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!
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.
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.
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!