Emi Takahashi had a consistent dream throughout the majority of her life. She wanted to earn a living by drawing stuff; specifically, moving stuff. What she desired was to be yet another link in the animation business keychain.
Ever since she learned such things as “pencil” and “paper” existed in this reality of ours, let alone be combined in such a way as to create things literally out of nowhere via scribbles, she knew she was meant for greatness. Her parents and teachers said she could become anything she wanted, and she had chosen to fulfill the role of a cog inside an overrated machine.
With her dreams tacked on the front of her forehead, she started building her ladder to success. She became the clichéd girl next door you’d pay a candy bar to in exchange for your kindergarten sweetheart’s hand-made portrait. She was the one seat in the classroom everyone described as “the one that knows how to draw Ultraman really well”. Her masterpieces were characterized by being a little on the ‘meh’ side of quality, but one-digit-aged school children praised them as the real deal. And Emi felt vindicated.
As time went by, her toddler-leveled jottings soon became doodles, and this doodles quickly began to populate the countless notebooks and flyers that reached her hands. In a foreshadowing turn of events, most of them involved fanfic-ed adventures of her preferred team of justice fighters: Sailor Moon’s Sailor Scouts. Just as many girls her age, she fantasized of, one day, working for the company that produced Sailor Moon and, perhaps, she thought, she could be in charge of a modern retelling of the classic magical girl story.
She had resolved her whole life just in time for age ten to hit her right in the childhood. She was going to give life to flat-drawn characters for the rest of her existence or die trying. As of the time of this writing, dead she is not.
In a matter of months, the static poses she excelled at soon multiplied asexually and went on to stuff the insides of countless Post-It blocks. Emi head learned the magic trick of simulated motion from a classmate who showed her an epic (and incredibly bloody) battle between Doraemon and Godzilla. Now that she had the ever-elusive know-how, she had the power.
Whatever events transpired on the other side of her TV screen to magically present her with the weekly adventures of her favorite heroes, she could replicate on her own using nothing but sticky paper squares and multi-colored pens. And not only that, but she was free to create any events her young mind could conjure. She was not limited to any sort of constrain, be it budgetary or censorship. To this day, her grandparents still cherish the three-feet tall stack of Post-It blocks “animated adventures” she produced while aiming to better her trade. All of them Sailor Moon related. Most of them, inexplicably, featuring an extra Sailor Scout that looked astonishingly similar to Emi.
Following in line to her promising future, she decided to open her own DeviantArt account the second she arrived to the human experience level named “puberty”. Everything her left hand had printed onto a piece of paper so far was uploaded in wads to her profile. Nothing was too shameful to boast. Gigabytes and gigabytes of scanned goods were on show. For the first time in fifteen years, people outside of Emi’s family-and-friends circle could witness her talent firsthand. Her entire life was on display. The idea that maybe, just maybe, someone inside Toei Animation would stumble upon her profile and see potential in her crossed her mind only three times a day.
The overall consensus of her “art”? Her stuff was a step above “lackluster”. Nothing that would melt irises, neither for its excellence nor its crapiness. An exemplary ‘meh’. A regular DeviantArt user through and through, with all the expected fallings of one deserving of such an honorary title.
But her desire and passion grew stronger with each passing day. So did her online gallery. What never grew much was her fandom.
The routine of clichéd-ridden lifestyles paved Emi’s destiny after that point. She left the prefecture that monitored her childhood and moved to Tokyo when she thought the time was ripe for her to blossom into a fulltime animator. Her first step would be to enroll in the world-famous Tokyo Animation College. There, she hoped to learn the trade and grab ahold of all the juicy contacts that would make her ability explode in the animation scene. She could’ve chosen any of the five Japanese colleges that statistically produced better animators, but she remembered someone she met on a forum once told her Tokyo Animation College was the place where Toei reaped the most souls in order to feed their company. Her hopes had never shined higher.
The day the admission test was applied, she entered the overcrowded building gloating with the knowledge that succeeding was her destiny. Everyone who dared glance at her smugness was unable to remember her physical appearance, but their hearts couldn’t let go of the hatred her presence spawned in them.
Emi was sure she was going to ace the test. She even thought so after leaving the premises.
Despite what popular belief states, knowing that there are at least a dozen people less talented than you is hardly any consolation. Especially when that means there are over 1781 human beings with more innate talent besting you in a test meant to choose the 84 lucky people who’d actually enroll in the university of your dreams. This certainty notwithstanding, she felt a little better after realizing her heart wasn’t as broken as that of the person awarded with the bottom spot. That man killed himself round the corner.
But instead of moaning her life away, wallowing in the deepest of self-pities, Emi destined only three days to the task of crying ‘til she fell asleep. Once this mourning period was over, she made the best decision of her entire lifespan: she drew a rather askew fan art of Sailor Mars, the fiery, no-nonsense member of the Sailor Scouts who functioned as her role model throughout her childhood.
When she was done, Emi uploaded the piece to her DeviantArt profile in a matter of seconds. The piece of paper was soaked with the water from her salty tears, but that didn’t matter to her. She scanned it nonetheless. She just wanted to play tribute to the dream she would never attain. This so-called illustration would be the farewell to her “artistic” endeavor.
But, that day, she felt a bit adventurous. Seeing as that well might’ve been her last drawing ever, she created a tumblr just for it. An electronic shrine that would serve as a reminder of what was never supposed to be. When doing so, she used the tags #SailorMoon #SailorMars #IHaveFailedYou #NotAnAnimator #NeverAnAnimator.
Just as the bits of information that decoded into her less-than-stellar rendition of Sailor Mars finished traveling from her desktop to the interwebs, a shady member of the Toei corporation administrative staff was looking for fresh meat online. He was some sort of talent scout, just not the one anyone would like to be found by. His mornings were spent looking around on any popular websites in search of young people with as little knowledge as possible of the value of their work and hire them for less than what an Indian sweatshop labor child would make in their entire life. Underpaid animators are, in fact, considered one of the lowest forms of life this side of the rising sun. If money had to be given to them it is only because the law dictates it is a crime to do otherwise.
The task at hand of this scout was to populate the “animation” team of the new version of Sailor Moon his company was producing and, as fate would have it, Emi would be the final cog for the rusty machinery. It just so happened that, as a last resort, the scout logged into tumblr and, on a whim, searched for the hashtag “Sailor Mars”. The first thing the search came up with was Emi’s final opus.
The scout knew he had found the piece he was missing the moment he laid eyes upon such “creation”. The lack of anatomic knowledge, the hands that were monstrously disproportionate to the size of her head, the pair of eyes wandering freely inside the undefined line art that aimed to represent a face… The unevenness of it all was precisely what the scout was looking for. It reeked of desperation, of lack of talent. It was clear the thing had been created in ten minutes. Or less. It was perfect.
Just as that, 17-year-old Emi snagged a job as a professional animator. Much to her delight, she’d be working on the precise TV show she had fantasized of being a part of for the last seven years of her life. It was a surprising turn of events, but she didn’t dare question the whys, she just enjoyed the now. She’d be a star soon. And not any star, mind you, but a star that would share her light with a piece of the Sailor Moon history.
Best of all, still, was the fact she would be working alongside a work force comprised entirely of like-minded people her age. They had also been “hand-picked” by the scout from, how he put it on his inauguration speech when he introduced them to their new office space, “the cream of the crop of the internet fan art scene.” If Emi had made a little bit of research she would’ve recognized their names as the bottom 50 entrants of the Tokyo Animation College admission process of that year.
All of them were young, unexperienced, untrained, unschooled, lacked any sort of talent, and, above all, were pretty darn dumb. They were all selected due to the low-costs of their hiring. But, as far as their parents and the Japanese government were concerned, the reason behind their upgrade to the professional leagues of the entertainment business was to “boost opportunities and morale for the new generation of artists.” Whichever the excuse, the result would ultimately be the same: more spending money on Toei’s CEO’s pockets.
“If these young’uns don’t give a fuck about the quality of their work, why should we give a fuck about the quality of our work?” said the biggest cheese of the corporation upon their hiring.
Their first task as Toei’s spanking new animation team was to have the third episode of Sailor Moon Crystal ready by the end of the week so it could be broadcasted internationally. Everything was ready for them to churn out a myriad of animation cells with their “unique” style. But while reading the script crafted by the anonymous intern forced to gift away her talent, Emi saw an opportunity. Seeing as episode 3 would mark Sailor Mars’s debut on this reboot of sorts, she mustered all her courage and shared a thought with her boss; an idea she had been cooking inside her brain since the first Sailor Moon Post-It adventures she did way back when. And so, she stalled him on his way out of his office.
“Excuse me, mister director, sir?” she said.
“What is it, animation monkey number 48?”
“I have an idea that I think you’d like to hear. It’s concerning the character of Sailor Mars.”
“OK. Shoot, number 48. But make it quick, since I want to leave this dump as soon as possible.”
“Have you heard of Naruto, sir?
“Of course I have! There is not a living breathing individual who has not heard of Naruto! It is one of Japan’s biggest gifts to art!”
“So, I gather you’re familiar with the character of Sasuke?”
“Yes. Does this have a point or are we rambling?”
“Well, you see, sir, Sasuke is very popular among the show’s demographic. People seem to enjoy the mopey, whiny and pouty brand of characters. You know, the one that has handled the burden of being feared by many since day one thanks to the mysterious powers they possess for some mystical or predestined reason. And they’re always fretting about not wanting any of the attention and such. Basically, loners that learn to work as a team, and cause trouble, and rebel and the likes.”
“What if – and this is a big ‘if’, sir – what if we make Rei the Sasuke of Sailor Moon? Also, she has ravens.”
“Really? You do like my idea!?”
“I frankly don’t give a damn about this show or your idea. But it’ll print us money no matter what we do. That’s proven. So, yeah, do that Sasuke-imitation or whatever. Just finish the stupid episode by Friday and don’t bother me, okay?”
Emi squealed. She squealed so hard a family of squirrels thirty kilometers west of her position thought the end of the world had arrived. The show director limited himself to pat her in the back with the far end of a rolled newspaper and proceeded to walk away.
Unbeknownst to him, he had just fulfilled Emi’s lifelong dream. She had been allowed to redesign Sailor Mars both on the outside and on the inside.
Unbeknownst to her, it didn’t really matter. She was still an anonymous no one.
Half a world away, a man has been waiting patiently for two weeks in order to witness firsthand the continuation of a saga he remembered loving as a kid. He has gathered all his hopes and dreams, as well as a bucket of microwave popcorn in order to enjoy the re-re-re-re-reintroduction of the best character Naoko Takeuchi had ever birthed: Sailor Mars. He even dared undust the Sailor Mars tiara he secretly concocted as a woodshop project in high school. It was dented and ugly, but it was his.
With great excitement he pressed play. Once the 23-minute run of the episode came to an end, he had but one thing to say out loud:
“Well, wasn’t that awful?”
He knew the events presented in the episode had been sort of, maybe, kind of interesting as a whole, what with an actual thought of plan from the show’s villains, but who on Earth could be enthralled by the story of a haunted bus when the art and the animation where that abhorrent?
Nobody. That’s who.
EPISODE RATING: ★★