Anime has had a following in North America for some time. One of the earliest releases was Astro Boy, made available via syndication. As time progressed, more series would be brought over. It was possible to find Speed Racer and a heavily edited Science Ninja Team Gatchaman released as Battle of the Planets on the airways, filling in time after school and on the weekends. However, anime, in general, was still a niche interest. University students and tech industry workers, both having access to Usenet, could get details about series available and how to get a copy, via means both legal, such as the rare licensed series, and extra-legal, through the passing around of fansubs.

It is possible that the release of Akira to specialty and repertory theatres in 1988 ramped up interest. Akira presented a new world, a new form of animation, to a larger audience, getting people’s attention. Two years later, Saban Entertainment brought over Kyatto Ninden Teyandee (Cat Ninja Legend Teyandee), released as Samurai Pizza Cats, not because of the building anime interest but because if could be a competitor to Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles; the theme song admits to it with the line, “They’ve got more fur than any Turtle ever had.

Anime clubs grew. More series were licensed and some started to become available in more mainstream stores. The mid-Nineties saw the Eternal September in 1993, as the costs of home computing dropped to a point where a PC could be an expected appliance in a household, all university students had online access, and low-cost Internet access through BBSes, or Bulletin Board Systems, and commercial providers like CompuServe, Prodigy, and AOL. Anime fans could find each other through Usenet and BBS forums, making it easier to meet, promote, and exchange.

The mid-Nineties were also heydays of first-run syndication as networks and stations became 24/7 operations. Something had to fill that time, and if that filler was inexpensive, that would look even better in Accounting. To make animation inexpensive, start with something already animated. Voice work costs, but starting from scratch from concept, storyboards, editing, and animating, costs more in time and money. Anime has some interest that could be tapped, and dubbing an existing series solves the time and money problem.

In 1995, three series debuted on North American airwaves. Technoman, the Tekkaman Blade dub from Saban, didn’t gain much traction. The series was in a similar vein as Macross and its dub Robotech and as Gundam, though with fewer giant mecha. Funimation’s Dragon Ball dub, however, was appreciated both by pre-existing fans and by a new audience, and led to the follow up series, Dragon Ball Z being brought over. The third series was DiC’s Sailor Moon, a still-influential anime thirty years after Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon first aired in Japan. The latest series, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal started airing in 2014.

The original run of Sailor Moon ran sixty-five episodes, the perfect length for a series to be run five days a week for thirteen weeks before having to restart. The sixty-fifth episode was in the middle of the second part of what was Sailor Moon R, leaving the season unfinished. Adding to the confusion, American stations could wind up airing the series out of order. In Canada, the Canwest-Global network and the cable channel YTV, supported the series. YTV noticed the fandom, so worked with DiC to finish the series to satisfy the audience.

The series itself changed how magical girls anime and manga were done. Sailor Moon took a cue from series such as Kamen Rider and Gatchaman, with a team of magical girls. Each new senshi had her own introduction. Usagi is the first, running into a talking cat named Luna who provides her new charge with a magical wand that transforms Usagi into Sailor Moon. Luna moves in with the Tsukino household with no one saying a word, but that’s just Luna being a cat. Her first battle is against a monster created by one of Queen Beryl’s generals. With the aid of the mysterious Tuxedo Kamen, the monster is defeated.

Over time, Usagi meets her teammates. First is Ami, Sailor Mercury, a young woman focused on her studies to the point of not having friends. Usagi befriends her, then Luna discovers that Ami is Sailor Mercury. The pair fight against Beryl’s general Jadeite together until they run into Rei, a Shinto miko. Ami’s scans of Rei hint at her being one of Beryl’s generals, but Rei turns out to be Sailor Mars. The three of them are ultimately able to defeat Jadeite, in part by getting him to run over himself with a jet he was controlling.

The trio, with help from Tuxedo Kamen, battle the next of Beryl’s generals. The next senshi met is Makoto, a transfer student at Usagi’s school with a reputation and the size and ability to break most people in two. Naturally, Usagi befriends her. The same happens with Minaoo, Sailor Venus, with the added twist that she was working with her own talking cat, Artemis, to fight Beryl’s generals. However, during this time, Beryl manages to kidnap Tuxedo Kamen, brainwashing him to fight against Sailor Moon.

Ultimately, Sailor Moon and her friends go after Queen Beryl. The fight is brutal. Usagi begs her friends to not fight, knowing that if they do, they’ll die, but the rest of the team fights on for her. The final battle is won, not by force, but by love and compassion. Usagi is an unlikely heroine. She is clumsy, an admitted crybaby, the least likely person anyone would suspect of being a brave magical girl. Usagi’s strength, demonstrated through the season, is her capacity for love and compassion. She befriends everyone, no matter how stand-offish, odd, or scary they may be. Later seasons follow similar arcs. No matter how dire the situation, Usagi saves the world time and again not because of force, but from the power of love.

DiC was the studio to ultimately bring the series to an English audience, though AB Studio from France got the first dub into North America via Quebec. However, DiC wasn’t the only studio looking to bring Sailor Moon over to English audiences. Renaissance-Atlantic and Toonmakers also had their own plan for Sailor Moon. Instead of just dubbing and redoing the music, the two studios took the series name and created a new show, a mix of live action and animation. Clips of it leaked from a preview at a convention, but the full pilot has been found and placed on YouTube.

The recovered Toonmakers pilot, found in the Library of Congress.

The elements of Sailor Moon are there. The uniforms of the Princess Warriors, which itself is a very rough translation of bishoujo senshi, a close to the original’s. The transformation sequences from live action to animated follow the original’s, though only focusing on the last bit of them. The sailboards, though, are new. Personalities seem to get shuffled, with Sailor Jupiter picking up Ami’s. Usagi’s iconic odongo are gone, in part because of the difficulties in not just having that much hair but then getting the hair into round balls.

Some trappings also appear. Sailor Moon’s heart locket, used for transformations. Her tiara. The setting switches, though. Instead of Tokyo, the adaptation is set in a boarding achool, not named or given a location in the pilot. All the Princess Warriors are in the same school, where Rei and Minako went to different schools in the original. Some of the changes are to localize or Americanize the characters in an attempt to have the characters’ lives be relatable. Boarding schools don’t do that, but they do keep the characters close together instead of being spread through a suburb.

The backstory given pre-credits is more or less what was given in the original, though not completely accurate. The main difference is that Usagi was Queen Serenity’s daughter, heir to the Moon Kingdom, with the others being her guards and friends. Beryl’s attack on the Moon Kingdom forced Queen Serenity to send her people and her daughter to safety at the cost of her own life. Beryl, though, never used space ships. The battle was solely in the magical realm.

The pilot might have worked better as its own work instead of being tied to a pre-existing franchise. The live action portion, after some scrubbing of the Sailor Moon bits like the locket and possibly the cat, could work on its own. The accompanying animation would need to be redone to have new outfits for the Princess Warriors. The backstory would need a change to setup the series’ still allow for a battle between good and evil.

DiC ultimately won the license because the studio was willing to pay more. The rest is history, with the English dub inspiring young women to get into creative fields. The Renaissance-Atlantic/Toonmakers version might not have pulled in the same audience; the original Usagi and her English counterpart Serena brought an emotional level not normally seen in children’s animation.

This article was originally published at THE REMAKE ZONE.

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About The Author

Lost in Translation

By day, Scott Delahunt is an IT analyst, fixing problems and explaining operating systems for end users. By night, he takes his degree in Computer Science, his love of movies, his vast knowledge of tabletop gaming, his curiosity into how things work and becomes a geek!  Although he has nothing published professionally, Scott has written fanfiction, scripted an anime music video, play tested role-playing games, and applied his love of bad movies to Lost In Translation.  He has also helped put on an anime convention and organize bus trips to Anime North. In his spare time, he raises two cats to become Internet icons and maintains a personal blog, The Chaos Beast.