One of the enduring mysteries of the Sailor Moon franchise is that of the perplexing popularity of Ami – the shy, bookish brains of the Sailor Team – especially among fans in the West. I’m sure it’s no mystery at all to those who count themselves among her fans, of course, but from a purely objective perspective, it seems a bit strange that the soft-spoken, brainy character (who didn’t even have a particularly abnormal amount of episodes even devoted to her, mind you) would end up constantly ranking at the tops of Japanese polls. So how is it that Ami came to be the most popular of the inners, and what does it tell us about Japanese fans of Sailor Moon as a group?
Before testing any theory, though, it’s important to first see if there’s any truth to your hypothesis. So we should first ask: is Ami actually popular? And how do we know?
In order to answer this question, I dug through the archives of the Japanese anime magazine, Animage,1 and tallied up their monthly “favorite character” rankings, which allows all of their readers to vote for their favorite anime characters and tallies them up. Since the anime runs on a schedule of March to February and the magazine ships early, I’ll be comparing seasons from June through May for the magazine results. They’re actually pretty surprising! [Note: Popularity counts from 1 down to ~20, so 1 is the highest.]
Most surprising to me here isn’t quite Ami’s meteoric rise to fame (though that is impressive) so much as.. Zoisite? Really? He actually started ranking in around January (which would have been the issue right around when he died), but it’s pretty impressive that he made such an impact on fans.
Zoisite still hung on until October, surprisingly enough. However, here we can see the trend continuing of Ami essentially owning the polls. What was even more surprising to me, though, is how strong of a character Minako was! I know she had the Codename: Sailor V manga and was definitely more of a developed character in the Sailor Moon manga, but I always personally felt that she was given short shrift in the anime and virtually ignored.
The results from Sailor Moon S were quite a surprise for me. Haruka definitely came in strong and beat out all the other Sailor Soldiers (except Ami and Minako) for most of the year. Hotaru, despite having very little in the way of merchandising or character goods throughout the original anime run, was also surprisingly popular. Here you can also see the interesting decline of Usagi’s popularity, even losing out to Makoto for a few months. I never would have expected that.
Sailor Moon SuperS is unfortunately the season where we start to see the popularity of the Sailor Soldiers waning not just in relation to each other, but against other anime as well. Rei makes a showing in only one month, and Michiru not at all. I guess it makes sense when you consider the new focus on Usagi and ChibiUsa and with the outer senshi basically cut from the series.
By the time Sailor Moon Sailor Stars rolled around, I think it’s pretty apparent why this was the last season for the show. As popular as it was, the rankings were clearly dropping, though Ami did hold a respectable ranking throughout the entire run of the series. Haruka even hung in there, which is impressive.
So then, we finally come to the point where we finally try to answer our question: why was Ami the most popular character? What gives??
Well, the truth of the matter is that she is… and she isn’t. The fact of the matter is that though Ami may have ranked highly in polls in Animage, it’s worth noting that the demographic for Animage is not the same as the demographic for Nakayoshi or the Sailor Moon anime. In fact, the magazine is geared toward high school students, university students, and young adults (it frequently contains materials and characters from midnight-run anime, so not for kids).
You’ll also note that ChibiUsa (and Setsuna, actually…) is suspiciously missing from these popularity polls, mostly due to the fact that though she was popular, she was popular with young fans.
So while Ami was indeed incredibly popular among anime fans, she was popular for reasons you wouldn’t normally expect: she was popular with people who were struggling through high school and university entrance exams. She was the awkward, shy character for those awkward and shy adults who enjoyed computers and anime. Ami, essentially, was popular because many people saw themselves in her.
I’d love to know more about the rankings of the Sailor Team nowadays and especially among other age groups back in the 1990s. This is definitely a topic worth re-visiting!