The landmark anime series about interplanetary guardians and talking cats is a wild ride, and its music is even wilder
Fighting evil by moonlight, winning love by daylight, Sailor Moon is no doubt one of the most successful anime franchises of all time. Naoko Takeuchi’s epic story about a group of interplanetary superheroines (and school girls), who fight against villainous queens and ‘death busters’ to protect the spacetime continuum, is as intense as it sounds, and its soundtrack is built to reflect this.
Across its five seasons, there’s been over 40 Japanese albums released for the anime, which can be characterised by its ultra-camp power-up sequences, magically-charged cosmic heart compacts, and talking cats. Most of these musical numbers are composed by self-taught musician Takanori Arisawa (also behind the Digimon franchise) who won the prestigious Golden Disk Grand Prize from Columbia Records for his work on the original soundtrack in 1993. Takeuchi, the show’s creator, also contributed to the lyrics, which explains some of the more out-there song titles, like “Moon Prism Power Make Up!” and “I’ll Punish You in the Name of the Moon!”.
The original soundtrack is a powerhouse in its own right, a gutsy suckerpunch of fast-paced classical arrangements and big band pizazz, emotional piano interludes and meandering trumpet solos. When building its sound, Arisawa was inspired by the grandiose quality of Hollywood music, and its influence can be heard across the show’s many seasons. Listening to it fills you with the same intensity as being a teenage girl – which is, of course, what Sailor Moon is all about.
As the series progressed, the soundtrack lost some of its distinctive jazz sound as it began incorporating the classic J-pop and rock numbers that we’ve grown to expect from mainstream anime exports, 70s disco, and intricate orchestral arrangements. As you can imagine, it’s a wild ride.
Ahead of the Japanese release of a new Sailor Moon movie, the first three seasons of the landmark anime are releasing for free on the franchise’s official YouTube channel this month. To celebrate, we’ve ranked five albums from the show. Enjoy.
SAILOR MOON ORIGINAL, 1992
Arisawa’s original album is still, in my opinion, the best in the franchise. It begins with “Moonlight Densetsu” (“Moonlight Legend”), the show’s jazzy theme song that – despite undergoing slight variations each season – remains one of the most memorable anime intros to this day. The verses sound like they’re written in the Ukranian dorian scale – usually associated with eastern European and Yiddish music – which gives its lurching melody an energetic quality.
Later tracks like “Ordinary Girl” and “Really Chosen to be a Soldier?” are energetic big band numbers clocking in at a soaring seven minutes each. Listening to them can, at times, feel like listening to three songs in one. “Really Chosen to be a Soldier?”, for instance, starts with a synth-laden trumpet ballad, before sinking into a creeping oboe solo that’s presumably meant to evoke our protagonist’s inner turmoil. Soon enough, the tune changes again. This time it’s a flute, and we’re in the 70s. It’s disco, baby. Love, power, sacrifice, friendship!
SAILOR MOON: WHERE IS THE LOVE?, 1992
This is exactly what you’d imagine Sailor Moon to sound like: a cutesy blitz of J-pop, catchy guitar riffs, and lyrics like, “Turning, turning / The moon’s a merry-go-round / Moon, moon/ Moon princess”. The B-side to the original soundtrack, it does (admittedly) evoke everything Sailor Moon represents – that is, Girl Power! Magic! – but as far as the music goes, its repetitive melody and shrill vocals makes it one of the less inspiring moments in the soundtrack. There is one saving grace, however, and that’s a track titled, “Steal the Energy of Love”, a hazy waltz that wouldn’t go amiss in an east London bar, or spun into a mix on NTS.
SAILOR MOON R, 1993
For a show that skips between the sweet banality of high school life, teen crushes, and friendship drama, to interplanetary superpowers, fighting evil monsters, and saving the planet, Sailor Moon R’s soundtrack finds a good balance between the domestic and fast-paced. As well as the usual big band ‘jazz hand’ arrangements (see: Sailor Moon Original), tracks like “Hell Tree”, characterised by a wall of discordant strings and a spooky minor-key refrain, offers a striking experimental contrast to the show’s bubbly exterior. In doing so, it mimics the Sailor Guardians’ frantic battles with the Dark Kingdom.
SAILOR MOON S, 1994
Much of the third season of Sailor Moon follows the relationship between Michiru and Haruka (AKA Sailor Neptune and Uranus), and their fight against an evil monster called Daimon. The soundtrack itself is mostly classical arrangements reminiscent of old Hollywood movies (Arisawa was allegedly inspired by the Charlie’s Angels TV score). A standout track is “Senshi’s Fate”, a minimalist piano ballad, similar to “Hell Tree”, which perfectly embodies the aftermath against the Death Busters. The rest is kinda cheesy, but I’ll make an exception when considering that much of it is used to evoke the season’s iconic lesbian plotline.
SAILOR MOON SAILOR STARS, 1996
In this final season of Sailor Moon, the Sailor Guardians meet up with the Sailor Starlights (basically edgier versions of the guardians who wear black and dress as guys to disguise themselves in the real world). Together, they discover that Sailor Galaxia and the Shadow Galactica organisation (AKA Sailor Guardians gone bad) plan to take over the Milky Way. Dramatic, right? So is the music.
Again, the soundtrack opts for a maximalist orchestral spin to really evoke all the cosmic madness going on. Out of all the previous seasons, this soundtrack is perhaps most similar to a film score, with specific refrains to evoke particular characters or situations. For instance, you can hear the same trumpet melody parped out across fight sequences “Nellenia Resurrection” and “Captured Sailor Soldiers”, while Shadow Galactica is marked by a funkish electric guitar solo and some pretty out-there synths.