Interview: "Musical Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon: Petite Étrangère"

“Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon: La Reconquista,” the musical based on the original manga series by Naoko Takeuchi, has now been released on DVD. For the first time in eight years, the Sailor Moon musicals (“Sera Myu”) are back with an all-female cast. Playing the role of Tuxedo Mask is Yuuga Yamato of Takarazuka fame. Check out this all new version.
Joining us to talk about the history of the Sera Myu at Comic Natalie are Fumio Osano, the original editor who is managing the franchise; Toshihiko Sahashi, who is composing the music, and the director, Takuya Hiramitsu. Mr. Hiramitsu is also known for his involvement in the “Prince of Tennis” musicals. So, to hear all their thoughts on this latest release, we’re doing a round-table discussion today with the staff. Today we’ll get to hear the scoop on the newest musical to be released later this summer: “Sailor Moon: Petite Étrangère.”

I Was Surprised by How Deeply into Women’s Psyches It Had Gone (Sahashi)
Sahashi: I didn’t know that the musicals were running in conjunction with the animated series back then, but I was really surprised by how fanatical people were about it. I think it’s as sparkly as “Pretty Cure,” for sure, but I was surprised by how deeply into women’s psyches “Sailor Moon” had gone.
Hiramitsu: At its core, this was a story by women about relationships between men and women. The main theme, “La Soldier,” had some pretty adult lyrics. At first the audience was made up mostly of mothers and their children. But eventually the children would lose interest, and then we’d notice more and more that the women were coming alone. I think the mothers got a little addicted, saying that, “I’ve got to see how this ends, so the kids are with their dad today.”
Sahashi: (laughs)
Hiramitsu: After the anime gained even more popularity, our audience became even stranger – filled with nerdy boys from the fourth row to the first. It was a strange customer base. I think 70% of the people who are attending today’s musicals were original fans who used to come to the shows with their moms. It’s strange seeing kids come back now as adults, with children of their own. I really enjoy seeing that circle completed. And of course, I’ve been wanting to buy all of the merchandise, too.
Sahashi: Back when Mr. Hiramitsu and I were young, it was not acceptable for a man to like things that were “girly,” but now things are flatter and it’s acceptable for people like us to enjoy series like “Sailor Moon.”
Hiramitsu: The sailor guardians are beautiful, but they can be weak, they can be mysterious, and they can be cry-babies. But every time after they’re done crying, they stand back up to be protectors. I think those kind of values are still attractive to women today. I think really, that was the main power of Naoko Takeuchi’s work in the first place.

──Last year’s performance of “La Reconquista” followed the original storyline. But there were some unique elements introduced to the story, right?
Hiramitsu: It was hard, because many times during the script editing some of our staff had some incredible ideas that we had to turn down. We wanted to stay faithful, but also include some “new” material to keep the story fresh and modern.
Osano: This year’s “Petite Étrangère” is also going to follow the original work. But I’ve talked with Mrs. Takeuchi about it, and she said, “I want you to do the musicals with freedom,” so we’ve done that in some places.
Hiramitsu: Oh, is that so? (laughs) Back then, she never said anything like that to me.
Osano: The new guardians aren’t together yet, so I think it’s a little bit different than the original.
Hiramitsu: I’ve never given it much personal thought but, since the original series was five arcs long, maybe we’ll only have five musicals. But to fit all of the original content into one musical per arc is hard. But this establishes the “Sera Myu” for the next generation; it’s something they can inherit.

I Write All My Songs in One Octave (Sahashi)
──For the new Sailor Moon musicals, the entire cast is female, which is a big change. Mr. Sahashi, you did a lot of work with the Prince of Tennis musicals, and that was the opposite: the cast was all-male. What have you done this time around to produce music to be performed by an all-female cast?

Sahashi: I wonder why my job always has these extreme biases (laughs). I try to do the music for these performances like an opera I think. So I try to keep men who can sing a mezzo-soprano in that role, or women who can do tenor in that role – kind of like Carmen. When I write for soprano, mezzo-sopreano, or alto I try to plan to use about half of the needed vocal range. I did the same thing for the Prince of Tennis musicals, and tried to keep the vocal ranges at the low end of what could be considered feminine. I was really anxious about writing music for the Sera Myu because it’s much trickier to make women sound masculine.
Hiramitsu: But of course, Yuuga Yamato playing Tuxedo Mask has been really cool.
Sahashi: Her part was definitely the most difficult. It was my first time ever writing for a woman who had experience singing like a man, a Takarazuka theater actress. It’s hard to know the given range for any singer, but I was glad that she could hit the “male” singing range.
Hiramitsu: That’s right, and they’re addictive to listen to. The woman playing the role of Zoisite of the Four Generals is Ayaka Ryo, also a veteran of Takarazuka.
Sahashi: Yes. So because of that, I became a writer for Takarazuka actresses by default. In this case, we aren’t trying to change the role of women from being women, but rather just their voice range in the music. I was shocked when I first heard a man sing in a different gender range. But now, I just try to write all my music to fit within the same octave – the range is much narrower, but it is easier for the actresses without formal Takarazuka training to sing within.
Hiramitsu: In terms of lyrics, last year the assistant director Yoshiko Iseki wrote them with me, but this year a British woman named Lynne Hobday co-wrote them, so it should be a bit different this time. There’s also a lot more English in the lyrics this time.
Sahashi: The young cast has also had more time to train this time around, so they’ll be able to better hit the right keys.
Hiramitsu: That’s right. These girls are still pretty much kids, but they’ve come a long way since their last production last year through lots of practice. Especially in terms of dramatics.
Osano: They were incredible. I think the last musical was really good. But if you compare the last one against this new one, I think you’ll notice how much the cast has grown.
Sahashi: It really is like a miracle.
Osano: Last year Ms. Takeuchi was in attendance, and she raved about it. I kept having to stand up again and again to applaud more.
Hiramitsu: That’s right; this time you came for every day of the performances, whereas last time around you rarely came. (laughs)
Osano *laughs*

Our goal is to go worldwide (Osano)
Sahashi: When it comes down to it, I don’t think there’s much we can do this time in terms of originality. The whole world is waiting on this, so it can’t turn out too badly.

──Are you considering expanding the Sera Myu for a worldwide audience?

Osano Yes, our goal is to go worldwide.
Sahashi: I’ve been involved in a number of musicals, but there’s a tendency not to export them.
Hiramitsu: At least that’s the case here in Japan.
Sahashi: As a composer, that makes me so sad. When I think about Japan’s musicals and animation, I think our musical chemistry is good. For example, most Disney films are animated musicals. Since we have such a strong tradition of anime and manga in Japan, I wanted to do things properly with “Saint Seiya” along those lines.
Hiramitsu: I feel like our musicals are still in 2.5 dimensions, and there’s lots of room for us to grow and develop as an art form.
Sahashi: I always wondered if our “2.5 hour long musicals” were a mistake. Should our musicals really end after two and a half hours? (laughs)
Hiramitsu: (laughs)
Sahashi: Just kidding. But I think it’s such a waste that we don’t allow our copyrights to be spread abroad to be played by foreigners. Although, it would be tough to keep the songs in Japanese; it would sound unnatural for other audiences. But of course, we want people everywhere to enjoy what we’ve created here in Japan.
Hiramitsu: The quality of Japanese anime and manga has been recognized all over the world. But I think this is a trickier beast, because the reactions to our works in this genre are going to be so much more critical. There’s so much to evaluate before releasing a product to be enjoyed abroad. But last year there were a ton of people in our audience who travelled from all over the world to come and see us. There were cosplayers. And during the Nico Nico live broadcasts of the musicals, there were so many comments being made in foreign languages. “Sailor Moon” is a series that is wildly popular in many places worldwide. So in terms of making a musical export from Japan, I think this series is a flagship and it could work.

I Have a Sense of Purpose (Hiramitsu)
Sahashi: I think the future of Japanese musicals is at stake. Of course, we’d have to improve the quality of the music we export.
Hiramitsu: I think there’s a perception that all of our musicals “are just adaptations of anime,” and that’s an image I want to aggressively change. Although I had so much fun with the Sera Myu, I have a sense of purpose that I have to fix this perception, I have to do something about it this time around with my work.
Osano: If we could be successful enough to do an overseas performance someday, I think it would be awesome to be able to get local actors. We’d like to have a ton of productions. And we’d like to be able to produce CDs too.
Sahashi: That would be great. And if we could have large organization-wide recordings! And also live concerts.
Hiramitsu: Live performances would be great. But first, we’ve got to get through “Petite Étrangère” this summer.
Osano: After you’ve relived last summer’s excitement by enjoying the DVD release, please visit us again at the theater this year. This next musical corresponds with the second arc of the series, “Sailor Moon R.” It’s a musical, but a lot goes on plot-wise, and it’s similar almost to the anime series. In fact, we kept a lot of elements from one of the most popular anime episodes from this arc, but we freshened it up a bit. Our staff worked hard and we’re all looking forward to sharing our work with you.

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