Tidbits: A Trio of Kodansha Shoujo

I’m catching up on three of Kodansha’s currently running shoujo series, so I thought I’d group them all together here for a Tidbits post! First up are volumes four and five of Natsumi Ando’s suspenseful Arisa, followed by the second and final volume of Naoko Takeuchi’s Codename: Sailor V, with the second volume of Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon bringing up the rear. Tidbit power, make up!

Arisa, Vols. 4-5 by Natsume Ando
Tsubasa Uehara continues to attend school in the guise of her sister, Arisa, as she endeavors to find the identity of the King who is fulfilling wishes from chosen students in dangerous ways. Her spirits flag when it seems she’s been unsuccessful in protecting the latest target, but when it turns out her efforts actually prevented the girl from sustaining permanent injury, her spirits rise. Alas, a friend’s betrayal is followed by an explanation of divided loyalties and the introduction of a pivotal new character with kind feelings towards Tsubasa but a burning hatred for Arisa.

So, there are several characters at this point who could be the King, but the strongest possibility seems to be Kudo, a transfer student who I had forgotten about entirely after reading volume three, so that tells you how memorable of a guy he is. Manabe doesn’t seem like the culprit, and neither does Arisa’s boyfriend, Midori, but it’s not out of the question. Mostly we see the King as a shadowy figure, grinning in a dastardly fashion as he does things like arrange for Tsubasa to fall off a cliff. (Side note: any time the female lead of a shoujo manga goes out into the woods at night, she is going to fall off a cliff. It’s, like, the law.) New character Shizuka seems like a potential candidate, until it’s revealed that the King is manipulating her into making wishes that will harm Arisa/Tsubasa.

All of this makes for a fast-paced and suspenseful read, but it does cause me to wonder whether Ando’s just making up all of this as she goes along. Does she really have a plan for who the King is, or is she keeping readers suspicious of everyone until inspired to take the story in a specific direction? I’m not exactly complaining—because, again, it is a fun read—but the lack of any kind of permanent gain is a little bit frustrating. I just hope there’s a satisfying and dramatic payoff in the end!

Codename: Sailor V, Vol. 2 by Naoko Takeuchi
It’s rather hard to like Minako for the majority of this volume, as several of the stories play up her shallow side. First she gets fat by eating too much evil chocolate, then she must contend with a trio of animal-themed siblings who unleash energy-sucking cats, dogs, and mosquitoes upon the populace. Minako slacks off frequently and makes various unkind comments to her long-suffering feline companion, Artemis. She also meets the latest idol sensation, handsome and mysterious Phantom Ace, and becomes one of his biggest fans.

There’s not really a whole lot to recommend these chapters except more of Sailor V’s amusing speeches, like this one, which occurs as she’s foiling the enemy’s scheme to collect energy via blood donation:

You have used clever words to abscond with a precious tribute of blood from weakened hospital patients! That is your crime!

And to add to it, you have sullied a woman’s simple joy of collecting stamps!

Worse, you forgot to give me my reward for donating blood to the tune of 800cc! And that crime is grave!

Luckily, though the premise of the final two chapters is just as silly as what’s come before—Minako is ordered to win the part of Ace’s leading lady in his latest project, filming in China, so that she can observe his potentially evil production company—it doesn’t preclude genuine dramatic impact. Though Minako entertains fantasies of marrying Ace and retiring, when he professes his to love her, she realizes that it’s not what she wants. She loves being Sailor V and, furthermore, remembers making a promise to protect an important person. Eventually, her memories fully awaken and her Sailor V costume is replaced by one matching the design of the other senshi. It’s kind of goosebump-inducing.

Though I’ve read this series before (with translations), I had completely forgotten that Ace had any connection at all to Minako’s past life, so was pleasantly surprised by that revelation as well as by this awesomely grim quote:

Your love will never be granted, for all eternity… Your love or your duty… now you can live the rest of your life never having to worry about the tortures of deciding between them. Your fate is to battle on. Because your true battle starts now.

How could I have forgotten that?! Minako is a girl who is always falling (if superficially) in love, so she can’t welcome this news, but neither does she shirk from her destiny. Ever irrepressible, she ends the series on an upbeat note, poised to show (if I recall rightly) greater maturity and determination when she joins the others in the main series.

Ultimately, Codename: Sailor V is worthwhile despite its flaws. We never learn what the enemy was hoping to achieve, nor the identity of “Boss” (though the second volume of Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon provides some insight on the matter), but we do meet a special, spunky girl as she comes to accept her unique destiny, and that can never be a bad thing.

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, Vol. 2 by Naoko Takeuchi
A lot happens in this volume, which I shall attempt to quickly summarize. When facing off against Zoisite, the girls are rescued by the timely arrival of Sailor Venus. Minako is now in her second year of middle school and comes across as very mature, competent, and serious about her duty. She’s been monitoring Usagi through the Sailor V game and has also been researching the enemy. She provides all sorts of information about the Dark Kingdom and also claims (well, Artemis claims) that she is Princess Serenity. Her proximity triggers some past-life memories in the others, as well.

However, Usagi starts having dreams that suggest that she was actually Serenity, and when Mamoru is injured protecting her from one of Kunzite’s attacks, one of her tears transforms into the Legendary Silver Crystal and her true identity is revealed. (The bit with Venus was evidently a ruse to direct enemy attacks onto a more experienced Guardian.) Mamoru is subsequently kidnapped by the Dark Kingdom and eventually used as Queen Beryl’s pawn, securing the crystal for her by volume’s end.

So, all of this is very dramatic and shoujo-tastic while it occurs and I honestly loved every minute of it. There are a couple of things that I found especially interesting, though. The first is how much information we get on the enemy compared to the dearth of intel provided in Codename: Sailor V. We see, for example, a flashback to the moment in which Beryl was “irresistibly drawn to” the North Pole, where she discovered the remains of the Dark Kingdom. This made me wonder… was Beryl reborn on Earth as a regular human, just like the Guardians? And did she waken to her past memories as the seal imprisoning Metalia faded?

We also learn a bit about the Four Kings of Heaven, who were generals to Endymion (Mamoru’s past identity) that were swayed into becoming Metalia’s devotees. I’m not exactly sure about this, but it seems as if their bodies had been converted into crystals and recently awakened into human form at Metalia’s whim, and that they can be revived as many times as necessary. Somehow this is sadder and more sympathetic than if they had just been some regular guys suddenly remembering their previous lives.

The second thing that struck me was how much certain elements of the story remind me of Please Save My Earth. Usagi and friends living on the moon in their past lives is the most obvious resemblance, but there’s also the fact that Usagi is troubled by questions of identity brought on by these recollections (“Am I becoming the princess? It’s like I’ve stopped being me…”) and that the residents of the Moon Kingdom were tasked with fondly watching over Earth and helping it to evolve in the best manner possible. They actually travel to the moon to listen to a computerized incarnation of Queen Serenity tell them about the tragic events of the past and how Metalia must be sealed away for good. (She was also responsible for waking Artemis and Luna from the stasis they entered after the destruction of the Moon Kingdom, which makes me suspect that she is “Boss.”)

I could probably go on for another five hundred words, which just goes to show how engaging this story is. It wouldn’t be a Kodansha review if I didn’t complain about the typos—seeing the word “it’s” used instead of “its” is even more painful when it’s part of genius Ami’s dialogue—but even their irksome presence does not detract from the enjoyment I derive from reading this series.

Let’s Get Visual: Celebrating the Pretty

MICHELLE: The long-awaited return of Sailor Moon has inspired us to devote this month’s column to classic shoujo art, focusing on a celebration of its sheer prettiness. Normally, we try to be astute in these columns—their whole purpose is to provide experience in seriously considering the artistic merits of manga—but it’s possible that this time we’ll be reduced to just sighing happily.

MELINDA: Yes, it’s quite possible indeed. But honestly, I think that’s valuable in its own way, and maybe we’ll end up learning a little something about why these things make us sigh happily.

MICHELLE: Perhaps so!

So, for my contribution I’ve chosen two memorable moments from the first volume of Naoko Takeuchi’s Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon. The first one comes from a chapter in which the protagonist, Usagi Tsukino, has infiltrated a masquerade ball in an effort to determine whether the Legendary Silver Crystal might be found there. Possible foe/possible ally Tuxedo Mask is also on the crystal’s trail, but pauses to give Usagi a twirl on the dance floor.

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, Volume 1, Chapter 4, Pages 142-143 (Kodansha Comics)

Takeuchi’s art perfectly captures the sheer dreaminess of this encounter for Usagi. In the top panel, the lacy screentone mimics the flare of her skirts, and the way that the smaller panels are framed focuses attention on facial expressions and reinforces the feeling that no one and nothing is capable of intruding upon this perfect moment for them.

And, of course, her dress is purty.

MELINDA: This sequence truly is dreamy. What particularly pulls me in here is the screentone. Its texture brings a 3D quality into this 2D world, as though the moment was preserved and wrapped up in an elaborate scrapbook that I could reach out and touch—as though it was someone’s real memories of the moment. Even just looking at something that has such a familiar texture stimulates my sense of touch, bringing me more fully into the scene. I think this kind of tangible decoration not only lends a fairy-tale dreaminess to the scene, but also makes it feel more personal for the reader.

MICHELLE: Ooh, you’re right, it does feel like a page from a scrapbook! In that sense, the screentone almost seems like it represents a snippet of the actual material of Usagi’s dress.

In addition, Usagi has used her transformation gadget for this chapter and is supposed to appear a little older than usual. I think her expression on the lower left page captures that subtle distinction nicely.

MELINDA: I’ll note too, that while this particular brand of big-eyed shoujo tends to get a lot of flack outside shoujo fandom, that it’s Usagi’s big, shining eyes that really let us know how she feels here, and just how dreamy this moment really is for her (and subsequently for us).

MICHELLE: You know, I think I’ve become inured to the big-eyed thing, except with extreme cases, because I don’t even notice it anymore. It just seems like such an obvious way to convey youth and wonder.

My second “memorable moment” is an example of a Sailor Moon action sequence.

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, Volume 1, Chapter 5, Pages 188-189 (Kodansha Comics)

In its way, this selection is just as pretty as the other one. Luna tosses Makoto her transformation pen, which glows in an appealingly magical girl fashion, transforming the girl—who is somewhat insecure about her physique—into Sailor Jupiter, someone both beautiful and powerful. Meanwhile, the enemy lurks on a nearby rooftop, and I’m impressed how this single panel so effectively establishes setting and atmosphere when one doesn’t have the preceding pages to furnish that information. Makoto’s first attack is simultaneously feminine and effective, giving her the opportunity to vanquish the enemy with her thunder bolt on the next page.

Looking back at some of the adjectives used in the paragraph above, I find that they aptly convey what it is I like about this moment: beauty and power, femininity and effectiveness. Sailor Moon shows that these things need not be mutually exclusive.

MELINDA: Those are great adjectives, Michelle, and actually this brings up a point I’ve been wanting to make since I listened to the podcast you participated in about Sailor Moon.

When male manga fans are trying to explain why something written for girls might be appealing to them as well, they will often attribute this to what they perceive as male or “shounen” elements in the story, like team-building or action sequences. And while I appreciate their enthusiasm for the work, I’m a bit perplexed as to why these would be considered exclusively “shounen” to begin with. Sure, certain genres of shoujo manga might share these things in common with certain genres of shounen manga, but I honestly don’t see what’s not inherently shoujo about them. Girls enjoy things like action, adventure, teamwork, and battling evil just as much as anyone, and there’s nothing odd or incongruous about these elements standing alongside things like beauty and femininity. These things naturally coexist in the minds of many girls, and when they’re all put together, they are not only exciting and inspiring, but really freaking pretty.

MICHELLE: You’re right, and though I agreed with them that there were some “shounen” elements to Sailor Moon, I didn’t mean to imply that they’re not just as easily shoujo elements, but simply story aspects that are more common to shounen manga. If that makes sense.

MELINDA: I guess what I’m saying is, though maybe there are more shounen action series than there are shoujo action series, it’s not as if it’s uncommon in shoujo. The entire magical girl genre pretty much exists in that realm, and those series share as much or more in common with fantasy, adventure, or sci-fi shoujo like Basara, X/1999, or They Were Eleven as they do with shounen manga—all of it very shoujo and very pretty.

I don’t mean to derail this discussion with my shoujo manifesto, though, so please forgive me. I’m just happily overwhelmed by the sparkly loveliness of this action sequence.

MICHELLE: No worries; I agree with you. But perhaps we should move on. What pretty shoujo have you chosen?

MELINDA: Well, it may seem like an odd choice, given the vast pool of classic pretty to choose from, but I’ve chosen an 8-page scene from volume three of Reiko Shimizu’s Moon Child, and there are a number of reasons why.

Moon Child, Volume 3, Pages 146-153 (CMX)

First, of course, there is quite a bit of objectively lovely imagery in the later panels of the scene, including rippling water, a flowing seascape, and a billowy-haired mermaid, all rendered with a perfect balance of simplicity and detail. I’m particularly fond of Shimizu’s style of character design as well, which is very much in step with most of the ’80s and early ’90s manga I’ve read. For whatever reason, this is probably my very favorite period for shoujo character design.

Most of all, though, there is an eerie, vaguely melancholy tone throughout the entire scene, particularly the first two pages, which I will admit are my favorite. I even consider them the prettiest of the whole sequence, though they have none of the flowing seascape that decorates the rest of the scene. They are, however, beautifully strange, and a perfect example of what I personally find prettiest in shoujo manga. This may seem like an odd thing to say, but I find the strangeness—this particular brand of strangeness—to be really, really beautiful. When I look at the first two pages of this sequence, I can feel the smooth surface of the water as the character brings his face near, touching the ends of his hair and the tips of his nose and chin. That smooth pool of water and the way he just falls slowly into it—it’s difficult for me to articulate exactly why I find it beautiful, but I really do.

Yes, I love these character designs, and the pretty page layouts, but sometimes what I find most beautiful about older shoujo manga is its strangeness. It brings to mind a dreamworld, I guess—one that looks like our world but somehow just isn’t in a way that engages the most obscure, most beloved corners of my imagination. These stories make themselves part of my private world, and I find them beautiful for it. If that makes any sense at all.

MICHELLE: It absolutely makes sense. And for what it’s worth, I studied the pages before I read your commentary and also felt that the exquisitely slow descent into the fountain was the loveliest part. I like, too, how Teruto slips into the fountain with such grace and barely a ripple and how this is contrasted off-panel by the little girl who has observed what happened. The inability of an everyday person to access the same magic only reinforces its strangeness.

MELINDA: Yes, exactly! It seems so clear that he exists in a different state of being from the regular people around him, which is part of what makes it feel so dreamlike, I think. There is a lot of that kind of thing in this series, which is really, exquisitely strange. I think the dreamlike tone makes it easier to suspend disbelief as well.

MICHELLE: From the examples we’ve both chosen, it seems that, to some extent, it’s the dreaminess of pretty scenes that is at least partly responsible for the happy sighing. Of course, we realize that real life is seldom so lovely, but it’s nice to abandon oneself for a while in a reality where that sort of thing really can happen.

MELINDA: I think where I often find solace in shoujo manga, is that it offers exactly what you describe—a reality that contains the stuff of dreams—but held together by real human feeling, such that even the wildest tale can often shine much-needed light on our real-life emotional turmoil. At the heart of all this strange, sparkly fantasy, there is a solid base of real emotional truth, which is sometimes easier to face when it’s presented in a pretty, dreamlike package.

MICHELLE: Well put! I think that’s one of the major strengths of genre fiction in general, actually, no matter the media.

MELINDA: Agreed! Of course, nothing does “pretty” quite like classic shoujo.

MICHELLE: Indeed not. That’s just icing on the cake!

Some Sailor Moon Links!

First, a plug…

Shortly after my reviews of Codename: Sailor V and Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon were published, I was invited by Scott Spaziani of Otaku in Review to participate in a podcast about the series. And here is the result! It was my first time ever on a podcast, and nerves made me babble a bit, but all in all it turned out pretty well. (My bit starts around 32:30.)

Next, some art!

Sailor MMM is a site where members can submit fanart inspired by the series. Some of the submissions are quite stunning, like this one of Sailors Saturn and Pluto. The shoes and weapons, in particular, capture Takeuchi’s style very well.

Lastly, some silliness!

Ask a Pretty Soldier is a Tumblr where readers can submit questions for Sailor Moon characters and possibly receive an answer in illustrated form. The results are usually pretty amusing.

Enjoy!

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, Vol. 1

By Naoko Takeuchi | Published by Kodansha Comics | Did I Mention Squee?

I think it’s probably impossible for me to be impartial about Sailor Moon. I just love it so much. The third season of the anime comprised one of my first exposures to shoujo anime, and even though I’m cognizant of its shortcomings, I can’t look back upon it and feel anything other than nostalgic adoration.

I’ve read the manga before. I was warned early on that the TOKYOPOP versions changed some characters’ names and relationships, so I never bothered trying to acquire them. Instead, I remember checking the website for Boston’s Sasuga Books (sadly no longer with us) regularly to see whether the latest volume of the gorgeous tenth anniversary edition was available for order. Reading each volume was a fairly painstaking process of matching a text-only translation to the images in the physical book. But one makes do.

Still, as with Codename: Sailor V, I feel like I got much more out of the experience this time when reading a professionally prepared English translation. It felt more immediate to me. Alas, though I would love to be able to report that Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon is free from the text errors that plagued Sailor V, I can’t. I only spotted four problems, though: two cases of misplaced sound effects (one only noticeable if you read kana) and two where the word “who’s” is used instead of “whose.” Pretty minor, yes, but still disappointing. I can’t be alone in wishing for a flawless edition.

Moving on!

Because Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon came about due to the earlier success of Codename: Sailor V, there are some obvious similarities in their lead characters. Like Minako Aino, fourteen-year-old Usagi Tsuniko is a below-average and perpetually tardy middle-school student with a fondness for video games. Where Minako craves the spotlight and is somewhat more bold, however, Usagi is a crybaby who’s inclined to take the easy way out. Both are informed of their special destiny by a talking cat—white (male) Artemis for Minako (Sailor Venus) and black (female) Luna for Usagi (Sailor Moon)—and both soon find themselves squaring off against “the enemy” whose plans invariably involve sucking energy out of the populace.

From the start, Usagi handles her duties differently than Minako. She’s more empathetic, but has a tendency to feel overwhelmed and require encouragement. (These are still, of course, early days.) She’s bolstered by her fellow guardians, however, and quickly accumulates three allies: the brilliant Ami Mizuno, guardian of water and wisdom (Sailor Mercury); classy and clairvoyant Rei Hino, guardian of fire and passion (Sailor Mars); and tomboyish yet girlish Makoto Kino, guardian of thunder and courage (Sailor Jupiter). Luna provides them all with information—I enjoy any scene that depicts the kitty in research mode—and handy gizmos that allow them to communicate and transform.

Together they face off against Queen Beryl and her Four Kings of Heaven, who are busily concocting schemes to collect energy to revive their “great ruler” while simultaneously searching for the “legendary silver crystal.” (We learn more about the enemies here than in Sailor V, incidentally, which makes them much more interesting. It’s still slightly disconcerting to see how quickly some of them are defeated, though, considering how long they stick around in the anime. Nephrite, for example, is vanquished after just one chapter!) The Guardians want to find the all-powerful crystal too, and are also searching for “the princess,” whom they are duty-bound to protect.

Also searching for the “legendary silver crystal” is a handsome fellow called Tuxedo Mask, two words that efficiently describe his costume. He has dreams wherein a faceless woman begs him to find the crystal, and so he tries to comply. Usually his efforts consist of lurking around when Sailor Moon is busy confronting the enemy, so as to be ready to bolster her confidence. Meanwhile, in his civilian guise of high school student Mamoru Chiba, he and Usagi keep running into each other and exchanging insults. I never much cared about their relationship in the anime, but it actually kind of works for me here. Maybe manga!Mamoru is appreciably more dreamy than his anime counterpart, because I can at least see why Usagi finds him so appealing. In this volume, there’s also some question as to whether he’s friend or foe, which gives Usagi something to worry about. (In general, while I don’t mind hyper Usagi, I like her much more when she’s being serious.)

I would probably still like Sailor Moon if it were merely the story of a band of cute girls in colorful outfits who defeat the enemy with various nifty/goofy attacks like “moon tiara boomerang” and “flower hurricane,” but its feminist message definitely elevates it in my esteem. While Usagi may be drawn to Mamoru and while Makoto may yet pine for the sempai who rejected her, these girls are fully cognizant that they’ve got a mission that’s more important than romance. Consider this exchange in which Makoto is explaining her reason for transferring schools:

Makoto: It seemed there was something far more important… even more important than falling in love… that was waiting for me here.

Rei: You’re right! We don’t have the luxury of the time it takes to cry over a man.

Though normal teens until just recently, these girls are quickly coming to grips with their destiny and the enormous importance of preventing the crystal from falling into the wrong hands. One gets the sense that this experience, though dangerous, is going to be critical in forming who they become as people, especially lazy Usagi, who is now thrust into a leadership role. And even though Mamoru does help her on occasion, it never comes off as condescending, but more like he’s reminding her of the strength that she already possesses. He, after all, has no powers of his own so it’s up to her to save the day.

Thank you, Kodansha Comics, for licensing this series and giving us a proper translation at last. I’m happy for myself and other existing fans, but I also can’t wait to see what Sailor Moon newbies make of the story.

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon is published in English by Kodansha Comics. They’ve licensed the tenth anniversary edition, which condensed the eighteen-volume series into twelve volumes of the main narrative plus two volumes of short stories. It also has pretty new covers and some retouched art.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Codename: Sailor V, Vol. 1

By Naoko Takeuchi | Published by Kodansha Comics | Squee

There are few things in this world that can literally make me do “the dance of squee,” but the arrival of the first volumes of Codename: Sailor V and Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon at my house definitely did the trick. My husband can bear witness.

I’ve read Codename: Sailor V before (back in 2003), but that was with the Japanese edition in hand and a text translation on the computer screen, doing my best with my limited Japanese skills to put words and images together. But now it’s out in English, and translated by the venerable William Flanagan, to boot! I feel like I got a lot more out of this time, but whether that’s due to increased comprehension or a change in personal perspective, I can’t really say.

First, a bit of publication history. After completing her first series, The Cherry Project, Naoko Takeuchi and her editor decided that her next series would feature a magical girl in a sailor suit who fights for love and justice. The result was Codename: Sailor V, which premiered in the magazine Run-Run in July 1991. An anime was soon planned, but instead of starring only Sailor V, it would feature a five-person team, with the focus on a new character named Sailor Moon.

The Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon manga debuted in 1992, with the anime premiering shortly thereafter. Chapters of Codename: Sailor V continued to be released periodically, and actually wrapped up a couple of months after the Sailor Moon series. In this way, it functions both as a prequel and as a companion series to the more famous work.

Now to the story itself! Minako Aino is thirteen years old and in her first year of middle school. She’s got some… quirks—she is described at one point as a “binge-eating, nap-taking, below-average student” who “likes standing out in a crowd”—but also thinks fast on her feet and has acute physical reflexes. After observing her for a while, a mysterious white cat introduces himself as Artemis and tells her she has been chosen by the planet Venus. “You were born to fight to protect the world of incandescent heat. And you have a mission. A duty that no one but you can fulfill.” This whole sequence reminds me a lot of a young Buffy, similar in temperament and ability, hearing similar words from her first Watcher.

Minako promptly faints, and when she wakes she thinks the conversation was just a dream. When she spots her crush brainwashing a girl into becoming his slave, however, the “boss” speaks to her through a magical pen (really) and tells her that he is her enemy and that she must defeat him and save everyone. (She’s also got a crescent-shaped compact that can be used as a weapon and for creating disguises.) Her first transformation into Sailor V is accompanied by the following narration:

I feel liberated! I’m overflowing with power!! I’m struck with the urge to act!

And there, in a nutshell, is why this magical girl franchise appeals to feminists like me. It’s not about a girl in a sailor suit looking cute to attract boys or being validated by them. It’s about a girl choosing to become strong herself, to achieve her full potential, and to contribute to the welfare of the planet by actively engaging “the enemy.” If you’re tired of passive heroines—got those Black Bird blues?—then you really do need to read these books.

Further adventures pit Sailor V against a series of idols represented by the Dark Agency, whose modus operandi is to stage concerts and suck out the energy of their fans, who then become their slaves. The Agency president is a woman named Fluorite and she reports to an unseen guy named Danburite, and so far they seem content to try to take over the world by repeating the same tactics over and over, though they do eventually change things up a little near the end. These episodic stories do dull the impact of Sailor V’s mission slightly, but her introductions to her foes are always fun. Here’s my favorite:

Using idols to brainwash both men and women, young and old… Now that’s just greedy! Those are horrendous business practices and the Japanese Tax Office will not stand for it!

I am sometimes a GI Fighting Girl, and sometimes a Debuting Idol Beauty… But my true form is…—Moon Power: Transform!—Codename: Sailor V!! Champion of Justice!! The Pretty Guardian in a Sailor Suit! Sailor Venus… has arrived!

Takeuchi’s art is lovely, if somewhat busy. (Sometimes I wonder if she has a phobia of white space, because a lot of screentone is used to fill those areas. My favorite is the one that inexplicably mixes stamps and penguins.) I’m particularly fond of the chapter title pages, because Sailor V looks especially cool and mature in those. The English translation reads well, too, so it’s really too bad that the rest of the text has so many minor errors. For the most part, these consist of misattributed dialogue or sound effects being placed in the wrong spot. Though annoying, they don’t hamper one’s enjoyment much. The reference to Science Ninja Team Gotchaman (sic) in the end notes did elicit a cry of dismay from me, though.

So, yes. It is truly wonderful to have Codename: Sailor V available in English. Perhaps it won’t appeal to everyone as much as it does to me, but it’s got more depth that one might expect, and is definitely worth checking out.

Codename: Sailor V is published in English by Kodansha Comics. They’ve licensed the tenth anniversary edition, which condensed the original three volumes into two.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

A Further Dose of Squee

Today, I joined the crew from Manga Bookshelf in discussing yesterday’s world-shaking (GET IT? I MADE A SAILOR MOON JOKE!) news that the Sailor Moon manga will return to print in September of this year.

Join us as we discuss the appeal of Sailor Moon, its gender politics, its relation to other “magical girl” series, its sales potential, the skimpy outfits, and more!

And if you’d simply like a better look at the sexay Sailor Starlights, click here for a larger version.

I Am All Asquee

KODANSHA USA ANNOUNCES THE RETURN OF SAILOR MOON
I don’t ordinarily post publicity announcements, but when it’s something this awesome, I simply must. Thank you a million times, Kodansha Comics. You may look forward to a lot of my money.

Update: Kodansha USA Publicity confirms that there will be a new translation, although they can’t comment on specifics just yet.

NEW YORK, New York – March 18, 2011 – Kodansha USA Publishing, a subsidiary of Kodansha, announced today the exciting return of Naoko Takeuchi’s SAILOR MOON, one of the most significant names in comics and manga, to US publishing. Brand new deluxe editions of the acclaimed series will be released by Kodansha USA’s Kodansha Comics imprint in September 2011. Out of print for six years, SAILOR MOON re-launches along with Takeuchi’s two-volume prequel series CODENAME: SAILOR V, in print in the US for the first time—making this one of the most highly anticipated manga releases in years.

The SAILOR MOON manga, which originated in Japan in 1992 and debuted in the US in 1997, follows Usagi Tsukino, a young girl who transforms into super heroine Sailor Moon to combat evil and fight for love and justice in the name of the Moon and the mysterious Moon Princess. The first successful shôjo (girls’) manga release in the US, SAILOR MOON changed the book landscape and helped establish the foundation for the manga craze; in particular drawing attention to the popularity of comics among female readers.

Prequel series CODENAME: SAILOR V, the first of Takeuchi’s “magical girl” manga, will make its highly anticipated debut in the US alongside the SAILOR MOON re-launch. In CODENAME: SAILOR V, teenager Minako Aino fights as Sailor V against the villains of the Dark Agency before she discovers Sailor Moon.

The Kodansha USA editions of SAILOR MOON will be published on a bi-monthly schedule and follow the 2003 Japanese re-release format of the classic series. The original 18 volumes have been condensed into 12 volumes covering the main storyline, and two volumes dedicated to short stories. Each volume has gorgeous new cover art, retouched interior art and dialogue along with extensive bonus material from Takeuchi, and detailed translation notes.

One of the most recognized manga and anime properties in the world, SAILOR MOON took American pop culture by storm, with mentions in music (“One Week” by Barenaked Ladies), bestselling books (The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot) and more. In Japan, over 15 million copies have been sold and the series has generated everything from animated features to live action musicals, a live action television series and countless merchandise.

“I’m very excited to reintroduce Ms. Takeuchi’s work to her American fans,” said Yoshio Irie, president and CEO of Kodansha USA Publishing. Irie is also the former chief editor of Nakayosi magazine in which the SAILOR MOON manga was serialized. “As we continue to build the Kodansha Comics manga list, a title like SAILOR MOON is the jewel in our crown. As the former chief editor of the work in Japan, I’m especially thrilled to finally release the prequel, CODENAME: SAILOR V, to the many fans who have been asking for it at long last.”

About Kodansha USA Publishing
Kodansha USA Publishing, LLC, a subsidiary of Kodansha Ltd. aims to bring the best names in manga to the North American market, and partners with Random House Publisher Services for distribution. www.kodanshacomics.com

About Kodansha Ltd.
Kodansha Ltd. is Japan’s largest publisher, with its headquarters in Tokyo. Originally established in 1909 by Seiji Noma, the company is still a family-run business. Under the leadership of Sawako Noma, company president since 1987, Kodansha continues to play a dominant role in the media world, producing books and magazines in a wide variety of genres including literature, fiction, nonfiction, children’s, business, lifestyle, art, manga, fashion, and journalism. Recently, the company has ventured into digital distribution of content as well. www.kodansha.co.jp/english

Pretty Guardian Sailormoon Short Stories 2 (Japanese) by Naoko Takeuchi: C+

Book description:
This volume compiles the final three side stories associated with Sailormoon: “Parallel Sailor Moon,” “Casablanca Memory,” and “The Lover of Princess Kaguya,” the basis for the Sailor Moon S Movie.

“Parallel Sailor Moon” originally appeared in an artbook and follows the adventures of Tsukino Kousagi, the second daughter of Usagi in an alternate reality. “Casablanca Memory” (featuring Rei) and “Princess Kaguya” (featuring Luna) formed the original volume 11 in the first edition of the series.

Review:
While “The Lover of Princess Kaguya” is a decent story, there are some things about it that bug me. I know readers must accept the notion of magical girls with powers, guardian planets, et cetera. Fine. But even if those things do exist, that doesn’t mean that regular people must cease behaving like regular people. So, like, doctors shouldn’t be allowing random cats into hospital rooms, and astronauts shouldn’t be “ho-hum, that cat just showed me her name by pointing to a picture of a lunar rover in a magazine.”

I didn’t really much care for “Casablanca Memory” or “Parallel Sailor Moon.” The former is alright, showing a glimpse of Rei’s relationship with her dad, but it just had to include an enemy. It probably would’ve been better without it. “Parallel Sailor Moon” includes some eventual offspring of the senshi, and they are wholly bratty and unpleasant. Only the plethora of cats made this one even remotely cute.

Pretty Guardian Sailormoon Short Stories 1 (Japanese) by Naoko Takeuchi: B-

Book description:
This volume compiles the “Chibi-Usa Picture Diaries” and the “Exam Battle”s. These were all little side stories published throughout the series in its first incarnation, and left out and published separately for the second edition.

Review:
I’m not sure separating out these side stories was such a good idea. None of those included in this volume are particularly strong, though it might make more sense for volume two of the short stories, which includes “The Lover of Princess Kaguya.”

Some of these stories I was familiar with, as they’d been animated for episodes or specials, though a few were new. None of these are really wonderful, though if one has gotten this far, one’s enough of a Sailormoon fan that disliking them utterly probably isn’t in the cards.

Of the offerings here, I probably least enjoyed Makoto’s exam battle story. Its plot was no worse than the others, but the character was just spouting the same old trope about cooking and cleaning and pretty things and it grew tiresome. To me, the best was the last of the exam battle stories, where Minako pays a visit to Rei’s exclusive girls’ school. Minako’s typically spazzy, but there are a couple of glances of another side of Rei that make it worthwhile. Plus, it’s a little slashy! 🙂

Pretty Guardian Sailormoon 12 (Japanese, 2nd ed.) by Naoko Takeuchi: B

Book description:
This volume contains Acts 55-60 of the new numbering system, comprising the final six Acts of the Stars arc. The Starlights have been deprived of a cover, and we instead get a group shot of Usagi, Chibi-Usa, and Chibi-Chibi.

The inner senshi’s sailor crystals have been stolen and there’s been no word from the outer senshi since they went to their castles to investigate the invaders. Can Usagi rescue her friends and fight Galaxia on her own? If she fails, earth will be destroyed, changing history so that the future that should be won’t come to pass!

Review:
I didn’t like this volume as much as the first in the Stars arc. It’s entirely comprised of the battle against Galaxia, and is full of people swearing not to give up, and also lots of calling long lists of names. Would anyone hailing a group of friends really name each one individually? There were some good bits, of course, particularly some explanation of the various villains’ origin and the ultimate difficult decision that Usagi makes and its implications.

The main problem I have with the volume is that I’m fuzzy on the details of what actually happened, and I’m not sure it’s entirely the translation’s fault. I don’t really get Galaxia’s backstory, or the full deal with Chibi-Chibi, or what happened at the end. A general idea, yes, but I’d like to know more conclusively.