The Long and Winding Tale of Sailor Moon in the UK

I love Sailor Moon. I have just finished my third re-watch of the entire series, now given a full and uncut English dub by Viz Media. I am 29 years old and this is how I spend my evenings.

Like many children born in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was the perfect age to be completely obsessed by Pokémon when that first came to the West. We all played the games, collected the cards, did link cable trades on the playground, watched the cartoon on SM:TV…

My brother and I loved Dragon Ball Z on Cartoon Network, but there was this other channel we had available to us, by the name of Fox Kids. It sometimes broadcast animation that looked somewhat to Pokémon, along with my brother and I’s old favourites — Goosebumps, X-Men, Spider-Man, Power Rangers…

Then Sailor Moon came into the picture, and I was hooked.

Sailor Moon season 1 started airing on Fox Kids’ UK feed in 1999. For comparison, the US dub had been broadcast from 11th September 1995 to 3rd November 1995.

Season 2’s American dub started in November 1995 and ended in December 1998 – mainly because the network only had half of the episodes by broadcast time, and DIC had supposedly run out of money to dub the rest. It took a petition and a campaign where people bought Sailor Moon branded pop tarts to show support for the show (no, really) from an online fan group called Save Our Sailors (SOS) for the final half of the series to be aired on television.

Pop Tarts: the true saviours of the Crystal Kingdom. Image credit to Tuxedo Unmasked (linked herein).

This was a Pyrrhic victory, as unfortunately this SOS Brigade spammed DIC’s telephone and e-mail channels to the point where DIC (and lead Sailor Moon producer, Andy Heyward) began to break ties with the fandom they had previously been happy to support; and of course, when DIC started ignoring them, SOS changed tack and started harassing Bandai instead, with similar results. Buying up hundreds of pop tarts did nothing, either – as the money for dubbing the rest of the series was in fact secured by DIC thanks to a cash injection from the merchandise sales prior to the Kellogg’s Sailor Moon promotion.

I can’t go into the Cloverway dub of seasons 3 and 4, unfortunately, because it never aired over here in the UK… and this blog post is already getting long enough.

So, as things stood, Fox Kids UK presumably had 82 episodes across 2 seasons of Sailor Moon to broadcast in the UK. While there is no video footage whatsoever of the commercials, I do remember them hyping it up along with Digimon, which Fox Kids UK were also now broadcasting.

Part of the reason why Sailor Moon had well initially in the US was the fact that it had merchandise from Bandai and a range of dollar store looking Barbie dolls (sorry, I will never not be mad at how cheap these Irwin dolls look).

She sees you when you’re sleeping, and knows when you’re awake…

That wasn’t really in the case in the UK. We had the Irwin dolls – in fact, it was common to find a shrink-wrapped DVD of episode 1 of the DIC cut with your Sailor Moon doll – and a few of the toys from the show… and that was it. This is anecdotal, but while I remember this advert for the dolls, I don’t ever remember seeing the Moon Stick toys in places like Woolworth’s or Toys R Us. (Then again, I did grow up in the deepest backwoods of the West Country.)

Fox Kids ran the show for a while, but then they did a Legend of Korra, beating Nickelodeon like 10-15 years to the punch. Iconic.  For those of you who aren’t sure what I’m talking about, Nickelodeon tried to bury the sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender by changing its timeslot and only airing some episodes online. Sailor Moon didn’t do the latter, because, well, most of us were still using Real Player and that could only handle a few minutes of heavily pixelated video over a dial-up connection, and it would still be slow over broadband at the time. The point is, the show went from a coveted afternoon slot to 6.45am on Sundays. Yikes.

According to my research, Fox Kids UK started playing Sailor Moon in an early morning block once they had finished broadcasting the 82 episodes that they had towards the end of 2000.

Again, I cannot find any evidence online, so this is all anecdotal, but I do recall that Sailor Moon went from being paired with Digimon in the afternoons to being in the early morning block after only a short amount of time. When I say I am having trouble researching, I have used the Internet Archive to look up Fox Kids’ UK website as it was in the year 2000, but it is awkwardly coded in Flash and JavaScript and made my browser freeze when I tried to click open the homepage. I have also pored though every single Fox Kids UK upload on YouTube – many of these videos coming from television historians – and Sailor Moon does not appear in any of the channel promos.

There are forum posts and archived fan sites stating that Sailor Moon was no longer broadcast in the afternoon slot around the 12th episode of the second season – so episode 52 of the English cut, and episode 58 of the Japanese original.

I’m sorry that this is taking me on so many tangents – this is just how my brain works, and just how fragmented this search is. I have to rely on my own memory because there are no official sources besides mine and other fans’ memories.

Sailor Moon fans in the UK had petitioned Fox Kids to also broadcast the third season, and while we got a preview of “new episodes to come!” (sadly not on YouTube), there was nothing else after that.

Finally, Sailor Moon came to terrestrial television. In the UK, you had to have a satellite hook-up to receive Fox Kids. Satellite television back then was kind of a status symbol? I am not American, but I guess this was the same case with cable television. The UK had five television channels in the 1990s and Sailor Moon eventually aired on Channel 3/ITV in the early mornings.

The breakfast show back then was called GMTV, or Good Morning Television, and before they would get to the usual news bulletin and celebrity interviews, they would show some older cartoons as part of the ‘Up On The Roof’ block.

Here’s where things got a bit sticky.

GMTV only obtained the rights to around 10 episodes of the first season of Sailor Moon. They apparently tried to negotiate with Fox Kids to obtain more, but this just didn’t happen. Fox Kids sat on the rights, meaning that GMTV had no choice but to just repeat the same 10 episodes over and over. Despite this, the single volume DVD releases put out by MVM still bore a ‘AS SEEN ON GMTV’ graphic on the bottom corner… even though MVM put out episodes that were definitely not a part of the GMTV roster.

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Well, I suppose they can technically say ‘as seen’ on GMTV… since at least three characters appear in the first ten episodes of season 1.

Speaking of MVM…!

MVM are an anime distribution company who are still going strong. Some of their most recent releases include Umaru-chan, Cells at Work, Made in Abyss, Land of the Lustrous… but back in the early 2000s, they put out single volumes of the DIC version of Sailor Moon.

Unfortunately, it would lead them to near bankruptcy. MVM were able to release 24 volumes on DVD, at around 5-6 episodes each.

There are no numbers I could find for the sales, but… Jerome Manzandarani, the head of MANGA UK, another distributor, is on record as saying: “I would rather slam the office door on my testicles than ever licence Sailor Moon” and “I can assure you that the only way we’ll license [Sailor Moon] is if the finished DVDs are given to us free of charge.” Geez.

For the record, Mazandarani has also said that any distributor would love to have Sailor Moon, but there are some significant roadblocks in the way. To be continued later in the article…

I e-mailed Tony Allen at MVM as well, who was kind enough to reply the same day and inform me that Sailor Moon was a sub-licence from the US distributor, that it did indeed sell poorly and the company would never licence it again. There are also Tweets from MVM throughout the years repeating the same assertion, and an interview given for Neo Magazine in 2005:

“The perception of Sailor Moon as a successful franchise in the UK sadly never proved the case for us in terms of DVD sales,” Tony Allen from MVM told us. “If anything it was lucky to cover costs. We hoped that it would cross over to a mainstream children’s audience but the failure of major retailers to support this anime killed off any such hopes. In one case a retailer stocked the toys with episode one shrink-wrapped but refused to carry the DVDs.”

Of course, the American version of the anime never did the series any favours – with so much cut out, many fans were aware they weren’t being fed the ‘authentic’ Sailor Moon experience, and balked at the dubbed version on offer. “We know anime fans felt let down by the heavily re-edited DIC versions of the episodes, but we couldn’t get hold of alternative materials,” Tony Allen said. “So Sailor Moon never reached its potential with either anime fans or kids, which was a real shame.”

Here was the dilemma for MVM, though. Even if they had access to the Japanese masters, how do you satisfy the fans? There will be kids buying the videos whose parents probably won’t be happy with some of the more risqué elements of the show. Then there are fans who, while fairly numerous, may not have had the money to spend on big season box sets of uncut anime. (I remember my first trip to Bristol’s Forbidden Planet, being absolutely floored by the selection… and also by the cost of certain box sets. Some of which were just a box, with one single volume of the series and you were intended to collect the rest of the volumes over time. Looking at you, Peach Girl.)

Daylight robbery (n) (informal): blatant and unfair overcharging. Also: charging £50 for a cardboard box, a DVD with three episodes, and a canvas bag.

There’s also the issue of the anime being cut up as well – it’s not just a case of switching audio tracks from English to Japanese like it is with a modern anime release. Entire episodes are missing from the DIC dub and those cuts that DIC made to satisfy the children’s broadcasting standards in the US and abroad do add up to several seconds of missing footage that would probably be a nightmare to try and ensure stays synced up with the other language track.

On another note, Pioneer were able to release two versions of Card-Captor Sakura in the USA. There was an expensive, uncut release for the fans, including the two movies, and a handful of single volume releases of the Nelvana adaptation for the kids who enjoyed watching it on Fox Box/Kids WB.

Yes, you are looking at £500+ worth of Card-Captor Sakura.

It was a risky move, but presumably worked well enough at the time. It’s unfair to suggest that this style of release could have worked for the UK anime market, however – even today it is still a somewhat niche hobby.

When Viz Media licenced the series in 2014 to be re-done in English, there was some speculation about it being brought back to the UK, but… that’s all it has been: speculation.

So… what is the state of Sailor Moon in the UK now? Well, let’s just say that it’s complicated. Sailor Moon merchandise can be found at any HMV or adorning the tabletops in the convention dealer room, there’s always at least 2-3 troupes of Inner and Outer Senshi cosplayers at MCM in London, but the anime is likely to never be released again. Not the DIC dub, not the Clover Way dub, and probably not the new Viz Media dub.

The manga is entirely available, though. If you have a VPN and can mimic being in the USA, then Viz Media have more than a few options for you to watch Sailor Moon legally. Try https://because.moe/ for US, Canada, UK and Australia.

Funimation hold the rights for UK distribution of the series, and a home video release just has not come to fruition as of the publishing of this article.

As mentioned earlier, there is still a roadblock – according to Jerome Mazandarani, unfortunately Toei Animation have some very dated views.

That isn’t my fault and it isn’t Manga’s fault. I’m serious. You have no idea how long and how hard I fought to get the DBZ license for the UK. Do you know why it took so long? Because Toei did not want to license it for DVD before they managed to get it back onto TV here. It was only once they realised UK TV channels are crap that we got the deal done. That’s what is eternally frustrating to me. I get so much *** from “fans” for things that are totally out of my control. That’s the boring reality.

Sadly, this stubbornness is somewhat par for the course for some Japanese media companies. In a 2013 response to a question about the possibility of Japanese live action dramas being licenced for Western distribution, Justin Sevakis of Anime News Network had this to say:

In the case of TV dramas, the agency known as Johnny & Associates (Johnny’s Jimusho) is thought by many to be one of the most difficult. Johnny’s controls Japan’s most popular boy bands and their members, from SMAP and Tokio to V6 and Hey! Say! JUMP!, and get those guys placed in pretty much all of the popular dramas. Johnny’s requires approval on every step of the process and have a reputation for being so difficult that many companies in Japan refuse to even attempt to work with them. To give some indication of how ridiculous they can get, Cyzo Magazine reported earlier this year that with SMAP‘s Takuya Kimura reprising his lead role for the Space Battleship Yamato live action sequel, the agency is demanding that all the space battles and CG be ditched in favour of human drama with lots of close-ups.

Every once in a while one of these agencies attempts to do something with an American media outlet, and is quickly taken aback and insulted when Entertainment Weekly or Rolling Stone either a) doesn’t care about their pop star that doesn’t speak English; and/or b) uses an image in a way they consider improper. And then they take their toys and go home.

Again, it is Funimation who hold the rights for UK distribution, but if Toei are going to be as difficult and precious about Sailor Moon as they were with Dragon Ball Z – i.e., refusing to licence it to this market unless Cartoon Network decided to clear its schedule of Teen Titans Go and Gumball, etc. for a 30 year old show… then that may be the reason why we aren’t getting the box sets any time soon.

We may not be in a world where we could just buy Sailor Moon branded breakfast treats and sign a petition to show our support, and collecting physical media becomes more and more of a niche hobby as people stream media or just rip their DVD collection to an external hard drive/media server, but hopefully, one day, we’ll be able to see Sailor Moon back in the UK again.

Believe in Moon Power, or something like that.

Sources

https://wikimoon.org/index.php/Sailor_Moon_in_Britain

http://web.archive.org/web/20080101180249/http://www.neomag.co.uk/article.asp?IntID=9

https://www.change.org/p/sign-here-to-ensure-sailor-moon-s-hopeful-return-to-the-uk-dvd-market-and-digital-streaming?source_location=topic_page

http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/Sailor_Moon_(English_adaptations)?View=embedded#United_Kingdom

http://www.anime-games.co.uk/VHS/anime/sailor-moon-dic.php

https://www.eternalsailormoon.org/world/britain.html

Review: Kakegurui Seasons 1 & 2

For those of you who aren’t aware, when this series came out, gambling was 100% illegal in Japan. In a bid to legalise it and stop people having their lives ruined by criminals operating illegal gambling dens, Japan instituted a law that allowed for recreational casino gambling… in 2018. Until then, the government technically allowed betting on sports (hint: $$$), and it also turned a blind eye to the loophole of prizes being exchanged at pachinko/slot machine parlours. If you win big at one of those, then all you have to do is take your tokens and walk down to the street to the totally-not-connected prize booth, where you can exchange your tokens for prizes, or cash.

The students at Hyakkaou Private Academy, however, have no time for things like law, or common sense, despite being the children of Japan’s business leaders. Every single school day features no less than five high stakes gambling matches between students, and not a lot in the way of learning. You can’t simply bring a card game to this school and maybe play with your friends to kill time at lunch, oh no, the culture here insists that somebody loses their status, or hundreds of thousands of dollars. One of the gambles in this series is for ONE BILLION YEN. For reference, that’s NINE MILLION DOLLARS. One of the early gambles in the series is for about $150,000, which the character in question describes as “chump change”. 

I don’t know about you, but eat the rich.

You are required to suspend your sense of disbelief a LOT in this series. Like, a LOT. Where do the students get their money from? Is there an ATM on school grounds stacked with millions of dollars? Does somebody who loses a gamble just have to go to the bank in their lunch break and execute a transfer of $500k of their parents’ money to the bank account of the victor? How are there not angry phone calls to these kids, from a mother who was expecting to use that $500k on a new yacht this summer? Does any meaningful teaching take place at this school? Do the teachers/staff just not care, because these kids are going to get into top universities anyway provided that Daddy makes a big donation to the admissions board? 

The list goes on, and on, and on.

There’s a weird tight rope that this series is walking on. One minute, it’s all about hot fanservice with lewd expressions and heated gambling moments that make the characters squeal and cross their legs. Other times, it’s quite gory and gross, with one character stabbing out her eye to prove herself, another ripping off her acrylic nails – and taking the natural nail with it (yeah, OUCH) – to get a character to partake in a gamble. And of course, there’s the high stakes gambling that plays the more cerebral, Death Note-esque games of “oh no, if I move my eyebrow 1mm, maybe she’ll realise I’m [holding a bad hand of cards!/Kira!]”

I will admit, that last element always made me sit up and got me interested in what was happening on screen. In the early episodes, the gambles were actually quite thrilling, but as the series goes on… the victories just turn into absolute ass pulls of the highest degree.

Like, yes, I get it, Yumeko is a genius who is addicted to gambling and derives pleasure from highest stakes betting and death games. But she’s got to have some degree of vulnerability. Even during the times where she temporarily lost, or was taken out of the games by illness, I still felt like everything was going to work out fine, because well, she’s the main character. I hate to use the term ‘Mary Sue’, but Yumeko really is one. When we were told that she’s an extremely wealthy orphan and her elder sister is in a longstay hospital to receive psychiatric care, I thought it would go into her life in a little more detail, to show us just where this girl came from and why/how she’s motivated but… nope.

Sometimes, I found that the games weren’t exactly well thought out and Yumeko’s moment of genius is basically figuring out the information that was deliberately omitted by the dealer. For example, the Tower of Doors game in season 2 (yes, the Student Council President is rich enough to get a rotating tower built on school grounds for her personal use, don’t question it), has us told by Yumeko’s opponent that the tower turns by so many degrees, and that if you convert the hexadecimal numbers on the doors, they change by so many degrees every time the tower moves. Yumeko, however, keeps this fact in mind and then looks at the full moon through the windows. Unfortunately, because Yumeko always wins whatever game she plays, this came across as more of an ass pull than a genuinely clever way of outsmarting a game that could have been unbeatable.

It’s kind of wearisome when your entire cast is composed of know it all geniuses. Like, okay, there are moments of hubris where somebody learns that they aren’t as clever as they thought, and I did enjoy the few episodes where Yumeko was able to expose several students for cheating. I also liked that Mary, who starts off the series treating Ryota as her house pet, actually develops and grows as a character and is even willing to point out unfairness in gambling when she wasn’t exactly playing fair in the first episode.

Speaking of Ryota, he’s intended to be our avatar as the audience, but oh god is this guy boring. There are one or two instances where he actually does something helpful, but for the most part, look forward to the camera panning over to his face and hearing his internal monologue. “Oh, Yumeko, don’t play that hand! Wait, why is she playing?! She could lose everything? …Wait, she won? Oh… I see how she did it… [blah blah blah this goes on forever]”

I never went to private school, and certainly don’t know anybody who went to an exclusive academy only for the children of billionaires, but I’m still baffled that all of this is allowed to go on at Hyakkaou Private Academy. It should go without saying that underage gambling is illegal pretty much everywhere in the world. I’d understand if the kids were gambling with something that only has worth at the school – i.e., cleaning chores, detentions, house points, etc. – but actual, real life money that their parents exploited from their workers? 

At first, I thought Kirari would be an interesting villain, but she’s actually kind of boring. Sorry guys, but I can only take so many irritating smirks and “mm yes, all according to my master plan”s before I tap out. Even in season 2, where we actually see Kirari gamble more often, she’s still dull as dishwater.

Speaking of villains, let’s talk about the guys in season 2. 

They suck and were poorly developed. 

Next.

As of May 2020 when I’m writing this, we only have two seasons and no announcement for a third. Season 2 ends so ambiguously I was almost wondering if there was an episode left out of the Netflix broadcast.

But to return to the -Bami clan, with Yumeko’s second, third, fourth, etc., cousins transferring into the school at short notice (lol okay then) in season 2, I thought we might get at least one episode with each, developing them as characters. Nope! You get a small handful of them, then some plot threads about them making moves behind the scenes, and an ensemble gamble, nothing else.

I know this is quickly turning into a rant about all the unfeasible plot contrivances and uninteresting characters, but it’s really hard to watch this series and not notice them. 

For what it’s worth, however, I did watch both seasons on Netflix during the quarantine. I’m not going to read the manga, though I can presume there may be better writing and/or character development, since that’s how these things usually are. 

I think there’s room for improvement with this series, and if the writing were better, I may be able to forgive some of the sillier elements of the show. Hopefully season 3 will be better and more tightly written.