Was Sailor Moon’s Moon Stick Created Just to Sell Toys?

Doesn't this make you want to buy one??

Doesn’t this make you want to buy one??

The story, at least according to Moonie lore,1 is that Sailor Moon’s licensed toys weren’t meeting Bandai’s sales targets. As one of the series’ major sponsors, they put the screws to politely asked Ms. Takeuchi to create something a little more toyetic to boost their profit margins, to which she responded with the beloved-yet-awkwardly-named Moon Stick.

Though a tad scandalous, it all sounds pretty par for the course when money-making enterprises are involved. What’s the problem?

Well, like many of the Sailor Moon facts we take for granted, the story isn’t quite as cut and dry as we’ve been led to believe. So today we’re going to travel down the rabbit hole2 and see whether Sailor Moon’s most iconic wand was really a money grab in disguise!

This is what I imagined the planning sessions looked like

This is what I imagine the planning sessions looked like

While I can’t exactly speak for where this theory comes from, I do have some ideas why it’s persisted so long. Like all good rumors, it has just enough of a solid, factual foundation that it sounds entirely plausible. Namely:

  • Toei, TV Asahi, and Bandai have had a very lucrative relationship with the Super Sentai series going back decades
  • Bandai was a major collaborator on the Sailor Moon franchise from the start
  • People like to believe scandalous things about capitalism
  • The Moon Stick does seem to come out of nowhere in both the anime and manga
  • When released, the Moon Stick toy sold like hot cakes (which apparently sell very well)

While these are all fair points, I think it’s worth digging a little bit deeper. Specifically, I’d like to break this story up into its three primary components and see how well it actually holds up in light of what we do know.

Sailor Moon Pink Nail Gloss

Sailor Moon Pink Nail Gloss

Bandai Wasn’t Making Money on Sailor Moon Toys

Much to my surprise, Bandai’s first Sailor Moon toy to hit the market was actually a play makeup set known simply as the “Pink Nail Gloss.” In addition to the obvious, it also included an opening compact that you could store the gloss inside.

Even more surprising, this actually did involve some interference from the toy giant. If you ever wondered why all of the Sailor Soldiers have beautifully manicured nails prior to having gloves appear over their hands during their transformation sequences, it’s because Bandai wanted a connection for their nail gloss product.3

Within its first ~9 months on the shelf, this toy would go on to sell 400,000 units alone. To put that into perspective, a toy manufacturer generally considers a line that sells 100,000 units to be a success.4

It's like Bandai had NO clue what actually would sell

It’s like Bandai had NO clue what actually would sell

While this was ultimately overshadowed by the Moon Stick’s impressive 500,000 units sold,5 it’s hard to say that Bandai was fretting over profit margins at this time.

If anything, it looks like Bandai was the one that hadn’t been prepared to put its resources behind the Sailor Moon merchandising wagon. They only released a single Sailor Moon doll in 1992 while the rest of the Sailor Team would have to wait until April 1993 to get their own dolls — a massively successful toy line that sold over 1 million dolls in less than a year.

The Spiral Heart Moon Rod

The Spiral Heart Moon Rod

Naoko Was Asked to Create Something Bandai Could Sell

As I mentioned, I can’t really say one way or another about this. However, we do know that she did work with the toy producers at least later in the series when she was designing the Spiral Heart Moon Rod:6

Takeuchi: You know, there’s something I’ll never forget – I was talking to our manager at Bandai about pricing, and they said, “If we try this, we can shave off .04 yen.” When I think about that conversation now, I think he was talking about manufacturing costs in China and how to keep them down. Our managers used to negotiate on costs down to the single yen. I was really shocked by that.

Takeuchi: It was impressive – there was a female manager at Bandai who kept saying that “aura is really important.” What was this “aura” she kept talking about? I used to think to myself – maybe she means that it should be round. “Please make sure this has the right aura,” or “this aura here” – she used to talk about it all the time, “aura” was her keyword, and she did everything in her power to make sure it was in the items.

So did Bandai have some say in how items were portrayed in Sailor Moon? It certainly sounds like it. But it doesn’t sound like they were driving the creation of series lore, at least to me.

Not the kind of "Sailor Moon money" Bandai wanted

Not the kind of “Sailor Moon money” Bandai wanted

Naoko Obliged and Everyone Got Rich(er)

This ties closely in with the point above, but I broke it out for one simple reason: the timeline simply doesn’t work.

The Moon Stick was first introduced in Act 5 of the manga (published May 1992) and episode 25 of the anime (aired September 5, 1992) with the toy hitting store shelves in the same month as the anime.

Unless Bandai was incredibly upset at their nail gloss not flying off the shelves literally within days of Sailor Moon‘s March 1992 release, there just wasn’t enough time for them to badger Ms. Takeuchi to create a new item in the fledgling series. In order to hit a May publishing deadline, she had to have been working on Act 5 throughout April, if not sooner.

If you consider the time needed to design, manufacture, and ship these toys from China — especially in a pre-internet age! — it’s far more likely that either the Moon Stick was planned to be a part of the series from the very start or that Bandai asked for a prop they could easily sell to be added in during the initial planning stages with Toei, TV Asahi, and Ms. Takeuchi.



So is the story true?

In light of all the information provided above, I think we can quite definitively say… maybe, with a very large and emphatic question mark after it. No one can say for certain what back room conversations took place 25 years ago, but I think we have enough evidence here to suggest that, at the very least, the Moon Stick was always meant to be a part of the Sailor Moon universe. At least to the extent that it wasn’t an afterthought.

But that’s just my take on the situation! What do you think? Is the Moon Stick a sign of capitalism rearing its ugly head, or Ms. Takeuchi’s take on a Super Sentai staple? Let me know down below!

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  1. A special type of very unreliable lore passed down from one Geocities website to the next until it eventually ends up on Wikipedia
  2. Pun intended.
  3. As revealed by Junichi Sato in an interview conducted on June 18, 2018.
  4. See p. 34 of the February 1993 issue of Animage
  5. See p. 23 of the June 3,1993 edition of Nikkei Marketing Journal
  6.  See the November 2013 issue of ROLa magazine; translations by Miss Dream with edits for clarity

14 thoughts on “Was Sailor Moon’s Moon Stick Created Just to Sell Toys?

  1. I just love your articles, they real world analysis and date makes everything analyzed so much understandable to me.

    Like how much is a toy expected to sell and the data about manga planning!

    I use this opportunity to make a special request!!! I would love an insight article about why Sailor Moon seasons became shorter and shorter when normally TOEI productions have at least 48 episodes per year!

    What might have happened for sailor Moon to be shorter and how fans dealt with this? Because less episodes meant a longer wait between them!

    • I would also like to know why this happened. It also seemed like Sailor Moon had odd numbers of episodes compared to many animes.

      Sailor Moon: 48
      R: 43 (-5)
      S: 38 (-5)
      SuperS: 39 (+1)
      Stars: 34 (-5)

      It also didn’t cause Viz to lower the prices of their box sets. 😉 But that’s neither here nor now.

    • I don’t know if this was the reason, but I know that TV specials or even sports events were sometimes aired during timeslots held by anime. Season 1 was lucky in that they only missed four Saturdays during the year. These previously scheduled events could occur with less notice than you might hope, though presumably popular anime like Sailor Moon were given more advance notice.

      For Comparison, during the run of season 1 of Sailor Moon (46 episodes), Dragon Ball Z ran 46 episodes + the Trunks TV special.
      During Sailor Moon R (43 episodes), DBZ ran 43 episodes.
      During Sailor Moon S (38 episodes), DBZ ran 35 episodes.
      During Sailor Moon SuperS (39 episodes), DBZ and GT ran together 38 episodes.
      During Sailor Moon Sailor Stars (34 episodes), DBGT ran 35 episodes.

      Given an almost identical drop in episodes year by year for two flagship anime in different genres, I would guess that the reason was an underlying shift in the practices of Japanese television.

  2. I would most likely say it was both, to sell toys and also had already been planned.
    Perhaps this is why other items like her gun were removed from the series (if it had ever been seriously planned).

    Since Naoko Takeuchi had been approached to write a sentai style series after Sailor V, I imagine discussions were had for how to implement merchandising.
    On the flipside, Sailor V had little in the way of marketable toys.

    I don’t think the manga was compromised by merchandising, however.
    Naoko still seemed to have fun designing swords and all sorts of other objects that didn’t make it into the anime as intended. And then she skipped transformation wands starting at the Infinity Arc.

    • On the flipside, Sailor V had little in the way of marketable toys.

      The only thing that comes to mind is the Sailor V Compact, though they actually did release this as a Sailor Moon toy, even if branded for Moon and not Venus…

    • On an older magazine in Italy (Mangazine 28, if I remember right) they wrote that during the broadcasting of Sailor Moon R, once a month, the series was replaced by a program of football on tv asahi. Maybe we can find some information on japanese older magazines?

  3. This reminds me of how Takeuchi added ponytails to the Sailor Starlight’s hairstyles because Bandai requested it (since long hair is a major selling point for dolls lol)

  4. The Moon Stick had a HUGE effect on the Sailor Moon persona. On the surface, it permanently shifted her away from Moon tiara action/boomerang/frisbee to a magic wand based attack. Her tiara attack was actually killing people. (“People.”)

    In the anime, the Moon Stick appeared naturally as the answer to the rainbow crystal monsters, who were real people that Sailor Moon wouldn’t want to kill.

    The Moon Stick and its successors were “healing” items, not killing items. Without this shift in the Sailor Moon persona, I don’t think Usagi as Neo Queen Serenity, a great motherly figure, could have played out the same way, or even at all.

    • Hmm, I think this is a bit off? The Moon Stick, sure, but the Cutie Moon Rod and it’s successors were basically magical assault weapons.

  5. I have a request if you don’t mind. I believe that Minakos character model was used various times before her official debut, and that she was spying on the girls. Her character model can be viewed in cameo form, as well as her mentioning she and Artemis were in the middle of an “investigation.” This may also explain why she was looking at Usagi in the crowd earlier in that episode.

  6. I think most importantly we should not look down so much at cartoons with toy lines. If some elements were planned because of toys – or even if toy producers were main sponsors – it does not make the show bad. They can have great characters, be fun for kids and toyetic elements can be introduced well!
    I don’ t know why this rumor is considered so scandalous

    • I don’t know why this rumor is considered so scandalous

      Honestly, if it weren’t for the marketability of cartoons, most of them wouldn’t even have been made.
      Growing up as a kid in the 80s and 90s in America, pretty much everything on TV only existed because of toys. =p So I really don’t see what the problem is, as long as it’s not too in your face.

  7. There’s one interesting detail: the design of the Moon Stick was upgraded between manga releases, with the newer one to match the anime / toy appearance. I think that’s a good indicator that Naoko had planned for it to exist all along, and it was subsequently hijacked by Bandai as a marketable toy; I’m also sure that, by the time it was introduced to the anime, it was made with toy replicas in mind.

    This is more of a general observation: if you look closely, there are several design differences between the manga and anime versions of all the rods, scepters, brooches, calices and what not.
    Naoko’s original designs are sleeker, include a lot of silver colours, crystal or glassy details (the rods themselves often look transparent), and have sharper angles that recall ciselled metal; the anime versions are those that give the plastic look to the metallic or glassy details, turn many parts pink or magenta, look all-around sturdier, have very discernable seams, and turn many edges rounder, more similar to what a mould could make out of plastic.
    This is especially notable with the Holy Grail, Holy Moon Calice, Moon Kaleido Scope and Eternal Tiare, even more so if you look closely at the wing details.

    So, I think that Naoko did originally plan for the Stick and transformation trinkets to exist regardless of toy replicas, but also that she did take into account marketability when she developed the next scepters; however, they all got codified into potential new toys when they made the jump from manga to anime.

    As for my observation that the Moon Stick was definitely toy replica material when it was introduced to the anime, what gave it away were the three shining gems in the front and the sound effects it makes, especially after the Silver Crystal was put onto it: that was clearly made thinking of what a battery toy could do with light and sound effects back in the day. That’s even more pronounced with all the blinking lights in the Cutie Moon Rod, which… come on.

    Ultimately, though, I’m hardly faulting anyone for wanting to make toys out of the franchise: after all, as kids we all wanted to have our Moon Rod to feel as badass as Sailor Moon, so it’s a win-win situation.

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