Sailor Moon Crystal: Bringing The Guardians of the Outer Solar System to Life

We got to talk with Erica Mendez and Veronica Taylor of Sailor Moon fame.

With VIZ Media hard at work completing the third volume of Sailor Moon Crystal, Den of Geek was fortunate enough to be invited down to Studiopolis by Charlene Ingram, Director of Animation Marketing at VIZ, to sit in on a recording session so we could see how the sausage is made and chat with the cast.

Even if we hadn’t seen Char before at cons and Sailor Moon events, it hits you right away how dedicated she is to this franchise and its life at VIZ, being a passion project of hers for years now. She really gets and loves these characters and their stories, which is incredibly reassuring to us hardcore moonies.

In the studio that day were Veronica Taylor, who plays Setsuna AKA mistress of space and time Sailor Pluto, and Erica Mendez, who plays Haruka AKA Sailor Uranus, the ass-kicking (and world shaking) butch girl who, along with Sailor Neptune, forms one of anime’s most beloved power couples.

What struck us immediately was just how into their craft these women are, not just getting under the skin of their own characters, but looking to the piece as a whole, and what elements (no pun intended) the Guardians of the Outer Solar System bring to the mix. “I think that they add a lot more maturity. Maybe not Chibi Moon…,” Mendez says. Taylor is as quick to defend Chibi Moon as her character would be. “No, she has her mature moments, I think, for how young she is … I also think teamwork is such a big part of Sailor Moon, so to have this other team and yet they’re all working together … I think it adds to the learning curve.”

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“I mean, [the Sailor Guardians], they’re teenagers,” Mendez adds. “They get into drama and have fights with each other, and they’re always really petty fights. The Outers just add so much more maturity to them. They definitely brought the story down to be a little bit more serious than it had been originally. I like the dynamic.”

Having seen their work in Sailor Moon S, already available in stores and online from VIZ, we can attest that the chemistry between the Outers shows in their performance, all the more remarkable since they only casually knew each other before the project. Mendez says of Lauren Landa, who plays her onscreen partner Michiru AKA Sailor Neptune, “We kind of knew each other. I think we didn’t become close friends until Sailor Moon. Obviously, we do a lot of events together now, and it’s been really good getting to know her.” And what effect does this have on their performance? “I mean, obviously, acting… you can do it anyway, but having a connection with an actor who plays a character so close to your character pushes it a little bit further. It really does help, because even though we’re not physically in the room with each other, we are together.”

Says Taylor, “With another person, because we don’t often hear their voices when we’re recording, if you know them, you can kind of understand how they may say their lines, so you can have a relationship between your characters even if they’re not there.” 

Interpersonal relationships being very much at the core of Sailor Moon, this naturally led to discussion regarding the romance between Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune, one of the most iconic couples in all of geekdom. These two super-powered schoolgirls in love were many young people’s first taste of LGBTQ representation, debuting all the way back in 1994, and have resonated for nearly twenty-five years. Theirs are some pretty big (if stylish) shoes to fill.

“I think it’s a really huge honor,” Mendez says. “I’m not gay myself, so I haven’t been through a lot of the obstacles that the gay community has been through, but I have so many people … coming up to thank me for being part of this. Even more thanks from people about how much the character means to them and what it means that I’m playing a part in that. It’s really humbling, and I’m really glad I get to be a part of it.”

Taylor then muses a bit on the contrast between the DiC/Cloverway dubs of Sailor Moon and VIZ’s dub, and how in the ’90s so much was censored, specifically the LGBTQ content. “Isn’t it great that you have something that was kind of glossed over originally, and we’re able to bring it back in? I mean, this was written so long ago and was a theme at that time that would be [considered] not appropriate, but now thankfully we can just have it there. It’s real. It’s just the characters.”

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Given that their work on Sailor Moon S completed and the corresponding season of Sailor Moon Crystal being recorded, one topic was inevitable. Any “moonie” can tell you that the ’90s anime, while sharing the same basic characters and story arcs, diverged considerably from the manga. As both series progressed, the butterfly effect only widened that gap. It’s hard for many fans not to draw comparisons between the original ’90s anime and Crystal. We here at Den of Geek are no exception, and so we had to ask: which version of their characters do they prefer? Both had the same answer: Crystal.

Mendez appreciates the fresh perspective offered by Haruka’s philosophical counterpoint to the Inners’ mantra of teamwork at all costs. “I think Haruka is more mature and cares a lot less about the whole uniting thing. I think that’s really interesting.”

As for Taylor, “I like that Sailor Pluto … she’s so reserved, and [in Crystal] she’s able to get sometimes beyond that. We all have to figure out how to be all sides of ourselves, and she’s so in charge, but she gets to have some warmer moments in Crystal.”

Going a little deeper into the character of Sailor Pluto, we discussed the chronology of the character and how it varies between versions. In the 90’s anime, Pluto just sort of exists outside time. Her timeline and development are kind of hard to nail down. But in Crystal, it’s explicitly stated that Pluto from the Black Moon Arc and Pluto from the Infinity Arc are two separate characters. Her soul went back in time to reincarnate, so Pluto in “Infinity” is not this stoic; she’s got this civilian identity that isn’t a bajillion years old. She’s a college girl. So, what does that mean for how Taylor crafts her performance between seasons?

“I think that if you really get into all of us being reincarnated, there is that kind of bit of ourselves that, whether we’re conscious of it or not, carries with our soul into whatever body we pop into. And I think it’s the same with Sailor Pluto. She may not be that same person, but a lot of that is still in her. She’s able to express herself in a slightly different, maybe more real way. I think she’s still kind of figuring it out, and bits of who she was before come back to her. She’s learning while we’re learning about her.”

Pluto is a character that, by necessity, often falls into that older sister/cool aunt role. We rarely see Setsuna at all, much less as the focus of an episode, and so her character is a mystery. This does nothing to lessen Taylor affection for her, and she’s got her own way of bringing Sestuna’s essence to the surface.

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“As an actor, I really like that you get to have a very complete character. The most fun characters are the ones that you really see their highs and their lows and their joy and their sadness, so it’s a bit harder to play a character who is somewhat on one note. Even though there’s a lot going on underneath, she can’t show that much in her actual words. I would love for her to be everything that she is, but what I’m trying to do and my challenge is to get all of that into just the way that she speaks.”

It definitely shows. Following the interview, we were able to sit on a recording session in which Taylor brought Sailor Pluto to life for her grand return in Episode 3×06. For someone who has a lot of fun with her work, having a tendency to crack jokes between takes (especially in the voice of her character; a blooper reel on her would be gold), she is a consummate professional, not much of a surprise when you consider her resume. She was Ash Ketchum once upon a time, after all. But the way Taylor works with the director to find the right colors of the performance and to hit her mark (vocally) while infusing her own idea of the character into the performance is impressive to say the least.

Of course, this couldn’t be done without Suzanne Goldish, who has been directing the VIZ’s new voice cast from Day 1. Goldish has a very casual but direct method of communicating with the actors to draw out a performance that manages to simultaneously stick to the script, match the mouth flaps on the screen, and hit the right tone with the characters. We could honestly sit in on hours of watching this team breathe life into Sailor Moon and to see how Goldish works with each of the actors. Hopefully, we’ll get the opportunity to return to Studiopolis to go behind the scenes of this or even other projects, but as far as this one goes… ye gods, was it a treat!

Sailor Moon Crystal: Season 3 will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on December 5th… which happens to be Sailor Jupiter’s birthday. We see what you did there.

Read the full Den of Geek NYCC Special Edition Magazine right here!