by Naoko Takeuchi; adapted by William Flanagan
published by Kodansha Comics; $10.99 US
Reviews by Ed Sizemore
In Codename Sailor V (Sailor V), Minako Aino is a middle school student who excels at sports but is poor at academics. She encounters a strange cat with a crescent marking on its forehead who tells her she has been chosen as a guardian of justice. She is given a special compact and pen that allow her to transform into Sailor Venus. She must fight aliens seeking to enslave the Earth. The cat, named Artemis, serves as her mentor.
In Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon (Sailor Moon), Usagi Tsukino is a middle school student who is a slacker and gets poor grades. She encounters a strange cat with a crescent marking on its forehead who tells her she has been chosen as a guardian of justice. She is given a special broach and pen that allow her to transform into Sailor Moon. She must fight aliens seeking to enslave the Earth. The cat, named Luna, serves as her mentor.
These books have remarkably similar first chapters and premises. That’s not really surprising, since Sailor V and Sailor Moon are companion series. The events in Sailor V take place first. Sailor V is only two volumes long, and the lead character will become a part of the Sailor Moon story.
Sailor Moon was previously released by Tokyopop and was a early success for them. The Sailor Moon anime played on Cartoon Network. Sailor Moon was one of the series that brought females into anime and manga fandom. It’s one of the reasons anime conventions can brag about a 50% female attendance. Kodansha has re-released Sailor Moon with a new translation, while this is Sailor V’s first time in English.
While both series have lots of fighting, Sailor V is almost a pure shoujo fighting manga. Each chapter, Minako is fighting a new minion of the Dark Agency. There is some character development in the story, but it feels more like those moments are used to keep the manga from being just one fight scene after another. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Minako is a typical 13-year-old, so there isn’t much depth to explore.
Sailor Moon is more evenly divided between fighting and story development. From the beginning, Takeuchi introduces more story elements. Usagi’s responsibilities aren’t just defending the Earth, she also has to assemble a team of Sailor guardians to help her locate the Moon Princess and the Legendary Silver Crystal. The forming of a team allows Takeuchi to work in more character development for Usagi.
So let’s talk a bit about our two learning characters. Minako’s skill at sports gives her a lot more confidence than Usagi. She’s also better at taking the initiative and certainly a better fighter. Being 13, Minako has a rebellious streak in her. At her core, she’s good-natured and very empathetic to the people around her. She’s at that wonderful time in her life when she is equal parts child and woman. Her self-sufficiency makes her the more likable of the two characters for me.
Up front, I’ll say I found Usagi grating. She is also a good-natured, caring person. However, she is also very lazy and seems to always need rescuing. She certainly starts out having the steeper incline of development and maturity needed. She is the least likable character in the series. The other guardians are much more mature and developed persons.
There is one moment toward the end of Sailor Moon that makes me slightly sympathetic to Usagi. She realizes her allies are better guardians than she is. Usagi then wonders how she can be their leader. If she is capable of such honest moments of reflection, then there is hope for Usagi, and she might turn out to be a wonderful person.
One thing you can say about Takeuchi’s artwork: She likes long legs and short skirts. There is a solicitousness to the way the Sailors are drawn that made me wonder at times who the intended audience is for these manga. This art inspired the Barenaked Ladies lyric, “Gotta get in tune with Sailor Moon / Cause that cartoon has got the boom anime babes / That make me think the wrong thing” (from the song “One Week”). The character designs make me think of fashion models who look much older than their 13 or 14 years. I confess to being a little uncomfortable with this aspect of the art.
That being said, I do love the page layouts of both books. Sailor V has a more traditional grid structure, while Sailor Moon has more of those innovative pages that I love in shoujo manga. There is a wonderful maniac energy in the art that brings all the characters alive. The fights are dynamic and dramatic. There is even a wonderful homage to 70s shoujo art in the romantic scenes between Tuxedo Max and Sailor Moon. Takeuchi’s art is truly a feast for the eyes.
I definitely liked the lead character and story of Sailor V better. Sailor Moon left me a bit cold by the end of the first volume. There were too many ‘Usagi as damsel in distress’ moments for me. If Sailor Moon wasn’t such a pivotal series for American fandom and a favorite of several people I respect, I would drop it at the first volume. I will admit, I’m not the target audience for Sailor Moon, and so much of its appeal will be lost on me.
I’m willing to give Sailor Moon’s next two volumes a try in hopes it will grow on me. It’s not uncommon for a manga series to be slow finding its groove. It took One Piece eight volumes to get interesting and another four or five volumes to get good. Hopefully, Sailor Moon will be a bit quicker to develop. For now, I can’t really recommend the series except to those like myself, curious to see what the fuss is all about.