn’t connect
With that out of the way, we were ready to start the final step of deconstructing Naoko’s signature.
One interesting thing I’ve noticed while translating the Sailor Moon manga liner notes is that Ms. Takeuchi very rarely, if ever, writes her name in Japanese. It’s almost always written in the Roman alphabet.
Another distinct feature is that she usually “dots” the i at the end of her name with a heart and three vertical lines coming off either from the top or top-right of it. This has been consistent throughout her entire career.
though not actually a part of the signature itself, she does often tend to draw a simplified bunny sometimes bracketed on either side by three horizontal lines and at other times with a bow tie.
Now for the letter formation itself, there are a few characteristics that are pretty much a constant in Ms. Takeuchi’s signature:10
- a large, dramatic capital N
- the a and o are usually connected, as if written in cursive
- she writes the k in her first name (and often in her last name) with a vertical line and what looks like a lower-case “c” up against it
- the T in her last name is drawn in one stroke, not two lines, and isn’t centered on the horizontal bar
Obviously there’s still a lot of variation between one signature and the next, but these features tend to be pretty common and distinct in most of the samples I’ve seen.
With all that in mind, I felt fairly confident that the signature in the Princess Kaguya manga was legitimate… or at least it was so well done that there was no way that an amateur like myself would be able to tell the difference. Now that I have it in front of me and in my my hands, I have to say that it feels a bit surreal to hold a manga signed by the artist I’ve admired for so long. Hopefully one day I’ll actually have a chance to meet her.
Now here’s something I’d love to hear from you: if you ever had a chance to get Ms. Takeuchi to sign just one thing for you, what would it be?
- Pun very much intended. ↩
- And let me tell you, I’ve acquired many Mickey Mouse signatures over the years. ↩
- See? Totally normal. ↩
- See SAILOR MOON ORIGINAL PICTURE COLLECTION VOL. IV ↩
- See Sailor Moon Manga Publishing Dates (Wikipedia) ↩
- See Sailor Moon Artbook Publishing Dates (Wikipedia) ↩
- See fn. 4 ↩
- See 武内直子直筆サイン本「美少女戦士セーラームーン原画集vol.IV」 ↩
- Unless it’s the same person, but considering these are two different sites and five years apart, I don’t think so. ↩
- Though these are not so prevalent when she normally writes her name. such as in the manga, on telephone cards, and other Nakayoshi/Kodansha giveaways. ↩