When Sailor Moon first came out in Japan in 1992, it changed anime—specifically magical girl anime—forever. The TV adaptation of Naoko Takeuchi’s manga, itself a spinoff of Codename Sailor V, mashed up the long-running genre with elements of sci-fi, superhero fiction, and the Super Sentai franchise. Where once magical girls mostly used their powers to solve basic problems—and occasionally cause them—the Sailor Guardians set a new standard for them as transforming, monster-fighting superheroes.
The formula was hugely successful, and everyone took notice. Sailor Moon became a gateway show for anime fans around the world in the 1990s, and the show’s legacy in Japan lives on to this day. But fans weren’t the only ones who took notice of the show’s popularity.
Not only did magical girl series start to adopt the transforming heroine concept more regularly—which has stayed with us to this day, to the point that it’s now considered the standard—a few tried to replicate Sailor Moon’s success even more closely. That meant anything from shoehorning a magical girl plot into a slice-of-life gag anime to creating a story that was essentially the same beat-for-beat and hoping no one noticed.
Today, I bring you a look at three 90s magical girl anime—two by TV Tokyo, one from Sailor Moon studio Toei—that hoped to replicate the Moon Princess’s magic.
Min Ayahana’s 1991 manga Akazukin Chacha was a magical girl story in the earliest sense of the word: a girl using magic to solve problems and have adventures. In this case, the girl is Chacha, a Little Red Riding Hood analogue learning magic from her guardian and mentor. She eventually ends up going to a proper school, featuring a cavalcade of fairytale- and folktale-inspired characters. She’s clumsy, she gets her spells wrong a lot, and hijinks ensue.
But wait. How is it going to appeal to Sailor Moon fans if there’s literally no magical fighting heroine? Simple: just write one the heck in.
Akazukin Chacha’s 1994 adaptation took, to put it lightly, a few liberties in its first two seasons. The main one involved Chacha’s ability to turn into Magical Princess Holy-Up: a teenage version of herself in Valkyrie-esque costume, whose one attack appeared to be an arrow that just sort of took care of things. Save for extremely rare occasions, the Magical Princess only ever appeared via a few seconds of stock footage in each episode.
The third season wrote out the Magical Princess aspect by destroying Chacha’s transformation item. At that point, the show veered back to its source material, with its stories coming primarily from the first five volumes of the manga. Considering the Magical Princess scenes were largely tacked on at the end anyway, there wasn’t a great deal of change tonally.
Akazukin Chacha gunned for an audience by jumping on the Sailor Moon train, but kept it largely thanks to its adorable art, cute stories, and the presence of J-pop band SMAP alum Shingo Katori as a cute blue-haired werewolf boy. It didn’t ride the magical girl craze to fame and fortune, but it does make for an adorable binge-watch.
But TV Tokyo was far from done chasing that sweet sweet Sailor Moon money…
Legendary Love Angel Wedding Peach
In 1995, TV Tokyo took another swing at attracting the Sailor Moon crowd. This time, the manga being adapted really did feature fighting magical girls from the outset. Unlike Sailor Moon, however, this one starred a ditz with a heart of gold who, with the help of her super-powerful mother, gains the ability to transform into a superhero, and unites with reincarnated soldiers of love on Earth to fight monsters.
No, wait, you didn’t let me finish. This time they’re not princesses, they’re angels, and they use wedding-related stuff. See? Totally different.
The first of two Wedding Peach manga began in 1994—there was a second in 1995 that was simplified for younger readers. Clearly inspired by the current reigning queen of magical girls, Wedding Peach was an ideal candidate for an anime adaptation. But instead of doing what they could to ensure that it wouldn’t be taken as a one-off of Sailor Moon, they doubled down and made it as much like it as possible, starting with the character designs.
Artist Kazuko Tadano was called in to adapt the Love Angels and their battle outfits from the manga. Tadano has an impressive resume, including Petite Princess Yucie and several characters from the original Dougram anime. But at the time, she was best known as the character designer behind the first two seasons of Sailor Moon. While the inspiration behind each battle outfit is notably different—sailor uniforms for one, wedding dresses for another—the parallels are not subtle.
Then there’s the opening theme, “Dreaming Love Angels.” Despite the little flourish of Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus” at the beginning, it’s just a little similar to the unchanging—until Sailor Stars, anyway—theme to Sailor Moon. And by “a little,” I mean “hey I forgot to do my homework, can I copy yours.”
But Wedding Peach didn’t stop at trying to be like Sailor Moon—it tried to outdo it. Do you like magical girl transformations? Each of the Love Angels got two: one into a wedding dress, and another into their battle outfit. And, like Sailor Moon, the name of the game was jewelry and makeup when it came to special weapons.
Sadly, Wedding Peach’s attempts at attracting the Sailor Moon crowd didn’t pan out. While it did develop a fan base, it’s widely remembered as being an attempt to capitalize on an existing craze. To be fair, though, it’s a fun watch if you’re running out of magical girl shows and want some 90s nostalgia.
Cutey Honey Flash
Rival studios weren’t the only ones worrying about making the next Sailor Moon. Toei, the studio that created the hit series in the first place, would eventually have to fill the time slot left behind once Sailor Stars aired its finale. Their choice was, to put it mildly, interesting: a shoujo remake of Go Nagai’s Cutie Honey.
On the one hand, it was a clever choice. Cutie Honey was technically anime’s first transforming heroine, hitting the airwaves in 1973. Her powers may not have been magical, but she did have a specific “battle form” she would take to fight monsters of the week. The “transforming heroine” concept went largely dormant until Sailor Moon took it on again nearly 20 years later.
On the other hand, Cutie Honey in its original form was anything but a shoujo series. This was Go Nagai at his Go Nagai-est: a series about a sexy shapeshifting android who divided her time between being the most popular girl in school and fighting weird mostly-naked monster ladies. And speaking of “mostly naked,” there were no sparkles or ribbons for Honey Kisaragi—when she transformed, clothes came off.
Nonetheless, Toei went ahead and turned the bawdy shonen series into a girl-targeted show, with a few notable changes. Honey could still transform into a variety of alter egos, as well as her battle form. Love interest Seiji Hayami was still on hand, as were the evil forces of Panther Claw and their leader, Sister Jill. But now, instead of the traditional Nagai series opener of “My father just died and left me a message telling me I have/am a robot,” Honey’s father disappeared, leaving hope of a reunion.
Also, the show introduced a completely new character called the Twilight Prince: a handsome long-haired man who gave Honey her transformation device and had a habit of giving her flowers after her battles. No, not roses. Please, who do you think we are? He gave her lilies. Totally different.
Cutey Honey Flash—so far the only Cutie Honey remake to confirm the alternate spelling—had much of the same staff as late-series Sailor Moon, meaning the similarities in style were both deliberate and come by honestly. They did, however, opt to stick to the show’s original theme song, using a cover by anison performer Salia for the new opening. There, the show’s shonen roots come through: the lyrics praise her tiny bottom, her trendy style, and her perky boobs.
In the years since, many more Cutie Honey remakes and reimaginings have come out, including multiple live-action versions and the recent Cutie Honey Universe. None of them has attempted to go the shoujo route again, but in the years following Sailor Moon—and thus Cutey Honey Flash—it’s embraced its magical girl connections far more in its imagery, its style, and its format.
In the end, there really was no “next Sailor Moon.” It wasn’t until studios started putting their own spin on the show’s core concept that things got going. These days, magical girls as transforming, fighting heroines are pretty much the norm, and there are as many takes on the idea as there are series. Now we have shows as diverse as Lyrical Nanoha, Princess Tutu, Madoka Magica, and the Guinness record-holding PreCure. Magical girl anime has come a long way since its 90s renaissance. Where will it go next? Perhaps it’s time for magical girl anime to embrace the zombie craze?