How did the Ministry of Education Change Sailor Moon?

Ministry of Education Orders Sailor Venus to Change Name

Ministry of Education Orders Sailor Venus to Change Name

Though on the surface that may seem completely unrelated, you’d be surprised to know that – at least in some minor way – the Japanese Ministry of Education (now the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology)1 had an effect on the characters of the Sailor Moon universe, at least in Japanese.

First, a little bit of background…

Japanese is pronounced in vowel and vowel-consonant2 pairs. The five vowel sounds: a, i, u, e, and o. The consonants are: k, s, t, n, h, m, y, r, and w (though there are voiced and unvoiced pairs for k/g, s/z, and t/d and a a voiced and unvoiced bilabial pair for h/b/p).3 Whenever a foreign word has been brought over into Japanese, it traditionally needed to fit into this pronunciation system in order to become a proper gairaigo (borrowed word)4 though there have been some concessions since the early 20th century to adapting the Japanese language to accommodate new sounds.5

Sailor Venus' first appearance in Sailor Moon (October 1992 ed. of Nakayoshi; p. 80)

Sailor Venus’ first appearance in Sailor Moon (October 1992 ed. of Nakayoshi; p. 80)

So, what changed?

As you’ve probably already figured out from our list of available sounds, we’ve got a slight problem with not having a “v” sound in Japanese. After WWII when the writing system was being re-standardized in 1954 for the fledgling remodeled education system, it was determined by Japanese Language Council that the “v” sound should be written consistently with the similar-sounding “b.”6 As the world became more international and Japanese exposure to foreign words increased, it became apparent that this approximation was insufficient, and the Council decided in 1991 to re-adopt an older approximation used, which was pronounced similar to the English “v” but written as a voiced “u” (ウ/u – ヴ/v).

And that’s where our question comes in: as you see above, when Minako first introduces herself in the Sailor Moon manga as “Sailor Venus” (and not “Sailor V” or “the Princess”), Ms. Takeuchi used the newer writing style of セーラーヴィーナス (Sērā Vīnasu). As you may recall, though, Sailor V pre-dates Sailor Moon by a little less than a year. So how did she give her name back in 1991?

Sailor Venus' First Appearance (August 1991 ed. of RunRun; p. 59)

Sailor Venus’ First Appearance in Sailor V (August 1991 ed. of RunRun; p. 59)

As suspected, in her introduction (left side, middle of the page) she gives her name as セーラービーナス (Sērā Bīnasu), the way of writing it prior to when the order was passed by the Ministry of Education on June 28, 1991.7 Since the official order was given out in late June and the manga published in August, it’s very likely that Ms. Takeuchi had already finished and sent it out for proofing and editing. Still, it’s interesting to see that even stuffy, boring acts of the government can have even a minor impact on the anime and manga we all love!

Is Usagi Really Just an Average Girl?

Usagi at Home

Nearly every act of the Sailor Moon manga begins with Usagi introducing herself as “just an average junior high school girl.”  We see that she lives in a typical nuclear family with two parents and two children, one boy and one girl.  They live in a modest home with one car and she goes to a public junior high school.  Aside from her well-established abysmal grades, the Tsukino family is pretty much statistically average, isn’t it?  Well, it certainly looks like it, but the facts don’t actually pan out that way when you look beyond the surface.

First off, regarding Usagi’s family, Ms. Takeuchi actually modeled the makeup of it after her own, even down to the names of her mother and father (Ikuko and Kenji) and younger brother, Shingo.  Though the birth rate has been on the decline since 1973, in 1992 (when Sailor Moon takes place), households with two children still edged out single-child households,1 so at the very least this part of the “average girl” story works out. Now how do things work out with her living situation?

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Guardians? Soldiers? What Are the Sailor Senshi?

Pretty [???] Sailor Moon

Pretty [???] Sailor Moon

This is an interesting question, since the answer is tied to not only language differences, but also to differences in culture between countries and even differences in culture across generations. First off, as you all obviously know, Sailor Moon’s full Japanese title is 美少女戦士セーラームーン (Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon), which was originally translated as Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon and then later as Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon. So which one is it? Was the original translation a mistake?

The short answer is: probably not. A quick Google image search for senshi in Japanese1 pulls up a lot of characters in armor and wielding weapons. The job of “Fighter” in Final Fantasy 1 is known as Senshi,2 the “Four Heroes of Light” are the 光の四戦士 (Hikari no Yon Senshi),3 and even the Japanese write-up for the movie “300” describes them as coming from the 戦士の国スパルタ (senshi no kuni Sparta; Sparta, the land of warriors).4 Taking this together, it’s pretty clear that the Japanese interpret the word senshi as a type of warrior, fighter, or soldier and not as some sort of peaceful guardian. The original art books by Naoko Takeuchi are even titled “Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon” in English, so that puts the origins to rest, at least.5

So where does the Guardian title come from? The earliest reference to it that I could find is in the live-action series of the same name that debuted in 2003. The best theory I can come up with is either that this is due to wanting to make the concept friendlier for young girls or, possibly, it was to further distinguish it from the live action musicals which were running at the same time. The musicals almost always included the title written in English for stylistic reasons, so seeing as they were both live action, this may have been a factor.

Sailor Moon Musical OST

Sailor Moon Musical OST

Whatever the reason for the change, it seems like it’s stuck for the franchise now and that the official English title is now Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon. We can at least say, without a doubt, that Scout6 isn’t a good translation. One thing that I would like to know, though, is how this nuance difference will be addressed when Viz finally gets around to their subtitling and dubbing of the final season, Sailor Moon Stars. The Starlights, Galaxia, and the Animamates are all senshi, which makes the title of Guardian a bit difficult. I guess I need to finally read Kodansha’s English translation of the manga7 and see!

Interview with a Sailor Moon Game Designer

Sailor Moon for the Super Famicom / Nintendo

Sailor Moon for the Super Famicom / Nintendo

[Note: This translation is edited a bit for clarity and comes from an interview in the back of a strategy guide written for the Super Famicom fighting game. You can find the Japanese interview here: Page 94, Page 95, Page 96, Page 97.]1

Behind the Scenes of Super Famicom Development

Jouji Yuno, Developer/Producer at Angel
Representative works: “Oda Nobunaga” for the SFC and “Sailor Moon” for the GB.

First off, please tell us about how you came to develop a Sailor Moon game for the Super Famicom.

Well, we just released the Game Boy game in December the year before, and it pretty much sold out throughout Japan. However, there are a lot of restrictions due to the Game Boy’s hardware, so we felt that we would like to release a Sailor Moon game for the Super Famicom as well, since it has less restrictions than the Game Boy.  The Game Boy game being such a hit is what brought this about.

What was the start of planning for the Super Famicom game like?

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Why Are Sailor Moon’s Titles Almost All the Same Length?

TV Listings in May 1992 Edition of Kitami Shimbun

TV Listings in May 1992 Edition of Kitami Shimbun

Or, for those of you who didn’t know already… yes, nearly all of Sailor Moon‘s episode titles are the same length in Japanese.1

You wouldn’t really notice at first glance, but once you start reading through the titles, you’ll notice that the phrasing is a little off (i.e., some words seemingly forced in) or that kanji will be used or not used inconsistently, which just stands out. My original theory on the issue what that possibly it had to do with the fact that Japanese is typed in full-width, each character taking up the same amount of space (monospaced fonts2 are an example of this in English), and with balancing how much “white space” is taken up on the title card. But after reading into this a bit more, it looks like there’s a more specific reason for this.

Dec. 1993 Issue of Animage

Dec. 1993 Issue of Animage

According to my research, Animage3 ran a column interviewing the staff who were producing the series and were able to get the scoop on why the titles seemed to be a near perfect match.

It turns out that the staff behind the Sailor Moon anime wanted their titles to fit in exactly in the space provided in the daily/weekly TV listings in the newspapers of the day4 and so they purposefully rewrote the episode titles to try to fit that character limit exactly. If you went over, it would be cut off (and viewers wouldn’t know what the episode was about) and if you went under, it would leave empty space. You can see in the example at the top of this post, Sailor Moon is the program starting at 7pm (incidentally, that’s episode 12), though the title was abbreviated here.

It’s pretty amazing to see that the staff actually went to such great lengths for such a small detail! In case you’re curious about the numbers, here they are:

Episodes, by Number of Characters in Episode Title
Total <15 15 16 17 18 18<
200 1 10 136 50 3 1

Why Does Usagi Say Her Stomach is Trumpeting?

In the original run of the Sailor Moon anime, Usagi will occasionally say the hard to understand (and even harder to translate) line about her stomach playing a trumpet:

Japanese:  「おなかのラッパがプー」 (onaka no rappa ga pu~)
Literal Translation: “My stomach’s playing the trumpet”
Localization: “I’m laughing so hard, my tummy hurts!” / “My tummy’s singing!” / Etc.

On the surface of it, and depending on context, it sounds like she’s saying that her stomach’s rumbling, but as you watch through the series, you realize that she uses it more like a personal catch-phrase and not with any one, specific meaning. For example, this phrase comes out both when she’s yelling at Mamoru1 and again later when she’s on her way to lunch and can’t wait to start eating.2

Usagi and Her Trumpeting Stomach (Episode 11; 9m23s)

Usagi and Her Trumpeting Stomach (Episode 11; 9m23s)

So what is this, just another Japanese idiom that doesn’t actually translate well into English? Actually, the story behind it is more interesting than that. It turns out that it wasn’t originally part of the script and was said to be an ad lib on the part of Usagi’s voice actress, Kotono Mitsuishi, in the middle of Usagi’s tirade against Mamoru shown in the image above. But that isn’t where this catch phrase actually really originated.

Actually, this phrase first came about in the manga/anime known as Goldfish Warning!3 and was often uttered by the overly active Wapiko.

Wapiko of Goldfish Report!

Wapiko of Goldfish Warning!

After the anime ended, most of the animation staff (including director Junichi Sato and music composer Takanori Arisawa) moved over to the the Sailor Moon anime, which led to the appearance of many references to this series throughout the first season of Sailor Moon. From thereon, the phrase took on a life of its own, and has become one of the many Usagi-isms that continue to appear throughout the entire run of the anime.

Though this doesn’t really explain what your stomach trumpeting has to do with being emotional or agitated, it’s nice to know the story behind it!

Why Does Makoto Live Alone?

Though families play a relatively minor role in the Sailor Moon universe – indeed, other than Usagi’s parents and Rei’s grandfather, the rest are only mentioned in passing – the story behind Makoto’s family is particularly troubling. We see from her first appearance that she had transferred from another school (though we never really learn the details behind that) and learn that she lives alone, though we know very little beyond that.  How is it that a junior high school girl can live alone and unsupervised?  And for that matter, how is she even paying for this apartment?

Though we later learn that she lost her family to a plane crash “at a young age,” that’s as far as the manga, anime, or live action series go into it.  However, by taking a look back into Japan’s recent past, we may be able to unravel this mystery, or at least get closer to an answer.

Fortunately, Japan has had relatively few domestic plane crashes that resulted in deaths. Assuming a basis in the real world (which is a fair assumption, thanks in part to the detailed research Ms. Takeuchi did when creating the world of Sailor Moon and for the reasons described below), this makes it possible to narrow down actual dates and give us an age for Makoto at the time the tragedy hit.

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