In a word? The connection between automobiles and the characters, locations, and even magic spells in CLAMP’s Magic Knight Rayearth (MKR) series is “thorough.” In a phrase? There’s basically nothing in MKR which is doesn’t in some way connect back to car brands or the companies which manufacture them, either Japanese or foreign. Though the purpose of this blog is to investigate the mysteries of the characters and world of Sailor Moon, this is a topic that’s interested me for awhile and I figured it’d be worth taking a quick dive down this rabbit hole. If you’re interested, please do read on!
To be fair, there’s nothing really unique about choosing and running with a naming theme in fictional series, especially in Japan. When you consider the options available to you through implied meanings in kanji (as is often the case with the names of the Sailor Moon cast) or the exotic-sounding nature of various foreign words (as is often the case with youma, Cardians, and other villains throughout the series), the meanings of which may still be familiar to Japanese speakers.
Ms. Takeuchi’s theme of choice can be generally summarized as: Greco-Roman mythology, astronomy, and elements for the protagonists and mineralogy and geology for the antagonists. Considering the story of Sailor Moon revolves around an ancient civilization in space which comes down to fight evil forces on the Earth using magical powers, this isn’t too surprising.
And how about the world of MKR? Well, as I already spoiled in the title of this article, nearly every major named person, place, and thing has some sort of connection to automobiles. Though CLAMP has never outwardly commented on why this choice was made, there are several possible theories that are put out.
1) To attract more male fans
Though at its base, MKR was a further extension of the newly-thriving fighting girls’ genre (which Sailor Moon is often mistakenly credited for creating, though there are several examples of similar series pre-dating Sailor Moon‘s debut), it’s undeniable that cutting out 50% of your possible fans by making it too feminine would be unwise, to say the least. Moreover, a lot of Sailor Moon‘s popularity actually stemmed from its popularity with male fans.
When you look at many of the toys released during MKR‘s (relatively short) anime run,1 you’ll see that they’ve done away with the pink packaging, jewelry and cosmetics-inspired toys that Sailor Moon was so famous for and you instead get a lot of toy weapons and costume goods.
It probably goes without saying, but cars (especially Takara’s Tomica2 brand) are one of the best-selling toys for young boys, challenged only by trains (once again led by Takara with its Plarail3 brand). Though fewer and fewer adults buy – or even want to buy – a car nowadays in Japan,4 at least at that time it was still an incredibly popular dream for young men in their 20s and 30s.
At the height of the anime’s popularity, in 1995, Hikaru managed to break into the top 10 of Animage magazine’s5 character popularity polls for seven out of twelve months and even beat out the Ami – the unstoppable juggernaut of Sailor Moon fame – in June, September, and December. She even took second place in January of 1996, losing out only to Gundam Wing‘s Duo.
Whether the car connection can be credited for this, it’s obviously unclear. However, it is clear that the series did manage to gain quite a following of the older, male, anime otaku crowd.
2) For the exotic sounding names
As interesting as the first theory is – i.e., that car names were intentionally used to draw in male fans with car names that boys may be more familiar with – unfortunately I don’t believe it has much going for it. It’s certainly true that CLAMP and the anime producers were trying to draw in male fans, but if you take a look at the car brands and manufacturers they decided to use, there are a lot of obscure references in here.
What do I mean by obscure? While a lot of characters like the (Princess) Emeraude6, the (Guru) Clef7, and the (Artisan) Presea8 were common cars actively being sold at the time, others like (High Priest) Zagato9 – a Italian car body design company with minor sales Japan at best – were far less well-known.10
Now, you have to keep in mind that the manga was carried in Nakayoshi from November 1993 to April 1996 while the anime aired on the Nippon Television Network System (and related networks) from October 1994 to November 1995.11 The internet was far from the widespread resource that we consider it today, so outside of already being a car aficionado, most fans would have no way of knowing that there even was a car connection.
Without having the benefit of a search engine, even if a fan did suspect that a certain name was connected to an automobile, the only way to research this would be to go out and buy (or borrow) every car magazine you could find and flip through it page by page to look. Unless you knew where to look, or had a lot of car catalogs available to you, there was no easy way for someone to research this.
Keeping that in mind, I would say it’s even more impressive when you stop and look just how far CLAMP went in order to keep up this car theme going throughout all of the MKR universe. Someone in their office was clearly something of a car enthusiast in order to pull up such obscure references like Ukrainian, Chinese, and South Korean car manufacturers.
When you consider the long gap between the airing of the anime and the manga first being published, which suggests that the anime was simply capitalized on and not planned from the beginning, this seems to imply that the car name to appeal to male fans theory is likely a false positive.
What’s more, the Nakayoshi magazine is wholly marketed to young girls – from the contents contained in the stories within down to the beauty pageant and product advertisements carried within – and it’s unlikely that they would choose an automotive theme to appeal to few male readers.
So what does that leave us with? Well, mostly likely the CLAMP team was looking for something that sounded nice and foreign yet is still reasonably familiar to Japanese audiences. In fact, it turns out that they actually saved themselves a lot of time choosing car names when you consider that Japanese manufacturers had already spent a lot of marketing money to find names that would appeal to potential buyers!
As an interesting aside, during my university studies on Japanese history, one of the quotes that sticks with me was the story about how Japanese wives ran the household budget, and car names and home products were chosen to sound friendly and appeal to women, which is in stark contrast to the aggressive, masculine names chosen for cars in the U.S.12 So actually, at least the Japanese car model names may have had even more of an appeal to young girls (even devoid of their car connection).
And there you have it! Probably more than you ever wished to know about the Japanese cultural significance of using car names for the people, places, and things found throughout Cephiro in CLAMP’s Magic Knight Rayearth!
One last bit of trivia: the name “Rayearth” apparently comes from Takeshi Okazaki,13 an illustrator and friend of CLAMP, who suggested it. The name is an English translation of Hikaru Daichi (光る大地; lit. “shining swath of land”).14 Interesting to know! I never actually thought about what the name meant.
[Note to Readers: This article originally appeared on my other blog, Tuxedo Unmasked, on August 28, 2016 but has been moved here as it’s a bit more appropriate. Sorry for the confusion!]
- See this google search of MKR toys ↩
- See Takara Tomica ↩
- See Takara Plarail ↩
- See the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism’s 2013 report on car ownership ↩
- See Animage (Wikipedia) ↩
- See Mitsubishi Emeraude (Wikipedia) ↩
- See Mazda Autozam Clef (Wikipedia) ↩
- See Nissan Presea (Wikipedia) ↩
- See Zagato (Wikipedia) ↩
- See this Magic Knight Rayearth Car List ↩
- See Magic Knight Rayearth (Wikipedia) ↩
- See A Short History of Japan ↩
- Takeshi Okazaki (Wikipedia) ↩
- See 光る大地 (Jisho.org) ↩