Inside the Sailor Moon Exhibition

by Ken Iikura-Gross,

The February 1992 issue of Kodansha's Nakayoshi magazine introduced a genre redefining manga series to the world: Naoko Takeuchi's Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon. The series quickly captured the imagination of Japanese girls and was adapted into a massively popular anime series less than a month later. The popularity of Sailor Moon still stands beyond the pale of many other anime and manga franchises, spawning multiple theater productions, a live-action TV series, and a remake of the anime, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Crystal. As the original fanbase grows older, even merchandise has seen a shift in quality from inexpensive children's toys to high-quality collectibles. With Sailor Moon still so in demand, it's no wonder that the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi, Tokyo held a Sailor Moon Exhibition between April 16 and June 19, 2016.

For fans of the franchise, the experience of visiting the Sailor Moon Exhibition was exhilarating for a number of reasons. Setting aside the spectacular panoramic view of Tokyo from the 52nd floor of the Mori Tower, a variety of interesting gallery pieces were on display. The entrance hall set the tone of with a grand centerpiece: a heptagonal display case filled with an assortment of books, magazines, plush toys, figures, and monitors with footage from Sailor Moon video games. The sheer amount of merchandise was a stunning reminder of this franchise's wide appeal. The center of the display also featured cardboard cutouts of Sailors Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter, all in their iconic fight poses, ready to defeat any villain who dared enter the Mori Art Museum. Patrons of the Exhibition could have their picture taken with the ladies and a copy printed in minutes. While a wallet sized photo was free of charge, a postcard-sized pic cost ¥1300. Another cardboard cutout of Sailor Moon was displayed in the entrance hall, ideally located for pictures.

Aside from the main display case, five smaller displays dotted the entrance hall of the Sailor Moon Exhibition, showcasing replicas of the Cutie Heart Rod, Moon Stick, Rainbow Moon Chalice, Cosmic Heart Compact, Crystal Moon Star, and Spiral Heart Moon Rod. The craftsmanship on each piece was remarkable, but I personally enjoyed the Cutie Heart Rod and Spiral Heart Moon Rod most. However, it was the brilliant mockup of the Moon Castle, portraits of the characters, and the large tapestry of Princess Serenity that made the entrance hall really come to life. The detail on the portraits and tapestry was impeccable, exemplifying the talent of Naoko Takeuchi. The tapestry was an original work just for the Sailor Moon Exhibition.

Unfortunately, photography and video wasn't allowed beyond the entrance hall, except in two areas. The first area displayed mannequins of Neo-Queen Serenity and King Endymion in their royal garb. The second area featured another piece of exclusive artwork by Takeuchi: a lovely mural of Sailor Moon sitting on a crescent moon. Although it wasn't as impressive compared to other pieces displayed at the Exhibition, it was notably autographed by Takeuchi herself, easy to miss until you took a closer look.

Sadly, photography wasn't allowed outside of this entrance hall. It's a sad but understandable fact of any major art gallery. Gallery pieces included line-art, concept art, animation cels, and storyboards from the anime series, along with original cover art and color pages from the manga. These were all magnificent pieces of work, and the concept art and storyboards gave patrons a look into the production process of the Sailor Moon anime. The animation cels were stunning as well, although they suffered from visible scratches. It's a shame that Toei had not kept them in better condition.

One section of the Exhibition prominently displayed the February 1992 issue of Nakayoshi magazine, with a selection of amenities given out to readers over the manga's syndication, such as pocket notebooks, postcards, pencil cases, and stationery. However, one amenity stood out from the rest: a Chibiusa pouch set. Listening to the other patrons remark on which trinket they had when they were younger provided a fascinating glimpse into the nostalgia people have for the Sailor Moon franchise.

The collection of Sailor Moon merchandise was stunning not only for the nostalgic older pieces, but also in the revealing evolution of merchandise from the 1990s to 2016. Older products were clearly meant for children because the quality of materials and designs of the dolls, transformation brooches, and pens were child-friendly and meant to weather rough handling. By contrast, the quality of modern products was much higher, being designed for display rather than play. However, toys weren't the only merchandise on display. There was also a Sailor Moon rock-paper-scissors card dispenser and a kiddy ride in one corner. While it's possible to find similar card dispensers and kiddy rides in Japan today, those two items reaffirmed Sailor Moon's status as a cultural phenomenon in the 1990s.

The true test of a franchise's power in '90s Japan was having a line of trading cards. The Sailor Moon Exhibition prominently displayed every trading card produced for the franchise next to the anime production materials. Although no photographs were allowed, I actually have one of the cards displayed at the exhibition. It's from the Sailor Moon Super S line of cards and features Chibusa with Helios as a Pegasus. I'm actually upset with myself because I had the opportunity receive a fair portion of the set for free in 2014. I had to turn it down at the time because I didn't have a card binder for them.

The final gallery pieces at the Sailor Moon Exhibition were stage props and outfits used in Sailor Moon stage productions. There were only a handful displayed, but they included Sailor Uranus's Space Sword, Neptune's Deep Aqua Mirror, Pluto's Garnet Rod, Saturn's Silence Glaive, and Tuxedo Mask's outfit. The props and outfits were well-designed, but examining them in detail revealed they were understandably made with the intent of being used and abused. Parts of the Garnet Rod used foam packing as opposed to wood or plastic, and the Space Sword had a thick coat of paint on the blade. Although this broke the illusion of the props as facsimiles of their anime counterparts, no one would be able to tell the difference from afar.

As with any art gallery, the Sailor Moon Exhibition featured a gift shop. The gift shop entrance displayed the promotional cardboard cutouts of the Sailor Scouts for Japanese pharmaceutical company Eisai's line of Chocola BBbeauty drinks, providing another wonderful spot to take a photo. The shop itself featured many widely available items like CDs and books, but there was an assortment of limited edition goods for sale as well. These included order-made Moon Sticks and Princess Serenity figures, along with cell phone straps, glassware, keychains, and edible items like cookies, chocolates, and marshmallows. However, one product at the gift shop was limited to one per customer: the Exhibition-exclusive Sailor Moon medal. It was no more than a golden coin with Princess Serenity stamped on it, but it made for a nice memento. There were also pendants and keychains available to place the medal inside and show it off. The staff said these medals weren't that popular overall, but they were something that very dedicated Sailor Moon fans might want.

The most remarkable items available at the gift shop were an assortment of Sailor Moon marriage registration forms. There were four in total, but Naoko Takeuchi specifically designed one just for the Exhibition. It was a nice souvenir for Sailor Moon fans considering marriage, but it raised the question of whether or not Japanese government offices would accept these registration forms. Although the packaging said two of the three forms were valid for submission, included an instruction manual on how to fill them out, and even read “These are legal forms,” it still seemed dubious to me. So I asked a good friend of mine, who is a Japanese public servant, if government offices would accept Sailor Moon marriage registration forms. Surprisingly, the answer was yes, which I also confirmed with my local government office. Apparently, it isn't uncommon for newlyweds to submit marriage registration forms with illustrations, photographs, or many other images printed on them.

You might think the busiest part of the Exhibition would be the gift shop, but it was actually the Chibiusa Café. The Museum's usual restaurant, The Sun, was converted into the Chibiusa Café for the duration of the Exhibition. There were only eight menu items for customers to choose from, but they were all Sailor Moon-related. Judging by what other customers were ordering, the most popular menu items seemed to be the Sailor Moon Special Hamburger, Luna-P Ball Mousse, and the Sailor Scout themed beauty drinks. Honestly, the food was a bit expensive and tasted like what you'd expect from a higher-end restaurant. But considering the rental space and licensing fees, the prices were understandable.

The wait times were less forgivable, though. The staff were doing their best to accommodate every customer, but seating was limited, and some customers just took far too long to eat. I had the distinct impression that many felt it was a shame to consume something designed from their favorite anime series, because they tried their hardest to eat their order gently and keep it from falling apart. (Yet, as Buddhism teaches, “All things are fleeting.”) It was difficult to stay irritated once you were seated because of the fantastic view of the Tokyo Skytree from the restaurant.

For a small gallery, the Sailor Moon Exhibition was enjoyable. It had a variety of different gallery pieces to entice Sailor Moon fans from across Japan. It was a unique experience for those outside the industry to see production materials displayed, even if looking at one frame of animation somewhat removed the mystique of those characters moving on screen. The Sailor Moon Exhibition is located in the Mori Art Museum on the 52nd floor of the Mori Tower, in the Roppongi Hills of Roppongi, Tokyo. The Exhibition is open daily between 10:00 AM and 10:00 PM, between April 16 and June 19, 2016. The gift shop is open during those same hours, and the Chibiusa Café is open between 11:00 AM and 10:00 PM. The Exhibition admission price is ¥1800. The Mori Tower is accessible by the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Lines Roppongi Station and the Toei Oedo Lines Roppongi Station. Additional information can be found at the Sailor Moon Exhibition homepage.

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