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The Fine Print
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All images for Sailor Moon © Naoko Takechi/Kodansha Toei Animation
The story of a magical-girl series that fought off bad ratings to become a media force to be reckoned with. By Corina Borsuk
Since its debut on U.S. television in 1995, Sailor Moon has had its share of failures and successes, sometimes disappearing from the airwaves for long stretches only to magically reappear. But despite its troubled history in the English-speaking world, or maybe because of it, fans of the series from all over banded together to save Sailor Moon from fading from the airwaves permanently.
Now it seems that all their hard work and faith has finally paid off. Not only is Sailor Moon a staple of the Cartoon Network's Toonami block, where new English-language episodes began airing in June, but Serena and her friends can be found in your local comic-book store and mall. Sailor Moon addicts can own translations of the manga, young adult novelizations, subtitled or dubbed versions of the three feature films, and domestic merchandise ranging from watches and T-shirts to lunch boxes.
The current Sailor Moon Renaissance didn't come easily, though. But what the show may have lacked in instant success, it made up for in dedicated fans that proved that television executives and advertisers do listen, if you speak loudly and often enough.
A TROUBLED PAST
Given the enormous popularity of Sailor Moon in Japan, it may have seemed like a sure thing that the series would do well in the English-speaking world, at least with its target audience of young girls. But things didn't happen quite as planned.
Bad luck befell Sailor Moon almost from the beginning. Unlike current anime-in-English shows like Digimon or Pokémon, which air on a specific network, Sailor Moon premiered as a syndicated show. This requires more work and less chance of profit.
With a network series, the network pays the producers for the show and does the rest of the work itself. With syndication, the series must be sold to various local television stations. Then, the syndicator has to sell advertising spots as well. The cost of each spot depends on how many stations and in what areas, known as markets, the show airs. Ratings, of course, are also important to advertisers, and having a good time slot is a key to good ratings.
All of this makes it extremely difficult for a syndicated series, especially children's programming, to make the kind of profit that syndicators and producers expect. Sailor Moon struggled through it all, from bad time slots to not being available in enough markets or the right kinds of markets. The series also suffered from internal disputes between Bandai, DiC, and Toei concerning merchandising rights, costing the show a major advertising sponsor in Bandai America.
It seemed as if this magical girl just couldn't catch a break. As a result, the show was canceled in 1996 after only one 65-episode season. But a dedicated group of fans stepped in to Save Our Sailors.
The Save Our Sailors (S.O.S.) campaign certainly wasn't the first of its kind, but it could be argued that it was one of the most successful. The Internet-based campaign gathered petitions from fans to chart the show's demographics and prove to industry executives that, despite the ratings, there were lots of Sailor Moon fans in North America. S.O.S. also instituted a unique effort to get advertisers' attention--a procott. Fans went out en masse to purchase Pop-Tarts®, one of the show's regular advertisers. That and the large volume of letters sent to local television stations convinced the Program Exchange to get the original 65 episodes back in syndication in 1997.
Continued letter-writing campaigns by S.O.S. and Sailor Moon's popularity on Canada's YTV eventually resulted in Irwin Toys sponsoring 17 new English episodes, completing the second-season series, Sailor Moon R. It also led to USA Network picking up the original 65 episodes. Unfortunately, this good fortune was short-lived. Several months after USA began airing Sailor Moon, ownership of the station changed hands and canceled almost all of the network's children's programming.
In the summer of 1998, three years after first debuting in syndication, Sailor Moon was picked up by Cartoon Network for its Toonami lineup. Several weeks after its debut, Sailor Moon was the highest-rated Toonami show. Finally, the Sailor Scouts had found a lasting home.
SAILOR MOON S AND SUPER S
Beginning in June, the Cartoon Network began airing the 38-episode Sailor Moon S series, introducing Sailors Uranus, Neptune, and Mini-Moon. The fourth season, Sailor Moon Super S, began airing in late September. In an unprecedented move, all of the episodes from both seasons will air, and Cartoon Network requested that the editing be kept to a minimum (which of course doesn't mean there isn't still some editing).
Although fans have been asking to see all 200 television episodes in English for some time, the new episodes have caused some controversy. A number of changes to both the Japanese version and the English version's own status quo have left some less than totally pleased. Almost all of the main voice-actors were recast, and in the English script the relationship between Sailors Uranus and Neptune was changed from being lovers to cousins. Other changes have met with less resistance, including the decision to keep the original Japanese background music.
With these third and fourth seasons doing so well on TV, it seems that the future could only get brighter for patient Moonies--and so it has. Following up on its success releasing the three Sailor Moon feature films, Pioneer will begin releasing the uncut Sailor Moon S series on video, with plans to continue into Super S, this spring, while ADV Films will begin releasing episodes of the first Sailor Moon series and Sailor Moon R, many of which have never before been released to tape.
All of this may leave you thinking that there's nothing new left, but that just isn't true. There is still Sailor Stars, the fifth television season, to be translated and the Super S Special, which may or may not be part of the Super S run on Cartoon Network, and the animated short entitled Amy's First Love (Ami's First Love) that aired in Japanese theaters with the Super S movie.
But you don't have to wait for the as-yet untranslated animation to keep the faith--there are the remaining installments of the manga; the original novelizations from TokyoPop.com; the role-playing game, new Button Men, and collectible card game from the Guardians of Order; plus trading cards, new action figures, and, we expect, plenty of other merchandise to come!