Over 20 years ago, two unassuming VHS tapes were delivered to the Library of Congress’s Packard Campus as part of a copyright deposit. This past month, they became an internet and anime sensation.
It took some dogged, dedicated detective work to finally, fully understand the notoriety of these two works. It was a long-simmering puzzle, with the final piece held by, and finally supplied by, the Library of Congress.
The beloved anime character “Sailor Moon”–real name “Usagi Tsukino”—is an ordinary schoolgirl by day but, when needed, she can transform herself into the magical, powerful Sailor Moon who, with the assistance of her fellow (FEMALE!) Sailor Soldiers, is regularly called upon to save the solar system.
The brainchild of female writer and illustrator Naoko Takeuchi, “Sailor Moon” began in Japan in 1991, serialized in the manga magazine “Nakayoshi.” Colorful, capable and celebrated for its artistry, humor and empowering message, “Sailor Moon” became a massive hit. It eventually spawned a variety of off-shoots, including an animated Japanese TV show which, after it was dubbed into English, became a phenomenon in North America and then throughout the world.
On a global scale, “Sailor Moon” has sold over 35 million copies in printed form and generated over $13 billion dollars in merchandise tie-ins generated from over 5,000 different “Sailor Moon” products that have been put on the market. The original animated series has been aired and re-aired endlessly—on local stations, on Fox Kids, and on the Cartoon Network. Later, it was released on DVD; today, it streams on various services.
“Sailor Moon” has long been a part of our culture. In 1996, Geena Davis and Disney toyed with the idea of a live-action, theatrical version. In 1997, actress Kirstin Dunst outed herself as a major “Sailor” fan, giving hope to fans for the long wished-for live-action adaption. In 1998, “Sailor” got name-checked by the Barenaked Ladies in their hit song “One Week.” And, even today, every Halloween, “Sailor Moon” becomes a go-to costume for many girls and women. And, sometimes, they don’t wait until Halloween–not long ago, singer/songwriter Halsey hit the internet posing in her cosplay take on the enduring superheroine as did rap star Meghan Thee Stallion who adopted the guise when appearing at a Japanese music festival earlier this year.
Not surprisingly, “Sailor’s” early 1990’s success ($$) was not something that could be easily overlooked by Hollywood. Circa 1994, TV producer Frank Ward via a trio of companies–Bandai, Renaissance-Atlantic and Toon Makers, Inc.–optioned the rights to the characters and went to work on creating a couple of filmed elements to show to TV syndicators and local stations in hopes of selling the production as an ongoing series.
Their concept of the TV show was a combination of both live-action and cartoon: Sailor Moon’s day-to-day life, and the lives of her friends as a group of “ordinary” teenage girls, would be depicted by real actors (actress Stephanie Dicker was cast in the lead) while her exciting adventures battling evil would be told via animation. The proposed series, referred to while in development as “Project Y,” thus became a sort of mix of “Saved By the Bell” and “She-Ra.” (Actually, some sets from “Bell” were co-opted for use in some of this “Sailor’s” live segments.)
Ward and company ended up creating two different video elements for the “Sailor Moon” pitch: 1) a brief 10-minute pilot/”proof of concept” film featuring both their live actors and some animation and 2) a two-minute music video featuring the show’s proposed theme song which, lyrically, offers a quick backstory of who Sailor Moon and her friends are. (The music video incorporates footage, both animated and human, from the proof of concept teaser.)
After their completion, along with pitching them to various stations/distributors, Ward’s company—per US law—sent a VHS copy of each to the US Copyright Office for the added benefits of copyright registration. (The tapes were subsequently assigned the copyright numbers: Pau001791792 and Pau001791790.) Later, on November 23, 1994, the tapes arrived at the LC’s Moving Image division; they were cataloged with the call numbers VAD 6695 and VAD 6708.
Ultimately, the proposed “Sailor Moon” series never sold and all the involved parties moved onto other endeavors. And though a few rumors about its existence persisted, the project was largely forgotten.
But, then, in 1998, at an LA-based anime expo, computer graphics expert Allen Hastings wanted to show an example of some of his work. He had worked on the ’94 “Sailor” films and exhibited a short clip from the unsold film. Word spread. This was proof! And this reveal ignited a holy quest among the “Sailor Moon” audience to find not only the origins of this footage but EVERYTHING ELSE ABOUT IT!!
The search went on for the next two decades until, finally, a resourceful, determined internet sleuth and YouTuber with the screen name of Ray Mona went to work. Her exhaustive search—now documented in a YouTube video she produced—led her from Hollywood to Japan and elsewhere and, along the way, even took her down some frustrating dead ends. (For example: for years, Saban Entertainment, the purveyors of the “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” TV series, were thought to have had a hand in the production of these “Sailor Moon” films, so much so that the hunted-for titles were regularly referred to as “Saban Moon” by fans. Eventually, Saban’s involvement—though a logical assumption—proved to be an unintentional red herring.)
Finally, from the comments of a few interested parties who had followed her saga online, Ray Mona decided to check the Library of Congress and the US Copyright Office since, even if the program never went to air, the producers didn’t know that at the time, and would have wanted to secure their copyrights. At her computer, and armed with a vast collection of clues (like the euphemistic “Project Y” title along with knowledge of the show’s alleged production companies), Mona searched the online Copyright catalog for works submitted by Frank Ward, Renaissance-Atlantic and his Toon partners. She discovered that, over the years, the three partners had produced—and sent to the LC–a wide variety of pilots, “sizzle reels” and filmed show ideas, often for works that never came to fruition. (For example, there was even an attempt by them at one time to create a Tamagotchi inspired TV kids show.)
And, then, EUREKA! She found something, she found It! Them! In fact, she not only found copyright records, she found records for two videotapes, each from 1994 and each ID’ed as “Sailor Moon” or, more specifically, as:
–“Sailor Moon—music video version”
–“Sailor Moon—story summary”
Wasting no time, Mona phoned the Library to see about obtaining copies of these two 28 year-old videotapes. But, she was informed, per Library policy and US law, copies could only be provided to her with the prior permission of the copyright holder—the aforementioned Frank Ward.
Luckily, Mona already had a tenuous contact to the rather reclusive Mr. Ward, who, later, granted her the okay to obtain copies of the tapes from the LC. Mona quickly sent his signature off to the LC and, as she relates in her online recounting, she got a very speedy reply from the Library. After the Ward permission and signature was verified by the Library, her duplication order was submitted.
Though action on the part of the Library’s was swift—it would take the Library only a couple of weeks to supply to Ray her items–it was still an agonizingly long wait for her after her almost year-long pursuit.
Ray Mona’s emailed inquiry arrived at the LC in May of 2022. After being fielded by a Moving Image Reference Librarian, it was passed onto the video lab at the Library of Congress’s Packard Campus located in Culpeper, VA. The order then made its way to Culpeper staff member Eric Graf, a Public Service Office rep who, with Library Video Technician John Grandin, fulfilled the order.
Ironically, Graf, a long-time anime fan, knew all about this long-rumored missing bit of “lost media.” He says, “I jaw-floored when this request came in. This pilot has been the stuff of legend for at least 20 years. I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen when this thing landed, although admittedly it’s been even bigger than I expected.”
Now that these two “Sailor Moon” artifacts—which even Ray now notes have been “hiding in plain sight” for so many years—have been supplied to her, she has (with the owner’s permission) shared them with the vast universe of “Sailor Moon” devotees. Among that legion, they have been embraced warmly and enthusiastically as a vital, no-longer-absent part of the “Sailor Moon” legacy.
In the end, the public’s loving reaction to this particular incarnation of “Sailor” says something quite positive about the cult of fandom as well as the value in collecting and then enabling to endure even the most minor and fleeting efforts of creative endeavor.
Don’t hesitate to contact Ask a Librarian about the availability of “Sailor Moon” materials or any other items in our collections. Before you plan to come in and view any collection items, please get in touch with our reference staff in the Moving Image Research Center.