Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Vol. 1

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Vol. 1 by Naoko Takeuchi
My first exposure to the Sailor Moon anime in the nineties triggered a bit of a nostalgic reaction. This is because I grew up watching Super Sentai shows like Gorenger, well before the genre was exported Stateside and significantly altered to become the Power Rangers franchise. Nowadays, thanks to the wonders of YouTube, I can recall some of those long-forgotten forgotten episodes. This also means that I can't get that damn theme song sung by seiyu Isao Sasaki and Mitsuko Horie out of my head. But I digress. I don't know how many of the ideas behind the Sailor V and Sailor Moon manga came from the mind of creator Naoko Takeuchi, or of her editors. But both are a clever mashup of Super Sentai and the Magical Girl genre, revitalizing and updating them for a younger Japanese audience while serving as a kind of touchstone for older readers. But outside of Japan, Sailor Moon is seen in many quarters as kickstarting the international craze for anime and manga. Most Americans would not have been fully aware of Sailor Moon's pop culture lineage. Only that it was something weird, wonderful, and very different. Heroine Usagi Tsukino and the Sailor Senshi were not Disney princesses. They may have been sweet and feminine. But they still kicked butt! They opened-up the manga market to a whole new demographic. And after a long absence, the manga is back.

For the people who have been living under a rock for the last twenty years, Sailor Moon is the story of a fourteen year old girl named Usagi and her Sailor Senshi allies protecting the Earth from evil with their mystical powers. Unlike their Sentai counterparts who wore form-fitting, full body uniforms which were color-coded for each member, they wear clothes inspired by sailor fuku. That's the visual element that informs the series, meant to appeal to both Japanese girls and boys. Admittedly, some of the boys probably like it for more skeevy reasons. But there's no doubt that the look has become an enduring iconic image. So how did the Sailor Senshi get started? In a manner similar to most magical girl stories. A mysterious talking cat named Luna runs into Usagi, tells her that she's a magical guardian who has to find and protect the princess from a long lost kingdom, gather her fellow warriors, and search for a mysterious crystal that's the key to ruling the universe. Or something like that. Usagi will be the first to admit that she's not exactly hero material. And she blunders her way through her first mission. She's actually rather grating at the beginning. But not to worry. It isn't long before the other Senshi appear to lend her a hand.

Those only familiar with the anime will be surprised at how quickly the manga moves to assemble its principal cast. At times the pace feels hectic. There's plenty of room yet to flesh out the characters. But for now, each of the Senshi are portrayed in a recognizable shorthand. There's the braniac, the psychic, the tall one, and the crybaby. Other shojo tropes are used to further delineate them. While the Senshi are represented by astrological signs, their evil counterparts are long-haired bishonen named after precious stones. As for the bad guys themselves, their methods mostly involve sneakily draining the population of their life force. But their ultimate motivations remain a big mystery. The matter isn't helped by Luna's strangely obtuse statements. Then there's Usagi's would-be love interest Tuxedo Mask, whose reasons for aiding her remain unclear even to himself. By the end of this volume, a lot of things are still very much up in the air.

Compounding the breezy pace of the story are the fight scenes, which are short and mostly devoid of graphic violence. They typically commence with some posing, a hearty battle cry, followed by the discharging of exotic forms of energy. When someone looses, they usually get vaporized. In contrast to the conventional Sentai or shonen battle sequence, there isn't any elaborate exchange of increasingly ludicrous weapons/techniques/tactics, or a dramatic turning point when someone's defenses are finally penetrated. This is a shojo title. A person's belief in themselves, or in the power of love is what determines their ability to crush their enemies. Takeuchi's style may not be as intricate or "pretty" as that of later shojo artists. Her page layouts can often be crowded. And at this early stage of the series, she's still working out her character designs. But she already succeeds in illustrating the qualities of inner strength and beauty found in her protagonists.

Even after all this time, the series particular mix of princess-based fantasy and feminist sensibilities still continues to distinguish it from the content found in many other highly successful commercial manga. So it's great to see it's return to the English-speaking market.