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.

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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.

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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!


References:

  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

13 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!

  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.

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