‘Sailor Moon’: Serena’s arrival 20 years ago changed anime

March 08, 2012 | 2:36 p.m.
sailormoon1 Sailor Moon: Serenas arrival 20 years ago changed anime

Sailor Moon and her teen pals battle evil in the popular '90s TV series. (DIC Entertainment)

This post has been corrected, as detailed below.

Twenty years ago this week, a new face debuted on Japanese television: ditzy, often klutzy, the 14-year-old Serena had a disdain for homework, often overslept and seemed forever hungry, especially for desserts — hardly a prepossessing heroine.

But Serena’s arrival on “Sailor Moon,” based on the manga by Naoko Takeuchi, would alter the course of animation and fandom on both sides of the Pacific. The manga and the original 43-episode program “Bishojo Senshi Sera Mun” (variously translated as “Pretty Soldier, Guardian” or “Scout, Sailormoon”) spawned sequels, movies, video games, stage musicals, a live-action TV show and countless licensed products, from dolls to Cosplay costumes. “Sailor Moon” also sparked an interest in shojo (girls’) manga and anime in America.

Serena thinks of herself as the ordinary girl she appears to be until the talking cat Luna explains she’s really the Moon Princess, whose mother arranged for her and her protector-friends to be reborn in the future, away from the evil forces of the Dark Kingdom. (Serena’s name, Usagi or “Rabbit,” emphasizes her link to the moon; in Japanese folklore, there’s a Rabbit, rather than a Man in the Moon.) With Luna’s help, Serena re-discovers her long-lost friends: Amy, Mina, Raye and Lita are Sailors Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter. Also on hand is Serena’s heartthrob Darien, who appears as the debonair Tuxedo Mask. Later in the series, they’re joined by Sailors Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, and Serena’s future daughter, the ultra-cute Rini.

sailor moon copyrigh2f9b14 Sailor Moon: Serenas arrival 20 years ago changed anime

(Naoko Takeuchi / Kodansha USA Publishing)

The Sailor Scouts must defeat a variety unsavory villains, whose schemes involve pillaging the delicate feelings of others to gain energy and power for their dark overlords. Professor Tomoe and his assistant Kaorinite unleash shape-shifting “daimons” to steal the crystalline hearts of the pure. When the eerie Dead Moon Circus appears in Tokyo, Ringmaster Zirconia sends out the Amazon Trio to find a “mirror of beautiful dreams” that will enable them to capture the magical Pegasus.

The series presents a message of female empowerment in a candy-colored wrapper. When Serena makes her transition to her alter-identity Sailor Moon (a sequence as essential to every episode as Clark Kent ducking into a phone booth to emerge as Superman), she keeps her mini-skirted schoolgirl’s uniform, which resembles a sailor suit, and acquires gloves, a tiara, a magic wand and high-heeled boots on her impossibly long legs: Supergirl meets Heidi Klum, with a stripper’s version of Shirley Temple fashions. But when she announces to malefactors, “For love and justice, I am the pretty sailor-suited soldier Sailor Moon! In the name of the moon, I will punish you!” it’s no idle threat. Even the dashing Tuxedo Mask sometimes needs rescuing.

“We believe that part of the lasting appeal of ‘Sailor Moon’ comes from the empowerment that it provides,” says Yasumasa Shimizu, President of Kodansha USA Publishing, which publishes the English translation of the manga in America. “It is a story that encourages young people to stand up for themselves, be independent, and fight for what is right. Sailor Moon’s journey is one of friendship, determination, magic and love.”

Like many classic fairy tales, the stories show seemingly frail young girls drawing on hidden reserves of power to defeat an array of powerful villains from the Dark Kingdom. Takeuchi had originally planned the manga as a brief, 14-chapter tale, but it proved so popular her editors convinced her to expand it to 52 chapters. In Japan, the anime enjoyed a similar popularity and helped to revitalize the “magical girl” genre.

Until the animated “Sailor Moon” appeared in the U.S. in 1995, there was little interest in anime series aimed at girls. Although DIC substantially reworked the storylines to make them more appropriate for younger viewers, the program proved popular enough to compel its young female audience to buy the manga, DVDs and related products. Many of these girls hadn’t frequented comic book stores or the small import shops that deal in anime paraphernalia. But as American girls shared “Sailor Moon” with their friends, the audience grew rapidly, leading to the release of more shojo series and a boom in anime fandom among girls and young women.

Frederik Schodt, the author of “Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics,” comments, “I remember going to anime conventions in the U.S. and seeing lots of little girl fans in ‘Sailor Moon’ outfits—and lots of big, burly middle-aged men wearing them for fun. It was proof to me that Japanese animation had really gone completely, absolutely mainstream. I also marveled at how entertainment properties can be reinterpreted in completely novel ways across cultures, and provide even more entertainment than the creators ever imagined.”

The influence of “Sailor Moon” can be seen on numerous series involving magical girls, from “Fushigi Yugi: The Mysterious Play” and “Cardcaptor Sakura” in Japan to “The Powerpuff Girls” in the U.S. In the current best-selling fantasy-adventure “Fairy Tail,” the redoubtable wizard Erza dons her magical armor in a transition scene that recalls Serena in “Sailor Moon.” Never underestimate the power of a pretty girl in a sailor suit.

For the record, 8:55 p.m., March 8.: An earlier version of this post said Serena’s future daughter was named Chibiusa. In the U.S. version of “Sailor Moon,” she was named Rini.

— Charles Solomon


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81 Responses to ‘Sailor Moon’: Serena’s arrival 20 years ago changed anime

  1. GoodbyeNavi says:

    Sailor Moon…my very first anime. When I watched it, I had no idea it was an anime. I knew that it was different from the other "cartoons" but I had no idea how different. I looked forward to every episode and it leaves a fond memory of childhood.

  2. Todd says:

    "Until the animated “Sailor Moon” appeared in the U.S. in 1995, there was little interest in anime series aimed at girls."

    PLEASE! Do some research. It was 10 years earlier that Harmony Gold brought Macross, Southern Cross, and Mospeada to the USA as Robotech. The romances involved within these shows sparked a lot more interest in girls/women than Sailor Moon did (unless you were under 7)

  3. prettysoldier.net says:

    I would say that Sailormoon sparked interest in anime regardless of gender worldwide. It was probably one of the first anime to be translated and distributed in so many languages.
    Everybody underestimates the caliber of Sailormoon and just how much it changed the view of anime around the world.

  4. draconicsoul says:

    You use the English name Serena, but the Japanese name Chibiusa. For consistencies sake, you could have at least used Rini, her dub name.

  5. Moonlight says:

    "Serena" didn't arrive until 1995. Her name is Usagi, not Serena. Serena is her English adaptation name. Since we are celebrating 20 years of the original (Japanese) version of Sailor Moon, her name is Usagi. Also "senshi" doesn't translate to scout.

    Research please.

  6. @curdey says:

    @Todd No, I really don't think so, not in the mainstream – Sailor Moon, along with Dragon Ball Z were probably the two pioneering anime television series that brought this sort of Japanese pop culture into the Western mainstream. Sailor Moon is still one of my favourite anime of all time, it's forever part of my growing up and I still am to this day a huge fan! Long live Princess Serenity!!

  7. MannyS. says:

    Sailor moon was infact my very first anime show that appeared in fox long ago. that got me into other anime’s such as dragonball z, gundam, and many other anime shows. so sailor moon was my inspiration into loving anime :) happy 20th anniversary sailor moon and to thank naoko takuechi into bringing all of us such a joyful anime that we love and hopefully will come back as strong as ever :)

  8. Argo says:

    I have been a huge Sailor Moon fan since i was in high school and to this day i am still a huge mega fan :-),I hope they release the series back in the USA soon.Its too bad that there was nothing done more in Japan for the 20th anivers.

  9. Gigi says:

    You forgot to mention sailor Saturn who also happens to be my fav! I used to be OBSESSED with sailor moon when it came out. I had all the dolls, toys, movies, cards and I'd record each episode on a videotape! I'm 21 now and still say sm is my favorite cartoon and anime.

  10. Yen says:

    The first season was 46 episodes in Japanese and 40 episodes in the US version.. Unsure of where you got the number 43 from.

  11. Chris says:

    Um, while it seems DiC targeted a younger audience in America (as many people claim), in reality, the show was always a kid show in Japan. Only the manga was teen-oriented.

  12. Travis says:

    Next time you write an article about the history of a franchise, please use the correct, original names for the characters. "Serena" was the name of Usagi Tsukino in the absolutely terrible, highly edited English dub (which is NOT 20 years old) and is in no way her official or actual name. It just takes a little bit of research to get it right. Shameful for the L.A. times.

  13. Mocha says:

    Why is the word Japanese being censored on this board?

  14. sailor scout dad says:

    My first anime was in the '60s (Gigantor). When Sailor Moon and the rest of the Sailor Scouts came to American TV my daughter was 8 years old, and yes had to have all the "stuff". Happy anniversary Sailor Moon.

  15. someone says:

    You guys forgot about Sailor Saturn, the Soldier of Death!

  16. Tu N. says:

    Why are the first three letters of "Japan" and "Japanese" replaced with asterisks throughout these comments?

  17. Oksana says:

    Sailor Moon is great anime! But in my country Sailor Moon did not return( I am from Russia, I am 15. I love Sailor Moon for 10 years…
    When Sailor moon come back into Russia??? We want it very much! it is classic. Everybody know about Sailor Moon and remembered about her with nostalgia. We want action figures, magazines, T-shirt… When?

  18. MahouShoujoAK91 says:

    SailorMoon brought me to become fond of Magical Girl anime and manga series of this type. The first time I saw it I was 4-5 years old but I didn't care too much. But then in 2001 there was a period I started to like drawing and then I loved anime style. That summer, I saw again on TV some SailorMoon episodes and fell in love with it. Then I knew other stories like that and I loved also those. Now I am "in love" with this anime/manga genre from about 11 years (now I am almost 21), and I also like some other manga and anime, it is my bigger passion and wouldn't change it with nothing else!

  19. John says:

    Since the 20th anniversary refers to the Japanese version and not the English language release, this article should be edited to convey the Japanese names.

  20. Alwyn Kanner says:

    Though I highly appreciate that this was written and published since I love Sailor Moon; i have to say that I am disappointed with some of the inaccuracies being that this is the 20 year anniversary of the Japanese Anime and it would be more authentic to include the Japanese story line and character names. Also, this comment: "When Serena makes her transition to her alter-identity Sailor Moon … she keeps her mini-skirted schoolgirl’s uniform, which resembles a sailor suit, and acquires gloves, a tiara, a magic wand and high-heeled boots on her impossibly long legs: Supergirl meets Heidi Klum, with a stripper’s version of Shirley Temple fashions." Firstly, Usagi's School uniform is not short skirted, it's about knee length. Second, and most important, it the comment about a strippers version of Shirley Temple fashions. I feel that this is highly inappropriate and somewhat insulting. Sailor moon is supposed to be cute and even sexy, but to categorize her senshi uniform as a strippers outfit is taking it to far especially considering the demographic that the series was geared for, namely pre-teens and teenagers. I just ask that the wording be considered when saying things like that.

  21. Karen says:

    I loved this show, growing up and still do now. However, i wish for it to be re-dubbed by FUNimation with the character's original names like Dragon Ball Z. I would love it to be aired on Teennick too raher than just the FUNimation channel like Fairy Tail. :D

  22. unique says:

    wow i had no idea that sailormoon was made 20 years ago i remeber 9 years ago i would watch it on tv but i never thought that is would go up to 200 episodes.it was my first anime and once a year i would watch every single episode.
    ~p.s. SAILORMOON is #1 and FAIRY TALE is AWSOME

  23. Wilson14 says:

    I watched the original back in '92 and enjoyed its release on TV in the states in '95. Glad to see an appreciation of the show. It was one of those landmarks of anime in television like Star Blazers, Robotech, Speed Racer, Kimba, and DragonBall Z.

  24. @SactoMan81 says:

    In many ways, "Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon," as the series is known in Japan, literally changed not one, but TWO industries in Japan altogether: manga publishing and anime on television. The reason was simple: it was one of the very first series where the plot progression was closely linked between the manga version from Kodansha, anime version from Toei Animation/Asahi Broadcasting, and even related toy sales from Bandai. Because combining the classic "mahou shoujo" (magical girl) concept with Toei Company's own "Super Sentai" live action series concept was so revolutionary, the result was extremely profitable for Kodansha, Toei Animation and Bandai–so much so that the creator of the manga series, Naoko Takeuchi, was for a time between 1994 and 1997 one of the highest-earning persons in all of Japan! (Takeuchi-san became almost as famous as Akira Toriyama and Rumiko Takahashi in that time period–and Toriyama-san and Takahashi-san were extremely famous at that time for "Dragon Ball" and "Ranma 1/2" respectively.)


  25. Wilson14 says:

    "It was one of those landmarks of anime in television like Star Blazers, Robotech, Speed Racer, Kimba, and DragonBall Z."

    Almost forgot: 'Pokemon' also belong on that list too.

  26. Todd says:

    Here's another difference between the original and the translation. Sailors Pluto and Uranus were LOVERS, not sisters or cousins. Just to show you how much was edited out when they kiddified it.

  27. Jack says:

    Female empowerment? Really? It's a cartoon, where her magical cat and friends go die in Antarctica. Then she is treated like dirt by her boyfriend, while she's all co-dependent.

  28. Wilson14 says:

    Wikipedia: " The anime has been cited as reinvigorating the magical girl genre by adding dynamic heroines and action-oriented plots. After its success, many similar titles immediately followed. Magic Knight Rayearth, Wedding Peach, Nurse Angel Ririka SOS, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Fushigi Yuugi and The Vision of Escaflowne all owe much of their basis to the popularity of Sailor Moon. Sailor Moon has been called 'the biggest breakthrough' in English dubbed anime up until 1995, when it premiered on YTV, and 'the pinnacle of little kid shojo anime'. Matt Thorn notes that soon after Sailor Moon, shojo manga began to be featured in book shops, as opposed to fandom-dominated comic shops. It is credited as the beginning of a wider movement of girls taking up shojo manga. Gilles Poitras defines a 'generation' of anime fans as those who were introduced to anime by Sailor Moon in the 1990s, noting that they were both much younger than the other fans and also mostly girls." So debate the legacy of the Sailor Moon English dub with Wikipedia. The news today on Sailor Moon's status is that the Manga is currently ranked as number 2 in Graphic Novel in U.S. bookstores, and the anime has been re-licensed (2010 – 2012) in some over seas markets like Portuguese television, Albania, Italian television (again), the Philippines, Hong Kong, Poland, Israel . . . and it will soon debut in Africa. There seems to be a revival going on. :)

  29. Mini says:

    Why the HECK is this article going on and on with English names? The original version is so much more epic and amazing then that (now what I consider drek and just plain evil) dub I watched as a child. I'm also annoyed that it actually translated "senshi" to "scout" and not "soldier".
    What? Really? No, no, no! I'm sorry, but that's very wrong! Scout was just a made up term the dub used. Not an accurate translation at all! All that said, it's nice the article made the effort to remember SM's 20th anniversary, so I do say thanks for that.

  30. Yolanda C says:

    Sailor Moon is still my favorite anime. I loved it then and I love it now. I'd seen some other animes before then and I've definitely seen numerous shows since, many of which I've enjoyed and consider myself a fan of, but Sailor Moon has never stopped being my favorite. It's not simply nostalgia either. I still enjoy the characters, emotion and the story. I've started re-watching recently and I admit I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed the music until I heard it again.

  31. Joyce says:

    Sailor Moon will always be my favorite series. I will show it to my children!

  32. DA Carter says:

    I don't know about this article about Sailor Moon changing anime… There was Astro Boy back in 1963, Gigantor in 1966, Speed Racer in 1967, Battle of the Planets (G-Force) in 1978 and the 1980's had so many anime… Force Five in 1980, Thunderbirds 2086 in 1983, Tekkaman the Space Knight in 1984, Voltron: Defender of the Universe in 1984, TranZor Z in 1985, Macron 1 in 1985, Robotech in1985, Captain Harlock and the Queen of 1000 Years in 1985 and Saber Riders and the Star Sheriffs in 1987… I loved the 1980's anime cartoons and the toy's were still metal not this plastic crap… I first fell in love with anime watching reruns of Astro Boy, Gigantor, Speed Racer and Battle of the Planets (G-FORCE)… My favorites 1980's anime were Voltron had all the toy's, TranZor Z had this one to and Robotech had some of the toy's but not all of them…

  33. Dale Husband says:

    You seem to have overlooked Star Blazers (aka Space Battleship Yamoto) and how influential it was in both Japan and the USA long before Sailor Moon came along. The Japanese original came out in the 1970s and the English dub in the 1980s. I watched it as a child and loved it. By the time Sailor Moon came to America, I was an adult and actually thought it was silly. Star Blazers was not nearly so girly and appealed more to boys.

  34. Kim says:

    Dear LA Times- If you're going to talk about the 20 year anniversary of Sailor Moon, that's the original manga. Also, "Supergirl meets Heidi Klum, with a stripper’s version of Shirley Temple fashions"? Could you possibly be anymore offensive? Well, actually, yes, you could and did by using the English dub names. The English dub of the anime wasn't released until 1995, three years *after* the original story was released. The English dub also seriously over-Americanized the series and tried to hide any and all shreds of the fact that the show takes place in Japan. I'm going to guess that the writer of this article either never watched the original version and only watched the dub or didn't watch either.

  35. Cece says:

    I like how everyone is complaining about most of the 'facts' they may be mixed up between japanese and american facts(i guess) but shouldn't it be more about 'Yay Sailor Moon!' then 'Hey thats wrong, thats wrong, and thats wrong'?

  36. Kat Nelson says:

    Also, the series was 5 seasons and 200 episodes long.

  37. @DENelson83 says:

    Been a fan of SM for 16½ years, and still goin' strong! I will be a moonie for the rest of my days.


  38. Wilson14 says:

    To DENelson83: awesome. Also, I want to mention that the English dubbed version made many people aware of, and fans of, Sailor Moon in North America when people had no idea the show was going on in Japan in the early 90's. People forget that if it wasn't for the English dubbed version, which had to be not only interesting enough to hook the American viewer, but also had to go through American television Standards and Practices review boards, that Sailor Moon might not ever been noticed or heard of by the majority of Sailor Moon fans. So sure, go after the original Sailor Moon subtitled and uncut (as we all like to see). However, remember that the tree had grown from the seed so don't condemn the English dubbed so easily after what it accomplished in North America for a lot of fans.

  39. Eternal Enchantix says:

    True words… Sailor Moon would have never been a smashing success had the English dub not been made. I’ve never watched the original Japanese version, but I’m dying to though coz I believe sticking to the original is best. And also, Usagi is the true identity of Serena Tsukino, since it was made in Japan. Can’t get that name outta my head… Usagi Tsukino… Usagi Tsukino…

  40. joe says:

    people wonder would sailor moon return and would there be a live action version & is it possible to do crossover with other manga & anime' the will soon find out.

  41. Jill says:

    I have been watching Sailor Moon for over 25 years now, since it is not on TV anymore. It is good to own the original DVDs, because they are hard to find. Amazon has a full complete collections of the DVDs of Sailor Moon! I liked the animation of the series as well. I always thought it was American-Made cartoon in the beginning. Sailor Moon is the female series for girls which is similar to the boys theme of Power Rangers. Color outfits, super powers, creepy monsters, arch villains, it is a great show! If you like Power Rangers, you will love Sailor Moon!

  42. SMoonForever says:

    Sailor moon was the very first anime I ever watched and it introduced me to anime. When I was around 6-7, I used to wake up every Sat morning at 7am just to watch it on Fox Kids because that was the only time it was on..

    Sailor moon was my childhood, literally. I’m 17 now and I’m still as big a fan as I was back then!! I grew up with the dub, though.

    It brings back so many memories for me :’)

    I’m so happy to hear about a ‘revival’ of some sort, but it’s probably gonna be years until it makes its way to the UK. :/

  43. melissa says:

    In a lot of ways sailor moon has made a good impact of my life I got my very first card at 14 *to this very day I still have my very first card* when I was in the 8th grade I told my friends if I ever had a daughter I would name her serenity regardless of what she looked like my friends looked at me like I was a total nutter. When my oldest son brandon was 2 1/2yrs old he says to me ‘mommy when are you going to die so I can have all your sailor moon cards and porcelain dolls’ I looked at him and I said to him ‘if mommy ever gives you a brother or a sister you’re going to be one disappointed boy’ sure enough when he turned 4yrs old I gave him a brother shortly after that I became preggo with my daughter to my delight my daughter was a gorgeous north american version of usagi she not only shares her personality with usagi I’ll let you all be the judge and let me know what you think. Also is there anyone here selling or trading cards and a few more items

  44. Chris says:

    All the English dub haters need to go home now, and leave us dub fans be. Your derogatory statements and behavior are posing a serious risk to the series' return. Just because this is the 20th anniversary of the original series doesn't mean we dub fans can't celebrate.

  45. lorenzo says:

    Sailor Moon as actually the least intelligent, least attractive one of the five scouts, lol.

  46. @Ascalon8 says:

    Oh please. If there is anything that truely deserves this recognition, it's Hayao Miyazaki

  47. SailorMercury says:

    I have all the japanese sailor moon toys they are amazing so is the new line of stuff for adults in Japan can't wait for the new anime and new toys !!

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