Otakon 2011: Comparing SM to Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Otakon Panelists Zoob Hernandez, Meghan Hartigan, and Alex Fogarty.

If your taste in magical girl anime runs beyond Sailor Moon, then you’re probably familiar with Puella Magi Madoka Magica, the fabulously dark and inventive 13-episode series that aired earlier this year. Even though we didn’t get a dedicated Sailor Moon panel this year (Boo!), we did get something called “The Fine Print on the Contract: The Themes, Philosophies and Birth of a Legacy in Puella Magi Madoka Magica,” so I figured I’d check that out.

Unsurprisingly, Sailor Moon came up as a point of reference; as Madoka is considered a deconstruction of the Magical Girl genre (depending on who you ask, at any rate), it stands to reason that one of the series that helped codify the genre would come up. However, this comparison was to the detriment of Sailor Moon, as the panelists explained that they felt that the heroines in Madoka were much more empowered than the Senshi, who spent entirely too much time going gaga over Tuxedo Mask and acting like stereotypical females.

Is that a legitimate criticism of Sailor Moon? Or just a comment by someone who isn’t really familiar with the show? Honestly, we weren’t sure, so we caught up with panelist Alex Fogarty after the panel and asked him to clarify how he felt about our favorite magical girl series.

“I wasn’t trying to bash Sailor Moon, because it is a good anime…but honestly there are those points where it’s just *imitating the Senshi* ‘Aaaah! Tuxedo Mask!’ Nobody in this anime [Madoka] really does that,” he said, going on to say that nevertheless, Sailor Moon was a classic anime staple that he appreciates.

“[Sailor Moon] helped Madoka Magica to become what it is. Without Sailor Moon, I don’t think Madoka would exist,” he continued.

Okay guys, he gave Sailor Moon proper credit, so I think we can let him off the hook. However, I have found myself wondering ever since the panel whether or not the SM/Madoka comparison is a fair one or not. It’s true that the Senshi can get “girly” in a way that some viewers might find annoying or even offensive, but the twenty-year gap between the two series plays a large role- even with the “OMG Tuxedo Mask is dreamy!” interludes, Sailor Moon was (and still is) considered progressive in certain respects. Furthermore, the two shows were targeted at different audiences- Sailor Moon was intended primarily for girls younger than the Senshi themselves, while Madoka seems to have been targeted at an adult audience- specifically an otaku audience.

In my opinion, Fogarty is right; the heroines of Madoka are more empowered than the heroines in Sailor Moon. However, I honestly have no idea what, if anything, that’s indicative of. Has the portrayal of females in anime progressed? Or is it just a case of comparing apples to oranges? Feel free to enlighten me if you figure it out.

If nothing else though, the current popularity of Madoka may prove invigorating to the magical girl genre the same way that Usagi and co. were in the ’90s, and that’s something I think we can all get behind. I’m certainly excited to see what magical girl shows we’re going to get in a post-Madoka world.

Otakon 2011: Sailor Moon Cosplay

I wish I could take some credit for this; I really do. I wish I could say I called up a bunch of epic-level cosplayers and said “Why don’t y’all dress up as the cast of Sailor Moon for Otakon 2011, INCLUDING Sailor Star Fighter and like five Sailor Neptunes ALONE, and I’ll take lots of pictures?” but no, that’s not how it went down. In reality, the cosplayers collaborated their own awesome photo shoot via the Cosplay.com forums, and we were just lucky enough to get a chance to partake of the greatness. Seriously, more power to these guys and gals for making this happen, I can’t praise them enough. My photographer and I did catch a few cosplayers in between downing Edo Sushi and salivating over original cels we couldn’t afford, but the majority of these images come from the shoot.

Maybe I can’t feel special for initiating this event for the Sailor Moon fan community since I was just a lucky bystander, but on the plus side, who cares about me? You have awesome cosplay to look at, including a downright scandalous amount of Sailor Neptunes! Hit the jump for a costume deluge.

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Otakon 2011: Roland Kelts Cites SM During ‘Multipolar Japan’ Panel

Author Roland Kelts

One of the most interesting panels I attended at Otakon this year was “Pop Culture From a Multipolar Japan,” hosted by Roland Kelts, author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S. I read Japanamericarecently, so some of Kelts’ points were familiar to me, but hearing him explain in detail how anime reflects the crucial bases of Japanese culture was still enlightening.

However, I was a little surprised when he mentioned Sailor Moon as an example of Japan’s multipolarity. Basically, Kelts said that when the Emperor was revealed to be powerless at the end of World War II, the idea of a trustworthy father figure was taken from Japanese culture in a way it has never really recovered from- hence the “the great leader is actually corrupt” subtext present in many anime.

“I’m trying to get you to think a little bit about this idea that Japan is a multifarious, blender of a culture…a multipolar state because it lost its binaries. It lost its sense of a leader and a people…and so when you have these artists like Tezuka and subsequent generations- Otomo, etc.- writing about the world they live in, it’s much more multipolar in depiction that what you expect from, for example, U.S. popular culture. The superhero stories…instead you get the girls of Sailor Moon.

“You get teams, right? Groups of people who have to work off each other and figure things out. You don’t get the great leader. And if you do get the great leader, the great leader’s corrupt,” said Kelts.

In general terms, I believe Kelts is right- I think the popularity of team-based stories in Japanese culture has to do with the way Japan had to radically realign itself (and in some cases, have itself forcefully realigned by the U.S.) after WWII, including, but by no means limited to, the reduction of the Emperor from the leader of the nation to a powerless symbolic figure. However, how well does Sailor Moon fit his example?

After all, the Senshi may be a team, but Sailor Moon, a.k.a. the Princess, definitely emerges as the ultimate authority figure by the end, doesn’t she? And we all know the other Senshi were kind of useless anyway after Sailor Moon S (oh yeah, I went there! *rimshot*.)

The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that there were other parallels to the situation Kelts described in the story. In the first season, the Senshi are looking for the Princess, this sort of divine figure that will hopefully make sense of everything for them. And it turns out to be…Usagi, seemingly at that time the weakest and most immature out of the whole group. She may not have been corrupt (at least not until PGSM at any rate), but it’s still easy to see that plot point as an expression of the idea that the “great leader” will always ultimately be a disappointment.

And yet, in the end Usagi isn’t a disappointment, is she? Did the Japanese really give up on the idea of a leader figure, or did they just give up on the Confucian, patriarchal version? I think it’s the latter; I apologize if this all seems a bit out of character for this blog, but these are the kinds of questions considering Sailor Moon in a Japanese context, not just an entertainment context, leads you to ask.

Whether you agree with Kelt’s assertion that Sailor Moon is one example of Japan’s trend towards multipolarity post-WWII or not, I highly recommend Japanameria, even though Sailor Moon is only mentioned in passing in the book. It was written before the 2008 financial crisis, which means some aspects of the interplay between the U.S. and Japan have changed in the few short years since Kelts wrote it, but it’s still a great resource if you’re looking to understand why our favorite anime are the way they are.

Otakon 2011: Birth of a Generation- DBZ and Sailor Moon

There are some fantastic Sailor Moon cosplayers at Otakon this year- there's more where this came from.

Last year, Otakon featured a panal called, “The World of Sailor Moon,” hosted by Yosenex of Genvid.com. This year, it seems like con organizers made an attempt to streamline the schedule, and one of the casualties was our dedicated Sailor Moon panel.

Instead, two fandoms were put together into one panel, run by college students Tina Maiese and Brandon Auman, who covered SM and Dragonball Z, respectively. While the hosts were friendly and the crowd was enthusiastic, this combo panel seemed to occur at the expense of SM fans- about 75% of the panel ended up being devoted to DBZ.
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Otakon 2010 Impressions

Well, Otakon is now over for the year and it’s time for final impressions- which makes me happy that I actually have some. I mean, it’s kind of pointless to have nothing to say at the end of a con beyond “Yeah, that was a good convention.”

Basically, I came away from Otakon with the impression that love for Sailor Moon really is alive and well in North America. Even though current shows like K-ON! grabbed a lot of the spotlight, tons of vendors had Sailor Moon products on display. I saw t-shirts, mugs, custom handbags, pencil cases, stationary, artbooks, and so on, and *cough* I succumbed to the temptation to buy more than just a few of those things. One might think that seeing a lot of merch at a con isn’t indicative of anything since cons are exactly where you’d expect to find that stuff, however, not every series gets representation in the dealer’s room; plenty of series much newer than Sailor Moon were hard to find in any form.

I also heard several people say things to the effect of “It’s a shame they don’t have any Sailor Moon [fill in name of a collectible]” at times. One attendee proudly snatched up a SuperS pencil board from under my nose, commenting “I got the last one!”

As you may have already surmised if you read the cosplay post, cosplayers were out in full force; sure, I saw way more people dressed up as ninja from Naruto or Death Gods from Bleach (and don’t get me started on the Vocaloids) than Sailor Senshi, but those are currently airing series; Sailor Moon had a great representation for a show that’s been off the air in North America for so long.

At the Artist’s Alley, a healthy percentage of the artists present had an image of an SM character displayed at the front of their booth- usually Sailor Moon herself, but often team shots as well. I also saw several pieces depicting Neo-Queen Serenity at the Art Auction that had bids.

The World of Sailor Moon panel had great attendance, and enthusiastic participants. The Sailor Moon Hentai panel actually had even better attendance, with every seat taken. However, I confess I ditched that panel halfway through; not because the content of the panel bothered me, but because of the attitude of the attendees. Really people, just because you’re watching something with sexual content is no reason to suddenly start acting like a twelve-year-old. Nevertheless, that aspect of the fandom is there, and it’s certainly a component of the franchise’s staying power. I may not want to watch it (or deal with the attitude of some of the fans who do), but I can appreciate the fact that interest in the pornographic incarnations is an outgrowth of continued interest in the series.

What all this means is, any company that’s paying attention to what’s going on in fandom has to know that Sailor Moon is potentially very profitable. Not only are there a lot of Sailor Moon fans, but the timing is such that many of the people who grew up watching Sailor Moon are now at the age where they have plenty of disposable income (relatively speaking; there is the economy to consider.) Critically, people around me were complaining that there wasn’t enough Sailor Moon stuff to buy. I’m not an expert on anime licensing, but I’m pretty sure that people wanting to buy more stuff is indicative of potential licensing success. In a marketplace where companies often struggle to convince fans to buy anything at all, due to a mistaken sense of entitlement brought on by the era of digisubs, this is a series where people cannot buy enough.

Waiting any longer to license Sailor Moon is like missing out on a license to print money, and it’s the best kind of license; it’s the one where the fans feel grateful to finally be able to spend their money on something they love, leading to goodwill towards the company in addition to profits. I’m glad that I can say that Sailor Moon should be licensed and re-released not just because I would love it personally, but because it’s honestly the sensible thing to do.

Oh, and look at all this cool stuff I got!

I love conventions: In the name of the Moon, I will go to NYAF and buy more stuff.