By Naoko Takeuchi
240 pages, black and white
Published by Kodansha Comics
Sailor Moon (or rather, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon as the cover states) is one of those comics that up until now, I knew a lot about but had never actually read. When both the manga and the anime were translated to English and brought to North America in the ’90s, saying it was a hit was an understatement. It’s probably safe to say that the amazing success of Sailor Moon is what helped position TokyoPop (then Mixx Entertainment) into a position of publishing strength for most of the last decade. And of course, I knew that Sailor Moon‘s target audience was teenage girls, something I’ve never had a problem reading in the past. But actually reading Sailor Moon? I must admit that this was not at all what I expected.
Naoko Takeuchi’s plot structure for Sailor Moon‘s earliest chapters (collected here in this new edition from Kodansha Comics) will be familiar to just about everyone, comics-reader or otherwise. Usagi Tsukino is a teenage girl who one day discovers her true heritage as Sailor Moon, someone with special powers that can help defend the planet against evil-doers. As she fights the minions of the evil Queen Beryl as they all search for the Legendary Silver Crystal and the Moon Princess, Usagi quickly discovers that many of her friends and classmates also have secret heritages as other Sailors attached to celestial bodies (from Mercury to Jupiter), and that together they have a chance of saving the planet.
Usagi Tsukino is an intensely annoying protagonist. I understand that she’s in the familiar mold of (initially) unwilling hero, but the amount of whining and complaining from her is almost more than I could take. I appreciate that Takeuchi created a flighty, goofy main character instead of one that was completely with it from the first page, but it feels like she went too far in that direction. Worse, the stories themselves feel intensely random. Sailor Moon seems to almost fall into these situations, and the progression of plot feels leaden. Characters randomly meet one another and then in a matter of pages start fighting evil, and while each Sailor is supposed to have their own skills and talents, they’re mostly indistinguishable in these early chapters save for what Takeuchi point-blank tells us. (To be fair, Sailor Mercury at least does come across as smart, but almost more in a deus ex machina manner so that they can get new artifacts from the Sailor V video game.)
The worst part of the writing, though, is probably the attraction between Sailor Moon and the guy called Tuxedo Mask. Ignoring the horrible name for him, this is once again a relationship that we’re told about rather than actually being shown. It’s hard to see why the two care about one another, and it feels extremely forced and uninteresting. This is, from what I can gather, the big romance of Sailor Moon, but the pair have less chemistry than a rock and a wall of drying paint. Maybe later volumes kick the intensity up a notch, but this non-teenage-girl simply isn’t buying it.
Takeuchi’s art is wispy and wide-eyed, and it’s suddenly extremely clear where a lot of the early stereotypes about manga came from. It’s not bad, but it’s not that good either. Sailor Moon in particular seems to have two expressions; giddy, and calm. There’s little to no subtlety in the art, and random shapes or patterns splashed on the page seem to be an all too frequent substitute for backgrounds. If Takeuchi’s art at least had some kick to it I could understand the obsession with Sailor Moon, but once more I’m baffled.
As stated before, I’ve read a lot of shojo (girl’s) manga in the past, and found myself getting into it. This, alas, is not one of those comics. I wanted to enjoy it and to finally get into what so many others are obsessed with. Maybe it gets better down the line, but I don’t think I’ll ever find out for myself. This is a comic where it not only has little appeal to most people outside of the target audience, I’m a bit surprised that even those it’s aimed at are interested. Sorry, Sailor Moon. I’m happy for your fans that you’re back in print, but you are clearly not for me.