The most direct – and simplest – answer as to why ChibiUsa has pink hair ties closely into the fact that Ms. Takeuchi had originally intended for ChibiUsa to literally be something of a little Usagi, in-so-far that much of her character designs, birthday, likes and dislikes, all can be directly tied back to Usagi herself. So to start with our conclusion and work our way backwards: the reason why ChibiUsa has pink hair is because of Usagi’s hair. Now, let’s work our way backwards!
While the Usagi that we know and love has blonde hair now, that wasn’t always the case. In fact, since manga is a black-and-white medium, it’s pretty hard to tell what colors Ms. Takeuchi had intended to use from the beginning, and it’s even possible that the colors of the Four Kings’ uniforms changed as the series progressed and that some of the colors weren’t nailed down. According to Ms. Takeuchi herself,1 while Usagi was meant to have blonde hair, it was supposed to turn silver when she transformed into Sailor Moon. This image discrepancy actually made it into series canon to a certain extent, seeing that the cover image published in Sailor Moon‘s Nakayoshi debut issue shows her with silver hair. Though she was stopped by her editor and told to use something a little more colorful for a cover, this is probably the reasoning behind Princess Serenity (and the Queen herself) having silver hair.
Since Ms. Takeuchi was required to play it safe with Usagi and wasn’t able to use all of her ideas evoking rabbits with her originally, many of those ideas were brought back with ChibiUsa’s appearance, including: the red eyes, the rabbit-ear-shaped odango,2 and of course the pink hair. Now that the series was already established (and a raging hit, might I add), she had a little more free reign to play with designs as she pleased. You can also see this in the anime, seeing as with the exception of Ami, the majority of the characters appearing in the anime had normal human hair colors, though this got more dramatic as the series continued on into Sailor Moon R (e.g., the Ayakashi Sisters, ChibiUsa, Sailor Pluto).
So, typically we could just call it a day here since we pretty much answered the immediate question, but to be honest, I’m not really satisfied with leaving it here. We determined that ChibiUsa’s hair is pink because of Usagi’s rabbit-pun origins… but I can’t get over the simple fact that rabbits aren’t pink. But this isn’t a problem with our theory, but rather a question into Japanese culture itself. When depicted in animation or drawn as characters rabbits are, for one reason or another, typically depicted as pink in Japan.
It turns out I’m not the only one interested in this. The Society for the Study of Human and Animal Relations3 published a study in their magazine4 regarding why Japanese children overwhelmingly colored rabbits as pink. Though the findings weren’t definitive, they did note that when children were given non-white paper to draw on, rabbits were more often colored as while, though still not at the same rate as horses and sheep. They also found that when when given coloring books of rabbits, the realism of the rabbit itself affected the rates that children colored it as pink vs. normal colors, such as brown or white.
Unfortunately, we’re still just describing a phenomenon and not explaining it. Looking at old ukiyo-e5 paintings, we’re hard-pressed to find any depictions of pink rabbits. In fact, I was unable to find any pre-20th century pink rabbits. Considering the timing of the Energizer Bunny’s debut in 19896 and the fact that Energizer first started being marketed in Japan through a dual-branding deal with Fujitsu, it’s almost tempting to say that the bunny had somehow influenced this phenomenon, but alas, the dates don’t quite work out – though it would’ve been really neat if ChibiUsa’s hair color could be credited to a battery branding deal!
More likely, the start of the rabbits = pink cultural understanding in Japan (and which ultimately inspired Ms. Takeuchi to apply that color to ChibiUsa via her original designs for Usagi) is a song credited to Kyoko Ishige,7 “The Pink Bunny” (ピンクのバニー) and released in 1972. From 1971, Ms. Ishige played a role on a children’s exercise TV program titled “Let’s Play With Mommy! Pin Pon Pan!” (ママとあそぼう!ピンポンパン; mama to asobou! pinponpan) where she would sing songs for the children and exercise. Her music was quite popular at the time, and in fact would’ve been playing right around the time Ms. Takeuchi (born in 1967) would’ve been exposed to entertainment for that age group.
You can listen for yourself here!
Now, while I couldn’t find any further information either for or against about whether Kyoko Ishige was describing the Japanese consciousness that rabbits are pink or that her random cutesy song was the start of the phenomenon, it’s the oldest reference I’m able to find for rabbits being pink in Japan. Probably, it’s a mixture of the two – kids were already using their pink crayons to color in rabbits, and her song cemented it in the culture.
All the same, it’s interesting to think that something as simple as a children’s program Ms. Takeuchi may have exercised with her own mother with may have affected the distinct appearance of a main character. There’s just so much to know!
- See the first art book’s Liner Notes (Manga Style) ↩
- Which is inappropriately named with ChibiUsa, seeing as they are referred to as odango due to their round shape. But now I’m just being picky… ↩
- See their website here ↩
- See the December 2007 issue of Thinking of Animals: Perception, Concept and Attitude (動物観研究) ↩
- See Ukiyo-e (Wikipedia) ↩
- See the Energizer Bunny Timeline ↩
- See Kyoko Ishige (Wikipedia) ↩