Naoko Takeuchi is a Japanese manga artist and writer. She has a degree in chemistry, and qualified as a pharmacist before submitting her work to manga publishers. Her early work was mostly romance-based, but she wanted to create a manga about female warriors and outer space – and her editor Osano Fumio suggested she put the girls in sailor suits (similar to the uniform Takeuchi had worn at high school).
After testing out the concept with a one-shot manga called Codename: Sailor V (which later become a popular serial in its own right), Takeuchi developed her idea into the science fantasy manga serial Sailor Moon, also known as Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon, depending on the translation.
This hugely successful sh?jo (aimed at teen girl readers) manga fused two popular genres: Magical Girl, and Sentai/Superhero Squad. Sailor Moon ran for 52 chapters between 1991-1997, and followed the adventures of Usagi, a teenage superhero who takes on the powers of Sailor Moon thanks to a talking cat, magical jewellery, and destiny. She is surrounded by her team, each of whom has their own magical super identity based on a planet (Sailors Mars, Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, Neptune Uranus and Pluto, because Pluto is totally a planet).
Sailor Moon mashed up science fiction, fantasy and mythological tropes, including astronomy, astrology, Geology, legends of ancient Japan, Greece and Rome, planetary romance, monster-of-the week, Arthuriana, time travel, alternate universes, and interplanetary battles. The success of the manga and the anime adaptation (which ran from 1992-1997, concurrent with the original books) served to boost the popularity of Japanese manga/anime art and stories in the West. However, the English translations left out a lot of Sailor Moon’s more subversive and interesting aspects, including the lesbian romance between Sailors Uranus and Neptune (who became cousins in the versions printed and screened in the US), and other queer/trans storylines.
Naoko Takeuchi herself rarely gives interviews, though when she does she is very gracious to her fans and grateful for (if a little bemused by) the longevity of her story’s legacy.
Osano Fumio, longtime editor of Sailor Moon, has been more forthcoming – one recent interview had him sharing the story of Takeuchi’s experimental art style, in which she not only used unusual colours, but also techniques such as collage, attaching beads and lace to her work, much to his anguish:
Osano: It was an extremely troublesome original manga for us (laughs). Which is to say, and this becomes a specialized discussion, but you can’t print illustrations with 3D objects attached with regular offset printing. You need to take a picture of the illustration, then print it using a manufacturing process where you circulate that photo in the printing press, so it’s an illustration that makes editors and print shops cry. On top of that, there’s the possibility that beads, etc will come plopping off when moving it, so it’s a pain to handle. Therefore, I pleaded “Please refrain from attaching 3D objects” with Mrs. Takeuchi several times, but she didn’t care (laughs). However, looking at it after several decades, each drawing is incredibly wonderful… Those illustrations made me cry at that time, but thinking back on it, I definitely feel that she was right.
Takeuchi often did not get her own way, hampered in her creativity by what was considered appropriate for the market – she originally wanted a pastel palette, and was firmly steered away from this. She wanted Usagi’s Sailor Moon identity to have silver hair instead of blonde, and was dissuaded because of the ‘grandma’ association with grey hair. Most notably, she longed to kill off her characters at the end of the series, and was talked off that ledge too, on the grounds that sh?jo had to have happy, fluffy endings. In the anime, the Sailor Guardians are killed in their final battle, but return to life, leading Takeuchi to complain that she hadn’t been able to do even that in the manga.
Sailor Moon is credited for its powerful influence on manga and anime culture, notably for reinvigorating the magical girl genre in the 90’s by showing how action and dynamic heroines could be a sympathetic combination with tales of romance and fantasy. In the West, it is credited with the popular influence of anime-style artwork, and also with a growing female readership of comics generally, and manga in particular – notably, the series was to be found in bookshops, not just comic shops, and led the way in making Japanese-style comics accessible to general readers.
While Sailor Moon’s feminism is often of the cutesy, Spice Girls/Girl Power variety, its hyper-feminine traits often made it more accessible to young women and girls than other, more traditional super hero stories. It’s important that Sailor Moon is as much about friendship, cute clothes and having fun as it is about fighting evil, saving the world, and so on. (It feels counter-intuitive but it is important to have stories that say you can be a soldier and be mega-girlie at the same time, because so often, fictional women are only allowed to fight or be powerful if they display traditionally masculine interests, while looking casually hot)
Even in the continuing genre of sh?jo and its Western equivalent, YA fiction, stories that are so completely about women and girls are rare, especially when those stories come with science fiction trappings. In the 1990’s, when Sailor Moon was powering its way across the world as a manga and as a cartoon, it was simply groundbreaking.
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