Fans Sending an SOS for ‘Sailor’


Every weekday morning, 20-year-old Corina Borsuk wakes up a few minutes before 7:30, just in time to catch her favorite TV show, “Sailor Moon,” on KCOP-TV Channel 13. It matters little to the communications major at Cal State San Bernardino that the dubbed version of the Japanese animated series is being targeted primarily at a preteen audience or that she’s seen most episodes multiple times.

“With most shows, once I’ve seen an episode I don’t care to see it again,” says Borsuk, whose 17-year-old sister, Marlene, is also a devout fan of the syndicated show. “But there’s just something special about ‘Sailor Moon.’ It’s hard to explain. It’s honestly magical. It can be funny, sad and romantic all at the same time. I’m not a morning person. But I find I’m a much happier person when I’ve seen ‘Sailor Moon’ in the morning. Then I go off to work or school.”

Since first airing in the United States last September, the series has managed to corral an eclectic and fiercely loyal audience. The show’s fans range from preschoolers to high school and college students to adults well into their 20s and 30s. All tune in to follow the evolving lives and exploits of five high-school-age super-heroines: Sailor Moon and her four compatriots--Sailors Mars, Jupiter, Mercury and Venus.


By day the cutely conceived cartoon characters are ordinary teens who grapple with school, social and romantic problems. By night they transform into super-heroines who fight various intergalactic evildoers. When they’re battling villains, they wear blue-and-white sailor blouses, which are standard school attire for many Japanese girls, and pleated miniskirts.

“ ‘Sailor Moon’ is the right combination of silliness and seriousness,” says Heidi Wall, a bright 14-year-old from San Francisco who, like many of the show’s advocates, is also a fan of Japanese animation in general. “With a lot of American [kids’] shows, it’s either cute little bunny rabbits or, like, big buff guys with machine guns. There’s nothing in between. With ‘Sailor Moon’ you get a good story line and romance. But it’s enough about beating up monsters that my little brother can watch it without falling asleep.”

Supporters of “Sailor Moon” are so enchanted by the series that the revelation last March that DIC Entertainment, which owns the North American rights to the show, was planning to drop it from syndication in September generated a swift and well-coordinated response.

Within a week of hearing the news, Chi Ming Hung, 31, a graduate student in physics at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, launched a petition drive on the Internet to save the show from extinction in the United States.

The Save Our Sailors campaign was subsequently retitled Support Our Sailors when fans learned that cable station TBS had unofficially agreed to air the show this fall, but supposedly at the unattractive time slot of 6:30 a.m. Eastern and 3:30 a.m. Pacific time. Thus far, nearly 12,500 fans have gone online to sign the petition urging the cable network to move the show to a more accessible time period.

(A DIC spokesman says, however, that while the company is negotiating with a network it declines to identify, no agreement to televise the show this fall has been completed.)

“Sailor Moon” supporters are also upset that more new episodes haven’t been aired in North America. There are more than 100 installments of the show that have yet to be translated into English for broadcast in the United States and Canada. “Sailor Moon” is now in its fifth season in Japan. The first 65 episodes of the series are currently being rerun for the third time in the United States and Canada, which some fans say has caused interest in the program to flag.

But the DIC spokesman, who asked not to be identified, argues that the Burbank-based company has been very generous in presenting nearly two Japanese seasons’ worth of fresh episodes since last September. “On network television on Saturday morning, do you know how many episodes are usually given to a new show [its first season]?” he asks. “Thirteen.”

The DIC representative says “Sailor Moon” has failed to attract a substantial audience beyond its core of rabid supporters.

“We certainly appreciate that it has a lot of fans on the Internet and they’ve been very vocal,” he says. “But when you get down to it, it’s such a small group of people and television is a volume business. If there’s any reason ‘Sailor Moon’ doesn’t come back for a second season, it’s a direct result of the ratings.”

But many vocal fans say the program’s shoddy ratings are a direct result of the poor time slots it’s been allocated in many U.S. markets. Eighteen-year-old “Sailor Moon” devotee Marie Kelly complains that the series is carried weekdays at 6 a.m. in her native Timonium, Md. In some areas, the show is televised even earlier than that.

“We’re pretty sure if ‘Sailor Moon’ was placed in a good time slot it would be as big as ‘Power Rangers,’ ” says Suzy Yu, a 15-year-old fan from Torrance who plans to distribute information about the Support Our Sailors campaign at a Japanese animation convention to be held at the Anaheim Marriott Hotel and Anaheim Convention Center June 28-30.

In Japan, where animated shows are often viewed as mainstream programs rather than children’s entertainment, “Sailor Moon” is a prime-time hit. The series has also found popularity in European countries such as France and Italy. In Canada, it is one of the youth-oriented YTV cable network’s most watched daytime programs.

The Internet has clearly united “Sailor Moon” followers from around the world. North American fans can go online to find out what happens to the super-heroines in future episodes courtesy of viewers in Japan or those with imported bootleg videotapes. Others, like Borsuk, have fun scripting their own “Sailor Moon” scenarios in cyberspace in the absence of new English episodes.

One person who isn’t much impressed with “Sailor Moon” is Larry Wall of San Francisco, father of fan Heidi and her 9-year-old sister, Geneva.

“It’s pretty repetitive and formulaic,” he says. “They spend a lot of time being boy-crazy, which I would just as soon not encourage. It’s probably one of those things where it might be damaging to some kids but not to others.”

But to fans like Heidi, the series is something of a godsend. “With ‘Sailor Moon,’ [girls] have somebody to look up to,” she says. “It has strong female roles. They have the same problems as us but they’re also doing cool stuff with super powers.”

* “Sailor Moon” airs weekdays at 7:30 a.m. on KCOP-TV Channel 13.