If someone were to ask you out-of-the-blue which cultural phenomenon of the past 25 years was being celebrated with a theatre-style performance, an exhibition in a top space museum, and the launch of a new range of make-up products, chances are you would be hard-pressed to give them an answer. After all, it would have to be something pretty unique to be equally at home in each of those different worlds.
The truth is, however, Sailor Moon has always been pretty unique. The anime series by Toei Animation about a young girl with an incredible destiny only ran for five years in the 1990s but has left a huge mark on pop culture for so much longer than that. This is demonstrated by the news that the 25th anniversary of its launch is being marked not only with a special live musical performance event at the Japonismes 2018 festival in Paris next year but also with the creation of a major new exhibition showcasing the myth and magic of the series at the celebrated TenQ museum in Tokyo. Finally, if that was not enough, Bandai has worked with cosmetics company Miracle Brand to create makeup products inspired by two of the series’ most popular characters. However, its influence stretches far beyond that, with Tokyo’s Harajuku region now being home to the first-ever permanent store selling products and memorabilia linked to the show. It is even felt in the world of video gaming, with more than ten official video games being released on various consoles, including Bishoujo Sensi Sailor Moon Super S: Various Emotion 2D fighting game on the Sega Saturn in 1996. But it is also safe to say that the franchise has inspired even more gaming titles. For instance, the artwork on the Moon Princess slot machine owes more than a little to the look and feel of Toei’s stone-cold classic. But what are the origins of Sailor Moon and how did it grow to become so iconic? In this article, we are going to do our very best to shine a light on just what makes this incredible anime so hugely popular.
A surprising history
The history of Sailor Moon, of course, begins with Naoko Takeuchi. The manga artist had worked on several titles already when she came up with a one-shot concept of a schoolgirl who discovers she has magical powers and a destiny to use them to protect the world. However, that manga was not Sailor Moon – it was in fact called Codename: Sailor V and centered on the adventures of Sailor Venus. However, when plans emerged for Takeuchi to further develop the world of Sailor Venus, the concept of Sailor Moon was born. Also known as Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon, the manga was first serialized in the renowned shojo manga magazine Nakayoshi between 1991 and 1997. The premise was fairly simple and followed the adventures of Usagi Tsukino, a teenage schoolgirl who befriends a talking cat and is given a magical amulet which transforms her into the heroic Sailor Moon. She then joins with the aforementioned Sailor Venus and others to protect Earth from various evil creatures and also to find a precious crystal.
A total of 18 volumes of Sailor Moon’s adventures were created by Takeuchi, with her works being quickly adapted into the anime series which we all know and love. Toei’s animation ran from 1992 to 1997 and also led to the creation of countless spin-offs including three animated feature films and a live-action TV adaptation which ran between 2003 and 2004.
A global phenomenon
While Sailor Moon was hugely loved in its native Japan, one area where it arguably outstripped its peers in the manga and anime world was by gaining huge popularity in other parts of the world. The anime series is thought to have first appeared in the US in 1995 and, following some minor changes to make it suitable for younger generations, it became a huge hit. As of its 20th anniversary in 2012, over 35 million copies of the manga and books had been sold alongside around $5 billion of merchandise, according to publisher Kodansha Comics. Sailor Moon has also been translated into 17 different languages and, since a relaunch in 2011, it has reached the top of several bestseller charts.
The key to its success
Of course, putting all of those impressive numbers to one side just for a moment, the fact we are still talking about Sailor Moon so many years on from its launch is enough to show how incredibly successful it has been. But what is it about the lead character, her friends, and their array of enemies which have led these stories to be so popular? As with anything, there are many ways you can interpret the success of Sailor Moon and fans will undoubtedly have their own very personal reasons for being drawn to the character. However, the fact that it is a world revolving around a relatable female hero is something which cannot be ignored. Usagi - or Serena as she was known in the US version - Tsukino is not born a hero and is, in fact, a rather ditzy and flawed character. Not unlike Joss Whedon’s hugely successful TV creation Buffy Summers – a character which was coincidentally in development around the same time as Sailor Moon – she is a girl who attempts to balance the difficulties of her normal life with being told she has a destiny and must get involved in occasional bouts of saving the world. Put simply, Usagi is a normal girl trying to make sense of a confusing world around her – something which is no doubt instantly appealing to youngsters and teenagers going through exactly the same thing in their own lives.
A lasting legacy
Such themes are essentially universal issues which pretty much all of us have to deal with at some point or another and, as long as people are facing those problems, fictional icons like Sailor Moon and many more are sure to be a source of both excitement and comfort.
The 25th anniversary of the anime is undoubtedly a time to reflect on the issues which make the show so great, as well as to look back on its incredibly impressive legacy. Considering its significant cultural impact, it is hard to argue against the prospect of people once again talking it up in another 25 years.