The year 1992 was pretty pivotal for comic book cartoons with shows like Batman: The Animated Series and X-Men: The Animated Series completely changing the animation landscape and impacting an untold number of viewers through endearing stories that are still remembered to this day. Also during this time, on the other side of the world, another franchise would hit the air that would eventually become a global phenomenon catering not just to girls but an entire spectrum of different demographics.
I’m referring, of course, to the Pretty Guardian better known as Sailor Moon. Based on the manga by Japanese artist Naoko Takeuchi, Sailor Moon was a blend of the magical girl and sentai costumed heroes subgenres that spanned over 200 episodes and 3 feature films. I’m sure many like myself have fond memories watching the 90’s Sailor Moon English dub on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block, albeit heavily censored. In the years since the original anime went off the air, the “Moonie” fandom in North America never really died but actually grew stronger. The acquisition of the popular anime by VIZ Media back in 2014 has allowed both longtime and fresh fans to enjoy a new more faithful and uncensored English dub.
Unique for its time, Sailor Moon dealt with complex themes not normally found in your standard children’s entertainment such as empathy, tolerance, and gender identity. Concepts that are more relevant than ever before in today’s climate. It’s a sentiment definitely felt by the new English dub cast. During the first annual Anime NYC held at the Jacob Javitz Center, I had the chance to talk with some of the voice actors including Stephanie Sheh (Usagi Tsukino/Sailor Moon), Kate Higgins (Ami Mizuno/Sailor Mercury), Amanda Celine Miller (Makoto Kino/Sailor Jupiter), Cherami Leigh (Minako Aino/Sailor Venus), Robbie Daymond (Mamoru Chiba/Tuxedo Mask), Sandy Fox (Chibi-Usa/Sailor Mini-Moon), Lauren Landa (Michiru Kaiou/Sailor Neptune), and Chris Niosi (Pegasus/Helios) about a whole host of topics ranging from their careers to their personal bonds with the beloved franchise.
First and foremost, it has to be said that the American voice cast for Sailor Moon is one of the most animated group of people to put in a room together. Typically actors for anime dubs record their lines individually and not as an ensemble. One would assume this would make it difficult for actors to foster relationships. On the contrary, with the Sailor Moon cast, one can unequivocally sense the friendships between the cast members that go beyond a simple working relationship. There was never a dull moment or lull in the conversation, particularly thanks to Robbie Daymond never missing a beat with his quips like comparing Chibi-Usa to Kirsten Dunst’s character in Interview with the Vampire.
There’s also a sincere connection to the material since many of the actors as children of the 90’s themselves actually grew up with Sailor Moon. It’s the best of both worlds when you have actors not only familiar with a property but also fans themselves. Amanda Celine Miller contends that Sailor Jupiter/Makoto is basically a “biopic” of her own life, citing Jupiter as her favorite Sailor Soldier from childhood. Relating to Sailor Jupiter’s dichotomy as both tomboyish and feminine, Miller said in school she played hockey and soccer and shared in Jupiter’s tendency to be “boy-crazy.” Hilariously enough, Miller also shares a bit of Jupiter’s intimidating persona, telling people in her in her Tinder profile, “I can probably deadlift more than you.” Though Miller has removed the description, she does contemplate putting it back!
Even the actors who weren’t intimately familiar with Sailor Moon beforehand have been enjoying the experience. “I didn’t grow with or watch the series or the old dub before I started this project,” said actress Sandy Fox who voices Chibi-Usa, the future daughter of Sailor Moon and Sailor Soldier in training. “I’m kind of on the journey with my character and that’s really exciting to me.” As a child growing up in a single parent household feeling responsible for her mother herself, Fox empathizes with Chibi-Usa’s own mission having to navigate the world on her own as a small child.
With the voice recording handled by Studiopolis, a Los Angeles based voiceover production company that is regarded for its high quality, it wasn’t surprising to hear the cast echo this praise. “I think it’s really nice whenever I work on a project at Studiopolis,” said Cherami Leigh. “I can tell that they care about putting out a great project.”
Owned by Jamie Simone, a talented voice director in his own right, actor Robbie Daymond lauded both Studiopolis and Simone, “He’s loyal to his people. He’s got a great directing team. It’s a really warm place. It just feels very comfortable there. You know you’re going to go in and do top-end projects. They used to joke in the anime world that Studiopolis was like Fort Knox to get into. But once you’re in, they’re really good to you if you continue to perform well for them.”
Indeed, while some of the actors have worked regularly with Studiopolis and Simone, Sailor Moon has allowed voice talent not previously within that close-knit circle to join the family. Such is the case with Chris Niosi who as both a professional and a Sailor Moon fan himself knew that both he and the Sailor Moon property would be in good hands by a simple formula, “Viz+ Studiopolis = A Good Quality Dub.” Actress Kate Higgins, who goes back years with the production company and coincidentally shares a birthday with Simone, said that the vast majority of her current anime dubbing projects are through Studiopolis. To put it succinctly, Higgins says, “Studiopolis rocks!”
Likewise, voice director Suzie Goldish was also commended. “In anime the actor has to completely surrender to the director to know where we are in the script, because we’re not all in that room together reading together,” said Sandy Fox. “We’re doing our part one at a time so we have to completely rely on her to fill us in emotionally where our character is. She’s phenomenal.”
Sailor Moon is known for its complex and well rounded characters, so of course it only makes sense that the English voice actors are just as interesting as their animated counterparts. It’s evident that the entire cast has a tremendous passion for performance, so it was fascinating to learn the different paths that led each to the current point in their careers. Higgins, for instance, came to L.A. with a music career in mind and happened to fall into voiceover. According to her, “If you’re an actress, you kind of have always been an actress.”
Cherami Leigh, on the other hand, has been acting since she was a child when her life goal was to appear on Barney. Unfortunately, though Leigh never got to act alongside the purple dinosaur after being told by a director it would ruin her career (seriously, who does that to a child?) she did get to play the bully on the Christian faith based series Prayer Bear. After doing some digging on Prayer Bear, I think I can say with certainty the set on Barney was nowhere near as insane based on this clip:
Likewise, Sandy Fox knew she was destined to be an entertainer ever since she dressed as a Golddigger dancer from The Dean Martin Show during a kindergarten show-and-tell. From performing onstage for the Walt Disney Company in Orlando to voiceover after a fateful workshop taught by the legendary Sue Blu, Fox certainly has led a storied life. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that includes a small role in a TV pilot film called Super Force as a “space hooker” with razor blade fingernails that earned Fox her SAG card. I don’t think anyone ever expected a Sailor Moon press round table to include “space hookers” in the conversation.
While most of the cast has some sort of theater background, Chris Niosi is an unusual case in that he came into the industry originally as an animator and artist. Fans online may be more familiar with his Kirbopher moniker and as the creator of the T.O.M.E. animated series. A chance encounter with the voice director of Pokémon at a convention in New York almost a decade ago completely changed his career trajectory.
As for the longevity of the series, the cast all agreed it’s as relevant today as it’s ever been, perhaps more so. “That’s one of the things that I love about the show is that it’s pretty progressive on its own,” said Lauren Landa who voices Sailor Neptune, a character noted for depicting a positive portrayal of a same-sex relationship alongside her teammate Sailor Uranus. “It goes over a lot of topics that are current and I think that’s one of my favorite parts about the show.”
In a time when we’re only now just getting a Wonder Woman feature film, it’s often difficult to find good programming with strong women. Sailor Moon has an entire solar system worth of strong female characters and then some. “It was one of the first shows that I remember as a kid where there was more than one token female who was supposed to represent all women,” said Miller. I can’t help but be reminded of what be reminded of what Lauren Faust accomplished with the Mane Six when she developed the current iteration of My Little Pony.
For Stephanie Sheh, who plays the titular heroine, the importance of representation has a greater significance. As an Asian-American actress, the social responsibility is not lost on her. “I don’t even think I was very aware of the lack of representation until more recently seeing more representation,” said Sheh. “I was never really aware of the lack of that or the pain of the lack of that because it’s just been suppressed. I remember, when my mom said I was a kid I asked, ‘Am I Chinese or am I American?’ And she would say, ‘When you’re with Chinese people you’re Chinese. When you’re with American people, you’re American.’ So that’s how I behaved. You become what you’re around and you’re adapting, and you don’t realize the pain of not feeling included until all of a sudden you see inclusion.”
Putting aside the action, monster battles, and humor, I think Sheh’s comments get to the fundamental core of Sailor Moon– empathy and inclusiveness. Just the fact that we can see queer characters in American media demonstrates just how far we’ve come as a culture in 20 years. “I think it’s incredible what Viz has done because in the 90’s, when they did the dub they took out so much of the story to make it socially acceptable for that time,” said Sandy Fox. “And I think just keeping that story intact is so powerful. And I think it’s going to have an even greater impact on the world because our children learn through media. They either learn from their parents, their teachers, or media how to be in the world. And when we have something that is so accepting of everyone and the diversity of life, I think it’s very powerful. They’re going to end up being more compassionate, understanding human beings.”
Looking towards the future, with the English dub Sailor Moon SuperS set for release later in 2018, the final Sailor Stars season remains to be dubbed before the original 90’s series is completed. It presents a unique opportunity for many reasons. “Not only is that exciting because it’s territory that’s never been dubbed in English because the previous dub never even got that far,” said Niosi, “but it also has characters of multiple genders and all these different things I think are very, very applicable to what’s happening in the U.S. today. Pegasus isn’t even in that season and I’m excited to see it!”
Whether it’s manga, anime, or live-action, after 25 years the Sailor Moon franchise is just as prevalent as it’s ever been in pop culture. So long as there are fans and actors who still love and respect the material, everyone’s favorite bun-head won’t be disappearing anytime soon.