This is part one of a new three-part series from Theodore Jefferson, whose new book, The Incredible Untold Story of Sailor Moon, is available now. You can also read Part One and Part Two of this saga.
It was once my job to help develop new markets for Sailor Moon. At the time, I had some rather powerful data on my side regarding the success of the show in English-speaking territories. I had a #1 movie (Hearts in Ice) on Amazon. I had the #32 most popular Usenet group in the world. I had television ratings that tripled when seasons three and four premiered.
I also had the Powerpuff Girls, Dexter’s Lab, Magic Knight Rayearth, Princess Nine, Studio Ghibli and numerous examples of anime franchises that had done incredible things before being licensed in the United States. All the creative energy at the time was in anime, manga and video games.
I also had the entire Disney marketing machine, although at the time I didn’t know what might have been with a single phone call.
My message to my bosses was a simple one. If you want to persuade new audiences to watch the show and you want to persuade existing audiences to buy merchandise, you have to convince them you are as big a fan of the characters and story as they are. You have to do what Stan Lee did in the 1960s and 1970s with his Merry Marvel Marching Society.
Sailor Moon had that in the mid 1990s with Andy Heyward. DIC’s efforts to market Sailor Moon kicked off a $50 billion anime shockwave in the United States that has yet to subside. Pokemon had the same thing with Al Kahn over at 4Kids. Marvel still has Stan Lee.
Now, in 2015, Sailor Moon needs a guy like John Lasseter, or Brad Bird. Sailor Moon needs a guy like Joss Whedon or Peter Jackson. Sailor Moon needs a guy like Jeffrey Katzenberg or Avi Arad or Jonathan Shiff. These are the kinds of personalities that can be persuasive to investors and other creative professionals. These are the guys that turn a good idea into an enduring world-famous legend.
Spider-Man is a clear example of what happens when a creative guy decides to make a character a success regardless. Avi Arad was key to getting Marvel’s most recognizable superhero on the big screen in 2002. He and Ike Perlmutter had to fight their way through bankruptcy, lawsuits, billionaires and a world that had come to believe comic book superheroes were obsolete. It took over ten years to get from Todd McFarlane’s record setting Spider-Man #1 to the box-office-crushing Spider-Man film.
But they did it, and the reason was because Avi Arad simply would not accept a world where Spider-Man was going to be relegated to history. At this point, I would say Marvel, Disney, their shareholders and comic book fans around the world are quite happy he didn’t give up, because were it not for Avi Arad, it would have been much harder for Marvel to get their Cinematic Universe off the ground.
We now live in a world of Katniss Everdeens and Beatrice Priors. Film-goers had no problem accepting the idea that Elasti-girl could rescue her husband, and they have come to expect that if a team of heroic guys can team up and do battle with evil, so can a team of heroic girls. Why, the guys and girls might even form a super-team someday.
There can be no doubt that Jonathan Shiff and Stan Lee both would recognize the obvious appeal of a character like Sailor Moon. She has every heroic trait and abides by the same heroic code as Cleo, Rikki and Emma, or Iron Man, or Violet Parr, or Tyrande Whisperwind or any number of other fine examples of our culturally-expanded heroic universe. Nancy Drew would be proud.
Sailor Moon is a billion-dollar character. If she can inspire a video game in Italy, then she can inspire them in America. If she can appear in a musical in Japan, then she can also appear right alongside the Lion King on Broadway. If she can occupy the #1 spot on Amazon ahead of Star Wars and Titanic, then she can appear in a live-action feature film made by the same studios that turned the Hunger Games, Frozen, Alice in Wonderland or Harry Potter into worldwide phenomena.
This is something Sailor Moon’s creators want. If they didn’t, the character never would have been licensed here. Sailor Moon has a message. Takeuchi-sensei had a reason for writing and drawing the story. Getting that message into the hands of the people who want to hear it is, in the words of John Hammond, “an act of pure will.”
If Sailor Moon were licensed to Dreamworks, or Pixar, or Blizzard it would be the entertainment industry equivalent of LeBron James going back to Cleveland. The announcement alone would generate five million dollars worth of free publicity.
Done right, a live-action Sailor Moon film, or a AAA video game title would delight millions who today have no idea this character exists or what the story is about. Imagine for a moment discovering Sailor Moon for the first time in 2015! Everyone remembers when they saw the show for the first time and how it affected them. I discovered Sailor Moon on Cartoon Network. Two years later marketing that character was my job.
Sailor Moon already changed the world once. All it would take is one act of pure will to help her do it again.
Theodore Jefferson is the author of The Incredible Untold Story of Sailor Moon, the definitive history of the world-famous animated television series in the United States and other English-speaking territories. Mr. Jefferson is a founding member of the Lexicon Hollow Authors Guild and also writes for Moon Game.
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