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Wednesday: [w] Losing Sailor Moon

Tom Spurgeon remarked yesterday, in passing, that rights to the English-language Sailor Moon manga have lapsed (it's not clear to me whether Tokyopop owned blanket English rights, or just those to that language in certain territories; I never bought that version, because I was following the French release instead -- if anyone knows, I'd be curious). He finds it remarkable because Sailor Moon was very much responsible for helping to capture the publisher's substantial female audience, but that seems to be it.

I find myself stung a bit harder by the news. This is the last bit of Sailor Moon to disappear from the North American market, and, so far as I can make out, it's one more aspect of the property's removal from the world outside Japan. (Or, at least, the world outside Asia. I keep casual tabs on European translations; French and German manga and anime are pretty much unavaiable, for example.) Pioneer (now Geneon) Entertainment scored a major coup a few years back by getting the R1 video/DVD rights to the middle two TV series and the three films -- both dubbed and in Japanese, which was huge at the time -- but those rights have since reverted. ADV Films, who did quite well out of selling the highly edited US dub's first two seasons to little kids, got a very short-term license to produce uncut boxed sets of those shows (minus one episode); those boxes had barely hit the market before, so far as anyone can make out, production company Toei grabbed the license back.

All of this coincided with the production of a live-action television series, which I've discussed here before.

Much of what follows is a combination of memory-reliance and speculation on my part; use all the salt you can, because I'm spouting here:

The live-action Sailor Moon was almost certainly intended for localized release in several territories, much like the Power Rangers franchise and other (less successful) sentai formula exports. My understanding has generally been that a combination of lackluster performance and royalty disputes with creator Naoko Takeuchi have both prevented this effort and contributed to Toei's clawback of the anime licenses; I could be wrong, though.

Sailor Moon, like many Japanese children's franchises destined for heavy export, is problematic for its older, geeky fans. It exists to sell toys, in whatever form it takes -- artistic considerations are secondary. It gets repackaged, cut down, and otherwise made palatable for children in whatever country it goes to; controversial elements are altered as needed. While, over the years, these alterations have generally been to individual characters (effeminate gay men become women, lesbians become friends or cousins, and -- in the case of the Sailor Starlights in Italy -- characters who shift genders between mundane and magical identities are instead replaced by their "identical twin sisters from another dimension"), it's quite possible that other incarnations of Sailor Moon were being pulled outside Japan so as to make sure that an eventual live-action version tailored to each market would be seen as definitive. Even within Japan, DVD releases of the original anime had ground to a halt.

Now, this might not necessarily affect the Kodansha-published manga -- Toei doesn't have any particular stake in that, to the best of my knowledge, and -- aside from fannish gossip -- the average layperson can't really know how the balance of power works between those two companies, Takeuchi, and Bandai (who handle toys and stage musicals). That said, one of the more interesting things to come out alongside the live-action show was a revised edition of the manga, in wideban format, with minor alterations to the text, new covers, fewer total volumes (there's been concatenation), and some revised artwork. I can certainly conceive of a situation where Kodansha and/or Takeuchi would want this to be released alongside the localized live-action shows, possibly with another publisher in, at least, North America (where the market has changed drastically since the manga was originally licensed out), but then didn't see it as feasible to carry out [re]negotiations. I'm also not prepared to rule out the possibility that someone else has the rights to the new, shiny manga and just hasn't made an announcement yet -- Anime Expo and Otakon are still coming up, and we do tend to hear about interesting acquisitions there.

Either way, I should probably go pick up Warriors of Legend before I babble more about Sailor Moon.

Posted by Wednesday Burns-White at June 22, 2005 6:08 PM


Comment from: PatMan posted at June 22, 2005 6:45 PM

The really sad part is the number of fans who get so confused over the Starlights. It's simple people: They are women who use magical illusions to disguise themselves as men. Gasp. How shocking and confusing. Now please stop with the convoluted explanations.

Also, lets hope someone else picks up the rights in the US for the cartoons. I never bought them on DVD because the prices were outrageous. $100 a season? Crazy.

Comment from: Wednesday posted at June 22, 2005 6:53 PM

The ADV sets could be had at significantly below retail cost, especially immediately following the license curtailment (prices dropped to $45 in several places). Also, given the length of each season, even full retail for the Geneon thinpak sets wasn't unreasonable for the market (but who pays full retail for anime DVDs anymore?).

The disguise explanation strikes me as appropriate for the manga, but I always got the impression that the change was a little more profound in the anime continuity. Either way, the lengths to which people would go to ignore the whole Haruka/Michiru thing... that was sadder. Way sadder.

Comment from: quiller posted at June 22, 2005 7:42 PM

I am somewhat bugged by the effeminate male villains in Anime and Manga. I wonder if there aren't some signals that register to Japanese but not to gaijin.

I was reminded of this when I recently picked up the first couple of books in Inu-yasha. While I've heard a fair bit of scorn for this series, I am a Ranma fan and a Maison Ikkoku fan, so I thought I should at least take a look at Inu-yasha. But I will note that despite having read enough Rumiko Takahashi that I should have a pretty good eye for her style, and having seen many many characters what with the martial art of the week in Ranma, I still registered Inu-yasha's brother as a female until the first time Inu-yasha actually calls him brother. And this wasn't a character where Rumiko looked like she was trying to be confusing.

Perhaps if I were Japanese I could immediately see that no woman would wear a Kimono like that, or pick up some other signal, but it seems like after this many years of watching and reading this stuff I should have a handle on this by now and not keep going "that's a guy?".

Comment from: gwalla posted at June 22, 2005 8:33 PM

Four letters: H F I L

Comment from: Prodigal posted at June 23, 2005 12:29 AM

I think what really happened to the manga rights is that one actress with teh gigantic mouth ate them.

Comment from: Merus posted at June 23, 2005 5:40 AM

There are stage musical rights?

Oh, boy, I want them. Just as a conversation piece. "Yeah, those are the rights to a Sailor Moon stage musical."

Comment from: Doug posted at June 23, 2005 5:56 AM

They'll be back, just you wait. The moment some bright person in Mattel's marketing thinks up Sailor Moon Barbie™, you'll see DVD's on the shelves.

Unless, of course, that bright person in Mattel's marketing has someone explain things like the meaning of a small rainbow emanating from a character's crotch... No, never mind. Considering that "identical sibling from another dimension" explanation they managed to wedge in to serve the market's need, things like that won't stand in the way.

Re-reading the above, I now have an uncomfortable sense of deja vu.

The Insensitive Chauvinistic Guy part of me also has more than a passing interest in that lesbian relationship amongst some of the Sailors and a wistful desire that a more faithfully translated version of the series might show up as mature material on something like "Adult Swim." Hey, it might even beat out "Aqua Team Hunger Force."

Comment from: gwalla posted at June 23, 2005 6:20 PM

That's what doujinshi are for, Doug.

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