Sailor Moon has spent years in the status most vexing for English-speaking animation fans: that of the fondly remembered classic out of print, kept unavailable by a seemingly intractable “licensing hell.” All that began to change starting in 2011 when Naoko Takeuchi’s original classic shoujo manga was reprinted and retranslated by Kodansha Comics USA. Then this spring, VIZ Media delighted fans new and old with the news that it would re-release Sailor Moon physically and digitally, complete and uncut for the first time in North America with a brand new English voice cast and high-definition remastered footage. At Otakon 2014, special guests were on hand to talk about the show and its upcoming new release: VIZ Media’s Senior Manager of Animation Marketing Charlene Ingram as well as Stephanie Sheh and Robbie Daymond, the new voices for Usagi Tsukino / Sailor Moon and Mamoru Chiba / Tuxedo Mask respectively. During Otakon, these three gathered together for a press conference and took questions about the new English dub and remaster for Sailor Moon, their thoughts on the show and the vibrant fanbase support for years after it was last seen on U.S. broadcast television or home video, and much more. An edited transcript of this Q&A session follows.
Q: In regards to what the original dub had, what were some of the things that you wanted to take from the original dub and introduce into your own version of those characters?
ROBBIE DAYMOND: You know, when the audition first came across my desk I didn’t really want to look too much at the English dub. I played a couple clips just to get the quality of what had previously been done, and then I watched the subs. The script and character description that I got from Studiopolis were very detailed, so I wanted to give my own take on it and take some of what had been done before as a jumping point. But other than that, I really didn’t watch the dubs very much. I tried to stay away from it. Some people like to do that, other people like to see a little more, but that’s what I did.
STEPHANIE SHEH: I wasn’t familiar – well, it’s not that I wasn’t familiar, come on, everyone knows Sailor Moon. But I didn’t grow up watching it, so it’s not like I had this thing in my head that I had to aspire to or match or anything like that. I did do some research and I listened to the three women who played Usagi, and I felt like the three voices were fairly different. So that took a lot of pressure off of me to match any performance. Based on what I have seen of the original dub, what I enjoyed and want to keep is this sense of fun and lightness, you know? There’s just something very charming about it. That sentiment, that feeling is what I’d like to keep in the performance.
CHARLENE INGRAM: It is of note with the new remastered version, though, that this is true to the original Japanese version, with the intent of the original creator in mind. Everyone working on the show who takes direction does reference the Japanese version. That is the main directive. Of course, all the actors put their flavor into it, but it’s all in the spirit of doing a true uncut version.
STEPHANIE SHEH: Yeah, when we dub Sailor Moon, we dub it like Bleach or Naruto. We preview the Japanese and we do that for every single line and every single scene and we don’t reference the original dub. What I’m speaking of is watching a few clips. When we actually dub it, the process is referencing the original Japanese.
TOONZONE NEWS: Following up from that: is there anything essential that you feel you need to get across with the characters, or is there any special direction that you get from the directors saying, “Look, this is what really has to come across with this person’s personality”?
TOONZONE NEWS: “Bun-head”, right?
ROBBIE DAYMOND: Yeah, yeah. I think the comedy is being stressed a little bit, especially in the opening scenes between the two characters. We want to have as much fun with that as possible, because it’s establishing a jumping-off point for the relationship that’s going to happen further the road. I think if you don’t have that playful, teasing thing, then it doesn’t have anywhere to go. So I think right now what they’re really trying to convey is the playful banter between the two of them. That’s really where the director is taking us right now.
STEPHANIE SHEH: I think with Usagi, something we’re always trying to be aware of is to keep her more grounded and to be very cautious about how screechy the character can potentially get, because the character already is that way. Sometimes, you can get carried away thinking “animation’s big!” and that you want it to be funny, so you keep topping yourself and your voice is going higher and higher. That’s one thing that we really try to keep an eye on. There are people who are going to watch this show and marathon it.
Q: Is there anything in particular that you do to get into character? Do you always do something before you record?
STEPHANIE SHEH: I don’t.
ROBBIE DAYMOND: I do vocal warm-ups before every session, it’s like old school theater-
STEPHANIE SHEH: What kind? Like singing?
ROBBIE DAYMOND: Yeah, up and down the scale. No tongue twisters. It’s is a little bit deeper for me than what I usually do, it’s closer to my normal speaking voice. I usually do high-pitched stuff, so I have to do some warm-ups to get down there and stay there.
Q: Can you speak to the success of digital distribution so far, as opposed to the more traditional television airing? What kind of success have you seen so far, and what has the audience response been?
CHARLENE INGRAM: First of all, I think everyone involved in media will agree that the Internet is the new TV. It’s where a lot of people are accessing new content and discovering stories, and it’s a lot more shareable that way. Partnering with Hulu for Sailor Moon has been great. If you notice the weekly rankings on Hulu, Sailor Moon is always up toward the top not just in the anime space or in animation, but sometimes overall. It’s a true pop culture phenomenon. So, having Hulu there has been great. We’re also doing early distribution of subtitled content with iTunes, Google Play, Xbox, Playstation and that’s also performed very well. We won’t be doing the dub until later, because we’re still working on it. But doing that has worked out very, very well. As for DVD and Blu-ray, the demand for the Blu-ray limited edition has been unprecedented. The fan support has been through the roof. Even as a Sailor Moon fan myself, I totally underestimated it. It’s a really great time to be in anime. Sailor Moon is an important show, and it just speaks to the quality and timelessness of it that a show from 1992 in Japan is just blowing up the charts in 2014. Because it’s a good show, we have a great cast and we’re finally doing right by Sailor Moon. I never would have thought when I first started being an anime fan that this would be the future. The future is awesome!
Q: On the VIZ side – and I hope this doesn’t go over the line – but with VIZ and the partners in Japan, is there a disdain for the original English dub for Sailor Moon?
CHARLENE INGRAM: No, it’s just we are making this direct to the original Japanese version as the creative team in Japan intended. When Sailor Moon first came out here in America, it was a definitely a different time in television distribution. Fan needs and demands have changed. There is very little tolerance for any censorship. And Sailor Moon doesn’t need to be censored at all, it’s a beautiful story. We’re just going to keep going with that beautiful, original content. There’s no disdain or anything, it’s just not the content that’s available right now.
Q: I know it’s a small market, but is there any idea of making that original English dub available for the fans that might want to have it one day?
STEPHANIE SHEH: Hmm, now I have questions! *room laughter* Because he’s asking about the original dub and I was thinking about it: would you have to buy the rights for the dub in order to release the old dub, or does that already come when you buy the rights to the show?
CHARLENE INGRAM: All productions go back to the original licensor. It would need to be arranged, but looking at the materials that we’ve gotten so far, it’s incomplete at best. In some cases it’s just not in any usable condition. If there’s a demand, of course, I would pursue it. I’m a businessperson. But there’s no plans at this time. Looking at what we have so far it’s just not doable, and from the feedback we’ve gotten, the lion’s share of the demand right now is for the original version. But as we go through the release, we’ll definitely keep exploring.
Q: I know it sounds strange, but I’m one of those fans who will watch both the uncensored and the censored version of an anime because they create two different types of atmospheres. There are fans like that.
CHARLENE INGRAM: It’s just you can’t put out any anime, [in] Japanese or otherwise, without the materials. It’s something that we’ll definitely pursue – we know there’s a lot of nostalgia for that 90’s dub. There’s a whole lot of it and you can’t deny it. I even have nostalgia for it. It’s just not something that we’re working on right now.
ROSE BRIDGES, AUTOSTRADDLE: I’m very happy about the new dub, especially because of the LGBT content added in that was censored the first time around. I was wondering, is there any chance that it could possibly be put on television, and if so do you think it could have an impact by giving this more inclusive story to a bigger audience?
CHARLENE INGRAM: I think Stephanie and Robbie will definitely agree we all want to see our shows get on television. But that is never a decision of the studio, that’s the decision of the networks. It’s something we’d never withhold for broadcast, but there would need to be a right television partner for it. The preference will always be to keep it uncensored. We understand that Japanese and American TV series have different time breaks and different running times, so if it was on TV there might need to be editing for time. But as far as content, we would not want any of the content to be censored. Right now there are currently no plans for it to go on TV, I would love it to. It’s just a little early in the process.
Q: Back to the voice actors – real quick, do you have a favorite scene to record?
ROBBIE DAYMOND: I have one, it’s the mall episode with the magical lion enemy. It’s really weird. We see bits and pieces, I’ve been trying to catch up on the subs as we move along. It’s the elevator scene, when he’s Tuxedo Mask and got her on his back on the elevator and he’s making this struggling effort. It’s the first getting-to-know-each-other scene and it’s this ridiculously awesome, cliche, weird rescue moment. That was the most challenging and fun to record.
STEPHANIE SHEH: So far what I think was the most fun was singing badly. That was a lot of fun!
CHARLENE INGRAM: I haven’t been back to LA to watch any of the recording sessions. I get notes from the production team. I think my favorite part was seeing these guys reunite for the first time, because you guys have a little bit of backstory together.
ROBBIE DAYMOND: We’ve worked together here and there, but always on something very small. But the first job I ever did in LA was seven years ago at Warner Bros, and she was my love interest. We played two little bunnies. There was a whole huge cast of great people, but there was something special about Stephanie, so I ran out like a nerd in the parking lot and I was like “who are you, I like you, would you be my friend, here’s my card, can I email you?” And she’s like “yeah, of course!”
STEPHANIE SHEH: And he followed up, and over the years he checked in. And then we auditioned — it was a callback, right? — it was a weird, offshoot project, not for a major studio or anything. The dudes were hipsters and really in love with their script. Every once and awhile, we’d run into each other here and there.
TOONZONE NEWS: Can you talk about the dubbing process for the show? When you come in to record, will you ever do any scenes with some of the cast together or do you do lines separately?
STEPHANIE SHEH: It’s always separate. It’s done like most anime shows, you walk in and the script is there and then preview the Japanese and record your line and get direction and repeat steps A through whatever. You don’t usually run into people unless they happen to be coming in or out. Usually I feel like I get scheduled around a lunch break or the end of the day for some reason, because on this show I usually don’t run into that many people. I’ve run into Christina once, and Amanda was there to kind of observe or hang out or something. I don’t think I’ve ever run into you-
ROBBIE DAYMOND: Except for the first day. *crosstalk*
STEPHANIE SHEH: He and I worked on a separate project and it was a one-off, it was an anime movie. And he was like “oh, I’m so glad I get to work on this, because I just booked a major part in a series and this will help me get my feet wet.” Because Robbie’s done a lot of stuff, but he hasn’t done much anime stuff – had you done any?
ROBBIE DAYMOND: No, this is the first series and our movie was the first movie.
STEPHANIE SHEH: So he was like, “This way, I’m not going in completely cold.” And I said, “Oh, what are you recording?” and he said “oh, I can’t talk about it.” I’d just signed the NDA (non-disclosure agreement) stuff for Sailor Moon. It’s not that common to have that strict a NDA. So I was like, “Is this the show you can’t talk about the one that’s recording at studio X!” And he’s like, “Perhaps it is a show I can’t talk about that’s recording that studio!” I said, “Do you know who you’re playing?” and he’s like, “I do know who I’m playing.” And I was like, “Do you know who I’m playing?” because I didn’t know who I was playing and it was like, “Why do you know who you’re playing and I don’t know who I’m playing when I know I’m supposed to be working on the show?” And he’s like, “I don’t know!”
ROBBIE DAYMOND: They had accidentally sent me a cast list with all the names, and I didn’t know anybody. They were just supposed to send me mine.
STEPHANIE SHEH: He did know who I was playing, and he just kept his mouth shut.
CHARLENE INGRAM: He was under NDA!
ROBBIE DAYMOND: I do good, I do what I’m told! To answer your question, I’ve done ADR before, I did stuff for Syfy for a number of years and they record a lot of stuff in Romania and Belgium and all these weird places. I’d go in and do live vocal match replacements and some stuff for the network, and I’ve done a few movies. But the Japanese stuff is much more technical and difficult, and it definitely requires a level of expertise that you have to acquire. I have great respect for what these guys who have done it for so long do. It’s really difficult to look at a screen and have a script and to be true to the character, but also true to the original Japanese of what you’re seeing. It’s quite an honor for me, I’m very honored to be learning it. The director is amazing, and the scripts are great.
CHARLENE INGRAM: Studiopolis is a really great studio. They do Naruto, they do Bleach, they do Tiger & Bunny and so much other stuff outside of anime. They’re a great partner and they care so much. The directors work really well with the actors.
ROSE BRIDGES, AUTOSTRADDLE: How do you guys like and dislike your characters, and do you think there’s a character you’re most like?
STEPHANIE SHEH: I feel like when I was younger, inside I was like Usagi. I was boy crazy and didn’t show it. I know that I do have a silly and fun side. I don’t want to say I was smart, that doesn’t sound right, but I was really book smart and kind of like Ami in that sense. But I was really street dumb. There have been a number of times in my life, more in college, where people see my report card and my GPA and they were shocked by how it was. The reason they were shocked is because it didn’t seem like I was smart, because I was very street dumb. Logical life stuff, I don’t get it or I don’t think about it. I’m kind of klutzy and I do fall. But I don’t look like a girly girl, but I feel like a girly girl at heart. Sometimes I’m really bossy and I’m like Rei. I think that’s what’s appealing about all the characters, they all have different things you can relate to and it’s not just one thing. I was just introduced to Makoto and she’s a tomboy, but she’s really boy crazy. Not all tomboys have to be not girly, you know what I mean? You can be tough and you can like boys. I guess I really can’t pick one that I’m exactly like, they’re complicated girls.
ROBBIE DAYMOND: I think in real life, Tuxedo Mask. That’s what I went to college and graduate school for! You wave the cape, you know, spout some poetry and disappear, that’s pretty easy for me to touch base with. He’s a playful sort of guy, it fits, it works. I wouldn’t say it’s easy, it’s definitely a big broad character, but I think I share some stuff with him.
STEPHANIE SHEH: At least he didn’t say Motoki. “I have video games and talk to underage girls all the time!” *laughter*
Q: If I may be allowed to ask a more fun question. One thing I’m asking all the voice actors at Otakon is the Mount Rushmore question, which is: if there were a Mount Rushmore of voice acting, who would you put on it?
STEPHANIE SHEH: What?! This is not a fun question, it’s a very stressful question! Now we’re going to have phone calls from people –
ROBBIE DAYMOND: That we know!
STEPHANIE SHEH: Saying “I thought we were friends, you don’t think I’m a good actor, that my face wouldn’t be on Mount Rushmore? And where do you draw the line, am I putting Don LaFontaine’s head on there? Mel Blanc?
ROBBIE DAYMOND:Founding fathers, yeah? And then we’d also have to put in his female counterpart who got no credits, uh…I just watched a documentary on this and…ah man, my buddy Eric is gonna beat me up about this.
STEPHANIE SHEH: Bauza? Well, let’s put [Eric] Bauza’s head on there!
ROBBIE DAYMOND: You know what, there’s Maurice LaMarche. For a collective one, I’ll pick Maurice. It’s a personal thing. If you don’t know his work, he was in Pinky and the Brain, he did Orson Welles, and won two Emmys on Futurama. Not only that, he’s also the most gracious, down-to-Earth, best guys I’ve ever met. I’m only gonna put one head on there, I’ll pick him.
STEPHANIE SHEH: There’s too many. June Foray-
ROBBIE DAYMOND: That’s the one, June Foray is who I was thinking of.
STEPHANIE SHEH: She’s really cool – and she’s really short.
ROBBIE DAYMOND: One guy, one girl, will that suffice?
Q: Do you want to know my Mount Rushmore?
STEPHANIE SHEH: Sure!
Q: Mel Blanc, Scott McNeil, Steve Blum and Jim Cummings.
STEPHANIE SHEH: Wow. Jim Cummings is good. They’re all really good.
CHARLENE INGRAM: They’re all dudes.
Q: So is Mount Rushmore!
CHARLENE INGRAM: That’s true.
ROBBIE DAYMOND: That’s a good point.
STEPHANIE SHEH: It would get more than one, right? I think Usagi’s best power is the one where she can change into a beautiful anything. She’s very smart to specify if it’s a super hot, beautiful or gorgeous anything.
ROBBIE DAYMOND: If *I* were a magical girl…*laughter* I don’t know, I really like – it’s tough. Come back to me! You go!
CHARLENE INGRAM: If I were a magical girl…usually my stock answer is “rainbows and glitter!” But in actuality, I’d want to be a time lord. I’d want to be able to bend time, because I don’t have enough time in the day. A cross between The Doctor and Homura from Madoka Magica. OK Rob, you’re up.
ROBBIE DAYMOND: I don’t know, I’ll take [Sailor Mercury’s] bubble spray so I can get away from this question!
Q: Do you ever watch the finished product of what you create?
STEPHANIE SHEH: I generally don’t. I will see it if I’m at a convention and there’s a screening or if for some reason I’m involved in a project in a different capacity so that I would have to be called to do a mix review or some kind of quality control check. Two reasons I don’t, generally: is that I don’t have time, I barely have time. Let’s just say I’m only two episodes into this latest season of Game of Thrones, and that’s probably my favorite show of all time. It’s pretty pathetic, I’m two seasons behind on Walking Dead. Brina [Palencia], I know she’s in it, but I haven’t seen her episode yet…..time is a huge thing. Two is, I have a hard time listening to myself, just because I’m really critical of everything and would love to do it again. I’m getting better about that, but it’s still hard. I enjoy watching shows I’m not in more than shows that I’m in.
ROBBIE DAYMOND: For me it depends on the project, I think. If I know there’s a good episode of something that I did, I might have a couple of friends over and we’ll have lunch afterwards. If it’s on TV, I DVR most of it, and I buy products. If I’m in something I’ll purchase it and put it on the shelf, and maybe someday someone will want to listen to it that’s not me. I started doing audio books for Random House, maybe ten or a dozen for them. I have all of them, but I’ve never listened to any of them.
STEPHANIE SHEH: That’s a lot of you.
ROBBIE DAYMOND: Ten hours of me! I could listen to a different book.
STEPHANIE SHEH: And you know the end of the story!
ROBBIE DAYMOND: Yeah, and I sat there and I did it! But the movie Stephanie and I did, I got an interest in seeing that. I’m definitely curious about that. If it plays in a small theater or something, I’ll go see it.
STEPHANIE SHEH: It’s called Patema Inverted.
CHARLENE INGRAM: It’s a very good movie.
ROBBIE DAYMOND: And I’d see Sailor Moon too, of course.
STEPHANIE SHEH:When we were at Anime Expo and we screened the dubbed episodes, I actually had a really good time. It was so entertaining that I stopped being critical, which doesn’t always happen, but it’s a nice thing. I do watch more original animation stuff, maybe because there’s more curiosity to see how it turned out because you have less of a clue when you’re recording it, so you’re creating it as you’re going along. To see a finished product and see how it’s animated based on your choices, that’s really interesting.
Q: So if you’re not watching the episodes that you’ve done, do you find yourself occasionally looking through social media to see what kind of response you get?
ROBBIE DAYMOND: You know, I’d be a liar if I said I never looked, but I do my very best to stay away from it. You know, I love the internet, it’s fun, it’s like the wild wild west. But it can also be a negative place, and as any kind of performer you learn that if you start listening to everybody’s criticism you lose yourself and start to do poor work. I really believe that, you start to question yourself. Feedback’s good, but I try to stay away from the message boards that kind of stuff. If I’m missing a beat of what’s going on, then I’ll go. I’ve been watching the subs of Sailor Moon because I need to refresh myself on what’s going on if I want to be true to the character and know what’s going on in the role. But no, I try to stay away from that stuff.
STEPHANIE SHEH: Every once and awhile I’ll get on a message board like I did recently, and it’s bad. Like on the forums at ANN [Anime News Network]…but you can’t talk to them. Some of it is just totally uninformed. They’re following the industry and form opinions that are just not accurate. Like, I guess there’s some version of Fate / Stay Night, the next sequel, using the Texas cast. And I started getting tweets from people angry with me: “why didn’t you reprise your role!” It had nothing to do with me, I was not asked. And then I found out people were like “it’s because you were Sailor Moon, and you were too busy to do it, that’s why you couldn’t do it, you refused to do it.” No, it’s because I wasn’t asked. Or there are people who start posting “well, I’m really worried Stephanie can’t handle this project because she’s got too many parts, she’s got too much on her plate, she’s got too many voices, she’s got too many shows. “ Those comments are made by people who don’t know the industry. It maybe takes me two or three hours to record an episode, I’m not overworked. There are days when I sit at home with nothing, and I go hiking and I walk my dog. Recently I had to change my air conditioning in my home, but I can’t afford it. And then my friend in my acting class said my colleagues and other actor friends were gossiping “Stephanie must be loaded now, she’s got Sailor Moon.” They’re actors, so they’re used to rates and residuals for on-camera stuff. But you work a day and have five lines on a sitcom, and you’re making 800 bucks plus residuals. That’s not anime money but that’s what they know, you know what I mean? So I read it, but what’s frustrating is when they’re completely wrong and you just can’t say anything back. Generally I keep an eye on my page and Twitter feedback, you’re always going to get a few positive comments and maybe a few negative comments. But when something hits you will get a crapton of positive comments.
ROBBIE DAYMOND: For Sailor Moon, it seems it’s been very positive.
STEPHANIE SHEH: Sword Art Online was more positive than I thought it would be too. Sailor Moon, nothing compares to what happened to my Twitter feed [when that was announced].
CHARLENE INGRAM: I think [for] everyone involved with it, it was just insane. It still amazes me.
Toonzone News is grateful for the time taken by Charlene Ingram, Stephanie Sheh and Robbie Daymond to hold this press conference and answer our questions. Viz Media is presently adding two English-subtitled, uncut episodes of Sailor Moon to Hulu every Monday. The “season 1, part 1″ release of Sailor Moon is dated for November 11, 2014 on Blu-ray and DVD. Viz also has distribution rights to Sailor Moon Crystal, Toei Animation’s ongoing remake closely based on Naoko Takeuchi’s original comic .
For more Sailor Moon coverage out of Otakon, don’t miss the press conference with Linda Ballantyne, Katie Griffin and John Stocker about their experiences with creating the original 1990s Sailor Moon dub and more!