Ask John: What’s the Current Status of Sailor Moon in America?

Question:
I have noticed that neither Geneon nor ADV Films have the rights to distribute Sailor Moon in the United States. Why did these licenses expire? Is it common for all licenses to expire after a certain amount of time? Also, what are the chances of all of the Sailor Moon titles being licensed again. Finally, what is the status of any Sailor Moon manga being distrubuted in the United States?

Answer:
I can relay the status of the Sailor Moon franchise in America based only on previous official public statements, plausible rumors, and speculation. Putting together bits of information from various sources and filling in some holes with speculation paints this picture. I’ll also limit this response to just the Sailor Moon manga and anime that’s previously been released in America becasue, as far as I know, there is no news to report regarding the fifth season of Sailor Moon anime that’s never been released in America, nor the live action Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon television series.

In March 2004 AD Vision announced that its distribution license to Sailor Moon seasons 1 & 2 was soon to expire, and Toei Studios of Japan had refused to agree to an extension of ADV’s distribution rights. In April 2004 Geneon announced that their distribution rights to the three Sailor Moon movies would expire at the end of 2004 and could not be renewed, and their rights to sell the Sailor Moon third and fourth TV series would expire in mid 2005. For reference, distribution contracts are normally written to allow distribution for a period of five, seven or possibly ten years. Considering the timing of these announcements, roughly exactly one year before Toei began releasing its anime productions in America itself, it’s seems likely that Toei refused to renew distribution contracts for Sailor Moon in order to have the opportunity to distribute the series on American DVD directly. However, Toei’s initial American DVD releases were significantly sub-par by the conventional standards of American anime DVDs, so they didn’t sell well, and Toei simply withdrew from directly releasing anime DVDs in America instead of improving the quality of its DVDs. Since Toei has canceled its plans to release American anime DVDs, it’s unclear what will happen to the Sailor Moon anime. Of course, the status of Toei’s DVDs in America may not have any relation to the Sailor Moon anime. If Toei had planned to re-released Sailor Moon in America itself, perhaps Toei will now re-consider offering distribution rights to another distributor. Or perhaps Toei had other reasons for pulling the Sailor Moon anime out of American circulation and will keep the franchise out of American release.

Around the same time, which may or may not be coincidence – I don’t know, TOKYOPOP’s license to distribute the English translated manga expired. Reportedly, but not officially confirmed, Japanese publisher Kodansha requested a fee to renew the manga distribution license that TOKYOPOP believed was more than the title was worth. So according to rumor, no American publisher is interested in paying the fee Kodansha wants for rights to the Sailor Moon manga, and Kodansha isn’t interesting in bothering with licensing negotiations and contracts unless they’re getting what they want out of the deal. In effect, no Sailor Moon manga in America.

It’s certainly possible that the Sailor Moon manga, anime, or both, will resurface in America some time in the future. The Japanese obstacles preventing American re-releases may be cleared; perhaps Toei or Kodansha will relent; perhaps an American publisher will decide to agree to Japanese demands. However, with every month that passes, the Sailor Moon franchise gets older and the consumer market for it in America gets smaller: people’s tastes change, once die-hard fans grow older and lose interest, the title fades from memory with time. To put it in another way, the longer Sailor Moon remains out of circulation in America, the greater the chance becomes that it will remain out of circulation. Few American publishers are likely to be eager to invest a lot of money into licensing, translating, producing, distributing, and promoting an old series that’s lost most of its commercial potential due to attrition and the passing of time.

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