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Fourteen year old Usagi Tsukino is a self-confessed crybaby. An avid fan of superheroine Sailor V, she enjoys her day-to-day life with her best friend Naru and her family, being perpetually late and a little bit clumsy. Then one day she trips over Luna, a talking black cat with a crescent moon on her forehead. Luna tells Usagi that it is her destiny to fight evil as the pretty guardian Sailor Moon, with the ultimate goal of finding her companions and the lost Moon Princess. Is Usagi up to the job?
The word “classic” can be subjective. Some books are classics by a fluke of the literary establishment, while others are considered as such because they are genuinely good and either mark a turning point in a specific genre or have a reach far beyond their publication dates. Naoko Takeuchi's Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon fits in the latter category. While Usagi isn't the first magical girl, she is one of the best, and Kodansha USA's reissue of the series – complete with new translation – shows that her story stands the test of time.
Originally published concurrently with the later chapters of Code Name: Sailor V, Sailor Moon follows second year middle school student Usagi Tsukino, whose name, the cultural notes tell us, can be read in Japanese as “rabbit of the moon.” Usagi will be the first to tell you that she's not real bright and a bit of a crybaby. So when she literally stumbles on talking cat Luna, she isn't at all sure that she is superheroine material. This is one of the traits that makes her endearing and actually seem like the ordinary girl she claims to be. Usagi doesn't come from a broken home, she doesn't have any psychic abilities, and she isn't an outcast. All of these things make her different from the usual run of super-powered teenagers in manga, including several of the other pretty guardians and romantic interest Tuxedo Mask, and establish her as a girl that readers can relate to. This is especially important when we consider that the story was originally targeted at middle school girls, a particularly difficult time of life for most people. Usagi's ability to overcome her fears even in this first volume send a strong message.
Kodansha USA's new editions come from the 2003 Japanese reissue. What this means is that the series will be twelve volumes instead of eighteen and that this book contains one chapter originally published in Mixx's volume two. The book itself looks good – since it is a translation of a later edition, the original author free talks have been removed and some of the color art is newer, showing an increased grasp of flow and anatomy. Kodansha provides six full color pages to start the book, including Takeuchi's original color first page. The translation is, for the most part, improved from the older English (or any other language) editions largely by dint of retaining the original names. Sticklers will not be pleased that the names are given in western order, and they may have a point since Takeuchi was very specific about appellations, but Kodansha's notes do shed light on their importance. There are a few typographical errors, mostly with homonyms, and the new translation sometimes sacrifices fluidity of language for accuracy. For example, during one battle, Sailor Mars says, “These high-heeled legs will deliver your punishment!” whereas in the Mixx edition she said, “I'll punish you in high heels!” Yes, the former is doubtless more faithful to the original Japanese and cannot be misinterpreted like the latter, which begs the question of just who is wearing the heels, but it is difficult to deny that the Mixx version of the line sounds more like naturally spoken English.
This volume sees the introduction of most of who fans know as the “inner senshi.” Sailors Mercury, Mars, and Jupiter all get their moments and at this point in the series Takeuchi is careful to give each girl a slightly different costume – Mercury has a visor and three earrings, Mars has a broach similar to Moon's, and Jupiter has an antenna on her tiara as well as a belt containing a ball of flowers. These details are inconsistent, vanishing if they slip the artist's mind, but it is worth noting that the effort has been made. Likewise Sa>ilor Moon's mask/goggles have a tendency to vanish mysteriously, and Tuxedo Mask's hat is not always present. Fortunately the story is engaging enough that these inconsistencies are easy to overlook. Each girl has her own distinct personality and past, although the latter is only hinted at in most cases. Their attacks are specific to both their planets and Roman mythology, with Sai>lor Moon also embracing traditional Japanese myths. Tuxedo Mask's role is currently uncertain, with even he himself not being clear about which side he is on. With his mysterious attraction to Usagi/Sai>lor Moon, and hers to him, the stage is very nicely set for later volumes. Likewise the obvious villains of the piece begin to be fleshed out, although not to a degree where their significance is certain. The Dark Kingdom, formerly known as the Negaverse, are on the trail of the Mysterious Silver Crystal...but no one, including Luna, is saying why.
The early 1990s were an interesting time for shoujo manga. Sailor Moon and Kaoru Tada's Itazura Na Kiss were both begun in '91 and '92 saw Wataru Yoshizumi's Marmalade Boy. All three of these series would go on to set the standard for various subgenres of shoujo manga, and people would be justified in saying that the unintelligent heroine was also born from these “big three.” (Although it is important to notice that the early 90s also brought the publication of Magic Knight Rayearth and Gokinjyo Monogatari.) But if one is to say that, it would also be important to note that Usagi is more than an “average” heroine – she is a determined one. It is her ability to overcome that makes her a heroine more than any amount of super-powers, and it is that perfectly ordinary quality that helps to propel her story into the realm of “classic.”
This rerelease of Takeuchi's best-loved work is one that many fans have been waiting for. Apart from a few technical glitches in the translation, it fulfills those dreams. Hardcore “moonies” may still hear echoes of Naru (Molly)'s ghastly dub voice in their heads while reading, but even the horror that was cannot detract from the thrill that is. Whether you're a new fan, an old one, or just someone who wants to know why on earth all those old(er!) people are so excited about this book, it is well worth reading.
Overall : A
Story : A
Art : A-
+ Heroine worth rooting for who also sets a much better example than many contemporary protagonists in shoujo, interesting use of mixed mythologies, nice foreshadowing of what's to come. Attractive art.
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