Why Was the Sailor Moon SuperS Anime So Different From the Manga?

Sailor Moon SuperS: What Went Wrong?

Sailor Moon SuperS: What Went Wrong?

In all my years of writing about Sailor Moon, I’ve found that Sailor Moon SuperS seems to be the odd duck of the series. Some fans swear by it as peak Sailor Moon while others recommend skipping it entirely.1 And yet I hear none of these complaints levied against the manga. In fact, it’s generally well-loved among fans — which I suppose bodes well for the upcoming movies!

The reason for all this, of course, is due to the peculiar decision to take an extreme departure from Ms. Takeuchi’s storyline and try new things with the anime.

But that’s not good enough for me. I want… nay, need answers! Why did the anime production staff decide to deviate from the manga story? Why did they cut so many characters? And why did the story take such a comical turn?

Today we’re going to take a look into what the anime staff were thinking and the reasoning behind their changes. Sit back, grab a coffee, and read on — things are about to get Super!

Not from SuperS, but it sums up the intended audience quite well

Not from SuperS, but it sums up the intended audience quite well

If you had asked my why SuperS took such a drastic turn after Sailor Moon S,2 my answer would always have been that it was purely related to marketing and demographics. Sailor Moon had started off fairly strong, picked up a huge number of fans during R, and then took the series in a darker, more mature direction for S. All signs, as far as I’m concerned, point to the anime growing up along with their fan base.

Alas, you can only do this for so long before your fans “age out” of the series. So either you need to keep upping the ante (as the manga did) or you need to “reset” in a sense and go back to basics. I’ve always felt that’s what the anime production staff was hoping to do with Sailor Moon SuperS by focusing on only the core Senshi and putting an even bigger emphasis on the childlike main, ChibiUsa.

Where's Waldo -- the Outer Senshi edition!

Where’s Waldo — the Outer Senshi edition!

But does that theory actually hold water?

In the interest of sating my curiosity, I dug through a collection of magazines released in Spring 1995 to see how Sailor Moon SuperS was being promoted at the time. Fortunately, I found two interviews with the series producers that briefly touched on the change in theme.

But first off, let’s address the pink elephant rabbit in the room: Iriya Azuma3 stepped down as Sailor Moon‘s producer at the end of S and passed the baton to Toshihiko Arisako.4

I can’t find any information behind the reason for this change or the impact it had on the series, but considering that Producer Azuma was a relatively influential figure in the early days of Sailor Moon, I find it hard to believe that Producer Arisako wasn’t equally involved in shaping the show. It’s also worth noting that Producer Arisako was also involved in the planning of the SuperS movie and continued on as producer for Stars.

TFW you have to share your powerup episode and don't get one of your own

TFW you have to share your powerup episode and don’t get one of your own

Back when the details for the anime version of Sailor Moon SuperS were first announced to the public, outgoing Sailor Moon producer Iriya Azuma offered some fans some interesting insight into the new season’s focus:5

I think one of the great things about ‘S’ was the different take on being a Sailor Senshi that Haruka and Michiru lent the series and the air of tension that came with it. The rest of the staff also picked up on this and gave the season a whole different mood and created some interesting confrontations with Usagi.

In a sense, ‘SuperS’ will be a test of sorts for Usagi and the rest now that their two companions are gone, though it will also be an opportunity to put the spotlight back on the five Sailors and, in particular, ChibiUsa.

So right from the get-go, we can see that the anime planned to ‘go back to basics’ even in spite of the fact that the Outer Senshi were massively popular.

Read also:  Does Usagi Need Her Brooch to Stay Sailor Moon?

But the story gets even more interesting in the June 1995 issue of Animedia where the magazine editors review the latest season:6

A 5+1 comedy troupe doubling down with powered up jokes!

After several paragraphs doubling down on the season’s renewed focus on comedy, the page closes out with a brief Q & A with incoming producer Toshihiko Arisako:

1: The depiction of daily life is what appeals to fans

A lot of people refer to Sailor Moon as an all-girl sentai team, but I think the series’ real appeal is how it depicts their normal, day-to-day lives. Sentai teams are brought together to fight, but that’s not who Usagi and the rest are. They just face threats whenever they happen to arise. They eat delicious food, get excited gossiping about love, and live lives that are remarkably similar to those led by real girls. Sometimes they have to do battle and get to engage in somewhat extraordinary lives, which can also be appealing to those who also wish they could transform.

The manga does an impeccable job at striking a balance between the ordinary and the extraordinary, which I think is what has led to the series’ popularity. The anime is similar in how it strikes this balance.

My initial reading on this was that the guy was simply insane. With how different the anime and manga versions of the Dream arc were, how could anyone reasonably say that they’re remotely similar?

Yeah, listen, I don't know what I'm doing either

Yeah, listen, I don’t know what I’m doing either

But it starts to make a lot of sense if you read between the lines. After all, he doesn’t say that they “strike a balance” in the same fashion, simply that they strike the same type of balance between the ordinary and extraordinary. In that sense, SuperS actually does a fairly good job at that.

Read also:  What Are Some Difficulties Faced in Translating Sailor Moon?

And then he drops another confusing bombshell:

2: More emphasis on input from the creator

Lately female manga artists have been much more direct in providing input in how they want the anime [based on their work] to be. I think it’s thanks to that input that we’ve seen a boom in the creation of more anime that meets female sensibilities. In my opinion, [Sailor Moon] does particularly well with that. In the past, the manga was left as its own thing while the anime version was created for men.

Bright, cheerful characters like Usagi designed by female creators are even popular among male fans now. I think that’s had a lot to do with the increase in popularity.

The strong implication here seems to be that Ms. Takeuchi had a high level of involvement in this process, though I find it incredibly had to believe that she would have been keep on how much the SuperS anime changed. If she was mad about the Sailor Moon R movie, it seems absurd that she would have been not only on board, but suggesting these changes.

I owned this (bootleg) poster as a teen!

I owned this (bootleg) poster as a teen!

So what can we conclude from all that? Considering that there was only a relatively minor change in staff between S and SuperS (nothing extreme like the SuperS→Stars exodus), I think that the change in producer may really have been one of the biggest influences on the change in focus for the season.

TV Asahi was making a pretty big drive at the launch of SuperS to pitch the series to anime magazines as a more comedic,  slice-of-life affair. Or at least that’s how it was described in all the magazines writing about it at the time. It could simply have been that the more dramatic, far-reaching story that Ms. Takeuchi was telling was at odds with the anime’s vision and they simply opted to ignore it.

But what do you think? Why did SuperS take such a turn from the Dream arc in the manga? And, even more importantly, which telling do you prefer? Let me know down below!

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References:

  1. In case you’re curious, I fall into the latter camp for reasons too numerous to cover here.
  2. Which you didn’t, but we’re going to pretend you did anyway
  3. See Iriya Azuma (Wikipedia)
  4. See Toshihiko Arisako
  5.  See p. 23 in the April 1995 edition of Animedia
  6. See p. 11 in the June 1995 edition of Animedia

28 thoughts on “Why Was the Sailor Moon SuperS Anime So Different From the Manga?

  1. From what i have read on the net, supposedly a lot of why SuperS was done the way it was, was due to Toei worrying that the main demographic as you say was growing out of Sailor Moon, so they thought by focusing the series on Chibi-usa. they would keep and attract new fans in this demographics.

    Apparently its said to have backfired massively and led to Stars writing Chibi-usa out early and replacing her with Chibi Chibi.

    And that Toei’s more hands on meddling in SuperS led to Ikuhara quitting the series and going off to do Utena with his new studio.

    Now i’m not sure if any of this true as you say above is true per say. But it’s clear the approach they took with SuperS didn’t connect with the fans of the show. Didn’t help the ratings or the reputation of the show.

    Cutting out the Outer Sensei’s was always one of those decisions that i think in hindsight wasn’t the best decision when they were the highlight of S for many.

    And focusing so much instead on Chibi-usa, a character that has always been been received mixely by viewers and readers because of how her personality is and how the manga and anime used her. At the expense of the other sailors also i think didn’t sit well with a number of viewers either.

    In hindsight thats how it seems to look and why SuperS the anime went the way it did.

  2. It think they failed to learn what they audiences liked about S, I suppose they believed it was getting too intense and decided to tone it down.

    Unfortunately for them it took a turn for the worst and never recovered, they tried to bring back the S feeling in Stars which is basically just a de harsh but they still put a lot of comedy with the monsters of the day.

    It’s sad that the last seasons ended like that, I like them but not as much as the previous ones.

    • Yeah, I almost have a hard time thinking of the last two seasons as canonical, they just feel so different from the first three. It’s like watching a different show.

    • You act like S was super dark and serious when it too had plenty of comedic moments and especially MoTDs. Remember the vaccuum cleaner monster? The violin?

  3. Your theory that the show tried to age with its audience for the first three seasons and then hit a reset with SuperS makes perfect sense to me. I watched the first three seasons when I was in junior high and high school, back in the late 90s/early 00s, but was never curious about SuperS because I knew the Outer Senshi weren’t in it. When they brought the whole series to Hulu, I started from the beginning and resolved to watch it all.

    But when I hit SuperS, it was like hitting a wall. It has taken me months just to get through the Amazon Trio arc. The tone of the show shifts so aggressively; the structures of the episodes are so unbalanced; and the goofy humor sits uncomfortably with the weird sexual assault metaphor of the Amazon Trio episodes and the way Pegasus insists that Chibiusa keep their relationship a secret.

    The manga, as I remember it (I’ve only read it once), steadily progressed in terms of it’s style and never hit a reset because things got too “dark” — I would venture that’s why its Dead Moon Circus arc is more generally well regarded than the anime’s.

    • “Hitting a wall” explains watching SuperS pretty well. With the exception of a couple of episodes, the season was comprised of filler episodes with silly humor that didn’t add to the story at all. The characters stopped developing and they were stuck in these filler nightmares. x___x

      The manga version is darker, but it’s certainly more beautiful and the pace flowed so nicely, while including the Outer Senshi. And the relationship between ChibiUsa and Helios wasn’t as creepy as the anime. You’re right, the “secret relationship” thing was uncomfortable. :/

  4. It’s interesting to see these tidbits of information and as always, I’m amazed that you’re able to find all of this stuff. But unfortunately it doesn’t lead to a clear answer as to why things changed so much, and who exactly changed them.

    Based on this limited info, my guess is that you are correct, it was probably Arisako who made these significant changes. I’m a little surprised to learn that he had worked on previous seasons as well… could be a case of someone who is an excellent team player but not so excellent as a team leader.

    I think his intentions were great. I fully support the decision to remove the Outers for a while, the third season was BUSY and the Inners were a smaller part of the story… it wouldn’t work to maintain that for the rest of the series imo.

    I love that they returned to the main 5 characters plus Chibiusa. I love Chibiusa and giving her a larger role works just fine for me, and that led to more time for Mamoru which was nice as well. And removing the Outers means you get the great moment later on where you reintroduce them for the final season. All of these were great ideas and it should have led to another excellent season.

    The problem was that the execution was poor. There was so much filler that didn’t advance the story at all, including an entire episode dedicated to Chibiusa’s friend learning to jump over an obstacle. The pacing was bad, the Trio were around for far too long, we needed the Quartet sooner, and then the ending was super rushed. Redeeming the Trio is also questionable, because it takes away from when the Quartet turn against their leader as well… and not having the Sailor Quartet was a big mistake. And the rushed ending meant that Stars felt the need to give it a proper ending.

    We also saw the first signs of unpreparedness in the show as the full Moon Gorgeous Meditation animation wasn’t ready when they needed it, and we only got a partial animation for the first few weeks. (And also, it’s the worst looking attack in the series imho.) The same happened in Stars, when the Starlights’ attacks weren’t fully animated until the series was almost over.

    I’m surprised that Arisako was also the producer for Stars… maybe he learned from his mistakes and improved. But now you’ve got me wondering… why was the Sailor Stars anime so different from the manga? Was it Arisako again? Some changes were definitely for the worse, ESPECIALLY making the Starlights actually male.

    On the other hand, all five seasons were pretty different from the manga. Season 1 changed a lot of important things, but I found it to be a big improvement. The Makaiju episodes were a TV invention that worked out OK. I suppose the rest of R and especially S stayed closer to the manga than other seasons, but they still had significant changes. Only the final two seasons left me thinking “I wish they stuck closer to the manga”.

  5. I honestly thought “SuperS” was the most dreadful season ever.

    “In a sense, ‘SuperS’ will be a test of sorts for Usagi and the rest now that their two companions are gone, though it will also be an opportunity to put the spotlight back on the five Sailors and, in particular, ChibiUsa.”- this is the biggest load of horse-pockey ever, lol. The Sailors COMPLETELY disappeared in favor of “ChibiUsa: The Anime”, as it was non-stop stuff about her & Pegasus.

    Reading about the “Dream Arc” and how it actually used the Outers, I became even more annoyed at that slog of a season- they wasted episodes on “a kid is afraid of the pommel horse” and “Whatever the heck that swordfighting girl one was about” when we could have been seeing Hotaru, Haruka & Michiru again?

  6. I think that the “More emphasis on input from the creator” section says it all: the director created a show that he THOUGHT that the female audience want (aka a lot of slice of life stuff and comedy) and removing stuff that he thought is liked only/mostly by male fans (action, dark tone etc.). Obviously he didn’t do any research at all and after SuperS’s failure he changed the tone in Stars.

    • Interestingly enough, S had a much larger female audience than SuperS ever did. The gender breakdown per season was included in the article I referenced, but sadly it was running long and I didn’t have a chance to fit it in. =(
      There’s probably a lot to this theory.

  7. I don’t know about a test for Usagi…but SuperS is a test for all fans of the show.
    There used to be a site called “In Defense of SuperS”, that pointed out what is good about the anime.
    But what defenders of SuperS aren’t getting is that the entire season is just crammed full of the worst faults of Sailor Moon.

    Yes, it does have some nice animation (at times) and there are some darker story elements, especially in the last couple of episodes, but to get to the meat of the season you have to wade through some of the worst episodes of all.
    I still find some aspects enjoyable.
    Surprisingly though, to be geared towards kids I think it has some of the least child friendly messages of all five seasons.
    Especially Pegasus telling Chibi Usa to keep their relationship secret and there being no real lesson learned from this.
    Yes, he’s a good guy, I know that. But still.

    I find it highly unlikely that Naoko Takeuchi was onboard for these changes if things like the depictions of Uranus and Neptune or the Starlights angered her so much.

    It’s also disappointing we never got Azuma’s amazing sounding SuperS movie, the one with a black Pegasus and Neptune trapped in a tower with Uranus rescuing her.
    Of course this gave us Utena instead, but it’s still sad that Toei, as usual, settled for mediocrity over amazing storytelling.
    I imagine we’d have had an incredibly different SuperS and Stars if he’d stayed in charge.

    Fans who’ve never read the manag will be in for a shock when they see the Dream Arc in Eternal, since it has some humor but gets extremely dark towards the end. The flesh melting still creeps me out.

    • Aaah, “In Defense of SuperS.” That brings back so many memories!
      They had a lot of good arguments, but if I recall correctly, they used a lot from the Dream arc in the manga as justification for its greatness while ignoring many of the anime-only criticisms.

      • Other than the initial rumor which wasn’t very detailed, all we basically know about it is what Ikuhara said in a single interview:

        “It was going to be a story in which Uranus and Neptune were the main characters. It was going to be a story independent to the TV series and this was going to be the first appearance of Uranus and Neptune. And Sailor Neptune was going to be in a 1000-year sleep at a place called “The End of the World”. And Sailor Uranus was needed to steal the talisman from the Sailor Senshi and use that to awaken Sailor Neptune. And Uranus was going to be riding the black Pegasus. And the story was going to be that Sailor Moon would ride Pegasus to chase Sailor Uranus riding the Black Pegasus to the “End of the World”. And the climax of the story would’ve been the rodeo scene between Sailor Moon on white Pegasus and Sailor Uranus on Black Pegasus. And so, this was kind of story I had in mind. But before production began, the producer walked off Sailor Moon. It would’ve been possible for me to make the story still, but since I came up with the story with the producer, I also walked off. But I had an attraction to the idea of “The End of the World” which I thought up for this plot. So, the same thing in Utena comes from the Sailor Moon plot.”

  8. I don’t think aging out of a TV show is even a thing if the show is good. Aging out of its merchandise, on the other hand…

    • I think it really depends on what the target demographic is. It’s really hard to keep a fan from elementary school into high school, for example. Your peer groups change, what’s “cool” changes, etc.

  9. I understand the reasoning behind wanting to return to the tone of the first season. The stakes in the show get progressively higher and the show transitions into a darker tone compared to earlier seasons. With that trajectory, you can only go a couple more seasons before you hit a wall. Toei seems to have wanted a static show. Unaging characters where the events have little permanent impact on the setting. You can run a show like that indefinitely. However it is clear that it was a gamble the anime lost. You can’t really walk back from the tone of the third season. It’s a permanent increase to the seriousness of the show. You can’t unring that bell anymore than you can make the girls younger.

    Except that’s exactly what the fourth season did. It got rid of the stakes entirely, made the girls 15 again, and tried to retcon the third season by completely ignoring it. The manga arc is a natural conclusion from the previous three. All outstanding issues from the past life are put to rest and Usagi has matured into her role as Sailor Moon and future queen. In contrast , the anime feels like a regression after the third season. It makes Usagi’s maturity in the fifth season seem to appear out of nowhere. The clearest sign that the showrunners screwed up was needing to use the beginning of the subsequent season to give the previous season a proper ending.

  10. I think your initial hypothesis would be accurate. They wanted to go back to basics. It didn’t work out. Stars had to course correct in a big way.

    SuperS has more redeeming features than many fans give it credit for…but it still sucks and is easily the weakest season. I’ve only half read the dream arc but it was way better

  11. One thing I enjoy about SuperS is that I believe it is the most consistently well-drawn season. I enjoy it for what it is. They nailed the “dreamy” vibe with the visuals and incredible music (Crystal Forest theme, Moon Gorgeous Meditation theme, etc). It’s a shame what could have been. I still enjoy it more than Stars. Stars felt like a mess, and an even bigger disappoint to me.

    • Stars, in my opinion, is an amazing concept that was poorly executed. It had so many amazing ideas going for it that went absolutely nowhere and the whole season just feels like they were throwing ideas at the wall to see what stuck.

      As much as I love the series, it really should have ended at Dream in the manga.

    • I’m not sure I’d agree that it’s the worst season, but it’s definitely worth looking into why they took an even greater departure from the manga. I guess I’ll need to start looking for some 96-97 anime magazines!

  12. The problem with SuperS is way too much filler. The Trio sticks around for what seems like an eternity and every episode follows the exact same formula. There are definitely some hilarious moments along the way, and I do think Chibiusa/Pegasus are cute together, but it gets old waiting for something to happen. I just checked and the Trio lasted *22 episodes*. And nothing at all happens in those 22 episodes. Could have easily been 12 episodes and it would be a better season.

    Unpopular opinion, but I actually didn’t mind not having the Outers in the SuperS anime. Not that I don’t like them, but it just made it that much more exciting when they showed up on Stars. It could have been overkill to have them in SuperS.

    • I think the first arc of Stars would have been a great SuperS. But instead, we got a lot of story that felt like it never really knew where it was going or what it wanted to do.
      It’s too bad, because I think they could have done a great “slice of life” story if they tried, but instead it just kind of meandered for awhile, told a little story, and meandered again.

    • Yeah, the filler was ridiculous and didn’t move the plot forward except for maybe 5-6 episodes of the entire Trio part.
      By the time the Quartet arrives, it’s the same exact formula again with even less personality.
      SuperS was 39 episodes and very little had substance.

      I think I agree that the Trio part should have been clipped to 12 episodes, or even less. I liked the episodes where they interacted with the Senshi, (especially Fish Eye’s episode where they discover Usagi’s identity and realize what they are doing is wrong). But the constant dates with random characters and goofy monsters that show up and die immediately were annoying.

      I think the season was stretched too far and the fact that 6 episodes of Stars had to be used to wrap it up was not a good idea (though those were arguably the best 6 episodes of that arc).

      The manga has so much more backstory to explore with Elysion and Nehelenia and that should have been expanded on.

      I think the outers should have appeared in SuperS by taking those episodes from Stars and adding them to SuperS instead as a finale.
      Stars has it’s problems too and is almost as bad as SuperS if not worse in some aspects.

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