The following is a small excerpt of a much larger project I have been working on for a long time. The project is about the cultural influence of Shoujo and Maho Shoujo on modern Japanese Shoujo culture, it also includes portions on how Shoujo, and Maho Shoujo has succeeded or failed in the US market. This is a work in-progress, citations are not included at this point, if you have any question please contact me.
Above is a picture of Yes, Precure 5 a modern magic girls team.
The Maho Shojo (Magic Girl) genre has enjoyed great television rating success, and commercial success in Japan. The popularity of the Maho Shojo genre has been transferred to several other nations like China, Taiwan, and the Philippines. Despite the wave of success that has swept Asia, and parts of Europe the genre has not been able to make successful inroads into American children’s television programming. In the following article I will discuss the missteps and lack of knowledge by anime importers in their attempts to make the genre popular in the United States. I have chosen two examples for this discussion, Sailor Moon, and Card Captor Sakura.
Before I continue the discussion of the failure of Maho Shojo programming in the United States television market, I think a brief discussion of the Japanese anime market is in order. A lot of anime programming in Japan has two large advantages that helps lead to success in television programming. First, many programs are adapted from successful manga printings. Secondly, toy and collectables merchandising fees are presold to help defray the cost of production. The cost of developing, animating, and marketing a new show can exceed a million dollars for a twenty-six episode long season. In Japan if an animated show has a large manga fan base such as, Inu Yasha, Fushugi Yugi, and Chobits, the anime producers can defray a large portion of cost by selling rights to posters, dolls, costumes, and statues. A show that has a large manga fan base can help the television network presell advertising before the show even airs. One must not forget that in the Japanese animation market genre and target audience equals the marketing intent. So a show like card captor sakura, is intended to have girls aged 7-16 watch the show, and they do, along with a large following of boys. This audience in turn buys a lot of dolls, wands, rods, and costumes; plus a show like this sells lots of advertising to those girls.
The first example for the failure of United States television importers to bring a popular Maho Shojo in to our television will be Bishojo Senshi Sailor Moon Lit “Beautiful Young Girl Soldiers Sailor Moon”. This popular show started airing in Japan in 1992 and ran for 200 television episodes, three feature movies, one television special, many ice shows, twenty-five stage musicals, and a forty-nine episode live action TV series. The anime featured the exploits of Tuskino Usagi lit “Rabbit of the Moon”, a 13-14 year old ditsy 8th junior high school girl. In the anime Tuskino Usagi and her four best friends are reincarnations of the moon princess and her court sent a thousand years in to the future to protect themselves and the earth. The shows themes featured all the issues that affected its target audience at that time in Japan. The two hundred episode, run of the show was broken up in five seasons each featuring one major story arch. While the structure for each episode followed the standard “monster of the day” formula, the show as included many modern day concerns of young Japanese girls.
On a weekly basis millions of Japanese girls (in fact the show drew 11 to 12 % of the total TV audience during its time slot) tuned in to watch their favorite sailor senshi battle world threathing monsters, and deal with many life issues. Some of issues covered during the show’s run were: getting a first boyfriend; being rejected by boys; first kisses; a girl’s weight and dieting; earning money at a job; makeup and fashion; clash between modern and traditional Japanese values; the pressures of the Japanese educational testing system (a subject that a several hundred page tomb could fill); and just plain hanging out. The show turned out to be a ratings and marketing blockbuster during its almost five year run. The products and merchandise created for the Sailor Moon anime could fill up a two or three hundred page catalog. I personally own two, one hundred plus page long catalogs full of dolls, statues, music Cd’s, videos and DVDs, alarm clocks, lunch boxes, costumes, and clothing items, all for purchase.
Above are the original Sailor Scouts dressed in evening gowns.
When Bishojo Senshi Sailor Moonwas licensed for broadcast is America by the distribution company DIC, many tens of thousands of American fans rejoiced. What should have been a sure fire ratings and commercial success became a short-term moderately rated program, and was eventually cancelled due to low ratings. What attracted DIC to this show was tens of millions of fans the series had worldwide. As one DIC executive was quoted as saying “Something about the show just grabbed you.”
The first thing that weighed in against the success of Sailor Moon in the United States was its format. This anime like most of its relatives features long story arcs, with plot and character traits that build over time. Conversely traditional American cartoons and children’s programming, for the most part, all function as a self-contained thirty- minute complete drama, most American cartoons complete their entire story in that days show. For programming reasons, the American method of cartoon storytelling is easier to sell to the networks, to the program buyers this non-linear method helps them with scheduling issues. In most Shoujo anime, the main characters personality strengths and weaknesses are revealed over many episodes. So, this leads to one getting a better understanding of the cast’s motivations and actions. We get to see our favorite sailor scout succeed at love, or get rejected by crushes. This creates a greater bond with the characters, so they begin to feel more like real people than you average cartoon character. Can anyone really say they have learned any more about the cast of Scooby-do after watching a few episodes of Scooby-do.
The second thing contributing to the failure of this genre in the United States was the preconceived notion about what girls in general would watch. One Disney executive was quoted as saying “ you can’t get a girl seventh grade or younger to follow anything but a Disney feature film.” With notions like this Sailor Moon launched to a very uncertain, and poorly supported effort.
The third thing that hurt the show was that the age group of the original Sailor Moon target audience ran into the American notion of what age a cartoon’s audience should be. In Japan, the Sailor Moon audience tended to be girls aged 7-16, but the show also had a large following of boys, and viewers of all ages. When the show was brought to America it had to compete with the notion that cartoons are for kids. Therefore the show received a rough editing treatment to bring it to a TV Y-7 rating, this directly contradicted the anime’s intended audience. Also, the distributor DIC edited out most of the danger and violence out of the series, taking the edge out of the original story. In one scene the distributors even edited out one character slapping another character to stop her from panicking. The acclaimed screenwriter, author, and comic artist Neil Garmin was recently quoted on a talk show saying, “In order for a children’s adventure story to be successful it must have real danger, a chance that someone could actually die”.
The fourth factor that hurt the introduction of sailor moon to an American audience was the time slot that the show was given. In Japan anime shows that have promise are given a prime time television slot 8-10 pm. In America the show was originally given very early morning time slots (5-7 am), unfortunately this is the time when many teen and preteen girls are still asleep, or were getting ready for school. The show was mildly successful in the ratings for its time-slot, as time passed the ratings dropped and the show was removed from many markets.
Sailor Moon was granted a reprieve and a new lease on life when in 1998 Cartoon Network picked it up for broadcast. Cartoon Network bundled Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z together into a programming block called Toonami. This programming block was broadcast-ed in the afternoon starting at 4pm. This block propelled the network to the top of the afternoon ratings for kids programming, and greatly changed children’s programming. But, Sailor Moon’s success on cartoon network was short lived, as the Toonami programming block grew more popular, and ratings increased, also the age demographic of the Toonami programming block increased. The increased age demographic of the programming block began to cause problems with the advertisers. The higher age demographic moved the programming block out of the advertisers sweet spot. One must remember for a network like Cartoon Network, advertiser’s intent is everything. So the anime programming that led Cartoon Network’s ratings to the top was slowly replaced with original cartoon programming geared to younger viewers.
The anime programming was moved to a much later time-slot, late prime-time on the west coast, after 11 pm on the east coast. The move to later time-slot only served to speed up the demise of these popular shows. Now, the programming was being shown at a time-slot to late for the viewers that loved these shows. The end result was that a show that had finally found its audience could not find enough advertisers to sell to that audience.
Many American fans of the Sailor Moon series have wished for the return of the series to television, or the return of Sailor Moon to manga with a newly translated American version. As of today, 10 May 2007, all the right to the Sailor Moon anime and manga have expired. The license for the first two seasons of Sailor Moon expired mid 2004, the third and fourth seasons expired in the middle of 2005, and the three Sailor Moon movies expired at the end of 2004. Also, Tokyopop’s manga license for the Sailor Moon manga series lapsed around the same time as the television series did. The word was that Toei and Kodansha either outright refused to grant renewal of their licenses, or want to charge too much money for the licenses.
Many American fans of the show have suggested that Toei might try and release the series on DVD, or television themselves, but that’s very unlikely. Toei has tried its own entry into the American DVD market, but their attempt was a failure due to the poor quality of their DVD releases, American anime fans had become accustomed to high quality anime releases. Another issue American anime might have failed to consider is when ADV, Geneon, And Tokyopop’s licenses expired their English translations, and dubs stay with them. Toei and Kodansha would have to re-subtitle, re-dub, or re-translate the series for their own releases, doing this is very costly. Also if any other companies were to obtained the Sailor Moon licenses they would have to bear those costs themselves. Fans need to remember that the long a property stays off the air. or out of print the less valuable a property becomes. Original fans and diehard fans get older, get married, and start families, and generally become less interested in the property. Because the show is not on air or in-print new fans are gained at a much slower rate than when the property was new and hot. With all the negatives standing in the way of a Sailor Moon’s return to America, Toei and Kodansha will have to re-license the series to the original license holders, or lower their asking price as the value of the Sailor Moon franchise decreases. But American fans of Sailor Moon can still hope.
This is the end of part one of my article on the failure of Maho Shoujo in the United States. I’m trying to get part two ready for posting with in two months, part two will cover the failure of Card Captor Sakura (Cardcaptors) on American televsion. After that I will post the citations useded in writting this article. Thanks for reading.