Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon is, for recognition, probably one of the most successful adaptations of a comic in the world. It has been adapted roughly thirty-six times, for television, three times, twice animated and once live action, for stage over thirty times, and for other media, including internet shorts, direct to DVD ventures, a dozen or more video games, prose and picture books. Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon comic, itself, is an adaptation/repurposing of an earlier comic, Codename: Sailor V, to add a team focus and closer match the developing television adaptation, which spurred a lot of she said, he said, and rights battles and court stuff down the road. There have also been pencil cases and stuffed toys, for those keeping count. And, they all changed things.
Sailor Moon Says Don’t Fear Changing Things
by Travis Hedge Coke
As the original cartoon went on far past its original six month plan, losing the original show runner, Junichi Sato (whose film adaptation of the comic, Majo Minarai o Sagashite, will debut in 2020) to his assistant and verifiable mad genius, Kunihiko Ikuhara (later of Revolutionary Girl Utena and LesbianBear Storm, which he developed comics for simultaneous to the shows, and original comics like, History of the S & M, aka The World Belongs to Me), the series, which produced more individual stories/episodes than the comic, by far, necessarily added all sorts of stuff, including characters, situations, characterizations, and dynamics. And, it was for the best!
The manga is great. Sailor Moon is an excellent comic. The original television show, which ran for five seasons of two hundred episodes, bolstered by three summer feature films and some shorts, made conscious efforts to balance the audience outreach to both boys and girls, something the later live action tried to swing back towards more girl-oriented elements to its strength, and they made efforts to provide both child-friendly material and adult-enticing, as well as being more than a smidge more queer-friendly (with foibles) than the, really, also pretty caring and balanced comic.
Rather than watering down the original, or even having to rely on excuses of it’s still in the spirit of the original, the television adaptation was brashly its own.
“We aren’t going to change a thing,” sounds real nice.
“Shot for shot.”
I still see a lot of people talk of Sin City as shot for shot. It’s not. For one thing, the ratio of the screen is just different, both in dimensions and in how locked those dimensions are, compared to panels or panel-lacking pages of narrative comics, but that said, the Sin City comics are gregariously abstract at the best of times. The line work is scratchy, wormy, thick, opaque, vaguely implied, and just plain sometimes barely intimating. If you shot a movie that really looked like Sin City comics look, you’d be making an art picture.
You don’t make that movie. You make the movies we did get. Those reach enough people to make the budget sound. Probably. I’m not going to look up how they did. Something as crazy intimating as Marv in the rain wouldn’t make that. Whatever it is.
The Sailor Moon comic is also incredibly free in its form. Many of the elements on a page are not meant to really exist in any world, but evoke a sensibility, they intimate emotions and anxieties, paint a sensual, not sensorial picture for the reader. Film and television will almost always be more visually literalist than comics are, because we have a little more time looking at a comic to suss out what it represented, even if we do not, while reading, realize that process is occurring. With tv and film, the visual is here and gone, and outside of the art movie, it needs to be crisp, it needs to be definite in some serious ways, or the audience leaves.
Takeuchi’s comics, as well, have gone through revisions, with Codename: Sailor V spinning off into Sailor Moon, the two serials running somewhat concurrently until 1997, when they completed, but since then, in terms of different collected editions and adjustments that range from minor wording to the insertion of new pages, additional color, and updating some artifacts within stories to modernize the appearance of devices and affectations.
Change nothing is reassuring. It feels good. It is not a mark of quality or the surest effort. It is also impossible. Takeuchi, who debuted with Chocolate Christmas in 1987, and followed that with a manga adaptation/repurposing of Jean Webster’s 1912 epistolary novel, Daddy Long Legs, called, Maria, and has more recently authored the delicious Love Witch and Sister Witch, and Toki?Meca!, has encouraged every adaptation of her comics to take their own path, with the two most under her control, the live action Sailor Moon and the more recent animated series, taking paths that benefited both their production nature and production schedule, but the nature of distribution in 2003 and 2012, respectively. The 2003 live action series marketed two separate novelty dances. The 2012 animated series fully embraced both the internet and streaming, and the changes in Japanese trademark and copyright law.
You have to change to breathe and you got to breathe to live.
The live action adaptation, aimed more firmly at younger girls than any of the other adaptations, also understood that there is a greater benefit to subtlety in live action performance and its recording, than in animation, allowing them to linger on scenes that might have played empty or jerky in animation, but, there, carry emotional weight. Colors mute and the cats become plushy toys that walk and talk.
Hey, you’re going to sell plushies of them, anyway, correct? So, why not?
Since the first comics stories with these characters appeared, access to media, access to older media, has become increasingly easy and affordable. We are unlikely to lose entire television shows, or even entire episodes, both of which were real threats to archivists and fans for fair chunks of the 20th Century. We are unlikely to lose entire comics, either. Things are fairly well-preserved, and at the level of Sailor Moon, very securely. Fears that a new adaptation will erase the previous or destroy an audience’s potential awareness of the original are outdated and unfounded. The damage that does, when it was a threat, is debatable, but the time is fairly passed. If a fan wants to check out the original comics, they can without much hassle. If a scholar needs to pore through the original television show, they can do so, both in terms of the episodes themselves, and more than likely, via myriad recordings which would feature the original commercials during the breaks, and any notifications or preempting done by the broadcasting stations.
We can have risks. We can trust professionals.
Maybe the risks do not pan out. Some professionals make poor work. Even if they are otherwise pretty good. When they turn out bad, we are all free to critique, to criticize. The likelihood is that poor material gets forgotten, and good material sustained. You don’t need an archivist to remember for you, any more. We kind of let go of those guidebooks that told you all about the episodes, movies, and things you would never be able to find on media you could use. Everything is on YouTube now, until it’s taken down. Everything is a click away at online stores. Not everything is dirt cheap, but more and more is attainable. You can judge on your own. You can weigh adaptations yourself. And, the people making the choices and doing the work can do just that.