#SailorWeek interview with Serenitatis

iconiQuestra sits down with Danielle (Hoshichan), owner of the Usagi/Sailormoon fansite Serapii-Kisu.net and Usagi/Mamoru gallery site Serenitatis, for a special #SailorWeek interview:

iTSO: Thank you for letting us interview you for Sailor Week, Danielle! Let’s start off with a bit of your background. What’s your current day job?

D: I own a web design firm, which I formally started in 2005, but I’ve been freelancing since 1997. I also have 20 years experience in graphic design. I can honestly say that Sailor Moon started my career in web design. Wanting to make my own sites motivated me to learn more about webdev, back in 1996, and I launched The Gallery of the Silver Millennium (now Serenitatis) in 1997. Over the years, I improved my programming skills by working on my fansites. They were a great sandbox for experimentation, because it wasn’t a client’s site, it wasn’t paid work. I could do whatever I wanted.

iTSO: Having been in the business since 1997, how has the web design aesthetic changed for you?

D: Things definitely seem to cycle, or yo-yo — much like the fashion industry. (Sweeping generalizations follow.) At first, sites were white: white background, black text, blue links. Default, unstyled web. Then sites went black. Then they were white again. Then they discovered colored backgrounds. Then everything went faded color and low contrast. Fonts were tiny, barely legible, then they got bigger. Now it seems like they’re either small or HUGE. When CSS was first “hep”, fonts were heavily styled, until you couldn’t tell what was a link and what was italicized and what was bold. Usability just went out the window.

Layouts in the late 1990s had that awful left-hand sidebar linked to a top bar. Graphic navigation links, big buttons with bevel effects. (The first version of GSM had them.) Sites were all left-justified, then suddenly everyone discovered the center tag. Then they were fixed-width and super skinny. Then they went super wide. Then you were trying to strike this balance of being wide enough for most screens, but still accommodating the older resolutions (a battle that still goes on today.) Then, responsive design came in, which I am thoroughly behind, but it does make design harder, visually.

I get frustrated by sites (commercial and non-commercial) hopping on the latest trend, over and over. Something new appears, and everyone copies it in a frenzy. Once the trend fades, those designs look SO dated. You can date the layout, almost to the year, based on what it looks like.

iTSO:: I’ve always admired Serapii-Kisu’s gorgeous layout!

D: Thank you!! I long to revamp it, I did a lot of complicated things in the stylesheet, and I could write them much better now…

iTSO: What’s you opinion of responsive design and CMS (content management system) booms? Does it
hinder creativity?

D: I am very much in favor of responsive design. It’s glorious. Instead of worrying about making a site, then making the “old” browser version, then making the mobile version… you just make the site. The site reshapes itself to look best on your screen size. I love that.

CMS booms: it’s great in that people with less technical know-how can edit their own site content without code. It’s not so great, in that someone still has to maintain the CMS to prevent security holes and hacking (WordPress.)

Every time some “easy” website solution comes along (be that a sitebuilder, a CMS, whatever), a bunch of mediocre sites pop up, hang around for a while, and then die off. I’ve seen it happen multiple times. Maybe I’m a curmudgeon, but I think fansites were better made, and the content was better quality, when a domain name cost $70 for two years, and hosting was $10-20 a month. If someone owned a domain name in 1998-99, it was a BIG DEAL, because they were putting down CASH MONEY for their hobby fansite. Usually the site was well-maintained, well-planned, really good content. Nowadays, anyone can buy a domain for a few dollars, hosting costs have gone down (which is good, don’t get me wrong), and I think site quality has gone down, too. There’s the occasional, really excellent website you find, and that’s so delightful, but on average… not so much.

CMS vs. creativity: That’s a difficult question. The CMS is helping you get your ideas out there, speeding up and simplifying the process. You no longer have to make thumbnails in a photo editor and then code everything up, and then upload it, etc etc etc — WordPress will take your photo and make the thumbnails for you and generate the code and you’re done. Publish, boom. I like things that make my life and work easier. On the other hand, what I just described has less thought put into it. The thumbnails are automatic, but are they intentional? Are they sharp enough? Are they showing what you want to show? Are they cutting something off? Are the images carefully arranged and curated, or did you just upload everything in your folder, and let the file names dictate the order? (Yes, these are the things I think about. Anal, I know.)

A CMS can be used for good, or for mediocre… I suppose you could say that about anything. Will I put Serenitatis or Serapii Kisu onto a CMS? Probably not. (I’ve toyed with the idea, but I don’t think it’s worth the bother.)

iTSO: What sparked your interest in anime, and particularly, in Sailor Moon?

D: Well, it actually happened in reverse: first, Sailor Moon, and then anime and manga in general.

In fall 1995, I was visiting relatives in Silicon Valley. We didn’t have cable at the time, so my kid sister and I would plop down in front of USA Network at every opportunity, because HEY WOW, cartoons on a weekday!! (This was well before Cartoon Network.) We caught an episode of Sailor Moon on that particular day — episode 24, “Naru-chan’s Tears! The Death of Nephrite for Love”. It’s certainly not my favorite episode, but there was just something about it. I remember watching the end, as Naru sobs over Nephrite’s death, and thinking, “WOW, this is so DIFFERENT.” The heroine had character flaws. Everything didn’t wrap up tidily at the end. Things happened in the episode, permanent things — characters died! This was definitely not in my 80s cartoon experience. I clearly remember the end of that episode, with Naru keening in the moonlight. It was haunting. And it still is.

Fast forward about six months: I was introduced to “the Internet”. I remembered that interesting cartoon I’d seen, did some searching, and plunged headlong down the Sailor Moon rabbit hole. I found a fair amount of fansites, some good, some bad. Being a visual person, I downloaded all the images I could find. In fall 1996 I started learning web design, and by January 1997, I realized that the Usagi & Mamoru image gallery site I kept searching for just didn’t exist. So I decided to make one. And that was how Serenitatis was born…

Around the same time, I connected with new friends who also liked anime, and was introduced to Ranma 1/2, Slayers, Record of Lodoss War, and more. I prefer manga to anime, overall, but anime is where I started out. The art style of manga and anime is so different from Western cartoons and comics, and I find it really inspiring, creatively. It was nice to see so many stories made for young women (dealing with topics older than My Little Pony, but not as dull as soap operas.)

What were some of your favorite Sailor Moon fan sites from the early days?

My favorite image gallery was The Sailor Moon Room, which became Mamoru.net (offline). I remember downloading videos from Ms. Haruna’s Homeroom, on simplenet.com, short clips of henshin sequences, attacks, bits of episodes. I watched the final episodes of Sailor Stars that way, in chunks. (I think I may still have episode 200 somewhere, in about 20 parts.) My other favorite was The Sailor Moon Cel Gallery, by Devin Degruyl. It was this wonderful site with captioned screencaps that were hilarious. He would screencap a whole episode and commentate on it; think MST3K, but Sailor Moon. (In some ways, the 108 Secret Techniques page on SKnet is a hat-tip to SMCG.) What I liked was that he was a huge fan of the series, but didn’t take it so seriously that he couldn’t acknowledge the more goofy aspects of the anime.

There were others, but I don’t remember their names. Not much survived from the late 1990s.

iTSO: Not a lot of “shrines” exist anymore. How has the Sailor Moon online fandom community changed since the 90s?

D: I think that’s true throughout the internet — fansites are a dying breed, replaced by niche blogs sometimes, or Wikipedia (ugh!) I still think fansites are much nicer than wikis or whatever, but it takes a certain kind of person to make a good one, and I don’t think there’s as many people putting in the effort as there once was. There’s still great fansites out there, but I think with the advent of social media and how the internet has changed, modern fans are more inclined to find a community or a forum to talk about stuff, and not so much a good fansite. Granted, I don’t really “hang” with modern Sailor Moon fans, so my opinion is poorly-informed. LOL

iTSO: You also used to run Moon-Prism.net the BSSM fanlisting. Why did you decide to give it up?

D: In an effort to have fewer websites to maintain, I closed or adopted out my remaining fanlistings last year, including the BSSM fanlisting. Fanlistings require constant maintenance, and I needed less of that in my life. I enjoyed tending it after the original owner passed it to me; it has been passed to another “oldbie” Sailor Moon fan, who I’m sure will take good care of it for years to come.

iTSO: You go into great detail on Serapii-kisu with Sailor Moon’s outfits, stats, even the Silver Crystal! How difficult was it to collect and analyze all that information?

D: It was very time-consuming, especially the costume deconstructs. Each deconstruct took probably 8-9 hours to do, which is why there aren’t more of them. I’m a detail-oriented person, and I love analyzing things, picking things apart, and so it just came naturally. I’ve heard people use them for cosplay references, which is hilarious to me because I’m terrible at sewing, I don’t know a thing about garment construction. I just analyzed the outfits and pointed out every detail I could find.

The ginzuishou section was a little over the top. I had this idea to find all appearances of it in the manga, and document them, but then I thought, who on earth would care? It was entertaining (I’m easily entertained), so I made the page. Also, I’m a geology major and a gemstone nerd (by night, I’m a gemologist and I make jewelry), so I’ve had a long obsession with the Silver Crystal.

I was trying to make an exhaustive shrine, so I gathered information from many sources and put it all in one place. One thing that was important to me, which actually came about because of the Usagi fanlisting, was establishing all the “versions” of Usagi’s character. Usagi has many roles, over the course of the series, and (to settle a fanlisting dispute) I went through and documented them all. It was fun finding “evidence” for all of her forms.

For the image galleries, I took the opportunity to make a more selective, curated collection of images. Serenitatis has EVERYTHING, definitely focused on quantity; Serapii Kisu has far less images, but quality ones. And doujinshi/fanart, that was something I added that’s exclusive to SK.

iTSO: What do you like about Usagi the character? What attracted you to Usagi and Mamoru’s relationship?

D: “Why I like Usagi” could be a whole essay, I think…. I like Usagi/Sailor Moon because she’s flawed, but genuine. She’s not perfect by any means, but underneath it all, she has strength and compassion in abundance. She believes in everyone so completely, and she believes that everyone, no matter how evil, can be redeemed. She starts out so immature and fearful, but you really see the maturation of her character over the course of the series. And yet, through it all, she retains her innocent nature. She’s charmingly naive.

I love Usagi and Mamoru’s relationship, in part because it spans millennia — a love story for the ages. There’s a tragic element to their relationship, and it follows through to the present-day relationship covered in the anime/manga. There’s petty arguments, and deeper separations; always, there’s something trying to tear them apart, and yet, they always make it through somehow. Theirs is an unlikely but beautiful relationship, with each empowering the other to be stronger and do better.

iTSO: What did you think of the live-action adapations (Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon and SeraMyu musicals) specifically the charactertization of Usagi?

I’ve seen a little of PGSM, and I thought the character designs were pretty cool. It’s neat to see a series that was directly inspired by sentai shows, become a sentai show. (Plus, there was a live-action wedding!) I thought the “evil”/possessed Princess Sailor Moon was an interesting choice. To me, Serenity is the opposite of evil, so I can’t say I’m a super-fan of PSM, but it was an interesting twist.

I’ve honestly never seen Seera Myu, but I like to look at pictures of it. I love all the spangly costumes. XD

iTSO: What are your opinions of Sailor Moon Crystal so far? What are you most looking forward to?

D: LOVE THE ARTWORK. Anime has come a long way, and I can’t believe I’m seeing manga-style artwork, animated. It blows my mind. I cannot WAIT to see it. And this is a bit far-thinking, but I never got an anime Usagi/Mamoru wedding, and Crystal reignites my hopes and dreams. ANIME WEDDING. MAKE IT HAPPEN, JAPAN.

Oh, and if that’s the new theme song playing in the trailer? VIVA LA NEW THEME SONG.

iTSO: What are the future plans for your websites?

D: I haven’t had time to work on my fansites properly in quite some time, and I had a lot of guilt about that. Serenitatis is stale. Serapii Kisu needs a revamp, and is only about 30% “finished”, according to my original plans. I felt so neglectful, but I never had the time. So, in November I decided to “retire” my fansites. I took them down for about a month. I missed them so much, even if I didn’t have time to work on them, that I put them back up.

I do think Crystal’s artwork will spur me to work on them both again — I’m a sucker for images, in case you can’t tell from the giant image galleries — but I work in web design full time, which makes it less desirable as a hobby. (Kids: don’t ruin your hobby by making it “work”.) I don’t often want to spend hours in front of the screen, after having already spent several hours in front of the screen, even to work on something fun.

Still, I think it’s a possibility. At the least, expect Serenitatis and SKnet gallery updates. And I may yet write some articles for SK, especially the “Why Usagi” essay. Your interview got my gears turning!

iTSO: Out of all of the Sailor Moon songs, which is your favorite and why?

D: There’s a lot of good music in Sailor Moon! My favorites are Sailor Star Song, and Heart Moving. (I don’t know why Heart Moving. I just like it, and the end credit animation that goes with it.) And of course Moonlight Densetsu.


Thank you to Danielle for giving us insight into her Sailor Moon fandom. Visit her website and show your support! We’ll continue celebrating #SailorWeek with more tributes and interviews. Stay tuned …