The cultural impact of Sailor Moon: How a '90s Japanese anime inspired generations of fans and spun into a global merchandising empire worth billions

The cultural impact of Sailor Moon: How a '90s Japanese anime inspired generations of fans and spun into a global merchandising empire worth billions
·7 min read
A production still from Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Eternal The Movie on Netflix
A still from "Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Eternal: The Movie," now streaming on Netflix. Netflix

Weekday afternoons were a sacred time growing up.

After school, in the late 1990s, I would rush to the nearest television and turn on Toonami to watch my favorite shows. Japanese anime was a huge portion of my media consumption growing up, and I had become enamored with a 14-year-old Japanese blond girl who fought against evil in the name of the moon - Sailor Moon.

I loved the imagery and the dramatic plots, living for climactic moments that required Sailor Moon (also known as Usagi Tsukino, or Serena, for American fans who grew up watching the dubbed series) and her fellow Sailor Soldiers to come together and save the day.

Many other girls like myself would eagerly tune in to see if the middle school-aged hero would be able to win the fight against her enemy and save the world, even if she spent a not insubstantial amount of time crying about her friends and her boyfriend, Mamoru (or Darien, for the English-dubbed series' viewers).

But the cultural takeover of the pretty soldier had only just begun.

Codename: Sailor V, Vol. 1 cover art
Cover art for the original "Codename: Sailor V" that later became Sailor Moon. Naoko Takeuchi/Kodansha Comics

What originated as a one-off Japanese comic named "Codename: Sailor V" by author Naoko Takeuchi, inspired by her interest in drawing manga and astrology, eventually became an entire universe she developed as a more in-depth serial for Nakayoshi, a monthly shōjo manga magazine.

Not long after, in 1992, the character leapt from the comic-book pages when Toei Animation premiered the first episode of the anime adaptation, called "Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon" in Japan, on TV Asahi.

By the late '90s, "Sailor Moon" had made its way to American viewers, like me, who were astonished by its distinctive visuals. Proving the endurance of the character, the younger generation would go on to have "Sailor Moon Crystal," a reboot of the '90s original that debuted back in 2014.

"Sailor Moon Crystal" stayed more faithful to the original manga's storylines than its TV predecessor. It brought new fans to the world of the Sailor Soldiers and reengaged old ones who had also read the books after watching the anime for years on screen.

'Sailor Moon' fandom is global and enduring

A production still from Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Eternal The Movie on Netflix
A still from "Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Eternal: The Movie," now streaming on Netflix. Netflix

"Sailor Moon" wasn't just a television series - it has become ingrained in '90s nostalgia and a critical part of the wave of anime domination over television. It would also eventually become one of the world's most visible fandoms and a global merchandising empire.

"When you talk to fans about why they're fans and why they stay fans, it's the stories," Peter Tatara, founder of Anime NYC, an annual three-day anime fan convention, told Insider. "And very often what you see in animated manga, it's that they're telling stories that audiences aren't typically finding in American pop culture."

The 2014 "Crystal" series (which came to Netflix on Thursday) allowed fans who grew up reading the comics to see those storylines come to life while inspiring new fans to become immersed in the characters with fresh eyes. Off-screen, the manga series was also relaunched in the US through Kodansha Publishing back in 2011, where it debuted as one of the best-selling franchises under their comic book imprint.

"We didn't see much manga that has the female characters as protagonists. Of course, we did have some romance manga that had the female characters supporting these boys," said Yae Sahashi, the vice president of sales and marketing at Kodansha, in an interview with Insider. "In the case of Sailor Moon, the focus is not only about the romantic elements, it also has these ordinary middle school girls trying to find themselves."

The merchandising opportunities were endless, and it didn't stop at the original dolls, wands, and other toys that were manufactured in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Makeup brands like ColourPop have capitalized on its enduring interest, releasing a Sailor Moon-inspired collection; streetwear brands like KITH also had their own capsule collections, with limited edition hoodies, crewnecks, and T-shirts depicting the show's characters. Etsy has countless stores featuring items from independent sellers inspired by the anime, offering everything from makeup brushes and fine jewelry to AirPod cases and a wooden music box playing the show's theme song.

A character that's remained this popular over the better part of three decades is incredibly lucrative.

In 2019, Universal Studios Japan unveiled an immersive 4-D movie experience and merchandise line that ran for the spring/summer season. In 2014, the Japan Times reported that the franchise had raked in an estimated $13 billion in revenue from worldwide merchandise sales as of 2014 - before the reboot had even premiered.

The commercialization of the popular series has also continued to rake in profits, with the highly anticipated "Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Eternal: The Movie" premiering on Netflix on June 3 after its release in Japan earlier this year. The two-part film, based on the SuperS 'Dream' saga, picks up where the "Sailor Moon Crystal" reboot left off in 2016.

Fans, both famous and not, love to pay homage to 'Sailor Moon' with cosplay and merchandise

Saweetie's Sailor Moon wallet, Lizzo and friends doing Sailor Moon cosplay, Stassie and friends doing Sailor Moon cosplay
Saweetie's Sailor Moon wallet, Lizzo and friends doing Sailor Moon cosplay, and Stassie and friends doing Sailor Moon cosplay. Instagram

While there are many fandoms out there, the Sailor Moon fandom is arguably one of the most visible. Celebrities from rapper Lizzo to influencer (and Kylie Jenner BFF) Stassie Karanikolaou love to cosplay manga-turned-anime, dressing as its iconic cast of characters.

The resurgence of Sailor Moon content on popular streaming services like Netflix has also influenced fans, like pop-culture journalist Victoria Johnson, to use their platform to create new projects around it. Johnson's Sailor Moon Fan Club podcast talks about different storylines and the discourse around the show, interviewing fans from authors and actors to fellow journalists.

"Between the ongoing battles with the villains and the day-to-day stories about romance and friendships, it was so fascinating. At the time, I'm not sure if I saw or watched anything like it before," Johnson told Insider of the origin of her Sailor Moon fandom in an email interview.

On a personal level, Johnson said she was also inspired to "be a better person" through watching Sailor Moon and her adventures.

"The characters are all about love and justice and struck a good balance between forgiveness without being taken advantage of. Usagi is so aspirational in her forgiveness for others and ability to follow 'not judging a book by its cover' with people," she added.

Sailor Moon Fan Club Podcast's cover art
Sailor Moon fan Victoria Johnson created her own podcast about the series. Sailor Moon Fan Club Podcast

Johnson particularly admires how unifying the fandom is, representative of so many different cultures, ages, and life experiences.

"It made me happy to know that all these incredible people from all walks of life had at least this one thing in common, and that's a love for Sailor Moon," she told Insider. "I thought it'd be fun to talk about our shared love for the show but also to show people how multifaceted the fandom is!"

Takechui's legacy, as Sailor Moon's creator, doesn't live on through merchandise and earnings - it shines the most when fans of every age still get excited as they hear the famous theme song or share images on social media cosplaying as their favorite characters. It lives in those who share their love of the show with their daughters, nieces, and other younger girls, to show them a series dominated by women who valued friendship and love above all else.

Read the original article on Insider

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