Whether you’re a casual fan of the series or a dyed-in-the-wool Moonie, you have to admit that very few anime series do birthdays quite like the Sailor Moon franchise does.
The June 30, 2019 event was no different, with a slew of large announcements awaiting eager fans, including some tantalizing glimpses of the character art for the upcoming Sailor Moon Crystal movie, led by the 90s Sailor Moon art director veteran Kazuko Tadano, as well as information on a Sailor Moon ice show, cafe, and more.1
But in addition to offering this exciting images of Sailor Moon‘s future, we were also lucky enough to get a “behind the curtain” look at the creation of the series through the eyes of Naoko Takeuchi’s Nakayoshi editor, Fumio “Osabu” Osano, via an interview with the Japanese pop culture news site, Natalie.2
There’s a lot of interesting background information here that I wanted to share, so I decided to translate the whole interview across several parts. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
It’s pretty surprising that a series like Sailor Moon hasn’t already been released digitally. Could you explain why you’ve decided to release it now?
We’ve actually been working on it since the release of the Perfect (kanzen) edition back in 2013, but ultimately decided that we wanted to release it digitally along with the international editions. Sailor Moon has been released in 17 languages across 50 countries, though the timing of the anime broadcast was a little different for each country. In America, for instance, it only became popular around 2010 or so.
Editorial comment: Honestly, I’m not sure where this 2010 number is coming from. Not only do I know for a fact that Sailor Moon was popular well before 2010, but I don’t recall there being any sort of uptick in popularity in North America at that time, unless he’s referring to the 2011 Kodansha manga release? But he’s specifically talking about the anime here. Anyway, just a strange note.
There’s also the fact that Europe has been slow in adopting ebooks, so timing was also a factor. Finally, we had this t-shirt branding / UT collaboration in the works with Uniqlo, which ultimately led us to choose to release the series digitally now.
I see. So the series had its two major booms in popularity: the first being the original Japanese anime/manga run back in the 1990s, and then the second one launched off by the 20th anniversary project in 2012. But then, of course, there was also the need to grow its popularity abroad.
Now, I would like to discuss the manga as it was released back in the day. The manga and anime first launched in December 1991 and March 1992 respectively, which led to a brief gap between the two. Was the anime production also done in coordination with the manga from the start?
Actually, no. You see, it was decided rather suddenly to make it into an anime. Originally another series was planned to be the successor to Goldfish Warning before it was suddenly decided that they would go with Sailor Moon instead. We had almost no time to start throwing the anime together and ended up working on both at the same time. However, I pleaded with the people at Toei Doga (now Toei Animation) to not let the anime get ahead of the manga and to have Ms. Takeuchi’s manga be the forerunner in the series, and they said that’d be fine. Alas, things most definitely weren’t “fine” in the end. (laugh)
(laugh) With the anime airing weekly and the manga only coming out once per month it’s only a matter of time until the anime outpaces it, I guess. Just how much did you share of the manga’s upcoming plans with the anime staff?
We had already thrown together the plot for the manga’s first year and the animators had broken up Ms. Takeuchi’s sketches into the scenes for the anime’s first episode, so the story and the general world matched pretty well with the manga.
Now in the manga, Ami appears in Act 2, Rei in Act 3, and more characters keep being introduced with each new chapter. However, the anime had originally planned on having Usagi run solo for the first 20 episodes or so before introducing Ami.
However, in order to build up excitement, Toei Doga wanted to include Ami and Rei in the opening as well. Shortly after episode one aired, rumors were running rampant among viewers about the new girls that would eventually appear, so the TV stations and Toei Doga had no choice but to have Ami debut in episode 8 and Rei in episode 10. (laugh) They really caught up to us quick.
Editorial comment: So it’s not stated explicitly, but the implication I’m getting from Osano is that the plan for having Usagi run solo for the first 20 episodes or so was to serve a similar purpose as the Makaiju arc in Sailor Moon R and the other slow lead-ins the rest of the seasons had in order to let the manga get ahead.
Due to Toei Doga’s lack of foresight and building up too much excitement among fans, they accelerated the plans to add the news characters in, thus catching up to the manga too fast and ultimately leading to the anime making up their own stories, like the Rainbow Crystal arc.
At least that’s my sense from reading between the lines.
In contrast to an anime season’s ~52 episodes, the Dark Kingdom and Black Moon arcs in the manga were only around 13 chapters each, leading the a need to compress the story down by sheer necessity. The relationship between Usagi and Mamoru in the manga has always left a strong impression as a central story element. Was that always the plan?
Since Nakayoshi is something like an introductory magazine to both love and manga aimed at young girls, we were always extremely cognizant of the fact that we should make the series about 50% love and 50% “the rest.”
This is also true in other series released around the same time as Sailor Moon. Stories that included elements like protecting the planet, having supernatural abilities, etc. as a complementary half to their “love” component were on the rise at that time. In a way, this served as a turning point where Nakayoshi started to move beyond its bread-and-butter love comedies.
Did Ms. Takeuchi strive to maintain that 50:50 balance?
She always stuck to that, correct. However, since the story was originally only supposed to run for a single year, she was really left in a bind over what to do after having Usagi and Mamoru’s relationship fully realized so early on. Nakayoshi didn’t really have any manga with stories about established relationships.
Sailor Moon ultimately wound up spanning five seasons across as many years. When was it decided for the series to continue on?
The manga was a runaway hit as soon as it was published in Nakayoshi. Volume 1’s first printing of 500,000 volumes sold out almost immediately, and then quickly passed the 1 million mark, making the series a cultural phenomenon. Ending the series simply wasn’t on the table at that point.
The anime, however, wasn’t really selling any toys. Anime series deemed to be non-profitable in the toy sector were traditionally taken off the air. Had that happened, the manga would likely have ended as well.
Not only did the series break new records and go on to become a cultural phenomenon, but between the manga, anime, and toys, Sailor Moon was basically a part of daily life back in the 90s.
In our efforts to keep up with fan’s expectations, we often would add additional pages to the chapters, leading to even less and less time to work with. The majority of my time went into working on the manga, of course. There were times where, after taking a look at the thumbs, I would ask her to redo the structure of the story even in spite of how little time we had. Ms. Takeuchi got pretty peeved at having her idea shot down. (laugh)
Of course, I know that she had her own reasoning for writing it the way she did, but she was always nice about it and reflected my edits in the work. There were some pretty tough days back then, but she really gave it her all.
There’s still quite a lot left to this interview (we’re only about 1/5 through!), but unfortunately due to time commitments, I’ll have to cut this short here.