Who Rebranded Sailor Moon from Soldiers to Pretty Guardians?

Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon 10th Anniversary

Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon 10th Anniversary

When a series has been around for as long as Sailor Moon has, any change to the lore, artwork, or even terminology will invariably give rise to arguments among its fans. “Back in my day…” is probably a refrain many in the Sailor Moon fandom are quite familiar with.

The global rebranding from “Sailor Soldiers” to “Sailor Guardians” was, and continues to be, one such contentious topic among fans. What makes this even more interesting, however, is that at this point our favorite Sailor Senshi have actually been known as “Guardians” for far longer than they ever were branded as “Soldiers.”1

So what gives? Was it simply a change of heart, a retroactive change to the story, or just a matter of legal wrangling?

Today we’re going to take a deeper dive into the Sailor Guardian title and see what we can learn! Grab a cup of coffee and maybe a snack, because we might be here for awhile!

Sailor Venus guards Queen Beryl... to death

Sailor Venus guards Queen Beryl… to death

First off, I should probably start off with a bit of a disclaimer: I’ve never liked the Guardian label and don’t use it in this blog because I don’t believe it actually describes what they do. But I’ve written about that at length before.

Second, no one has gone on the record to say why this rebranding happened, so I can’t exactly give a definitive answer to that question. However, what we can do is explore all of the facts surrounding this change and try to see what we can conclude from the timeline.

With that out of the way, let’s get down to it!

Who doesn't enjoy talking about managing licenses?

Who doesn’t enjoy talking about managing licenses?

Let’s Talk About Rights, Baby

As many of you may already know, the Sailor Moon franchise was started as a joint venture between Naoko Takeuchi and Toei Animation, though TV Asahi, Kodansha, and Bandai even had their fingers in the pie.2 While I’m a big fan of collaboration,3 this ultimately wound up making things more than a little complicated when it came to rights management.

Read also:  What Power Is Sailor Mars Invoking with Burning Mandala?

Though the details are a bit hazy, apparently Ms. Takeuchi and Toei Animation had a disagreement in the early 2000s over how much she was owed in royalties over the Sailor Moon anime and she ultimately wound up purchasing the broadcasting rights for an undisclosed sum.4 It was at this time that the company known as Princess Naoko Planning (“PNP”) was established to manage Sailor Moon licensing. I believe this happened in late 2001.5

It’s often reported that Ms. Takeuchi took control of all Sailor Moon rights at this time, but that’s not quite accurate. While Ms. Takeuchi purchased the television broadcasting rights to the 90s anime and PNP handles Kodansha’s copyright claims to the series, she still doesn’t personally own the entirety of the Sailor Moon franchise.

The Sailor Guardians… literally

From Soldiers to Guardians

Now why did I spend all this time talking about the formation of PNP and the redistribution of how rights pertaining to Sailor Moon were handled? Because that’s central to our understanding of the Soldier → Guardian rebranding.

This momentous change to the franchise took place in September 2003 with the concurrent release of the shinsouban remastered manga (September 22, 2003) and the airing of the live-action Sailor Moon TV show (October 4, 2003).

September 9, 2003 Trademark Application

September 9, 2003 Trademark Application

As it turns out, Princess Naoko Planning filed multiple dual-language trademark applications for “美少女戦士セーラームーン” and “Pretty Guardian SAILORMOON” on September 9, 2003 — less than 2 weeks before the series relaunch.6

Considering that PNP is essentially a company created and run by Ms. Takeuchi, I think it’s fairly safe to say that she was the one behind the transition from Sailor Soldier to Sailor Guardian.

Read also:  Which Character Did Sailor Mercury's Voice Actress Apply For First?

One interesting note, however, is that the Bandai Sailor Moon “SeraMyu” musicals retained the Pretty Soldier name until the end of their run in winter 2005. From then on, it’s been pretty much consistently Pretty Guardian ever since.

Flyer for the Winter 2005 "New Legend of Kaguya Island" musical

Flyer for the Winter 2005 “New Legend of Kaguya Island” musical

While I’ve never been a fan of the Pretty Guardian name, and this doesn’t exactly make me like it any more, I feel a lot more willing to accept it as the official translation knowing that it was almost certainly at Ms. Takeuchi’s direction. Somehow, it just sits better with me that way as opposed to it being the work of some execs at Toei who thought “guardian” sounded better for their new all-female tokusatsu TV show.

What about you? Does this change how you look at the title? Did you even care about it to begin with? It’d be interesting to see if there was a difference in outlook depending on when fans got into the series!

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References:

  1. The “Guardian” label came to be in 2003, 17 years ago when this article was written in May 2020
  2. That sounded really bad.
  3. Actually, not really. I tend to enjoy working alone.
  4.  See Background and Developments in Sailor Moon (Wikipedia)
  5. The earliest reference I can find to PNP is December 2001, which coincides with the opening of the official Sailor Moon “Channel” site; see Sailor Moon Channel (December 2, 2001)
  6. See Trademark Application 商願2003-78163 (T2003-78163)

23 thoughts on “Who Rebranded Sailor Moon from Soldiers to Pretty Guardians?

  1. I agree. The name Sailor Guardian sounds off.
    Wikipedia (the English version, at least) now even states that 戦士 can be translated as Warrior, soldier, fighter, or guardian. I remember there being some people upset back in the day claiming that “戦士/senshi” cannot be translated to “guardian.”
    Of all the updates they could make to the series, I feel like the name was fine as it was!
    I can only imagine it had something to do with softening the image or something. Or perhaps she didn’t like the translation of “soldier” because it implies a military when the girls don’t really have that kind of command structure?
    Maybe she should have gone with scout…nah!

  2. In my mind, Guardians seemed more fitting for the inners, and Soldiers for the outers. Of course, my first exposure to the world of Sailor Moon referred to the group as scouts. As a child, I briefly considered joining the Girl Scouts simply to become a Scout. Unfortunately, I learned it was less about fighting evil and more like harassing people into buying cookies. It is nice to know that Takeuchi was more than likely the reasoning behind it, and not the American tradition of board room execs going over data and figures trying to determine maximum profit levels.

  3. From the beginning, Naoko was supplying ガーディアン (guardian) as the intended reading of 守護戦士 (shugosenshi – guardian soldier), so it’s technically a term that’s always been part of the franchise. For the series’ relaunch in 2003, I guess she just wanted to go all in on it.

    (It’s also worth mentioning that the DiC dub used the term “Sailor Guardians” in an episode of R in 1997, though generally North American materials at the time used “guardians” in reference to Luna and Artemis.)

  4. While you’re right when you state that “guardian” has got little to do with our girls’ activity, “soldier” is even more unfitting, because the word implies a condition of fighting that is paid… which we know doesn’t apply here. I really can’t see why English-speaking fans don’t use more sensible terms like “Sailor Warriors” or “Sailor Fighters”.
    As a side note, I don’t actually think this whole debate holds much importance for the global fandom: only the English-speakers will end up using one of these words, anyway! Everyone else in the world is only going to see this soldier/guardian stuff in the title, not inside the manga itself, lol. Not to mention that not even this much is valid for Japan, where everything apart from the live-action series is branded with the word “Senshi” first and “Guardian” second.

      • I’ve never stated the contrary, in fact I know that “Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon” was the official international title from 1991 to 2003. I only meant that, in all languages that aren’t English, neither the word “soldier” nor “guardian” are going to appear in the text proper, because each language will use a different translation of “senshi”. And anyway, even though I loathe both words, I stand by the fact that “soldiers” is the worse of the two, because the Sailor Warriors are certainly not paid for their fighting.

        • The inadequacy of either word might be unavoidable because of the different martial histories of Japan and the west/Eurasia. We think of “the military” as stipended foot-soldiers in battalions who fight in wars between different nations, but Japan, being an island and isolated, does not necessarily have that cultural concept in the front of their minds.

          In other words, there is no adequate one-to-one translation for 戦士 because it is not entirely a western concept, and the words with which we attempt to translate it denote some concepts that do not exist in Japan. Soldier, ultimately, is the best we can do for 戦士. The other definitions given by Wiktionary, combatant and warrior, are worse. Combatant is too neutral; there’s no honor involved in merely being a combatant and no military connotation. Prize fighters are combatants. Warrior on the other hand is TOO martial for the Sailor Senshi; they use magic not implements of war.

  5. I’d like to throw in my two cents on this one.

    I personally HATE guardians and I LOVE soldiers. Soldiers just sounds so bad ass and so much cooler. Guardians is lame in my opinion. It just doesn’t seem as powerful and I like that it has a masculine connotation and it’s applied to girls. Pretty Soldiers is such an awesome juxtaposition. Also, Sailor Soldiers is an alliteration, like Senshi. It just rolls off the tongue better honestly. To me, guardians doesn’t make a lot of sense, though I do kind of like the comment someone said they think guardians applies to the inners and soldiers to the outers. I could live with that.

    I do in fact have an even better idea and I’ve said it for years… why not just use Senshi all the time in every translation. It sounds the best, keeps the alliteration and everything. I think it’s one of those things that do not need a translation and can be used across the board, like keeping the name Usagi instead of changing it to Serena or Bunny? (Though I secretly love the name Bunny a lot, which I feel is an unpopular opinion). There are so many English words that are kept like Sailor and Moon, plus all the attacks, I think it almost makes sense to keep a Japanese word as the name of the team. (On a side note, instead of the legendary silver crystal or illusionary or phantom or mystical or mythical, why not just maboroshi no ginzuishou? Save us all a lot of trouble)

    I feel like it changed once and it could probably change again. I don’t think I’ll ever say guardian and I don’t ever intend too in my life. However, I thought I could never not call them scouts before I knew any better (I was 8 and naive!) Thanks for the article. I’m really glad that you are in agreement with me on this. It makes me very pleased since I hold you in very high regard.

    P.s. I would love to be a part of your kickstarted campaign if that is still going on. I am interested in any way I could support you! I am a big fan and spend a lot of time here. I think You are amazing. I think I’ve bought you coffee a couple of times but I’m not sure if it worked. I’ll try again. Anyway thanks for all you do!

  6. Honestly, soldier is a less than ideal word to use to describe the Sailor Team. However, you just don’t change it after it has become known worldwide as Pretty Soldier. It’s like renaming the Super Bowl to the Mega Bowl, or Disney World to Disney Country. It just sounds wrong.

    Pretty Guardian is a mouthful and doesn’t roll off the tongue like Pretty Soldier does. There’s just no perfect English term here, and there was even a popular song from the show called La Soldier. I will never use the term Guardian when talking about the show.

  7. Yep, I agree. Besides, another problem with “Sailor Guardians” is that it causes a MASSIVE confusion with the series other so-called “guardians”, like the three guardian cats (Luna, Artemis and Diana), Sailor Mars’ two guardian crows (Phobos and Deimos), and the manga’s Sailor Power Guardians (who are specifically titled “Guardians” with names such as Guardian Cosmos, Guardian Uranus, Guardian Pluto and Guardian Neptune, which are the few individual names given in Stars of the manga), not to mention the whole thing about the Inners being Princess Serenity “guardians” on top of being Sailor Senshi (the shinsoban edition of the manga uses the English word specifically, for that one job regarding their princess, as well…) …

    Moreover, there’s also the fact that Tuxedo Mask’s civilian name meaning “local (Earth’s) guardian” despite the fact that he’s not a …”Sailor Guardian” (???) if we quote Takeuchi on how only women can be called by the title of Sailor Senshi…

    So, yeah… *massive* confusion inducer, there. That’s another reason why, to me, “guardian” is a really, really BAD choice.

  8. Guardian strikes me as a mistranslation. “Guardian” has a connotation of support or defense, which 戦士 does not have, as I understand.

    On the other hand, consider that maybe it’s not really supposed to be a translation (for English speakers) but a cool bit of western ornamentation to put on the title, which really has no customary rules to follow. 美少女戦士 means Pretty Girl “something,” but it’s always been truncated to Pretty “something.” (And Sailormoon is just gibberish). Perhaps we’re looking at this the wrong way: Pretty Guardian is not the official English translation of the work. Instead, it’s a subtitle. So the title is Pretty Girl Soldier Sailor Moon: Pretty Guardian Sailormoon.

  9. I think the guardian label makes perfect sense. They guard goodness/people from evil, right? Well in order to do that, they’ll probably inevitably have to defend what they’re guarding. So they’re guardians by looking after what they’re supposed to look after, while guarding them by defending them. Think of body guards. They’re job is to guard their client, and that guarding includes fighting them off if need be.

    • It’s not so much that Guardian doesn’t make sense, it’s the fact they changed it and that causes continuity issues and awkward phrasing.
      Sailor Jupiter, Guardian of Protection (more like Guardian of Redundancy!)
      Then there are the Sailor Guardians who live in the castles at each planet called Guardian Mercury, Guardian Venus, etc.

      I just call them Sailor Senshi since by now most everyone knows that and it sounds best.

  10. I agree and always disliked the “Guardian” usage. That being said, I understand what I think may be an analogy to the idea of a royal/imperial guard, a select company of people with martial training tasked to protect a monarch, often done out of a grand romanticized duty to the crown (and the one who wears it) rather than for payment. I think a better interpretation could have been “knight,” though this word admittedly has problems, too. All in all, I like the simplicity of keeping the original “Senshi.”

  11. I will admit I first saw the change with the live action series and thought it was a bit of an odd choice. And tbh I’m fine with either. But I do think the term Soldier fits with what they do a bit better.

    … However, I will not refer to them as “Sailor Scouts”. Just no.

  12. I agree. The ‘Sailor Guardians’ is awkward at best.

    Here in Italy the change hasn’t been made, though, they’re still called ‘Guerriere Sailor’ (Sailor Warriors).

  13. I agree that Pretty Guardian can be a bit awkward to say. However, I prefer it over Soldier. Like others have pointed out, I think of a royal guard. Not only are they guarding Princess Serenity and the Silver millennium, they are also have been referred to as the guardians of their home planets. When I hear the word guardian, I think of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies as well as the US national guard. So I personally think that Guardians make the most sense from an English standpoint. But hey to each their own I guess.

    Just as long as we all agree to never use Sailor Scout ever again. Bleh.

    • It’s interesting reading through old fanfiction and fan translations.
      You can see the evolution as they go from “Scouts” to “Soldiers” to “Guardians.”

      Just by reading some of the terms, you can guess when someone wrote the fanfic.

  14. First-time commenter! I’ve just finished reading the entire series (blind) in Japanese (live in the country and have passed the N1 Japanese test, just to give context here so that it doesn’t seem like maybe I didn’t fully understand something I read). Thanks for the useful and interesting site, which I’ve been supplementing my readthrough with while dodging spoilers as best I can.

    I actually have a question about this post, though. I guess I’m not sure how various translations handle it, but as of the Kanzenban–which I read–while the series is titled “Pretty Guardian,” in English, there are at least two moments when the senshi refer to themselves or are referred to as セーラーソルジャーズ–seraa sorujaazu–“Sailor Soldiers,” in katakana. The first of these instances is when the gang arrives to fight Snow Princess Kaguya in the Kaguya special chapter, and the second is, I believe, an instance of the villains referring to them in the Stars arc. (I wish I had the page number for this, but can’t find it again now flipping through the digital editions. Jumped out as I was reading through though.)

    The manga separately reserves a katakana rendering of “Guardian” for the guardian spirits attached to each planet/Sailor Soldier in the fourth and fifth arcs, appearing as furigana on 守護精霊 (the kanji for “protector spirit”), or as part of the corresponding entities’ names–a la “Guardian Cosmos,” “Guardian Chaos,” “Guardian Pluto” and so on. They’re clearly distinct from the senshi/Soldiers.

    It all left me with the pretty clear impression that, while the series might be called “Pretty Guardian” in its title, the Sailor Senshi were firmly “Sailor Soldiers” in English, with “Guardians” referring to the guardian spirits.

    How do translations handle this, though, especially the Soldier/Guardian spirit distinction? I’m wondering if there was a later mandate that maybe hit translations, while the dialogue of the actual manga in Japanese was simply left as is. Seems like it would be confusing to apply “Guardian” to the Soldiers as well, though.

    Curious to know more!

  15. The change to “guardian” has been driving me crazy for a long time now, so I’m glad to see more people feel the same way. It’s like a bad reminder of the old “scouts” terminology and the days of awful dub changes. It seems like such a little thing, but it really was a poor decision.

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