“Sailor Moon” started as a serialized manga anthology that ran from 1991-1997, written and illustrated by Naoko Takeuchi (“Toki☆Meca!”). Due to its immense popularity, it was adapted into an anime series in 1992 that ran until 1997. “Sailor Moon” did not premiere in North America until 1995 — however, the North American licensing and dub came with many unexpected changes.
One of the biggest and most evident changes was the Americanization of names. From the main characters to the villains, all their names were changed: Sailor Moon’s name changed from Usagi to Serena, Mercury’s from Ami to Amy, Mars’s from Rei to Raye, Jupiter’s from Makoto to Lita, Venus’s from Minako to Mina, Neptune’s from Michiru to Michelle, Uranus’s from Haruka to Amara and, lastly, Tuxedo Mask’s from Mamoru Chiba to Darien Shields. Apart from renaming characters, the American broadcasters also attempted to Americanize the show on a larger scale by removing many of the references to Japanese culture, both in the dub and in the animation itself. Kanji writing was edited out of the background of many frames, and shots of roads would even be flipped to match right-hand American traffic. Seemingly, the American version attempted to erase the series’s ties to Japan as a whole.
Other censored material was expected, such as nudity and violence. This aspect was very consistent. During the Sailor Scout transformation sequences, you can see silhouettes of their nude bodies. Those scenes would be reanimated to remove the definition on breasts, as well as make them smaller. This would also be done for the many bathtub scenes in the show. The water level would be raised or made more opaque to avoid showing the girls’ bodies. In terms of censoring violence, blood would oftentimes be edited out by changing the color from red to green. The dub would avoid using the word “death,” and the scenes portraying direct violence would simply be cut from the episode. These changes were more understandable, especially since “Sailor Moon” was being advertised as a kid’s show on channels like Cartoon Network, which at the time were airing shows such as “Powerpuff Girls” and “Dexter’s Laboratory.”
One of the most mentioned features when discussing the Western censorship of “Sailor Moon” is the erasure of the show’s queer characters. This was first done in the very first season with the characters Zoisite and Kunzite, who are a part of a group called Shitennou, or The Four Heavenly Kings, who all serve under Queen Beryl, a would-be conqueror of the Moon Kingdom. The original series heavily implied they had a romantic relationship. In the American version, Zoisite is changed from a male character to a female character — most likely in an effort to avoid backlash from parents for showing a gay relationship in a children’s show. This once again happened in season four with a character named Fish Eye. Fish Eye was a part of a group called the Amazon Trio. The three were originally all animals, but they were turned into humans by their leader in exchange for capturing a Pegasus that was hiding in people’s dreams. The original manga and anime features Fish Eye as a male character who dresses in a feminine way and pursues many men during their run in the show (it is unclear whether Fish Eye identifies as a woman). This was censored by giving Fish Eye a female voice actress and removing all references to Fish Eye being male.
Another significant example of censorship was the depiction of the relationship between two Sailor Scouts. In both the anime and manga, it is very clear that Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus, Michiru and Haruka, are in a romantic relationship. This relationship was censored in many other countries in different ways — in the U.S., their relationship was changed from being girlfriends to cousins. Yes, it is just as uncomfortable as it sounds. Other countries kept their status as a romantic couple but made Sailor Uranus a male character. This was also done with the Sailor Starlights. Many Western fans do not know about them because the season they premiered during was never dubbed. Fans theorize that this happened because the Sailor Starlights, Taiki Kou, Seiya Kou and Yaten Kou, present as male in their civilian form, but in their transformations become female. In reality, though, it was mainly due to licensing issues.
All of these things were changed, but why are they so important? To put it plainly, it is a disservice to both the fans of the series and the original work itself; censoring nudity or blood doesn’t affect much, but removal of entire scenes and drastic changes to character dynamics affect so much more than just the aesthetic: it takes away from the narrative and makes the show confusing at times. By limiting the story, it becomes a disservice to the original animators and Naoko Takeuchi. It’s also a disservice to a lot of Western fans of the series who were never able to get the full experience of the story. I personally never even realized the extent of censorship in the show until much later, when meme videos of the old dub started becoming popular on YouTube, showing the absurd lengths the American dub would go to censor violence and relationships. It was almost comical at times.
However, all is not lost: VIZ Media came out with a brand-new dub airing between 2014 and 2016. This new version kept the original Japanese names of the characters. Additionally, this time none of the content previously deemed to be “inappropriate” was cut. This includes the violence, blood and queer characters. Finally, those who can’t read subtitles or simply prefer dubs can watch Sailor Moon without fear they are missing out on anything from the series.
Daily Arts Writer K. Rodriguez-Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.