Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Vol. 2

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Vol. 2 by Naoko Takeuchi
Sailor Moon Vol. 1 was primarily a team-building effort, with the Sailor Senshi engaged in a defensive campaign against an enemy they didn't know.  It's not unusual for many long-running manga series to dole out information in small chunks in order to preserve the intrigue. But Naoko Takeuchi keeps up the relatively quick pace. With Vol. 2, the number of pitched battles are cut down slightly to allow for a rapid succession of earth-shattering revelations that by the end of the book supply the broad outlines of the scope of a war being fought, and the destiny of its protagonists. As a result, Vol. 2 is highly overwrought, as what is at stake is no less than the survival of the entire planet.

At the center of this cosmic struggle is the thwarted romance between Usagi Tsukino and Mamoru Chiba. The story picks up right where it left of, with the two finally confronting each other about their respective secret identities. What initially looked to be a case of simple teenage infatuation turns out to be something that has already managed to survive death and endured for ages. The significance of this doesn't go unnoticed by the series villains, the Dark Kingdom. So they go about abducting Mamoru and turning him into one of their agents. This is seen as a major catastrophe by Usagi and the Senshi not just for the obvious personal reasons, but also for reasons having to do with the story's cosmology. For evil's influence is both pernicious and irreversible. The present warring parties are basically reincarnated versions locked into repeating an ancient pattern. And the lone attempt to defy fate comes from an evil henchman momentarily shaking off the influence of his masters, only to have the evil poured right back into him.

The volume is also notable for the introduction of Sailor Venus, the often mentioned Sailor V playable character of the video game. Unlike the genki girl found in her own series, Minako Aino joins the team as the serious-minded and battle-hardened veteran. There seems to be a bit of retconning taking place in order to make the original Sailor V concept mesh better with Sailor Moon. This involves some narrative sleight-of-hand over who is the actual lost princess of the Moon Kingdom and the location of the legendary crystal. Both issues are quickly and cleverly resolved, and the team is finally complete. This shifts the focus to directly confronting the attacks of an increasingly bold and reckless Dark Kingdom

In the end, Vol. 2 serves as quite a contrast from the more straightforward Vol. 1. The melodrama, supplied backstory, expansion of the conflict, more intense battles, and the introduction of a more fatalistic undertone, all add up to an emotionally draining story. If there's a weakness to the approach of putting a series of obstacles in order to block Usagi/Mamoru's relationship, it's that the plot mechanics have upstaged character development, especially that of the other Senshi. But the volume ends with a suitable enough cliffhanger, with Mamoru's fate in the balance.