Alexandria is a manga enthusiast and '90s girl who's always up for a good dose of nostalgia.
The Collaboration of a Lifetime
In 2014, South Korean toy company Pullip announced that it would be releasing a unique series of Sailor Moon dolls. Pullip had collaborated with several anime franchises before then, including Black Butler and Rozen Maiden, but this line was designed to officially launch on the same week as Sailor Moon Crystal, the '90s anime's highly anticipated reboot.
Each month after that, Pullip would release a new character in the collection, including some that had never received an official doll before. Unlike '90s Sailor Moon dolls, these would be incredibly true to the characters, featuring multiple points of articulation, painstakingly replicated outfits, and glass eyes that could open and shut at the push of a button. Not only was this Sailor Moon launch a massive success, the high-end dolls became a new status symbol amongst the "Moonie" fandom.
In August 2016, I saw an ad for a Sailor Pluto Pullip doll while scrolling through Anime News Network. I didn't know it then, but this event could very well change my life.
The Search Begins
As one of my favorite magical girls, and probably one of my favorite characters of all time, thoughts of the Sailor Pluto Pullip flickered in and out of my mind for some time. Many of the existing Sailor Pluto dolls from the '90s were products of their time—her brown skin was often lightened to match the other girls—and so a modern doll that captured her color scheme so well caught my eye in an instant. While I definitely remember wanting it, I didn't start a serious search for it until a few weeks ago, when quarantine blues began to set in yet again.
What I thought would be a fairly straight forward merch search turned into something incredibly complicated, however. One of the first things I learned was that Sailor Pluto, like her fellow Senshi, had an extremely limited release—Pullip factories only make enough dolls to be sold for one month before being retired. And even then, stock of each doll varies wildly for a variety of reasons.
Much of the Sailor Moon merchandising machine is formed around two major teams of characters: the original Inner Senshi and the newer Outer Senshi. To the Sailor Moon fandom, whether you're an Inner or Outer fan is treated with the same importance as Hogwarts houses are to the Harry Potter fandom. Unlike the latter, however, Sailor Moon ensures that both teams receive fairly equal amounts of merchandise, and you can usually find an item featuring an Inner for about the same price as one featuring an Outer. However, Pullips are one of the major exceptions to this rule.
The Added Cost
By and large, Inner Senshi dolls come far cheaper than their Outer counterparts, with Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter averaging at $100 or less. One site in particular, JPGroove, offers these dolls alongside others in what they call a "sample sale," in which dolls used for display purposes at conventions are sold for a fraction of their original cost. The aforementioned Inners, Tuxedo Mask, and the Sailor Starlights are all available for purchase in sample sales alongside Sailor Uranus, who tends to be the easiest Outer to find, and all can be purchased for under $60.
Fans of Sailors Moon, Neptune, Pluto, and Saturn face a more difficult search, with dolls that can easily go for more than $300 on eBay. The cheapest Sailor Pluto on eBay goes for $819, while the only Sailor Saturn listed on the same site goes for over $3000. And if you want a doll of Queen Serenity, the mythical moon queen that plays into the lore of the Sailor Moon universe, you may need to shell out a cool $4000.
All of these prices may seem absurd, but they bring up a valuable question for the Sailor Moon doll collecting world—how can anyone afford to collect them all? If you look hard enough, you'll find YouTubers with full collections of all 24 dolls, collectively valued at enough money to buy a decent car. While the ridiculous spending sprees of popular YouTubers are well-documented, these particular ones likely did not pay eBay prices for their full sets. Enter the Facebook doll collecting community.
Resources for Collectors
If there's one thing I've learned from quarantine, it's that you can find a Facebook Marketplace for just about everything. No matter how obscure an item is, there's very likely a specific group of people selling it for a fraction of the cost. Pullip dolls are no different, with five or so different communities advertising their wares and selling their collections for a variety of reasons.
Contrary to what you might think, the high demand for Sailor Moon Pullips does not translate to collectors competing over items. These communities are surprisingly friendly and accommodating, always happy to welcome new Pullip fans and match them with their dream doll. Similarly, the collectors in these communities are far less likely to engage in price gouging, since many just want their dolls to go to a good home with a person who will appreciate them. Some of these dolls are gently used, but a good chunk were bought as impulse purchases and never removed from their original packaging. Therefore, Facebook groups are a great place to find mint-condition Pullip dolls of any sort.
In addition to selling dolls, these groups provide guidance for people searching for a particular item. Seasoned collectors will tell newbies to look in unlikely places, such as Mercari or Tuesday Morning stores, for great deals on Pullips. Additionally, these groups have a sort of unspoken honor code that if a doll shows up online that another member wants, they'll do everything in their power to let that member know. Pullip collectors are, by far, some of the nicest people I've seen on the Internet in spite of how rare their favored items are.
While my quest for the Sailor Pluto Pullip doll has yet to be fulfilled, I've taken away a lot from these last few weeks of searching for it. The connections I've made with other fans and my genuine fascination with the doll collecting community turned out to be almost as rewarding as the doll itself. And, on top of that, it's taught me not to assume an item's worth by what its asking price might be on eBay or other sites. Just because something is generally assumed to be rare does not mean you can't find a great deal on it at some point. And, more importantly, even the most common and mundane of items can have an entirely new value imposed on it by those who cherish it most.