What Did Sailor Moon’s Animators Think of the Anime’s Nudity?

I still find it shocking that this is official art by Naoko

I still find it shocking that this is official art by Naoko

If you grew up in the pearl-clutching 80s and 90s in North America, the very concept of nudity appearing in a children’s cartoon was absolutely unfathomable. Exposed flesh on a children’s cartoon? Oh, my word!!

That was one of the biggest shocks for me — and I’m sure many of you — when I first started watching anime in the late 90s: the fact that my favorite characters are here, transforming, battling, or just flying around naked… and it’s all just so normal.1

But one thing that I’ve always wondered is: what did the production staff think about all this? Fortunately for us, Kimiharu Obata,2 key animator for several episodes of Sailor Moon and Sailor Moon R, has kindly put pen to paper to talk about this very issue. Feel free to read this in the office — it’s absolutely SFW!

Listen mom, it's not what it looks like...

Listen mom, it’s not what it looks like…

So there you are, just sitting in your room minding your own business and watching the Sailor Senshi fight against the latest Monster of the Day. It’s a pretty intense battle and the Sailor Team are crying out in pain. Just then, Sailor Moon transforms to save the day.

… and that’s when your mother opens the door.

… and asks about those women making lewd noises.

… and sees the unclothed (though prism-ified!!) Sailor Soldier of Love and Justice in the middle of her transformation.

If you never had this experience growing up, followed by the experience of frantically explaining to your parents that “anime totally isn’t like that,” then I envy you greatly. But I digress.

Art by Kimiharu Obata

Art by Kimiharu Obata

What we’re talking about today is a small subset of the risque imagery that appeared in anime, or what I like to call “artistic nudity.” While Sailor Moon did have its fair share of head scratching moments — I mean, did we really need two swimsuit episodes in season 1?? — I never really felt that the show went so far that it actually strayed into “fan service” territory.

In his aptly-titled essay, “The Ever-Missing Nipples” (乳首よ永久に),3 animator and illustrator Kimiharu Obata discusses one of the important issues they were confronted with when including any form of nudity in the Sailor Moon anime.

On broadcast TV, there are rules against showing nipples in anime, which is why you never see them. I don’t particularly want to see the Sailor Solders’ nipples, nor do I actually want to draw them. The regulations surrounding sexual expression are probably based around the idea of whether or not it would be exciting for young boys to see, and that’s how nipples became the line in the sand I guess. (laugh)

He then goes on to say:

I think it looks weird to see breasts without them, but I also feel that if you were to draw them, it would take away some of the girls’ purity and innocence. The line between eroticism and art is often unclear and is ultimately judged by the viewer. So as the creator, you have no choice but to put that limit somewhere. We’ll need to keep on fighting for that balance between freedom of, and restrictions against, expression.

While I knew (or at least was able to infer) that there were some general rules that most anime companies agreed to follow when it came to just how far they were willing to go for a kid’s show that aired during prime time, he brings up some interesting points here on what kind of impact that minor artistic detail would have on how the characters are perceived.

This is all totally normal, I swear

This is all totally normal, I swear

I do find it interesting, though, that anime is now starting to go backwards (depending on your point of view) in terms of what they’re willing to show on TV nowadays. The infamous “swimsuit episodes” are mostly a thing of the past now, and blood and nudity are generally restricted to anime that airs after the kids have gone to bed.

It’s not that I mind, really. However, I do find it interesting to see the medium that once shocked my young American sensibilities is now becoming more and more tame in response not only to shifting Japanese moral standards, but in order to more easily sell the shows in international markets.

So with that said, what do you think about the depictions of nudity in Sailor Moon? Were they used to keep the older fans watching, or meant purely for artistic purposes, like in the manga?

I’d love to hear what people think about this, especially when considering Sailor Moon Crystal‘s take on the series!

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  1. I mean, why wouldn’t Usagi fly around the universe with Galaxia naked?
  2.  See Kimiharu Obata
  3. See the 8:32 AM · Jan 7, 2019 tweet by @pioneer_39

24 thoughts on “What Did Sailor Moon’s Animators Think of the Anime’s Nudity?

  1. It’s worth mentioning animators have slipped in nipples a few times throughout the series. The second Sailor Moon R opening, the scene of “Adam and Eve” in episode 94, as well as Luna’s transformation in the S movie.

    Toshio Katsuta (producer of the original Cutie Honey series) discussed how they were really pushing the envelope showing Honey nude during her transformations. He told the animators, not to draw Honey with nipples, “since she’s an android”. Although I’m guessing it more so had to do with censorship. Like with Sailor Moon, a few animators slipped in some nips throughout the series.

    Such an interesting topic, haha.

    • I feel like you had a few appearances in the Ranma 1/2 anime as well.
      But I’m not exactly creepy enough to start going episode by episode looking for this… yet?

      • Oh, there were nipples in Ranma 1/2. Ranma’s comfort being topless compared to natural(?) girls was part of the comedy. There were also numerous episodes were nudity was part of the plot. One in particular had girl-Ranma loosing clothing during a fight while the crowd grew ever-eager for the moment where she would be complete nude. Definitely a different reason for showing nudity versus a magical girl show.

      • haha, oh no! Just something I noticed. There was a big thread on Genvid a few years back about possible censorship within the original anime series. The preview for 10 had Usagi’s panties exposed in one shot, but was covered up in the actual episode. There was a huge thread about it. This even gets mentioned in one of the cassette dramas.

        It’s an interesting topic!

    • This was one why I wasn’t allowed to watch Sailor Moon at first until I was like a teen. I think with the transformations, it might have been a bit of column A (for older fans though I didn’t find the transformations interesting as a certain terrible Internet reviewer did), and a bit of column B (artistic interpretation), but that picture Naoko did was clearly intended more for artistic purposes (and I’d say religious considering the angel wings) only, along with the other things we saw in the anime like Luna turning into a human, the whole Adam and Eve thing, but then again, Naoko did once draw some nude Usagi (though it was the American edition where the manga still called her “Bunny”) where it said something like “Here’s a sexy looking Usagi/Bunny…” 😛

      I wouldn’t necessarily say “swimsuit episodes are a thing of the past” though, look at Harukana Receive, released last year, practically every episode in there is one (but the anime is great because it’s a solid sports/comedy anime). XD

  2. Possibly because I was used to nudity and even went to mixed saunas on Saturdays as a teenager, I must admit I wasn’t shocked in any way. I remember me being rather surprised to see how the artists managed to hide the private parts every time you expected them to see.

  3. I personally consider it only a part of an art piece, not fanservice. Most importantly, there´s this “nudity=purity” symbolism.

    Plus, I understand the appeal to drawing nude figures once in a while – it saves you soooooo much work (with the clothing) and shows the natural beauty – without all the layers.

  4. Tbh I wasn’t shocked about it as I saw Sailor Moon as a child.

    In my country nudity, even in cartoons, is pretty normal. One of my fav cartoon cartoon movies which I watched as a child showed boobs, penis and made jokes about sex.

    As a child I also loved Cutey Honey, Lady Oscar and similar stuff. I shipped the main pairings but only as an adult I realized there are sex scenes in these animes. I didn’t saw these implied scenes as shocking. Same with the scenes with nudity because it was normal. *shrug*

    Tbh I still understand the pearl clutching about it.

  5. I was raised in a fairly conservative minded family when it came to those things. I had grown up used to seeing classical art (the nudie Greek Gods and such) so nudity wasn’t exactly shocking, it was the fact that it was on a cartoon, I think. To be honest, besides some jokes about it, no one seemed particularly affected in my circles when it came to the transformation sequences, though seeing the uncut Japanese versions having more detail was a surprise.

    I DID have a few times where the senshi would be moaning and screaming so loud it became awkward and I had to explain that. Anime in general, especially the original Japanese versions is still pretty bad about those noises being easy to misinterpret!!

    My first real shock I guess, came when I asked an uncle to try and find Sailor Stars for me through some torrent site. He was only able to find the final battle and boy was that awkward, trying to explain why she was naked and how it was about purity and not sex. Some of my family already had the idea that anime was all porn…never mind that half the shows I grew up watching in the 80’s and early 90’s were anime (Little Koala, Noozles, Belle and Sebastian, Maple Town etc.)

    Then there was the time one of my young cousins wanted to show me all the Sailor Moon pictures she’d downloaded and it turned out to be some kind of hentai pack and it got her temporarily banned from Sailor Moon until I explained that this was not official stuff.

    The nudity in the manga never really struck me as odd since it was always rather tastefully done or just so ethereal.
    Even though these were teenage girls, it didn’t seem like they were being used as sexual objects to me.

    The SuperS movie scene, where EVERYONE gets naked was a bit much, in my opinion, and to be the most geared towards kids it had a lot of innuendo throughout.

    What did kind of shock me was how much male nudity Dragon Ball got away with! Even the intro to GT gets on board with Goku flaunting it full Monty.

  6. “If you grew up in the pearl-clutching 80s and 90s in North America, the very concept of nudity appearing in a children’s cartoon was absolutely unfathomable. Exposed flesh on a children’s cartoon? Oh, my word!!”
    To be honest, nudity in other that humorous context is still almost non existent in western cartoons aimed for children and/or families. Not much changed.

    I find it interesting it’s the same with religious themes – in Sailor Moon there were some Christian characters, despite Chrisitians in Japan are small minority and because of the mere fact there existed there were theories and talks on Polish forums that Naoko Takeuchi is probably Christian. Because religion is usually not talked about in cartoons.

    I also find it a bit weird that anime are more “tame” now to be more easily exported abroad, but… there is a lot less anime aimed for children now? Most translations are made by streaming services and are aimed for teenage and adult audience – so there is no need to made it “tame”. And Europe or South America had a lot of anime in tv in 80s and 90s – before anime boom in US and that was not a problem.

    • Takeuchi hasn’t made her religious beliefs known, nor talked about her character’s beliefs. There’s been a lot of speculation about the religious imagery but nothing too conclusive. This blog post has a nice summary of the Christian imagery, but to me it seems more like a ‘foreign = mystery’. https://www.moonprincess.com/amireligion.php

      Similarly, Evangelion’s biblical imagery was simply chosen because it was foreign and thus mysterious to the Japanese.

      But Takeuchi herself worked as a shrine maiden during college, which is probably the bases for Rei. As an American, I can’t imagine many devout Christians would work at a different religious place of worship. Maybe Japanese attitudes are different.

      • Honestly, I find it highly unlikely that Naoko is actually Christian. If she were, then it would be incredibly suspect that she’d just be so nonchalant about throwing the imagery out in the manga like she does. At least that’s my take on it!

        • Yeah, like i wrote, that were just popular rumors in Polish fandom some years ago – just because religious imagery is used. The thing, like nudity, not commonly seen in western cartoons.

        • Chances are, even if she is Christian she’s like many in Japan and takes a rather casual view of it.
          I believe she just used the symbolism because it fit with a lot of what she was aiming for with Usagi, a goddess incarnate with holy based powers.

          I’d love to see an article detailing religious themes throughout the manga. I know Christian and Shinto symbolism is throughout, but how many others show up?
          The anime was rather overt with it when it showed it, and was pretty straightforward. (also, an evil demon became a peace loving priest!)
          But the manga was often more subtle or only used it in the art.

        • Well, it totally depends on the Christians in Japan. I’ve met Christians so hardcore they asked me how I could be together with a guy who is non-Christian. And others were the religious tolerance personified and had no trouble respecting and participating in other celebrations too.

          And shrine maidens, especially during New Year?! That’s baito, a paying job for high school kids that is not too demanding and usually also legal under school laws. The daughter of a friend got chosen too and was super delighted over the increase in pocket money. It has just nothing whatsoever to do with personal religion.

          That said, there are, indeed, professional miko as well but they are very rare and only to find in really huge shrines. And even then it’s not always because of religion. The miko I talked to once told me she wanted to do it for the money and not spiritual enlightening.

  7. Sailor Moon Crystal Season 3 features a nude Hotaru and Chibiusa during the opening. Then again Sailor Moon Crystal aired late at night in Japan,and is aimed more at a mature audience than kids.

    • I don’t think it’s related to being directed to adults in any way. Kids grow up with seeing nudity in every onsen or sento they go to. Depending on the onsen, though, but boys may go to the female onsen part up to grade 6. So they have seen plenty of boobs by the age of 12 that don’t belong to mummy. And the same may be said about girls and dicks though going together with a female guardian starting from upper kindergarten is more common.

      Furthermore, as many dads are busy and/or not used to helping with the chores, there is a tendency that they take baths together with their kids and play with them there before they enter puberty or the bathtub becomes too small for 2 or more of them. And there is nothing predatory about it, just the normal family “skinship” as it’s called in Japlish. My kids still love it. Anyway, most kids have seen their parents naked and know well the differences between mummy’s and daddy’s body.

  8. I was five-through-seven when Sailor Moon originally aired in Italy and, at first, my mother frowned upon me watching it – not for the nudity, though, but because she thought it was too violent. That is, until she became a fan herself and had me videotape it when it switched slots and she was at work!
    To give context, there wasn’t much visual censorship in the Italian edition (not for the nude parts at least, but they did remove any Japanese cultural reference), and I was raised in a non-conservative household which had always gradually provided me with age-appropriate sex education (as in, I always knew babies were “made” when “mom and dad were in love”, no bees and birds).

    Basically, my mother deemed the nude imagery in Sailor Moon age-approrpiate and just sat me down and talked to me frankly about it a few episodes in: that it was symbolic, that the girls were changing so of course they’d need to remove their clothes first; later (when Usagi received her mid-season upgrade in R) that she was being vulnerable in that instance, and in the finale of Stars that it showed Usagi at her purest, totally disarmed in front of her enemy, because she rejected violence and confrontation, and choose love, friendship and forgiveness instead. It was a fictional work, and nudity had a particular meaning.
    That in turn paved the way for a broader talk about nudity in art, how paintings had symbolism, how sculptures represented an ideal and thus didn’t need clothes, how the stigma surrounding nudity was different in other cultures or epochs (for instance, the ancient Greeks and Romans), and how it was viewed in the one I lived in.

    I feel very lucky for having a mother that would take any opportunity to, you know, parent me, and Sailor Moon was a safe example that made it easy for me to be explained a concept that many other families didn’t quite know how to approach.
    Pushing thirties today, I still firmly believe what my mother told me so many years ago about the symbolic value of nudity in Sailor Moon and, looking back, I’m impressed and glad that an anime we both love gave us a chance to have some serious, long-impacting talks. It’s up to the parents to raise their children, and nudity in an anime is a good an opportunity as any to do so.

  9. The impression I get in the series is that nudity is used to depict a spiritual or transcendental state. We see this in Episode 151 where Ami is basically talking to “herself” when she gains her new power. It takes place inside her mind, so what we see is not Ami physically nude, but her spirit or soul. It makes sense for her spirit to not have clothes or even nipples/genitalia in this instance, since a spirit/soul neither has nor needs them.
    Same with the depictions of Usagi/Serenity “nude” in the final episode, when she confronts Galaxia. My interpretation is that since she has the ultimate power of the Silver Crystal flowing through her, she’s basically powered up to “goddess” level here, so it would be natural, again, to depict her in this way, since she is no longer on a physical plane of existence. That is also why Galaxia herself appears “nude” after Usagi breaks the power of Chaos within her. Again–it takes place in a metaphysical, supernatural plane of existence, so the depictions of them “nude” and without nipples/genitalia would be accurate.

  10. I get what they’re trying to say, but why should nipples or even genitalia be considered “impure”? Why should any part of the human body be considered “impure”? I think it just has to do with how society and certain people oversexualize things. If we saw more true nudity instead of this “Barbie doll” nudity, then maybe it would become less taboo and titillating. Of course, Japan is still notorious for gratuitous fanservice, so it’d have to be contextualized, but it could still be pulled off.

  11. I really wouldn’t say things are becoming more tame at all. Maybe in shoujo series, like Precure, but that’s happening alongside extreme levels of fanservice in other anime, to the point that a lot of late night broadcast anime is a million times raunchier than anything you’d see you’d see in explicit 90s OVAs. If there’s any reduction in other types of anime, it may well be because you can show so much more in late night series these days.

    At the same time, though, obvious objectification of girls and women is alive and well in popular shounen series like My Hero Academia, One Piece, and Dr. Stone. Recently there was also a huge controversy over hidden nipples in Shounen Jump (although the amount of fanservice in both shounen and shoujo publications is pretty longstanding). Then, on top of all that, you have not only nudity and sex figuring in to fanservice but male gaze-inundated outfits and posing, which I think is Toei’s biggest crime in Sailor Moon- but it was and is absolutely everywhere, regardless of the target audience. It’s not that I think Sailor Moon was particularly extreme or crosses the line of what I’d be ok with kids seeing, but there is a very clear level of fanservice within the series itself and within promotional materials. It was never a mystery to Japanese (or American, for that matter) marketers that part of Sailor Moon’s cross-market appeal to boys and men was featuring attractive teenage girls.

  12. I think exempting a tiny handful of blink and you’ll miss it moments all the examples of nudity in the show, especially of Usagi herself, were strictly artistic. This is especially poignant in the last episode where the point is to convey the naked innocence and purity of Usagi, Galaxia and ChibiChibi.

    Having said that I don’t mind that in Crystal season 3 they put Hotaru and Chibi-Usa in tasteful sleeping dresses rather than making them nude.

    I’m more concerned with the limiting of the violence to be honest. I feel for certain moments of SM it’s warranted and for certain shows, like Dragon Ball/Z/Super it’s crucial to conveying the threat and intensity of moments

  13. Thanks for the article! I’ve always been a little curious about why there is so much nudity in a kid’s show. I figured a lot of the reason was cultural- my dad and uncles lived in Japan (Chiba and Niigata Ken) for a while and always told me stories. I couldn’t put my finger on it when I was a kid, but the nudity in Sailor Moon was never degrading or objectifying. It was always artistic and so very beautiful, like Michelangelo’s David. I started the anime when I was 5 and the SM manga when I was 7, so I was just a little girl but seeing the artistic nudity had a very positive effect on my body image. For once, I wasn’t seeing the female form as a ploy: to get you to buy something, to catch your attention, or to criticize “folds” and “fat”- all of those manipulations in general media were stripped away, and I got to see the female body simply as a miraculously beautiful thing. This is what I could look like when I grew up! To back up this positive message for body image was Sailor Moon’s feminist themes of love, unity, and girl power.

    I remember my mom became a bit worried about the nudity, so she borrowed a few volumes of the manga and went through it.
    She declared all the nudity artistic like classic pieces from Michelangelo or Rubens- however, she seriously instructed me NOT to let my brothers get a hold of it (lol)! While they never got a hold of my manga, it was a regular drama to open up my Sailor Moon card collection and find a bunch of the “beach scene” ones stolen xD

    I think the manga and the anime walked the line perfectly for promoting the artistic beauty of the female form but keeping the girls pure, non-objectified. I am relieved to learn that the animators took this balance seriously because it is serious business- Sailor Moon pretty much shaped what I wanted to look like as a woman. My body turned out to be more muscular like Mako-chan (less like Usagi) but that’s cool. Sailor Moon taught me that girls are all beautiful and ethereal- no matter their size or the color of their skin.

    I look forward to more of your awesome articles!

  14. Eu nunca senti a nudez em Sailor Moon como algo ofensivo. Para mim, é mais como representação artística e simbólica, já que inúmeras cenas contribuem para isso. Exemplos : as asas de anjo de Usagi no episódio final, as transformações, o diálogo interior de Ami, a perda do primeiro broche da protagonista, etc.

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