Linda Ballantyne sits in a plastic chair in a sparse room at the Los Angeles Convention Center, one floor above the faint rumblings of the cosplaying crowd at the Anime Expo 2014, where fans are eager to feast their eyes on the latest Kill la Kill merchandise and Sailor Moon apparel. Ballantyne, clad in a purple tie-dyed dress shirt and white pants, is there as the convention's "Guest of Honor," and as the third English-language voice of the eponymous Sailor Moon, she'll be taking part in a reunion panel for the English-speaking cast of the classic series.
Sailor Moon broke new ground in the '90s, when it became one of the first anime series to gain cult popularity among North American audiences. The show, based on Naoko Takeuchi's manga series, first aired on Japanese network TV Asahi in 1992 and would make its debut in North America in 1995 on Canadian network YTV and local stations across the U.S.
But the following year, the show hit a roadblock. Syndication ceased in the U.S. in 1996, but thanks to a fervent group of fans with an online petition of more than 30,000 signatures (yes, a 1996 online petition, mind you), and a "procott" to get Kellogg's Pop Tarts to advertise during the show's time slot, syndicated episodes returned to the airwaves on USA Network that same year. The show would later shift to Cartoon Network's Toonami block in the U.S. in 1998.
Sailor Moon went on to produce a barrage of licensed products, sequels, video games, and stage musicals, and soon, the series became a pioneer in the anime takeover of North America, eventually opening the doors for shows like Dragon Ball Z and Pokemon to cross over as well. Sailor Moon attracted a large female audience on both sides of the Pacific, as anime, up until that time, had catered to a predominantly male audience.
But a huge part of its success in the U.S. was finding the right person to do the English dubbing, someone who could capture the essence of Sailor Moon, a 14-year-old schoolgirl with magical superpowers who fights monsters, talks to cats, and deals with everyday teenage problems. For the show's first 14 episodes, that was Tracey Moore, who left the show due to "creative differences," and for the following 57 episodes of the series, it was Terri Hawkes, who became synonymous with Sailor Moon. But in 1999, Hawkes went on maternity leave, and declined to return for the show's third season. Cloverway Inc., the production company in charge of the English language dubbing of the show in North America, immediately began searching for Hawkes' replacement.
Enter Linda Ballantyne, who was still in the early stages of her career, and was often babysitting her nieces, who were obsessed with Sailor Moon. "I would see the character going [in her Sailor Moon voice], 'My God, Darien!' And I thought, I could do Sailor Moon. My nieces would say, 'Oh, Aunt Linda. You're such an idiot. No you can't. Just shut up and let us watch the show.'" Ballantyne was 35 at the time and the only role that stood out in her résumé was the voice of Wasp in the Marvel animated series The Avengers: United They Stand, which aired for 13 episodes on Fox Kids in 1999. Although her nieces didn't believe she could pull off Sailor Moon, little did they know Ballantyne's agent had submitted her for an audition to take over for Hawkes.
And so, the voice actress set out to prove her nieces wrong. But on the day of the audition, she was off to a rough start. "I was sick as a dog. I was so sick. I was losing my voice. I could feel it," she says, enunciating each word. "And I actually think it played in my favor. Because I think Terri's voice is certainly higher than mine. And she speaks a lot more out of her nose when she does the voice and I don't. So I had this cold. And it was in my nose. And I was like, Well, OK, let's just channel that then. Let's go with it." The rest is history. Ballantyne was chosen as the Hawkes' replacement for the third season of Sailor Moon, but it wouldn't be an easy role to fill.
Ballantyne knew that replacing an actress's voice for a character that was highly popular and well-established was a rather daunting task. "For me, Sailor Moon is Terri Hawkes. I was Barney Rubble [from The Flintstones] ... When I was growing up, there were two voices for Barney Rubble. I would always be like, AH! I hate that other voice! But now, I was Barney Rubble. Oh. My. God." For the longest time, Ballantyne was even hesitant to give herself credit for the work she'd done on the show. "I would rarely tell people I was the voice of Sailor Moon. Rarely. Because it was, like, I'm the other voice that [the producers] didn't necessarily want… Even to this day, I'll go to autograph sessions and a fan will ask me, 'OK. So which one were you?' And I'd be, 'I was Sailor Moon S and SS [Season 3 and Season 4]. And they'd look at me like, (glares). But it's fine. You don't take it personal."
Despite the change in voice actors, fans continued to gravitate to Sailor Moon for what the show presented: Females kicking ass while dealing with their teenage angst. And that, according to Ballantyne, is a major reason why Sailor Moon was such a cultural phenomenon. "It was a show with five strong female characters," she explains, softy banging her hand on the table in front of her after each word. "Each one of them had a strong presence and that hadn't happened. Back then, there wasn't a show like that. Even to this day, we go to auditions, you'll see all the sides and you'll pick which characters you want to read for — and say there's 20 characters — there will be maybe four that women can go for. All the rest are male. Every single one."
Though she praises the show for its portrayal of female heroines, Ballantyne is quick to point out a major flaw with the series: "The fact that Tuxedo Mask kept coming in and saving them." She quickly eases into a mocking voice and imitates the masked gentleman, flamboyant hand gestures and all, "'Here I am, women. I'll save you all, women. Because you're womenfolk and you can't do that stuff.' BUT! [The women] kick some serious butt. All he does is come at the end and throw some shrubbery in and then that's it…meatball head."
Sailor Moon's success undoubtedly gives Ballantyne a certain prestige at anime conventions. The reunion panel she was part of at the Anime Expo 2014 drew a large crowd, with lines going all around the hallways of the convention center. And it's at these events that Ballantyne experiences the truly incredible reach of Sailor Moon. "I met a woman at a panel," Ballantyne explains, her voice deepening as she places the palms of her hands on the table. The energy in the room shifts to a more serious tone, as she begins to speak more slowly and with more gravitas. "She had come and said to me, 'I don't have a question for you. I just want to thank you. Because when I was younger, I was at a really terrible place. And I was living in an awful environment. It wasn't good. I was all by myself. And I didn't want to live. I just didn't want to live. The only thing that kept me alive was you. Sailor Moon. If it wasn't for Sailor Moon, I would not be here right now.'" Ballantyne pauses for a bit, looking down at the table, before she continues, "And then she turns and she says, 'I'd like you to meet my daughter.'"
There's a sudden silence in the room. Ballantyne leans back, breathes deeply, and takes a sip of water before continuing. "So, I'm telling this story at a panel in a completely different city. A woman puts up her hands and goes, 'Can I have a hug?' I'm like, 'YES!' I walk over there, I give her a hug and she whispers, 'That was me too.'"