It wouldn’t be too overdramatic if I said that when Kodansha announced that they had picked up the license for the Sailor Moon manga and would be re-releasing it in English revised with a new translation after being out of print since 2005, Sailor Moon fans across the West scream ‘Hallelujah!’ at the top of their lungs. The biggest surprise however came when it’s prequel manga, Codename: Sailor V would also be picked up for release and hit selves the same time as the first Sailor Moon book. Tokyopop/Mixx never gave Codename: Sailor V the time of day back in the 90s when Sailor Moon was their flagship and best selling series, so to see where it all came from with glossy covers, fresh translation and using re-mastered versions ported from Japan, any Sailor Moon fan would be mad not to pick this up, but what exactly does Codename: Sailor V entail?
The 2 volume mini-series stars Minako Aino (better known to us as Sailor Venus); this follows her story when she’s at the tender age of 13, 1st year of middle school and she’s a perfectly normal girl who goes to school, plays video games and falls in love with every guy she sees. Her life is changed forever however when she’s suddenly told by a strange talking white cat by the name of Artemis that she has the power to transform into the beautiful and powerful sailor-suited solider of justice – Sailor V – using the power of Venus entrusted in her. With her magical pen to transform and crescent moon shaped compact mirror to invoke her power; she must defeat the various evil beings that seem to be coming from the ‘Dark Agency’ with the sole goal of stealing energy from humans by any means possible.
Sailor V’s journey is very similar to Sailor Moon’s early steps; evil guy mysteriously turns up with something that looks too good to be true (tasty chocolate, slimming spas, super cool idol groups, new video game, etc) only for it to be a ploy for the Dark Agency to steal energy from the clueless humans. Just before all looks lost, Mina is somehow there in time to change into Sailor V, use her special attack and wipe the evil off the planet. As Mina solves more crimes her presence becomes knowledge among the police and the enemy, making a few fans but also making it harder to keep her identity a secret, or her presence at school. But Mina continues to perform her duty with a smile on her face and despite her gripes with Artemis and ‘boss’ giving her orders with little to no explanation, Mina always tries her best. The story itself isn’t anything incredibly detailed or involved; you’ll always figure out who the bad guy is before Sailor V does and she always wins. There’s also a few ‘arcs’ implemented into the books, the first volume is dominated by evil ‘idols’ whilst the second has ‘pet chapters’ but my favourite chapters were the ones not driven by the monster of the week formula but rather Mina’s own desires to help people such as the manga artist struggling to get her last chapters done or the class mate with a bad heart; Mina’s warm personality really comes to the front in them and makes me appreciate her as a character a lot more now than I did when I first started my Sailor Moon journey years ago. The story obviously gets stronger towards the end as the last chapters were actually released in Japan AFTER the end of the Sailor Moon manga, so Naoko Takeuchi had better grasp for drama and storytelling then, but still Sailor Venus is an easy breezy ride with cute, clean fun throughout.
Mina is often mistaken as a ‘copy’ of the Usagi in the West and it’s quite easy to see why; as mentioned before this is the first time Codename Sailor V has been released in English, it never saw the light of day in America or UK bookstores until 2011, and remember Sailor Moon was first released before the days of easily-accessible information on the internet and scanlations, so Sailor Moon was often seen as the original and Sailor Venus was called the knock-off. On top of this Usagi and Mina have a lot in common; they both like to lie in, hate to study, have a similar-in-personality friends they hang with and both have blonde hair, but Mina is a lot more active and sporty compared to her air-headed and klutzy co-pretty soldier. Plus without the introduction to a regular love interest to rescue her or other sailor soldiers to fight alongside her, Mina has to settle into her ‘Warrior of Justice’ quicker and not be afraid to tackle enemies on her own; luckily she’s the type of girl who thinks she can solve most problems with a ‘Sailor V Kick’ (my kind of girl!) and even admits later on to loving her role as Sailor V – something that Sailor Moon often struggles with. Mina may be very quick to crush on every new guy she sees, get distracted by food and is generally immature in personality, but she is only 13 – and for a 13 year old she is very pro-active in her duty as Sailor V when the situation calls for it, and by the end of the book (which does tie very nicely with the beginning of the Sailor Moon manga) she does evolve a lot as a character. Other characters that stand out is good old Artemis, who puts up a lot of Mina’s early childish behaviour but he’s loyal till the end, there’s also Wakagi from the police department who just can’t catch a break, the mysterious Phantom Ace that looks like a Tuxedo Mask rip-off but has a very different agenda, plus numerous cameos from your favourite sailor soldiers – not counting the multiple characters that resemble other characters across the Sailor Moon series.
Art for the series is a mixed bag; no doubt it is the re-mastered edition of the original manga we’re seeing, but we’re still reminded that this is one of Naoko Takeuchi’s oldest works. The art looks its best during the various beautiful and detailed in-between chapter portraits of Mina, the romantic close-ups of our heroine and you can tell that Naoko Takeuchi is having a lot of girly fun when Mina transforms into various disguises using her pen as they’re all very elaborate and stylish to the max. Still; the backgrounds in most panels – especially in the beginning – are barely non-existent, Mina has some very weird body proportions at times (I swear legs aren’t meant to be that long) and a few character designs just look unfinished – I laughed at the first sight of Artemis because he looked like an outline of a cat rather than an actual cat.
Codename: Sailor V is an absolute must for any Sailor Moon fan, to see where it all began and what changed from the draft to the final piece we all know and love today. To new fans of the franchise, they may find the work slightly underwhelming and give my score a few notches lower but it’s overall an undemanding read with cute moments here and there, fun fights and a chirpy heroine to cheer for. Due to its charming and clean content (apart from the heroine wearing some outfits showing off a little bit too much thigh) I’d also say that Codename: Sailor V also makes an ideal first manga for little girls if parents are looking for somewhere to start; and what better place to start than an active 13 year old girl saving the world with a smile on her face and a skip in her step?