Hi readers! Recently I had the opportunity to interview Bonnie Walling and Steven Savage, the writing team behind Her Eternal Moonlight, a book compiling the experiences of female Sailor Moon fans. The book features interviews with over thirty fans and discusses the importance of the show’s unique female perspective, the way the emergence of the internet affected its fandom, and how people’s lives have been touched by the story.
Click below for the interview!
Fiyero3305: The first question is a pretty standard one, but always a good place to start. How did you get into Sailor Moon?
Bonnie: In the early-mid ’90s, I was a big fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and just getting onto the then-nascent internet via services like AOL and Prodigy. MSTies would frequently create fan MSTings of fanfictions and internet rants and post them on the various MST3K Usenet groups, and I began noticing quite a few MSTings of Sailor Moon fanfics. That piqued my interest—what was it about this Japanese cartoon that made so many North American teens and adults write fanfics about it? So I headed to Blockbuster Video to see if they carried the series—and indeed, they did, a series of pink-covered VHS tapes that served as kind of a Reader’s Digest condensed version of the first season. I took them home, watched them, and was instantly, completely hooked. There was just something about this property that was like nothing coming out of the American media at the time: multi-dimensional female characters, an engaging storyline, villains that were something other than just pure evil. It led me to seek out TV broadcasts of the show (which I found on USA Network), then Sailor Moon Usenet groups, where I connected with other fans who helped me find fansubs of the original Japanese version of the show, including seasons that had not yet aired on American television. I never looked back.
Steve: The funny thing for me is I’ve never been deep into it—it’s been this thing that’s always been there in the lives of my friends, going back to a girlfriend who got into the show before it even made it over here. The thing is the fandom had this deep passion, so I picked it up here and there from fans, and the fandom was amazing—it was so dynamic, active, and passionate.
Fiyero3305: Have you made any friends, in person or online, based on your love of the show?
Steve: Yes. Sailor Moon is this kind of common touchstone—it’s how I met Bonnie and other people. There’s also so many different forms of media (one of the things I love about it is the many versions) so there’s always something someone has seen that you can discuss. In fact, just writing this book I’ve made new friends, which says something.
Bonnie: Most definitely—I met my co-author through the Sailor Moon fandom! I got to know a lot of other people through the series, some of whom are still friends to this day. The thing about Sailor Moon is, as we point out in the book, it’s an instant conversation-starter. People who are shy and retiring, and have difficulty making friends, need only see someone else carrying a volume of manga or a Sailor Moon backpack and they instantly have common ground.
Fiyero3305: This is something I’ve always gone back and forth on, never really sure of my own answer. Which Sailor’s powers would you love to have, and why?
Bonnie: I would say Sailor Pluto, because the ability to manipulate time would most definitely be a convenient power to have, since there never seems to be enough hours in the day!
Steve: Well if I can’t be Queen of All Humanity I’m going to take Pluto’s powers also. As long as they don’t come with crippling isolation and a confusing crush on an immortal king.
Fiyero3305: Can you pick a favorite season? What makes it stand out for you?
Bonnie: If we are talking the original ’90s anime, I would say the first season, because of the sheer impact it made. It’s “the one that started it all”, and it’s also what most people think of automatically when Sailor Moon is mentioned—Queen Beryl and the four Generals. If we are talking the manga/Sailor Moon Crystal, I’d say the Infinity Arc—it’s the one that introduced the full lineup of Senshi, and dealt with some of the darkest themes of the series while still maintaining the overall atmosphere of hope that was the series’ hallmark. (The manga handles the material more effectively than the ’90s anime version, Sailor Moon S, in my opinion).
Steve: Going to have to agree with Bonnie and take it farther—first season of the original anime OR Crystal OR the live show. This is where it all starts and where you get the whole backstory, there’s plenty of interesting characters, and the superhero-meets-fairytale theme gets established. It’s also accessible.
Fiyero3305: I’m a Sailor Moon R man, myself. The romantic melodrama of the season speaks to me and I love the Black Moon Clan!
What would you say is the central theme of the show? Do you think it is different depending on whether you watch the 90’s dub or the original Japanese?
Steve: To me there’s several, but it centers around strong women, the power of love, of friendship, and of goodness overcoming evil. There’s something aggressively positive about Sailor Moon, which is the same for the character of Sailor Moon.
Bonnie: The central theme is the power of female friendships and solidarity and the healing power of love—and that comes through no matter what version you’re watching. The ’90s dub may have distorted some things—like turning some of the characters into Valley Girls, and infamously removing any LGBT elements—but it left the core of the show remarkably intact.
Fiyero3305: Sailor Moon exists in so many different media besides the anime we love. She’s got manga, theatre, video games, and a live-action series. Have you dipped into any of her other incarnations? Did any of them surprise you?
Bonnie: I’ve experienced the series in almost all its incarnations—I read the manga (first the overly-Americanized Mixxzine translations, then more accurate fan translations), saw videos of several Sera Myus and watched the live-action show. What I found surprising was that you could twist and turn the outer trappings of the show to make it confirm to different media—some of the stuff done for the musicals was flat-out silly, let’s face it—but the inner workings still remained intact. Sailor Moon still works, no matter what form it’s in, because its characters and its basic message are still strong.
Steve: For me I’ve seen both versions of the anime and the live show along with some musicals—Bonnie and I used to run one once a year at a gathering of friends. What’s funny is all incarnations of the show are different, but there’s something core to it that works—which means that the various forms can go in some pretty wonderful and weird directions as long as they keep that core. I still recall when stuffed-animal-Luna seemed silly—but the live show somehow gave a plush personality.
Fiyero3305: Your book specifically looks at Sailor Moon‘s impact on female fans. Has anything stood out to you from their responses? Are there any commonalities between the stories that seem significant?
Bonnie: There were a lot of commonalities. In fact, as we went through the interview process, we were surprised to see how many commonalities there were—it was almost as if Sailor Moon fandom were something of an archetypal experience. We found that our interviewees were drawn to the show because it was different, unlike anything that they had experienced before, that they build friendships and partnerships as a result of their mutual love for it (one of our interviewees even met her husband through it!), that their interest influenced other areas of their life paths, including career choices, and that it led to an interest in Japan and Japanese culture. We also found that the show was greatly helped along by the birth and development of the internet—in fact, Sailor Moon and cyberspace were a perfect match for each other. We ended up organizing the book around these commonalities—one chapter for each topic. (As it turned out, we ended up with nine chapters—one for each Senshi. A happy coincidence!)
Steve: An amazing amount of them, really. There’s common patterns that’d pop up—not the same for everyone, but a lot of overlap. In fact, Bonnie described it pretty much better than I could. Though I will note it was my idea to give a pun-ful title to each chapter.
Fiyero3305: You conducted interviews with over thirty fans, wow! Can you walk us through that process a little bit? How did you find people and what did you learn?
Bonnie: We found the fans by reaching out to other fans. We contacted people we knew personally who were active in the fandom, and we also got in touch with Sailor Moon blogs and podcasts. People referred us to other people. Once the fans expressed interest in participating, we interviewed them either by E-mail or over Skype. One thing we learned—the fandom that was build on networking retains its strong ties. Sailor Moon fans still use a wide variety of both old-school Internet (like bulletin boards and blogs) and social media (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr) methods to share fanworks, news and opinions.
We found that the fans were very eager to share their stories—probably because they haven’t had a chance to in a public way like this before. One reason we undertook this book in the first place was that we found there had been no major study of the Sailor Moon fandom. You’d think that would be a no-brainer, given the series place in pop culture history—but because it had become sort of “pop culture wallpaper”, something that had always been there, it was sort of taken for granted. We wanted to reverse that.
Steve: Once again, Bonnie puts it best. We went out, talked, and compiled. It was based on two previous books I’d done.
Fiyero3305: On your book’s webpage you mention the emergence of the internet having an impact on Sailor Moon‘s fandom. Can you tell us a little bit about how this played a role in the fandom’s development?
Steve: This was a case of the right thing at the right time—new show, internet getting enough usage for people to research it, and the material was out there. At that point the fandom had enough momentum that it didn’t just grow, it engaged in all the other activities of fandom—fanfic, cosplay, etc. In my opinion, Sailor Moon fandom was one of the major fandoms to establish fandom “patterns” on the internet.
Sometimes I wonder what would happen if Sailor Moon had hit just a year earlier or later.
Bonnie: Sailor Moon arrived on American televisions at a time when the internet was just taking off. These young girls who had found this strange and fascinating thing on their televisions and were eager to know more about it could, for the first time, go online and learn about its true origins—not to mention the seasons and characters they hadn’t experienced yet. For the first time, their experience of a television show wasn’t limited by what they saw on the screen—they had a whole world of information at their fingertips. They could also indulge in their own fan creativity and share it with other fans around the world—if you wanted to design new outfits for the Senshi, or you had come up with a story set in the Moon Kingdom or Crystal Tokyo, you could put it out there and get feedback. Fans could reach out to each other across geographic distances and connect with other fans—a huge plus for fans who had difficulty making friends in their “real” lives. The internet bound this fandom together in a way that hadn’t been possible before—and it spread the word. People would see all this Sailor Moon chatter out there, wonder what it was all about and get into the series themselves. In a way, the timing of Sailor Moon and the Internet was a perfect storm—had the series come around a few years earlier, before the online boom, it wouldn’t have been nearly as big as it became.
Fiyero3305: I think the only appropriate way to end this interview is with a “Sailor Says”. What advice or words of wisdom would you like to leave with our readers?
Steve: Sailor Steve Says fandom matters, and so does understanding it and recording its history. So be proud, be creative—and like us, record the history of fandoms so we can better understand them.
Bonnie: Always remember that your fandom experience is valid and important. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s a trivial thing that you were “all caught up in a cartoon”. Fandom shapes who and what we are on several levels—and the stories of that shaping are real. They deserve to be told, to be shared. Share your fandom experiences, and listen to the stories of others.