Lessons learned from the failed of American Version of ‘Sailor Moon’

The phenomenon of “lost media” is gaining renewed interest in 2022. Lost media refers to footage or other media that is no longer available to the public because it has been destroyed, lost, or deemed unsuitable for release. One example of lost media that recently resurfaced was the “banned episode” of Sesame Street, featuring Margaret Hamilton reprising her role as the Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz, which was considered too scary for children. Another piece of lost media that has recently been uncovered is the proposed American remake of Sailor Moon, an animated/live-action hybrid.

Sailor Moon is a beloved Japanese manga and anime series created by Naoko Takeuchi in 1991. The story follows Usagi Tsukino, a seemingly normal schoolgirl in Japan who discovers she is actually Sailor Moon, a legendary warrior tasked with defending Earth from evil forces. Alongside her fellow Sailor Scouts and her boyfriend Mamoru, she fights enemies in the hope of maintaining peace throughout the galaxy. Sailor Moon has inspired countless video games, collectibles, and imitators since its debut, and a rebooted version of the series, Sailor Moon Crystal, began airing in 2014.

In the 1990s, before the anime series was dubbed for North American audiences, Saban Entertainment attempted to adapt Sailor Moon into an animated/live-action hybrid show similar to Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. The company tasked two studios, Renaissance-Atlantic and ToonMakers, Inc., to film a pilot presentation. The studios enlisted voiceover talent such as Adrienne Barbeau and Melendy Britt, as well as actresses Stephanie Dicker and Tami Adrian-George to play Sailor Moon and Sailor Jupiter in the live-action scenes. However, the resulting sizzle reel was met with laughter and derision when it was debuted at the 1995 Anime Expo.

For decades, the story of this failed adaptation ended there. However, in 2022, YouTuber and documentarian Ray Mona released a video tracing Sailor Moon’s initial struggles in the North American market, as well as a deep dive into the failed Saban-produced remake. Mona also revealed that through an exhaustive search, a copy of the complete pilot had been found at the Library of Congress and was being made public.

The completed pilot, dubbed “Saban Moon,” is a unique interpretation of the Sailor Moon story. While it follows the same broad strokes as the original series, it is filled with awkwardness and questionable artistic choices. The live-action portion features stilted and wooden acting, overly sweet vibes, and a horrendous attempt at “hip” dancing. The animated portion is choppy and cheap-looking, and the voice-overs aside from Barbeau and Britt are blasé and lifeless. It is unclear whether the girls are entering a different dimension when they transform into their animated counterparts or if they are time-traveling.

Despite its flaws, “Saban Moon” provides an interesting glimpse into what could have been. The original Japanese anime series was eventually dubbed for North American audiences and aired on Fox Kids and Cartoon Network, becoming a beloved classic and capturing the attention of multiple generations of viewers worldwide. While the lost media phenomenon is fascinating, it is important to remember what made Sailor Moon special in the first place and to appreciate the legacy of the original series.

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