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Japanese Studies, Vol. 20, No.

1, 2000

A Challenge to Hollywood? Japanese Character
Goods Hit the US

ANNE ALLISON, Duke University, USA

Re¯ ecting recent shifts in late twentieth century global capitalism and academic interest
in transnational economic and cultural ¯ ows, scholars of Japan have begun to turn their
attention to the traf® c of cultural products into and out of Japan. On the one hand,
these scholars have examined the ¯ ow of Euro-American cultural productsÐ such as
Disneyland and McDonaldsÐ that enter Japan, and explored the ways in which these
products have been locally appropriated and remade.1 On the other, they have investi-
gated the spread of Japanese products like comic books (manga) and popular music to
other countries throughout Asia, considering how identity, power, and taste get marked
in the process.2 As yet, however, little attention has been paid to the in¯ ux of Japanese
cultural products into the US market. This gap is particularly striking in the wake of the
phenomenal Pokemon craze (for cards, Gameboy game, television cartoon, books,
movie) which, hitting the US in 1998± 1999, followed a chain of successes in the 1990s.
Television shows like Power Rangers and Big Bad Beetleborgs, both Japanese exports,
rose to the top of children’s ratings, and Japanese digital toys like tamagotchi took the
country by storm. Moreover, the success of these Japanese cultural products in the US
market would seem to threaten the hitherto unchallenged US hegemony in the export
and circulation of global entertainment products, and in global culture itself. Yet,
unlike US-made goods, Japanese goods tend to circulate in export markets with their
origins effaced, leading to the question of whether this diminishes or simply differenti-
ates Japan’ s presence in the cultural marketplace today. My paper explores the rich
terrain of this cultural/economic interface and tracks some of the contours it takes by
looking at two speci® c cases of Japanese exports to the US, one a success and the other
a failure: the live-action television show The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and the TV
cartoon Sailor Moon.
In 1993 Japan achieved an unprecedented success with the mega-hit The Mighty
Morphin Power RangersÐ a live-action television show marketed with tie-in merchandise
which boosted a Japanese toy company, Bandai, into the ranks of the world’ s leading
toy producers. Successful in Hollywood where other Japanese shows and productions

Joseph J. Tobin (Ed.), Re-made in Japan: Everyday Life and Consumer Taste in a Changing Society (New
Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992); James Watson (Ed.), Golden Arches East: McDonald’ s in East
Asia (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997); Aviad Raz, Riding the Black Ship: Japan and Tokyo
Disneyland (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000).
Leo Ching, `Imaginings in the Empires of the Sun: Japanese Mass Culture in Asia’ , in John Whittier
Treat (Ed.), Contemporary Japan and Popular Culture (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1996); Saya
Shiraishi, `Japan’ s Soft Power: Doraemon Goes Overseas’, in P. Katzenstein and T. Shiraishi (Eds),
Network Power: Japan and Asia (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997); Koichi Iwabuchi, Returning to
Asia: Japan in the Cultural Dynamics of Globalization, Localisation, and Asianisation, doctoral dissertation,
University of Western Sydney, Nepean, 1999.

1037-1397 print/1469-9338 online/00/010067-22 Ó 2000 Japanese Studies Association of Australia
68 Anne Allison

had failed, the show (produced by Toei in Japan and syndicated by Saban Entertain-
ment in the US) was nevertheless radically transformed to suit American tastes. This
process of `Americanization’ , as much as the show’s inherent appeal, has been credited
for the Power Rangers’ star status. It has been so effective, in fact, that few Americans
know the show’s origins. Sailor Moon did far less well there, becauseÐ according to
business expertsÐ it was left largely intact and did not undergo a similar transformation.
These various histories raise questions about how products shift as they transfer to this
export market; how lines of national and cultural identity get both effaced and
imprinted in this circulation; and whether what companies like Bandai refer to as their
corporate strategy of `globalization’ (inÐ their termÐ `going beyond national
boundaries’)3 represents a new pattern in the culture/economic interface of mass
Scholars such as Jameson, Barnet and Cavanagh, and Harvey suggest that as cultural
products, like those of mass popular culture, cross national boundaries, they erase
differences and homogenize cultures. In this view, global capitalismÐ with its signature
products like Coca Cola and McDonaldsÐ is remaking the world in its own uniform
image. 4 Other scholars, many of them anthropologists like Appadurai and Hannerz,
argue that local regions remake and resignify the cultural exports of even dominant
powers.5 A recent volume on McDonalds throughout East Asia, and the so-called
`McDonaldization’ of Asian cultures, takes this latter tack in showing how different
locales have appropriated the fast-food giant on distinctly local terms.6 At the same
time, the authors of the essays in that volume recognize a complex dialectic between
product and culture, and that appropriation can also lead to transformation. The whole
question of cultural imperialism here is thus problematized and the old binaries of either
resistance or accommodation no longer appear useful. The case to be investigated in my
own researchÐ that of Japanese cultural imports like TV shows and toysÐ not only
appears to ® t this general model but also raises it to a different register, in that Japanese
products are succeeding in a dominant power’ s mass culture and in a market long
deemed impenetrable by foreign countries.
But why toys? And why children’ s culture? Appadurai has drawn attention to the role
of the imagination, and of imagined worlds, in today’s global `ethnoscape’.7 He suggests
that as deterritorialization and boundary crossingÐ migrations, an unhinging of the old
relationship between culture and place, the expanded role that cyberspace and virtual
reality play in everyday life, space± time compressionÐ increasingly characterize the
world we inhabit, mass-mediated images and fantasies come to play an ever-more
dominant role in the shaping of lives and identities. This is as true, if not more so, of
children as of anyone else. In fact, I would suggest that this explains in part the 1990s
global boom in the sale of children’s merchandise. Toy merchandisers recognize

Bandai Kabushiki Kaisha, We Are Bandai: Corporate Guide (Tokyo: Bandai KoÅhoÅbu, 1998), p. 5.
Frederic Jameson, `Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism’ , New Left Review, 146
(1984), pp. 53± 92; Richard J. Barnet and John Cavanagh, Global Dreams: ImperialCorporations and the New
World Order (New York: TouchstoneÐ Simon & Schuster, 1994); David Harvey, The Condition of
Postmodernity (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1989).
Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis and London:
University of Minnesota Press, 1996); Ulf Hannerz, Transnational Connections: Culture, People, Places
(London: Routledge, 1996).
Watson, Golden Arches East.
Appadurai, Modernity at Large.
A Challenge to Hollywood? 69

this fact only too well and attempt to fashion characters that appeal to the imaginations
of children while also stimulating their desires for further consumption. As Bruno
Bettelheim has written about the psychology of fairytales, and as character merchandis-
ers themselves seem to have intuited, children are looking for characters with whom
they can identify but who are also put in more extreme, fanciful, or exotic circum-
stances than children experience in their ordinary lives.8 To take the show Power
Rangers, for example, the plot is one of everyday teenagers who transform into
superheroes with fantastic powers and weapons, and save the world from evil aliens. It
appears that what draws children into these fantasies is experiencing something both
playful and `real’ . For companies trying to sell their character merchandise abroad as
well as at home, this becomes a tricky challenge: making heroes whose pretense is at
least imaginable if not exactly realistic for children who live in different places.
The issue of place becomes critical here: how is `place’ mapped in a story about a
make-believe hero that can sell to children around the world? In the case of US-made
popular heroes such as Disney’s Mickey Mouse or Hollywood’s Rambo, the backdrop
of an American worldview is highlighted rather than effaced, making characters which,
though globally pervasive, remain American in terms of identity and style. Many of
those who consume these images in the world today do not share the conditions or
experiences of an American lifestyle they embody, yet still learn to desire it through that
consumption. What is drawn here as pretend characters and sold as character merchan-
dise carries with it, then, a geopolitical mapping of the world with the US placed as
both the real and imaginary center. As cultural critics such as Ariel Dorfman and M.
A. Mattelart have pointed out, Disney cartoons embed ideological messages about
American superiority, values, and individualistic capitalism whose spread around the
world is so effective because they’re disguised within the format of a fantasy cartoon.9
I share their view that geopolitical power is both behind and built into the dissemi-
nation of such images around the world. I agree too, however, with those scholars who
argue that the very notion of a (cultural/national/political) center is dissipating in
today’ s world of global capitalism and being replaced by what Appadurai calls `struc-
tures of common difference’.10 The new global system promotes rather than suppresses
differenceÐ but `difference’ only of a certain kind, managed (and contained) by com-
mon structures. As Richard Wilk argues, hegemony has not disappeared, but operates
now at the level of form rather than content.11 Shunya Yoshimi has noted too that the
ideological effects of Disney in Japan over the past decade have been organized around
`America’ less as an overt symbol than as an invisible system of signs, meanings, and

Bruno Betteheim, The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (New York: Alfred
A. Knopf, 1976). As Brian Sutton-Smith, scholar of children’s play and toys, puts it, children’s play is
paradoxical in that children like to play both in their world and beyond it; their play mimics yet also de® es
reality. See his Toys as Culture (New York and London: Gardner Press, 1986).
Ariel Dorfman and A. Mattelart, How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic (New
York: International General, 1976).
Appadurai, Modernity at Large.
Richard Wilk, `Learning to be Local in Belize: Global Systems of Common Difference’, in Daniel Miller
(Ed.), Worlds Apart: Modernity Through the Prism of the Local (London and New York: Routledge Press,
Shunya Yoshimi, `Consuming America: The Cultural Consumption of Spaces and Identities in the
Process of Globalization’ , paper presented at conference for `Beyond the First World: The Second
Conference of the `Global Democracy’, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, 2± 3 December 1999, pp. 102± 128.
70 Anne Allison

Precisely how power is woven into the globalization of Japanese-made mass images,
and whether its effects will be similar to those of American pop culture exports,
however, are issues few have studied. One notable exception is Saya Shiraishi, an
anthropologist who, in researching the export of DoraemonÐ a popular Japanese comic/
cartoon ® gure who is a blue robotic cat with technological gadgetry from the futureÐ to
other Asian/Paci® c countries, has argued `Japanese comics and animations are spread-
ing Japanese ideas about childhood, war and peace, science and technology, and the
future world ¼ often without revealing their Japanese origins’ .13 Similarly, another
pioneer in this ® eld, Koichi Iwabuchi, has coined the expression `culturally odorless
products’ (from the Japanese mukokuseki, `no nationality’ ) to characterize how Japanese
audiovisual products (including singers, idols, musical groups, and television programs)
are marketed in intra-Asia by overtly removing any traces of their origins.14 If culture
is a way of life, then culturally deodorizing a product is to delete any images or ideas
that would directly conjure up this place in the minds of consumers: a strategic policy
when exporting goods to countries whose memory of Japanese imperialism is still acute.
Despite overt cleansing, however, Japanese audiovisual exports still embed something
of a (Japanese) lifestyle or life experience that is recognized by, and resonates with,
audiences in intra-Asia (Taiwan, South Korea, China, etc.), Iwabuchi argues.15 What
Shiraishi and Iwabuchi note here about Japanese software carrying messages about a
particular worldview in its exportation while it often hides its place of origins is not only
signi® cant but also represents a different pattern for marketing the mass culture of a
global power engaged in by the US. And effacing the identityÐ the JapanesenessÐ of
Japanese products appears to be even more prominent in the US market (though the
case of Pokemon, which I will mention brie¯ y at the end, may signal a shift).
Kuroki Yasuo, the inventor of Sony’ s Walkman, has described how his company
overtly adopted this policy of making goods that mute their Japaneseness in the
early years following the war.16 Since the export market, particularly the United
States, was a primary target for Sony’ s business, Sony understood the need to over-
come the negative associations Americans had with both Japan (antipathy over the
war) and the `made-in-Japan’ label (which connoted cheap trinkets or `Japonesque’
handicrafts like lacquer, porcelain, and woodblock prints). Sony’s aim was to design its
goods in a style perceived to be global (sekai no) rather than Japanese (nihonrashii);

Shiraishi, `Japan’ s Soft Power’, p. 272.
Iwabuchi, Returning to Asia.
Brian Moeran, `Commodities, Culture, and Japan’ s Corollanization of Asia’ , in Ian Reader and Marie
Soderberg (Eds), Japanese In¯ uences and Presences in Asia (Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 2000),
pp. 25± 50. In this provocative essay using Appadurai’ s concept of ethnoscapes to examine the circulation
of Japanese goods in Hong Kong in the late 1990s, Moeran complicates this notion of the culturally
odorless product. Noting that `while Japan is now a clear referent for those living in Asia, the national
origins of Japanese (or any other) commodity culture are in some respects insigni® cant’ (p. 39), he suggests
that Japan’ s commodity culture is variously receivedby Asian peoples. Japanese goods are often associated
with Japan’ s advanced technology and capitalistic lifestyle, but not with any sense of Japan’ s economic
power or cultural superiority, Moeran suggests.
Kuroki Yasuo, `Nihon no monotsukuri wa sekai ni eikyoÅ o ataetiru ka? (`Is the Japanese Making of
Things In¯ uencing the World?’ ), in Akurosu HenshuÅshitsu (Ed.), Sekai shoÅhin no tsukurikata: Nihon media
ga sekai o seishita hi (The Making of Global Commodities: The Day Japanese Media Conquered the World)
(Tokyo: Parco Shuppan, 1995), pp. 10± 16.
A Challenge to Hollywood? 71

neutral colors (gray and dark blue) were used in the exterior design, stress was placed
on the excellence of technology in the product itself, and the `made-in-Japan’ label was
literally reduced to as small as it could get. This `mukokusekiteki’ strategy resulted in the
Walkman, considered by Kuroki to be Sony’s ® rst real global commodity. Yet using a
distinction that is commonly made between hardware (i.e. technological goods) and
software (that includes something more `cultural’ in the way of stories and images such
as in movies, comics, and music), Kuroki has lamented the fact that while people
worldwide use the Walkman, they don’t use it to listen to Japanese music. In his words,
the Walkman’ s in¯ uential power lacks depth. Writing in 1995, Kuroki recalled an
incident at a conference in the US where he was made painfully aware of the fact that
very few Americans are familiar with any of Japan’ s creative geniuses. It is time for this
situation to change, he then wrote; there is a `sensitivity’ (kansei) in Japanese culture
whose commodi® cation and globalization should be openly promoted and acknowl-
edged. This will happen, Kuroki predicted, as Japan enters the `soft’ world with its
innovation in such ® elds as anime and games; Japanese creativity will earn global
recognition and its creators, lacking the inferiority complex vis-aÁ-vis Americans held by
Kuroki’s generation, will be far less inclined to hide their national identity.
In all of this discourse on the export of (Japanese) goods from a domestic to foreign
market, the relationship between what precisely is the appeal of a product for con-
sumers and how this relates to the identity of its origins is alluded to, even theorized,
but rarely ¯ eshed out on the ground. Sometimes it is assumed that no relationship
existsÐ commodities work as empty signs to be ® lled with the desires, meanings, and
ideologies surrounding consumption in speci® c localesÐ or that the relationship is
totally determined by the power of the producing host (the cultural imperialism of the
`McDonaldization’ of society, for example).17 A more productive approach is to analyze
the make-up of a commodity (and the tastes this feeds in various consumer audiences)
and examine the terms by which this marks both place and identity. This is the tack
taken by Daniel Miller and Douglas Kellner,18 for example, and, in the context of
Japan, by Iwabuchi, Shiraishi, Moeran, Raz (in his recent book on Tokyo Disneyland)
and by Mitsui and Hosokawa in an interesting new volume.19 Using ethnography,
discourse analysis, and analysis of the commodity itself, products that ¯ ow across
national and cultural borders are studied in terms of how they are produced, used, and
discursively situated both in the places of production and of their circulation. This is
the methodology I adopt here to examine the ¯ ow of Japanese software (in children-
targeted television shows) into the US market. As with most software, the construction
of an imaginary world is centrally important in these programs; their stories and charac-
ters constantly refer to identity and place. The questions that guide my inquiry are
correspondingly: how are these constructions promoted by marketers, and received and

George Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society (London: Sage, 1993).
Daniel Miller, `Consumption as the Vanguard of History: A Polemic By Way of an Introduction’, in
Acknowledging Consumption: A Review of New Studies (London and New York: Routledge, 1995); Douglas
Kellner, Media Culture.
Iwabuchi, Returning to Asia; Shiraishi, `Japan’ s Soft Power’; Moeran, `Commodities, Culture, and
Japan’ s Corollanization of Asia’ ; Raz, Riding the Black Ship; and ToÅru Mitsui and ShuÅ hei Hosokawa,
Karaoke Around the World: Global Technology, Local Singing (London and New York: Routledge, 1998).
72 Anne Allison

interpreted by consumers in the export market of the US? Are they associated with
Japan and, if so, what is the association; if not, why not and what are the ideological
con® gurations of identity and place transmitted? And if Japan’ s practice of culturally
deodorizing export goods is still at work in the ¯ ow of software to the US market in the
1990s, how does this register with both consumer tastes and ideological dynamics?
I address these questions by examining the efforts made to locally (re)produce in the
United States two shows that were highly popular and successful in the local market-
place of Japan. BishoÅjo Senshi SeÅraÅ MuÅn, translated into English as Pretty Soldier, Sailor
Moon, was a highly rated, long-running (1992± 1997) television anime based on a
popular manga in Japan. Efforts to export it started about two years after it debuted in
Japan. While it was highly successful in a number of export markets including Canada,
Italy, and Hong Kong (for reasons mainly of marketing, I have been told by people in
the entertainment business in Japan), Sailor Moon failed in the United States when
broadcast by DIC Entertainment between fall 1995 and spring 1996. This failure came
despite the fact that Sailor Moon was heavily promoted with tie-in merchandise by
Bandai America, the US-based branch of Japan’ s largest toy manufacturer (Bandai),
and came on the heels of the phenomenally successful The Mighty Morphin Power
Rangers, a live-action superhero show based on the Japanese JuÅrenja which started US
transmission in fall 1993, by Saban Entertainment. When researching the factors
behind Sailor Moon’ s failure in the US, the reason I was given (by viewers, executives
in the toy and television business, and other commentators) far more often than any
other was that it was too `different’, too `Japanese’, and not suf® ciently `American’ to
appeal to audiences there.
Ironically, those who have written or spoken to me most passionately about the
success of The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in the United States have attributed its
appeal to precisely the `difference’ it posed to prevailing trends in children’ s entertain-
ment (particularly boy-targeted superheroes) in the US. With its live-action format
instead of animation, its highly stylized and ritualized scenes of transformation (`mor-
phing’ ), and the cyborgian coupling of human heroes to ® ghting machines, the Power
Rangers was heralded for its `newness’ and `freshness’. This is not the only reason given
for its success, however. The other is that, unlike the programming for Sailor Moon
which, as an animated cartoon, was barely altered except for adding English transla-
tions and American voices for US broadcast, The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
underwent a major transformation; its pre-morphed segments (before the human
teenagers morph into costumed/empowered superheroes) were completely reshot and
recast with American actors in a California setting. If its popularity was precipitated by
`difference’, this very difference was then domesticatedÐ a strategy the toy manufactur-
ers at Bandai and the entertainment executives at Saban readily admit has been critical
to the lasting popular success of this show in the US (it was still being broadcast in
1999 and still selling action ® gures).

The Rangers Do the US
The myth of the superheroÐ a character with transcendent powers who shifts from a
human to superhuman incarnation to ® ght evil and save the world from destructionÐ
recurs in folklore, mythology, religion, and popular culture around the world. As in the
United States, the popularization of modern superheroes in Japan was fostered by the
A Challenge to Hollywood? 73

rise of mass culture at the beginning of this century and, in particular, the medium of
comic artistry. In the US, the leading prewar superhero was Superman (® rst published
by DC Comics in 1938), which featured an extraterrestrial who transforms from the
bumbling, everyman incarnation of Clark Kent to the superior, heroic manifestation of
Superman. While it was his distinctive blend of `unique abilities, ¯ ashy costume, and
secret identity’ 20 that made Superman an instant hit, particularly amongst adolescent
boys, it was also the patriotism and Americanism in which the hero was cloaked (dutiful
son, loyal citizen, brave and independent leader) that launched his identity as American
icon. At the same time in Japan, superheroes were being crafted to amuse children and
adults as a form of leisure entertainment. Appearing most often in the medium of
serialized comics, these included a heroic ¯ ying mummy featured in the comic book
Ogon Batto (Golden Bat)21.Yet it was really the ® rst superheroic character to appear
after the war in that period of wholesale devastation and national malaise that has been
iconized as Japan’ s consummate popular hero.
Created by Tezuka Osamu, the doctor-turned-artist who admired and studied the
animation of Walt Disney and revolutionized both media of animation (anime) and
comic artistry (manga) in Japan’ s postwar period, the hero was Tetsuwan Atom, an
atomic-empowered boy± robot built by a scientist (the head of the Ministry of Science
in the year 2026) as a replacement for his own son, who died in a car accident. First
appearing as a serialized manga in 1951, the comic ran for 18 years and began
syndication as Japan’ s ® rst television cartoon (which was successfully exported abroad,
including to the US) in 1961 under the name Astro Boy. In the guise of the upbeat
Atom, robotic technology was made into a humanoid friend: a robot in which technol-
ogy fuses comfortably with the human qualities of hard work, cooperation, and
determination. As a replacement for a `lost son’, Tetsuwan Atom served as a new type
of hero through which a generation of war-weary Japanese could begin to re-envision
their country: as one built on technology, energized through hard work and good will,
and devoted to a new world order of machines and peace.
By the end of the 1950s, superheroes began to appear in the medium of live-action
(staged with actors in contrast to the cartoonery of animation) in Japan, inspired at ® rst
by the example of Superman in the United States which was being mass marketed across
the movie and television screens. This ® rst generation of live-action television heroes
included Starman in 1957, followed by shows such as Jiraiya (Land Mineman),
Rainbowman, Ganbaron (Fight Hard Man), Spectreman, Ultraman, and GekkoÅ Kamen
(Moonlight Mask).22 Though these ® rst postwar heroes were modeled on US styles,
they also displayed characteristics distinctive to the superhero genre in Japan. These
included martial arts, in which most heroes were rigorously trained; the `kaiju’ (mon-
ster) motif ® rst displayed in the Gojira series by (special effects master) Tsuburaya Eiji,
and which came to characterize the enemies as part-prehistoric monster and part-
atomic powerplant; and, triggered by Tetsuwan Atomu, robotic technology as a central
feature in the stories and characters.
In the early 1970s a new change occurred in the formula of superhero programming.
Called Go Renja (Five Rangers) and introduced by Toei Studios, the program featured

Les Daniels, D.C. Comics: 60 Years of the World’s Favorite Superheroes (Boston: Bul® nch Press, 1995),
p. 21.
Frederick Schodt, Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics (Tokyo: Kodansha International,
Heroes on Film (Higuchi).
74 Anne Allison

instead of a singular hero (in the US model), a team of ® ve heroes who ® ght together
as a `sentai’ (task force, ® ghting team) and collectively join their individual weaponry
into a super-sized arsenal (symbolized by a ® ghter plane in which each assumes one
part) to ® ght the forces of evil. The key, as with all superhero shows in Japan, was still
transformation (henshin) which, in the case of the Go Renja, occurs when the ® ve
normal-looking teenagers tap into their inner, heroic powers to morph into the cos-
tumed, electronic guises of the `renja’ . Also continued and developed from the previous
era of popular superheroism were the two tropes of kaiju (the Godzilla-like beasts who
serve as the evil enemies) and the emphasis on inner discipline and hard work
manifested by the rangers’ training in martial arts. It was a combination of these
qualities that ® rst caught the eye of Haim Saban, head of the US-based Saban
Entertainment, when he viewed a later segment of the renja series, JuÅrenja in 1985.
Struck by the dynamism of its pace, the fusion of otherworldly beasts and this-worldly
teenagers who transform into mechanically enhanced superheroes, and the effectiveness
of the medium of live-action (which, at the time, had been entirely supplanted by
animation in the US for Saturday morning children’s shows, including those featuring
superheroes), Saban contracted with Toei to purchase the rights to televise JuÅrenja in
the United States.
Saban’ s efforts were not the ® rst to import Japanese children’ s entertainment into the
United States. In the realm of popular culture more broadly, the Godzilla (Gojira) ® lms
ran with great success here starting with the ® rst one in 1956, recut to showcase the
American actor, Raymond Burr. Astro Boy in the 1960s was popular enough to generate
a series of comic books, translated into English, and waves of children’ s shows followed,
including Speed Racer, though syndication was never nationwide and tended to target
only certain geographical areas, such as the East and West coasts and Hawaii. By the
time Saban viewed JuÅrenja in the mid 1980s, the formula of the sentai team superheroes
had become a well established genre in Japan. The renja series that had started with Go
Renja proved to be a long-running series coming out with a new iteration (with the
story, characters, and enemies structured and thematized differently) every season, and
is still running today. JuÅrenja featured a dinosaur theme where each ranger is connec-
ted, in spirit and strength, with a dinosaur who, in turn, melds with the robotic powers
the ranger acquires when morphing. While Saban found the show to be dynamically
new, none of the networks Saban approached with the footage shared his enthusiasm.
All, in fact, viewed the fantasy format as too excessive and incredulous for what they
perceived to be the differently cultured audience JuÅrenja would ® nd if broadcast in the
US. For eight years Saban’ s efforts were rejected and the responses he received were
that it was `silly’ , `cheezy’ , `immature’ , and `foreign’ .23
Finally, Saban found a receptive audience with Margaret Loesch of Fox Children’ s
Network who had watched and relished Japanese programming herself as a child (and
was enticed, one of my contacts in the business has told me, with the bargain price).
Though Loesch’s colleagues were dismayed (personal communication, Barry Stag of
Saban), Fox agreed to run the show after retitling it The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
and retooling the program by shooting fresh footage of all the pre-morphed scenes
when the rangers are in human guise. Since only part of the show was being reshot, this
also meant that Fox could use the Japanese-made footage of all the so-called action

Ibid., pp. 33± 34, 24± 25.
A Challenge to Hollywood? 75

scenes (when the rangers are ® ghting in their morphed costumes) which brought down
production costs. When launched in September 1993, The Mighty Morphin Power
Rangers became the top-rated children’s show on US television within a mere four weeks
of ® rst airingÐ an unprecedented success for Fox Network. Furthermore, Power Rangers
maintained this status for three years, matched this popularity on the global market
(where, running worldwide in its hybridized version, The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,
it has also been the top-ranked children’ s show), and blossomed into what Barry Stag,
a vice-president in publicity at Saban Entertainment, told me recently, has been a
`cultural phenomenon’.
The popularity of the Power Rangers can be attributed to a number of factors, not least
of which is the business acumen which has masterminded a massive and multimedia
campaign to spread the fantasy of the Rangers across as many fronts as possible. Bandai
manufactures the toy merchandise and has been spectacularly successful with its Power
Ranger lines (achieving top sales for its Power Ranger action ® gures for three straight
years). There have also been highly popular live shows, guest appearances by the
rangers, tie-in sales with companies like McDonalds, Power Ranger movies, and video
games. But it is the concept of the Rangers that interests me here for, indeed, the
battlecryÐ `it’ s morphin time’ Ð has become so insinuated within the everyday habits of
millions of Americans that President Clinton has made reference to it in a national
speech. According to executives I have spoken to in charge of the production end of the
Power Ranger phenomenon (Jean Morra at Bandai America, Takeda Masanobu at the
home of® ces of Bandai in Japan, and Barry Stag at Saban Entertainment), there are
three key factors responsible for the Power Rangers’ astounding success. First, the
concept was different and refreshingly new in 1993. The format is live-action instead
of animation; transformation is played up and stylized in an array of diverse ways (the
kids transform as a team but also as individualized superheroes who combine features
of animals, machines, and humans); and the high degree of fantasy (with the alien beasts
and dinosaur incarnations) has a novel feel particularly when performed by real actors
instead of animated characters.
Second, Power Rangers taps into a fantasy for empowerment that has wide and,
according to its marketers, universal appeal. As Jean Morra stated it, power is something
`all kids can relate to’ .
In the context of the show, power is linked to and triggered by transformation which
is repeated and upgraded throughout the program (each ranger goes through numerous
morphings which move up in a hierarchy of powers) and enhanced by all the morphing
paraphernalia sold in toy stores by Bandai. Not only is the morphing dynamic structured
to appear exciting, fun, and heroic, but it is also woven into the story lines as a technique
that triggers the resolution of a personal problem confronting one of the rangers. In one
show, for example, one of the two girl rangers is barely eating out of fears she is
overweight. After heroically winning a battle against alien monsters in her ranger mode,
however, she comes to terms with her (human) body size and decides it is just ® ne the
way it is. With this dynamic, say producers and defenders of The Power Rangers, kids are
given a positive channel for feeling, imagining, and building self-esteem.24

The blending of fantasy with a story about growing up is standard in Japan’ s business of character
merchandising. Most recently, it can be seen in Pokemon, which commentators in Japan refer to as a `seichoÅ
monogatari’ (a story about growing up); Shinichi Nakazawa, Poketto no naka no yasei (Wildness in the
Pocket) (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1997). One could also argue that this is the winning formula in George
Lucas’ Star Wars movies as well.
76 Anne Allison

Morphing, or, more precisely, the ® ghting that always accompanies it, is the very
aspect of the show, however, that has also led to its greatest criticism, which has been
considerable. Calling the show excessively violentÐ because ® ghting is always the
technique used to resolve con¯ ict, and the heroes routinely resort to it as well as
routinely win (though the defeated enemies usually disintegrate or evaporate rather
than become bloodied or wounded as they would from conventional weapons like
guns)Ð critics like Sissela Bok argue that children under the age of six have dif® culty
differentiating the fantasy element of the show from reality and are thus led to mimic
the battle-stances they see on the screen.25 Many studies have reported a rise in
aggressive acts on the part of young children after watching Power Rangers and, on this
basis, many parents, educators, and social commentators have called for the censoring
of the show on TV.
The third reason given for the show’s incredible popularity is the massive transform-
ation JuÅrenja underwent in order to reappear as the American-friendly Power Rangers.
Bandai’ s chairman, Yamashina Makoto, attributes the lukewarm reception accorded
previous generations of Japanese kid exports (such as Ultraman) to the US to the fact
that they remained `too foreign’ and needed to be `translated’ to suit American tastes.26
The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers became the transplanted, translated, and trans-
formed edition of a Japanese concept and the guidelines followed in this process seem
to have been highly calculated and carefully thought out. Most importantly, all the
rangers were to have an American embodiment so all the scenes of the teenage heroes
appearing in their pre-morphed guise were shot new in the US, using American actors
and a setting of a California town and high school. The opinion that no show with
Japanese actors could achieve wide popularity in the US has been repeated to me by
children (fans of Power Rangers as well as non-fans), adults, Saban and Bandai
executives, (US) fans of sentai, and Japanese social critics writing about popular culture.
But not only were the rangers to be American, they were also (according, it seems, to
Saban’ s own worldview) to be ethnically mixed (in the original ® ve, there was one
Latino, one African American, one Asian American, and two Caucasians) and of a
better gender mix than in the Japanese version (two girls here instead of one).
Further, the rangers needed to project a cultural style that was recognizably Ameri-
can rather than Japanese resulting in what one observer has called `a campier, Califor-
nia version of the Power Rangers’ .27 It was apparently important to Saban and his
crews, however, to maintain the seriousness, team spirit, and training in martial arts
displayed by all the Japanese rangersÐ though these features too were `Americanized’
by, for one, giving the US actors a softer, lighter touch and spending far more of each
show centered on the personal or interpersonal dynamics of the human rangers. In
addition, efforts were made both in advance and ever since to tone down the violence
of the Japanese program. 28 Taped public service messages are added at the end of each
broadcast, warning kids not to try any of the morphin stances on their own and
explaining that the show is just `fantasy’ unlike the `real world’ in which kids actually
live. Some of the ® ghting in the Japanese footage has also been modi® ed by, for

Sissela Bok, Mayhem, Violence as Public Entertainment (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1998).
J. Cody, `Power Rangers Take on the Whole World’, Wall Street Journal, 23 March 1994.
Violence in mass and popular culture including child-oriented culture tends to be more standard and
acceptable in Japan than in the US though sentai programming came in for heavy criticism by parents in
the late 1980s and has subsequently been toned down.
A Challenge to Hollywood? 77

example, replacing the sounds of bodies coming together (in the Japanese version) with
the metallic sounds of battling machines (in the US version).29
The end result, The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is, in effect, a hybridÐ something
rooted in two cultures, as it wereÐ which Haim Saban himself has described as a
`cultural bridge between the two countries’. Yet viewers of the Power Rangers on the US
side of the ocean rarely pick up on, acknowledge, or even know that the origins of the
show lie in Japan. Talking to a number of children between the ages of eight and 12 at
my son’s school in Durham, North Carolina, only two (who are fans of Japanese anime)
knew this fact and all the rest found the show to be totally American (though some had
noticed a couple of `strange’ things in the post-morphed Japanese footage). Indeed,
there is little in the credits, promotion, advertisements, or reportage accompanying
Power Rangers in the US that references its Japanese roots and, in fact, one could say
there even seems to be the attempt to overtly efface them. Barry Stag at Saban has even
called Power Rangers an `American classic’, saying it had continued to move further and
further away from its Japanese moorings every season (by which he meant the percent-
age of the show taken up by the Japanese footage has continued to drop through its
seven-year run).
This attitude contrasts sharply with the attitude of Watanabe Yoshinori of Toei
Studios, the person who negotiated the original deal with Haim Saban and was
subsequently involved in the production of the Power Rangers. For him, the hope of
`penetrating the US market’ with Japanese popular heroes has been a remote dream,
given that Hollywood has been so dominated by Disney and other US enterprises and
so resistant to the works of other countries (`they think they’re the best country’ and
`don’ t recognize foreign productions’).30 His aim, in broadcasting JuÅrenja in the United
States, was to make Toei’ s special strengths known in the US so it could subsequently
compete `alongside George Lucas and Steven Spielberg’ .31 With Power Rangers, his
dream too was that `American kids would get wrapped up in the never-seen-before
Japanese type of hero’ 32 and that, with this base, `nihonsei hõÅ roÅ ga sekai o seisu’
(made-in-Japan heroes would get established around the world).33

Sailor MoonÐ A Pretty Warrior
In the wake of Power Rangers’ spectacular success, other Japanese heroes were quickly
exported. In the fall of 1995, these included Dragon Ball (cartoon), Masked Rider
(live-action, based on the Japanese show, Kamen Raida) and Sailor Moon (cartoon). Here

29 Å shita Eiji, Nihon hõÅ roÅ wa sekai o seisu (Japanese Heroes Get Established Around the World) (Tokyo:
Kadokawa Shoten, 1995).
Quoted in ibid., p. 283.
Ibid., p. 284. In conducting research in Japan on Pokemon and Japanese character merchandising, I
continually hear the opinion (by Japanese working in various facets of the entertainment business) that
Japanese movies cannot compete with US movies on the international market. In contrast, it is believed
that anime has the ability to become truly global; one evidence given of this fact is that the animated movie,
Pokemon, the First Movie, Mewtwo Strikes Back (released in November 1999) exceeded ® rst week sales of
Disney’ s Lion King in the US.
32 Å
Oshita, p. 297.
Ibid., p. 298.
78 Anne Allison

I will only deal with Sailor Moon, which was hyped on both sides of the Paci® c as a new
popular hero for girls. Bandai was heavily involved in the promotional campaigns in the
US as they were banking on the success of the show to generate sales of their toy
merchandise, mainly dolls, which were originally scheduled to come out one month
before the start of broadcast (September 1995). As it turns out, there was a delay
due to reported disagreements in Bandai over what changes to make to the Japanese
version of the doll for US sales.34 Their concern seems to have been both justi® ed
and insuf® cient, in the end, as the reason Sailor Moon ultimately failed in this
market, I have been repeatedly told, was because it never really registered with the
tastes and desires of American girls. In short, Sailor Moon was perceived as being too
`different’ . I will return to this issue after giving a brief description of the show and story
BishoÅjo Senshi SeÅ raÅ MuÅn is the story of a 14-year-old Japanese girl who, along with
four other girls, transforms into the superheroic Sailor Scouts who ® ght the evil
Negaverse to save the Earth and humanity from destruction. Based on the comic
written by female manga artist Takeuchi Naoko, which has been serialized in the girls’
magazine Nakayoshi, as well as published in book form, BishoÅjo Senshi SeÅraÅ MuÅn ran
successfully on Japanese television for over ® ve years starting in 1992. Its various
incarnations have been: BishoÅjo Senshi SeÅraÅ MuÅn (1992± 1993), BishoÅjo Senshi SeÅraÅ MuÅn
R (1993± 1994), BishoÅjo Senshi SeÅraÅ MuÅn S (1994± 1995), BishoÅjo Senshi SeÅraÅ MuÅn Super
S (1994± 1995), and BishoÅjo Senshi SeÅraÅ MuÅn SutaÅzu (1996± 1997). When running (and
even afterwards; she was still appearing in the SeÅraÅ MuÅn musical during summer 1998),
SeÅraÅ MuÅn was mass marketed in a blitz of commodity goods ranging from Sailor Moon
notepads, lunchboxes, and pen-sets to Sailor Moon videos, games, and clothing. Sailor
Moon was a veritable boom among girls from about age 3± 15 for at least the ® ve years
the show ran as an anime on TV. The reason for her great appeal, according to one
nine-year-old Japanese girl I spoke with, was her `good style’ as much as, if not more
than, her identity as a superhero.
This is also the reason given for her fandom among `ojisan-tachi’ (older men). With
her leggy slender body, long ¯ owing blond hair, and the mini-skirted version of her
out® t she acquires after morphing, SeÅ raÅ MuÅn is also read as a sex iconÐ one that feeds
and is fed by a general trend in Japan towards the infantilization of female sex objects.
The fact that Sailor Moon not only wears a sailor out® t but is named for it is striking
given that this is the uniform standardly worn by girls in junior and senior high school
in Japan as well as the clothing sexualized on young females to project a nymphet effect.
The uniformed schoolgirl is a dominant trope in pornography, comics, and sex culture
in general in Japan as witnessed by the new, much reported trend of `enjo koÅsai’ Ð the
practice of high school girls engaging in sexual relations, whether they are of phone sex
or intercourse, with sarariiman (middle-aged, white collar workers). Employing the
sailor-uniform motif here then could be said to stimulate two desires amongst Japanese.
One is to identify with the adolescent girl, an identi® cation engaged in by girls and also
apparently by males (boys and men) in a recent `shoÅjo’ fad where `young girl’ carries

Asahi Shinbun, `Amerika shiyoÅ ni henshin yo’ (Transforming to Suit American Speci® cation), Asahi
Shinbun, 14 July 1995 (evening edition), p. 1.
A Challenge to Hollywood? 79

the connotation of carefree consumer.35 The other desire is lust for Sailor Moon as a
sex object, a desire expressed by male fans of the show as well as female (there is a
pronounced homoerotic ¯ avor in the Japanese version of the show, but it was removed
for its US broadcast; fans of Sailor Moon in the US, nonetheless, often discuss the erotic
and homoerotic appeal of the show over the internet).
As a story, the key feature of SeÅraÅ MuÅ n is the transformation of ® ve girls, each distinct
in her own way (one is a brain, another lives in a temple, the main character is a
sleepyhead who prefers the arcade to studying ¼ ) to the sailor scoutsÐ celestial-empow-
ered superheroes, each aligned to separate planets (Sailor Moon, Sailor Mercury, Sailor
Mars, Sailor Venus, Sailor Jupiter). In the ® rst comic, now translated into English (by
Stuart Levy’s Mixx Company which ® rst brought it out in its magazine), Tsukino Usagi,
called Usagi-chan (Little Rabbit) by her family and friends, receives a test back at school
with the low gradeÐ typical for herÐ of 30. Envious of a friend, whose score of 100 has
earned her a shopping spree at a jewelry shop, Usagi compensates by heading off to the
arcade to play her favorite video game, Moon V. Musing on her de® citsÐ she loves to
eat, shop, and sleep and is bad at punctuality, self-discipline, and studyingÐ Usagi ® rst
meets the new girl at school, Mizuno Eimi, who is everything Usagi is not: a genius,
studious, and conscientious. These polar opposites become friends nonetheless; Usagi
invites Eimi to the arcade where, with her smarts, she becomes a champion of the Moon
V game despite the fact she has never played before. As Eimi runs off to her juku (cram
school), she and Usagi agree to call each other by their ® rst names, thereby starting a
friendship that will ground the Sailor Moon story to follow. When a crisis occurs shortly
thereafter at the juku, Usagi morphs into Sailor Moon to save the day assisted by Eimi,
who discovers she is Sailor Mercury with superpowers as well.
The plot line that unfolds in subsequent comics and episodes of the cartoon is
similarly textured in the nitty-gritty of the human circumstances and relationships of ® ve
teenage girls who ritualistically transform into superheroes to save humans from the
destruction targeted at them by the Negaverse (a constellation of empowered aliens
headed by Queen Beryl). As in Power Rangers, the heroes form a team (nakama in
Japanese, `scouts’ in English) and work both collectively and individually to overcome
the evils of a destructive foe. Similarly as well, the heroes double as humans and
superpowers, and the transformation each undergoes is highly stylized though marked
by a distinct costume and set of individual powers. In the case of Serena (the English
name for Usagi), for example, morphing is triggered by the shout of `Moon Power
Prism’ (`make-up’ , borrowed from English, in the Japanese version) which, in a ritual
lasting about 30 seconds to the accompaniment of the morphing theme music, goes
through the following steps. Serena’ s nails turn red, her lashes grow long, jewelry
appears on her neck and ears, red baubles dot her pigtails, a tiara springs forth on her
head, and the out® t she wearsÐ a school (sailor) uniformÐ is ® rst removed (showing the
silhouette of a naked Serena) then reappears as now a mini-skirted, sexier version that
shows off the cleavage of newly developed breasts.
It is in this guise that Serena (now Sailor Moon) acquires her powers which, as with
the other scouts, assume the shape of weapons that are housed in the costume she wears;
the tiara on her head becomes a ¯ ying frisbee projectile and the moon prism she holds
in her hand serves like a magic wand.

See John Treat, `Yoshimoto Banana’ s Kitchen, or the Cultural Logic of Japanese Consumerism, ’ in Lise
Skov and Brian Moeran (Eds), Women, Media and Consumption in Japan (Richmond, Surrey: Curzon
Press, 1995), pp. 274± 298.
80 Anne Allison

Armed with fantasy power equipment that bleeds into the body itself, Sailor
Moon is a blend of human and trans-human traits who heroically ® ghts to preserve the
Earth for the habitation of humans. In this, Sailor Moon follows in the postwar
tradition started in Japan’ s character business with Tetsuwan Atomu of mecha-human
heroesÐ humanoid machines/mechanized humans (whether they are cyborgs, robots,
androids, or transformers)Ð who ® ght aliens threatening to destroy `human’ life.
Making the hero a female, however, shifts the formula somewhat. There are three
main differences in the case of Sailor Moon: the heroes are made to be attractive and
fashion-conscious, the everyday lives of the everyday girls are played up in the story,
and the main character (Sailor Moon) is a ¯ awed (anti-)hero. All three of these
elements are said to have been important to the popularization of the character (in all
its iterationsÐ as a manga, terebi anime, video game, video, icon) in Japan and come out,
in fact, from a genre established in the mid 1980s of `bishoÅjo hõÅ roÅ’ Ð pretty young female
heroes. This has entailed a number of girl-centered and (often) female-authored manga,
girls’ magazines, cartoon shows on TV, OAV (original animated videos), and movies in
which the lead character is an empowered girl, whether the powers are magical
(mahoÅÐ a big favorite), mechanical (meka), extraterrestrial, cyborg, otherworldly, or a
Feminists, such as commentator Minomiya Kazuko, see the reality of better gender
relations and more career and lifestyle opportunities for women today in Japan re¯ ected
in the bishoÅjo hõÅ roÅ trend.36 Japanese girls are happier and more satis® ed to be born
female today than ever before, she notes, which is conveyed in the upbeat characteriza-
tion of Sailor Moon who is not only a strong hero, but also an ordinary girl who enjoys
her indulgences. The very ordinariness of the hero, so different from the typical male
hero, is a positive role model for girls as well as boys, she argues. Using the somewhat
odd word `risoÅkyoÅ’ (utopic) to describe the very earthbound nature of Serena/Usagi,
Minomiya applauds her everyday indulgences of shopping, eating, video games, and
general hanging-out with her girlfriends. That such a `normal’ girl can then go on to
® ght evil and become a superpower is a more balanced portrayal of heroism than the
standard male scenario where the hero seems perfect and focused from the beginning,
and is both willing and required to sacri® ce everything for his `job’ (as are corporate
sarariiman). Girls, in short, can see themselves in both the ¯ awed Usagi and the
super-enhanced Sailor Moon, which will encourage them to be both comfortable as
girls and inspired to seek out careers or missions as adults unrestricted by their gender.
(A Japanese career woman told me she saw this differently, however; the blemishes
Usagi displays under the cloak of superheroism are the masquerade working women
must be willing to adopt in Japan in order to assuage the egos of their male co-workers.)
For boys too, there is a positive message, according to Minomiya, though her claims
that boys watched the show were disputed by Bandai executives I interviewed during
the summer of 1998, who said the show had been strictly `for girls’ . Violence and
chauvinism are less a part of heroism in this girl’ s brand of the superpower and the
emphasis given to interpersonal relations and everyday life models a life where family
and friends can be balanced with work and vocation.
In the domestic market, BishoÅjo Senshi SeÅraÅ MuÅn was designed to expand the

Minomiya Kazuko, `BishoÅ jo hõÅ roÅ wa doko eiku ka?’ (Where are Beautiful Young Girl Heroes Going?),
in KoÅei Cult Club (Ed.), BishoÅjo HõÅ roÅ Senki (War Journals of Beautiful Young Girl Heroes) (Tokyo: KoÅei,
1994), pp. 128± 135.
A Challenge to Hollywood? 81

audience for superheroes which, in the live-action sentai genre, had been limited mainly
to boys between the ages of three and nine. With SeÅraÅ MuÅn, the aim was to reach girls
in the same age range who would be stimulated to not only watch the show but also buy
the Bandai-produced character merchandise ranging from video games, OAVs, comic
books, clothing, and personal-ware like pocket books to the major sale item, Sailor
Moon dolls. In promoting the concept, Bandai also promoted itself as adhering to a
new, bolder image of female hero. Bandai’ s chairman has stated, for example:
In Japan and all over the world, women are assuming more and more positions
of power in society. They don’t want to be discriminated against as soft or
gentle; they want to grow up to be tough and powerful. And Sailor Moon is
a role model for that type of girl. 37
Bandai had an economic motive, of course, for generating a new `role model’ for girls;
it hoped to displace Licca-chan, the reigning doll± ® gure in Japan since 1967 and
manufactured by Bandai’ s rival, the toy company Takara. Licca (spelled with an `L’ but
pronounced `Ri-ka’ in Japanese) projects a `girlier’ aura than Sailor Moon and is
standardly described (in Japanese toy journals and toy exhibits, for example) as a
`Japanese-style’ (nihonteki) doll with soft features, a girlish ® gure, and an array of
fashionable clothes. Though she lacks the complexities of the story which, in the manga,
anime, and OAVs, were an important attraction for Sailor Moon, Licca has always been
marketed with a family narrative (rendered in the stories on the back of doll packages,
in mini-magazines, in the two movies Takara has brought out to bolster sales, and in
family doll merchandise). Licca is the bi-racial, bi-cultural child of a French father (who
is a cellist) and a Japanese mother (who is a fashion designer); she has four (younger)
siblings, a jet-setting life, and striking blonde hair. Takara succeeded with Licca-chan,
whereas its alliance with Mattel in 1962 to sell Barbie in Japan largely failed.38
In that campaign, Barbie was alteredÐ as Sailor Moon was for the US market more
than 30 years laterÐ to make her ® t the tastes, as they were calculated to be, of Japanese
girls. The doll was shortened, her eyes were made more doe-shaped and less round, her
mouth was closed to hide the full mouth of white teeth, and, most importantly, her
® gure was given more girlish proportions. Despite these alterations, Barbie never sold
very well, in large part because Japanese mothers disliked both her womanly body
and the career aspirations that accompanied her (`stewardess Barbie’ , for example).
When Mattel pulled out of the alliance, Takara continued to sell Barbie under the
name `Jenny’ with better results. (In 1995 Mattel returned to Japan again with Barbie,
but its poor sales have initiated another pull out; now it has made an alliance
with Bandai whereby, in the name of `localization’ , Bandai will sell Mattel goods
in Japan and Mattel will market Bandai goods in the US.) Licca-chan has been the
mainstay for Takara sales in girl toys since 1967 and the icon of and for girl-doll
fashion in Japan’ s postwar era. That is, until Sailor Moon came along and, blending
action with fashion, helped spawn a new trend in Japan’ s character merchandising
industry referred to (approvingly) by a Mattel executive I spoke to in the US in fall
1998, as `fashion action’. In other words, fashion wasn’t disregarded for this female

Quoted in Reid (1995), p. 16.
For a full history of Licca-chan, see Nakamura Futaba, Licca to Rikachan: shoÅwa no fasshon doÅ rutachi
(Licca and Rikachan: Fashion Dolls of the Showa Period) (Tokyo: Neko, 1997).
82 Anne Allison

hero, as some say it has been for the female rangers in Power Rangers (where trans-
formed rangers all wear the same out® t, though the girls wear pink-and-yellow-colored
ones with earrings). Rather, the sailor scouts are all dressed in sailor out® ts that become
fashionably pretty and sexy after they acquire their `powers’ (which make them,
particularly Sailor Moon, not only strong but also newly desirable). When sold as dolls,
their accessories thus include items categorized as both fashion (shoes, jewelry, dresses)
and action (weapons).
Though Bandai itself referred to Sailor Moon as a `fashion doll’ in the same genre as
Licca, Jenny, and Barbie, she was also touted as a girl doll with an action component
hitherto con® ned to boy-oriented heroes. It is this difference which made Sailor Moon
such a big seller in the 1990s and bumped her above Licca-chan in doll sales. Japanese
children also told me that they were attracted to Sailor Moon for its story which,
written by a respected manga artist (on which the television anime and movies are
based), kept putting the scouts in new situations with endless twists, turns, and
interpersonal complexities between the girls and, in the case of Sailor Moon, between
her and the mysterious Darian/Tuxedo Mask with whom she shares a romantic passion
(and secretive past). As with most manga, the narrative of BishoÅjo Senshi SeÅraÅ MuÅn kept
shifting, developing, and unfolding over a period of years of publication (serialization in
Nakayoshi, in this case) and, in the cartoon show as well, there were new series that
kept introducing new discoveries, characters, dimensions, and even worlds. This
piqued interest and the blend of action and fashion also enabled a storyline of romance
as much as adventure; girls (and boy fans in the US) have told me that this multifaceted
aspect of Sailor Moon is one of its biggest appeals.
The decision to export the popular SeÅraÅ MuÅn to the United States and other
countries was made by Bandai as part of an aggressive campaign to globalize its toy
products which it adopted in the early 1990s. As stated by chairman Yamashina,
Bandai calculates that 40% of its sales in the year 2000 will be in the export market.
According to its 1998 of® cial corporate guide, globalization is one of its primary
strategies which it aims to realize by producing `major attractions’ and `innovative new
products’ that will `transcend national boundaries’ (the Japanese terms used for this
include both `kokusaika’ Ð internationalizationÐ and `kokkyoÅ o koeru’ Ð transcending
national borders).39 Bandai’ s other key strategy is `diversi® cation’ (takakuka) by which
is meant creating new and/or altered products to target new audiences and achieve
greater sales. As they describe it, if a child enjoys a particular character, then `the child
will be even happier if the character appears not just in dolls but also on items such as
clothing, food products, and everyday goods’.40 These two strategiesÐ diversi® cation
and globalizationÐ are intrinsically linked at Bandai and are behind such major promo-
tions as that of Sailor Moon.
Bandai has been tremendously successful in many of the countries it has ex-
ported Sailor Moon to including France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Thailand,
Hong Kong, and Canada. People I have spoken to in the business say these
successes have been largely due to the adoption of smart marketing strategies
in the local markets (which is where Sailor Moon failed in the US, these same people
claimÐ a point I will return to in the conclusion). Its expectations for the US market
were great, given the spectacular success accorded Power Rangers and on whose

Bandai Kabushiki Kaisha, We Are Bandai, p. 6.
Bandai, p. 5.
A Challenge to Hollywood? 83

heels (1995Ð two years after the ® rst US broadcast of Power Rangers) the Sailor Moon
phenomenon was being launched. Unlike the formatting of Power Rangers, however,
which was live-action, Sailor Moon was a cartoon and couldn’t be easily spliced with
new footage to Americanize the ¯ avor, characters, and storyline of the show. The lines
were dubbed into English, American voices used (Molly given a heavy Brooklyn
accent), and other minor changes were made such as toning down any violence and
rewriting the scouts’ death scenes (which were to occur in later shows). For the most
part though, the cartoon remained largely unchanged from the Japanese version which
meant that overt signs of Japaneseness remained in the images and script. These
included: Japanese writing in signs and on buildings; places that can be found in Japan
but not the US (such as temples, shrines, and cram schools); and everyday settings
where the customs, foods, and/or behavior would be commonplace for Japan but not
in the US (such as drinking tea, using chopsticks, and eating obentoÅ).
The type of domestication of difference performed on JuÅrenja to produce Power
Rangers was not undertaken in the case of Sailor Moon. Still, its promoters thought it
had another refreshing new concept for US audiences. As stated by Bandai’ s Ya-
mashina Makoto:
¼ we think American girls might move over toward Sailor Moon. Barbie is an
excellent doll, but she has no story. Sailor Moon is a warrior on the side of
justice. I mean, this girl is a superhero.41
Still, where Bandai could make changesÐ in the doll linesÐ it did, though only,
apparently, after heated discussions about what exactly the tastes of girls in the US were
and how far Bandai, as a Japanese company, needed or ought to go to meet them.42 In
a seeming inverse of the changes given the US-made Barbie to make her girlier, Sailor
Moon dolls were altered to appear `yori ningen ni chikaku’ (closer to being human); they
were given rounder eyes, `more glamorous’ ® gures, and hair colors considered more
`realistic’ Ð blonde and black over the pink and blue found in the Japanese dolls. Still,
even before she debuted in the US, commentators in Japan wondered whether the
animated version with the Japanese stylization left intact might prove too `alien’ to
American girls. In fact, three years later, this was precisely the assessment I was given
by of® cials at Bandai (in Japan) for Sailor Moon’ s failure in the US; Japanese anime is
a medium that just doesn’t translate well to audiences of young kids in the United
States, I was told. `It’ s just too different’. An executive of Mattel agreed by saying that
the producers of Sailor Moon in the US had failed to suf® ciently adjust it for American
tastes and were therefore projecting characters that girls in the US simply couldn’t
relate to. Children (girls and boys, between the ages of 10 and 14, I interviewed in
Durham, North Carolina43) seemed split about this assessment. Some found it a little
off-putting, in part, they said, because it was different and because the girl characters
seemed strange with their (animated) big mouths, noses that would occasionally
disappear, and eyes that would move between huge, bulging, and mere slits. Others
who didn’t particularly like or dislike the show said the Japaneseness of it all didn’t
affect them one way or another. Those who actively disliked the show often did

Quoted in Reid, op. cit., p. 16.
As reported in the Asahi Shinbun, 14 July 1995, p. 1.
I interviewed 20 children. Eight of these were individual interviews that lasted from one to two hours.
Twelve attended a class I taught once a week for six weeks at my son’ s school; discussions included
watching a segment of Sailor Moon together and discussing various reactions to the show.
84 Anne Allison

so for very particular reasons; those who didn’t like Serena, for example, often said she
was too whiny, irritating, and unheroic.
Still there have been avid fans of Sailor Moon in the United States, including those
who have joined the S.O.S. (`Save Our Scouts’) fan club, working to bring the show
back on the air (old reruns are still being televised today on cable), and readers of the
translated Sailor Moon comics (which are so popular that the ® rst edition published in
1997 sold 10,000 copies). In general, fans here are older than the target audience for
the show in Japan (three to seven) and many are fans of Japanese anime (or manga)
more generally, so, rather than being put off by the medium of Japanese animation, this
is one of the reasons they are attracted to Sailor Moon. In over three hundred responses
to a survey I ran in May, 1998, on the internet with these fans (about one-third were
male, ages ranged from nine to 36, and residences ranged from everywhere within the
US to places beyond such as Australia), probably the most common reason cited for
Sailor Moon’ s appeal was the split nature of her character (and those of the other
scouts). The fact that Sailor Moon is both an average, ordinary, even irritating girl plus
a heroic, beyond-human, fantasy superstar was compelling for these fans, many of
whom identi® ed with one or another of the human incarnations (`yeah, Serena talks too
much and is lazy, but I identify with her’). Many relished the fact that these heroes are
girls, noting the great paucity of strong female leads in the domain of both children’ s
and adult entertainment in the US, and many also approved of the fact that the scouts
can be warrior leaders but also `femme’ in appearanceÐ a model of heroism some found
refreshingly `different’ . The complexity of the stories that weave in and out between
fantasy worlds and the personal and interpersonal dynamics of the scouts (including
their romances) was also cited as a major attraction of Sailor Moon and indeed, for
many of the fans; they have sought out the Japanese versions of both the anime (in
movie or television format) and manga to learn more about the story and what for them
is appealing in the `original’ , `authentic’ form. Saying that the narratives of Japanese
comics and animation are so much more interesting and rich than equivalent fare on
the US popular scene, these fans of Sailor Moon are as compelled by the stories as they
are by the complexion of the lead charactersÐ tough heroes who are human girls.

In a recent article on US fandom of (Japanese) anime, Susan Napier has concluded that
fans are engaged in a relatively new form of spectatorship, that of the committed fan,
whose interaction transcends issues of national boundaries.44
Drawn to a certain `otherness’ in the stories and images they ® nd in anime, these fans
don’t necessarily identify this with either a longing for or association with `real’ Japan.
Rather, they speak of how imaginative anime is, how interesting and complicated the
characters, and how uniquely exquisite the aesthetics. Often this is contrasted with what
is more standard, and found to be blander and less interesting, in the WestÐ Disney
animation or TV programs that always end on an upbeat note. But while a number
claimed that learning about Japan was one of their primary motives in viewing anime,

Susan Napier, `The Fifth Look: Western Audiences and Japanese Animation’ , n.d.
A Challenge to Hollywood? 85

Napier concludes that the `issue of Japaneseness is not the major attraction of anime for
most of the respondents’.45
In conducting research on the receptive market for Japanese popular culture in
Taiwan in the 1990s, Koichi Iwabuchi arrived at a similar conclusion. Based on
interviews he carried out with 19 viewers of the highly popular Japanese home drama,
Tokyo Love Story, Iwabuchi argues that fans are drawn to the depiction of a lifestyle that
resonates with their desires, if not real experiences, in life.46 Taiwanese don’t `yearn’ for
Japan per se, he concludes, but they relate to the world and worldview projected in a
show like Tokyo Love Story far better than that in a Hollywood-based show such as
Beverly Hills 90210. In both this case and that of the anime fans studied by Napier, what
is found appealing in the `soft’ stories and images coming from Japan is the creation of
imaginary world(s) that strike fans with a mixture of familiarity as well as fantasy. In my
own work on children’ s mass culture in and between the two sites of Japan and the US,
I have discovered that this is the general formula children are seeking as well; they hope
to be both pulled in and taken away (by a game, show, comic, movie). Children on both
sides of the Paci® c say much the same thing; those characters and stories they like the
best are the ones in which they can see or feel something of themselvesÐ by identifying,
for example, with a lead characterÐ but that also have the power to transport them to
another worldÐ a fantasy or dream world, for instance.
In the fan audiences Napier and Iwabuchi have studied, the construction of a
desirable, imaginary world is disconnected from literal place in the sense that where
these products come from (as well as where they are consumed, I would guess) matters
little in the pleasure of consumption. What matters instead is the creation of something
(a drama, song, game) that captures one’s imagination yet also `makes sense’. Is this
different from `culture’ if we de® ne it as a way of life that is shared by a number of
people? Certainly, the decision to remake the renja series for US broadcast with
American teenagers set in a California high school was motivated by such a concept of
culture and with the assumption that US kids could not identify with pre-morphed
actors that looked and acted culturally different. As for capturing children’s imagina-
tions with dramas of transformation and battles with alien monsters, the show seemed
too dissonantly foreign on this score as well, thought many in the US entertainment
world. This assessment was proven wrong, of course; kids in the US as well as around
the world have loved the morphin fantasy. Would this audience have as easily bought
into it if the kids who morph looked Japanese? Everyone in the business I have spoken
to, Japanese as well as North American, insist that US kids would not have; they also
suggest that the global popularity of Power Rangers would not have occurred without the
hegemonic staple of American-acted heroes. I agree with this assessment given the year
(1993) the show came out and the fact its medium was live-action.
The medium of anime in which Sailor Moon and now Pokemon have been broadcast
is different, however, and much more pliable with constructions of identity and place.
What Appadurai has written about imagination becoming more centrally important in
today’ s deterritorialized and mass-mediated world seems re¯ ected in the popularity
given anime whose fandom is now spreading around the world. As Stuart Hall writes,
we are now living in a world/time in which relatively separate areas of the globe are

Ibid., p. 291.
Iwabuchi, Returning to Asia.
86 Anne Allison

intersecting in one imaginary space.47 While globalization is still dominated by the
West, he continues, this domination is uneven and contradictory, and our world
assumes the state of both submerging and (re)inventing cultural difference. In an anime
like Sailor Moon, place and even identity are relatively hazy, I would argue, in contrast
to those who found its cultural odor to be strong, and too smelly for US audiences.
While there are overt signs that the context of the show is a place other than the US
(and probably someplace in East Asia with the chopsticks, temples, and script), most
of the (US) viewers and fans I spoke with about Sailor Moon did not regard this as a
decisive factor in their reception of the show. In fact, as with the fans Napier
interviewed, there was a certain attraction to the very `otherness’ or `difference’
suggested by the text. For those who really like(d) the story, this sense of difference
coupled with a perception of familiarity as wellÐ Serena is a klutz who makes good,
Eimi is a smart girl who needs to relax, and the interpersonal dynamics of the scouts
are of dependable friends who also bicker. As one 15-year-old girl said to me, `whoever
designed this story knows something about girls, what they dream about, and how they
live’ . For those who didn’t like the show, the reasons were basically the same;
something of either the fantasy world of the scouts or the day-to-day world of the girls
didn’t register or appeal to their tastes. But for almost no one I spoke to or communi-
cated with over the internet was the Japaneseness of the characters and story identified
as more than a minor concern (comments such as `it’ s cool the characters are Japanese’ ,
or `I got tired of seeing letters I couldn’t read’ ).
Why Sailor Moon ¯ opped as a television program in the US is due, I would argue, far
more to the way it was (mis)marketed than to the cultural odoring of the show. Its
producers in the US, DIC Entertainment, a small and seemingly inexperienced com-
pany, broadcast the show at hours unfriendly to children (2:00 p.m. where I live in
North Carolina and elsewhere, apparently, at 9 a.m. when kids have already left for
school; unlike Power Rangers, it also was never slotted for Saturday morning TV).
Promotion was scattered and inef® cient and Bandai itself, sources have told me, made
a gross error in getting the dolls out late and marketing them poorly. The far better
success of Sailor Moon in other markets such as Canada and France is due, in large part
I have been told, to the way it was handled and aggressively marketed by local out® ts.
This does not mean, I wish to stress, that the circulation of `soft’ products around the
world reduces to mere business. But business plays a large part even, perhaps es-
pecially, in the business of the imagination where culture, as a way of life, assumes the
shape of places and characters that get dislodged from the literalness of bodies and
locales. In this, there are two conclusions with which I end about the state of Japanese
character merchandising today and its future in exporting its products to the US and
other markets around the world.
The ® rst is that, in light of the two major successes of Japanese children’ s goods in
the US (and globally)Ð tamagotchi and PokemonÐ which followed on the heels of Sailor
Moon and Power Rangers, it seems the trend will be in characters that are either arti® cial
(virtual, cyborgian, digital) or non/trans-human, and live in worlds that are somehow
familiar but also lacking a clear geographical referent. Witness Pokemon, in which
pokemon trainers travel to cities and islands that are always imaginary, encounter
monsters that are `wild’ (and unreal), and are themselves boys and girls who transcend

Stuart Hall, `New Cultures for Old’ , in D. Massey and P. Jess (Eds), A Place in the World? Places,
Cultures, and Globalisation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).
A Challenge to Hollywood? 87

national identity. With this formula coupled with brilliant marketing strategies, Poke-
mon has been a sensational hit in domestic and global markets (Western Europe, US,
East Asia, and now entering South and Latin America). And it is no surprise that its
most popular character is not a human (with the potentially tricky issues of identity and
cultural (de)odoring), but a pocketmonsterÐ PikachuÐ with its blend of mouselike
cuteness and supercharged electricity. This is the icon which travels around the world
painted onto ANA (All-Nippon Airways) aircraft and whose pikachu speech (`pika-
pika-chu’) can be played, without translation, anywhere in the same form (making it the
show’s global catchword as intended by Pokemon’s marketers in Japan). Bandai’ s
digital, hand-held pet, tamagotchi, similarly traded in virtual charactersÐ `pets’ that are
neither organic nor monsterish but hybrid apparitions that children `raise’ by treating
them as if real (cleaning their poop, feeding and training them, giving them love). In
such characters, difference is delightfully played up, but rooted to neither geographic
place nor identity: this, I predict, is the wave of the future and one in which Japanese
goods will continue to succeed in the US and other markets.
Second, on the issue of power: what shape does it assume in Japan’ s strengthening
presence in the global marketplace of soft rather than merely hard commodities and in
the US market, long hegemonic in the (global) business of children’s fantasy-making?
I would conclude that Japan is indeed gaining cultural capital (in the US and around
the world). The form this assumes, however, is more indirect than direct and is thus
different from the model of McDonaldization spread by US cultural commoditization
(which itself is breaking down along the lines of `glocalization’ ). Japanese goods are
entering the US marketplace in greater numbers, with higher recognition, and with less
need to `deodorize’ than ever before. And, as has already happened in many east and
Southeast Asian countries where there is a veritable boom in Japanese soft products
(from Hello Kitty to Japanese pop stars),48 in the US `made-in-Japan’ is acquiring the
kind of positive associations long desired by Japanese producers such as Morita Akio.
This is not to say, however, that the desire for Japanese goods carries an overt desire
or image of/for Japan. Children in the US are becoming much more receptive to
Japanese commodities without desiring them for their Japanese origins or `Japanese-
ness’ per se. As I continually hear children and their parents say about the latest craze
for Pokemon, kids love the game and crave the merchandise, especially the `authentic’
cards that are made in Japan,49 but they aren’ t driven by a particular yearning for or
interest in Japan. Japan, in fact, is rather removed from the product and game, in their
minds, despite the fact that the cards they love and value the best are written in a script
few of them can understand. Still, my impression, which has been con® rmed by a
number of parents of Pokemon fans, is that, as they play with Japanese goods, US
children are also developing a greater openness towards, and awareness of, Japan. Some
children say they now want to visit Japan or learn the language or study more about it
in school. So, along with consumption of Japanese goods, Japan is becoming a more
familiar and normalized part of the everyday worlds of American kids; Japan is entering
the `radar screens’ of US children as never before.
While Japan’ s power and in¯ uence in the marketplace of entertainment goods is

Barbara Koh, `Cute Power’, Newsweek, 8 November 1999, pp. 56± 61.
In interviewing a number of Euro-American tourists at Tokyo’ s Pokemon Center purchasing
merchandise, particularly trading cards, for their children back home (in the US, Europe, Australia, etc.),
I was repeatedly told the same thing: children want the `real’ made-in-Japan product because it signi® es
authenticity rather than anything culturally Japanese.
88 Anne Allison

certainly gaining around the world as well as in the US, it is ® ltered by a number of
factors. One is that, in doing business in the US, Japanese companies must contend
with the strong demands of their US af® liates (the opposite is true as well, but
seemingly to a lesser extent). In marketing Pokemon, for example, the rights and
licensing were sold to US ® rms (Nintendo of America oversees all rights in the US)
which manage the operation with a great deal of independence. Though Pokemon has
been a phenomenal success, early negotiations were dif® cult and many on the Japan
side felt that the product, character, and story were not being adequately understood or
appreciated by their American counterparts. Some of those I have talked to have said
this is a long pattern in dealing with the US; that Americans expect shows and goods
to be adjusted and remade for the tastes of Americans and, with Hollywood and Disney
on their side, act as the dominant power in this ® eld. The US is also a bigger market
and can produce toys, for example, at lower costs than can Japan. In order to succeed
in this market, then, there is an attitude of having to concede certain things and of
having, as Iwabuchi discovered was the assumption of Japanese producers when
exporting (music, television shows) to intra-Asia, to soften or efface any overt Japanese-
ness. Again, I have my own doubts about the veracity of this assumption and think
kid± consumers in the US have been, and will increasingly be, more receptive to
Japan-made characters than marketers either in Japan or the US have assumed (for
their own, often different, reasons). But it is also true that the trend of virtual, digital,
`monster’ characters makes smart marketing sense by allowing Japanese goods to
circulate in a form that de-couples characters and stories from manifest signs of
geographic place and identity. It will be through such creations and in the media of
games, anime, and character merchandising that Japan’ s powers in the soft marketplace
of the US (and the world) are sure to intensify in the millennial decade.