When Naoko Takeuchi first created Sailor Moon back in 1992, I highly doubt that she could have predicted the series’ success across the world. Often credited as popularizing and revitalizing the magical girl genre, on top of being one of the most recognisable anime and manga series in the world, it’s a big question as to why the series ever went out of print in the first place in 2005. Thankfully, Kodansha relicensed the manga in 2011, picking up the re-released 12 volume reprints of the manga that was released in Japan between 2003 and 2004. Their efforts have proven to be very successful, with the first volume topping the best selling manga list in the New York Times and having the first print sold out after 4 weeks. So what is it about the Sailor Moon series that taps into the hearts of so many fans? Does it magic still resonate as strongly today in 2012 as it did back when it was first released in the early 90s? Let’s take the journey together as we dive into the first 3 volumes of Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, effectively covering the first arc entirely (Dark Kingdom arc) and the opening chapters to its second arc (commonly known as Sailor Moon R or Black Moon saga).
The story follows Usagi Tsukino, an ordinary 14 year old girl who hates school work, loves to sleep in, is a bit of a klutz and ditzy. Her life is changed forever though when one morning she discovers a strange cat with a crescent moon on her forehead. The cat happens to speak English and tells Usagi that she is named Luna and has come to reveal to Usagi her true identity as “Sailor Moon” – the champion of Beauty and Justice, charged with protecting the planet and the Princess of the Moon Kingdomfrom evil alongside her fellow Sailor Guardians.
Volume 1 concentrates on introducing the first 3 Sailor soldiers – Mercury, Mars and Jupiter – plus developing the first stages of Usagi’s and Mamoru’s relationship. The book opens up very familiarly to Codename Sailor V right down to the leading female discovering she’s something more via a talking cat, abruptly changing into a Sailor outfit and use their powers without prior knowledge on how to do so. However Sailor Moon is not like Sailor V in that it has no filler. Sailor V had many chapters dedicated to various comical antics, snippets into Minako’s normal life and how it gets interfered with by the enemy’s plan. Sailor Moon however barely gives you time to say ‘Moon Prism Power! Make up!’ before we’re thrust into the next 14 year old given the power to fight evil. Story pace of the manga is illustrated well in the first book; fast moving, barely stopping for character development, and sometimes jumpy from one mood to the next in quick succession, but at least you can’t say that nothing happens in the series. Just as you become accustom to the easy breezy light hearted storytelling similar to Sailor V, Volume 2 continues on straight afterwards with the introduction of the last of the core 5 Sailor Soldiers – Jupiter and Venus – just as the romance between Usagi and Mamoru hits its emotional peak when tragedy strikes during battle. As a result; the Princess’ true identity is revealed and dark times fall upon our heroes. Volume 2 is a very different kettle of fish from Volume 1, for one thing the story really does hit some bum notes to drill in the catastrophe that could befall the world if our heroes fail, and the detail gone into the history of the Moon Kingdom and how it fell really hits home to the characters and its readers. This is coupled with Naoko Takeuchi clever weaving of Usagi’s and Mamoru’s love for each other; in actuality they have known each other for less than 10 chapters before they realise they are in love but the tender moments they’ve shared up to that moment, with lots of close ups on the pair looking at each other romantically and the couple actually having conversations together without blushing embarrassingly or constantly screaming at each other makes the relationship quite different to what you’d normally see in romance manga and therefore seem more ‘genuine’. So of course when the pair are separated at the end of book 2 you do feel for Usagi’s broken heart. Volume 3 sees the conclusion of the explosive war between the Dark Kingdom and Sailor Moon, again hitting its stride in taking its context seriously. Early battles simply had the girls screaming out an attack and the big baddie goes away – this time however they have to sacrifice their own lives in order to defeat the big villain and even attack those they love being controlled by the evil entity in order to do so. The girls show great bravery in fighting evil despite the small possibility of winning – all for the sake of protecting Planet Earth and their Princess – and just as all seems lost Usagi somehow pulls through with belief in herself, but it sure takes a while to get there! And Usagi is never going to be the same carefree-girl she once was back in volume 1.
From the first chapter of Sailor Moon it’s a constant ride of entertainment; mythology and magical girls mixed with Super Sentai to create a thoroughly good series that deserve the attention it gets. There’s enough romance to keep the girls swooned and action to keep the pace going from one threat to the next; although the early battles won’t be too thrilling due to the ‘easy wins’ of just shooting some magical attacks but like the latter half of the 3 volumes, the fights and stakes become more epic with every turn of the page. To tie it all together is the love between the heroine and her caped protector plus the bond with her friends to give that heart warming entity to the whole package. That’s not to say the series is perfect though; speaking as someone who saw the anime before the manga, I did notice a lack of character development outside of Usagi and Mamoru. Although the time dedicated to the couple is well invested, the rest of the team get little time to shine. We learn the basic facts about each girl (Ami is smart, Rei is a miko, etc) but that’s pretty much it, this becomes more apparent once their past lives are uncovered and they all start to share the same goal – protecting the Princess – to the point that their personalities and actions start to blend together. Only Sailor Venus truly stands out due to having her own series to back up her character and Naoko’s obvious favouritism of her as she gets most of the exposition lines later in the first arc. Also, despite the grand efforts Naoko puts in to really drum in the drama and suspense of the series, it can’t stop itself from being predictable and ridiculous – if any kind of logic is applied to this series it would completely fall apart (a secret centre underneath a game arcade and no one notices? And I’m sure some astrologists would’ve discovered a kingdom on the moon at some point!) But Sailor Moon isn’t there to bring the logic, it’s there to tap into your heart and whisk you away onto its own little world, and as it is, it’s great fun and likeable even if the storytelling isn’t its strongest aspect (but still creative). Also, I must admit that I miss one aspect of the Sailor V manga that wasn’t carried over to the Sailor Moon series; I enjoyed seeing how the world perceived Sailor V with the police not sure they could trust her, girls wanting to be her, Minako’s friends and family taking note on when Minako appears to missing – none of that is woven into Sailor Moon’s story, in fact Usagi’s family and friends outside of the Sailor Soldiers barely seem to notice anything has happened to our main heroine.
As a proud owner of most of the original Tokyopop/Mixx released volumes of Sailor Moon that have begun to fall apart years ago, I can’t begin to tell you how great it is to purchase these strong built and beautiful re-releases. The pages are tightly bound with stunning glossy covers and several colour pages at the front for good measure. The art itself takes the best aspects of Codename Sailor V and amplifies them; you’ll be taken aback by the stunning close ups and poses of Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask together, the gorgeous side sketches of Rei Hino and the details gone into the Moon Kingdom really do help to paint the picture of a grand palace in a previous lifetime. The panels can be a little bit cluttered when hitting its abrupt comedy moments and proportions on the characters can be a little weird but overall it’s a great improvement.
Sailor Moon is a welcomed return to our manga stores; its clean and beautifully drawn art, renowned characters weaved into an imaginative and grand story makes it obvious on why the series is so well loved across the globe. It’s not a masterpiece of manga by any means but great tales don’t always have to be, sometimes they can just be fun, light reading that you can get lost in just enough to get pulled into the story, then smile as you move onto your next reading material.