Sailor Moon 7

Naoko Takeuchi – Kodansha USA – 2012 – 12 volumes

Oh, Super Sailor Moon. The story started to drag a bit here for me again, but it’s hard to deny the pleasure of all of the guardians re-uniting, and the Super Sailor Moon sequence… it’s triumphant, no matter how many times I read it.

I don’t like to criticize the story too much here, though. I love the fact that the Death Busters are constantly referencing the fact that they aren’t as powerful as Sailor Moon, and the big bad guy has to stay hidden because he’s so weak. It’s not super-original, but it’s a refreshing change of pace from the usual super-cocky evil villain. Of course, things take a turn for the worst here, and Pharaoh 90 winds up getting the power-up he needs, so everyone winds up getting separated and fighting evil versions of the Witch’s 5 that are closest to their power. Mistress 9 also puts in an appearance, de-throning Kaolinite. This isn’t going to work out well for anybody, but we all know where this is going anyway, so there’s that.

We get to hear the legend of Sailor Saturn, too. I always loved her background story, that she only appears when the world ends, a kind of grim reaper that ends what needs to end and puts everyone to sleep to start the cycle over. It’s very grim, but necessary in the example they describe, and I love that they’re trying to prevent her from awakening here, or needing to, by not letting the situation get too out of hand. There’s some question about whether she’s destined to awaken here, whether they’re meant to lose, which is also interesting. Less interesting is when she sort-of becomes a regular character after this, robbing her of her mystique, but that’s for later. Maybe I’ll like it more the second time around. I am growing more fond of the series after reading it through again, after all.

This volume is a lot of battling with the Death Busters, and it ends at the beginning of the fight between Mistress 9 and Sailor Moon. Part of why I may have found this to be a bit of a drag is because the battles in this series aren’t particularly good… usually they end with one attack, sometimes there needs to be some encouragement to make this happen. But it’s slightly more interesting here since the guardians are wandering through the campus and some displaced areas trying to find the enemies or each other, and there’s some interesting character stuff going on. I suspect the final battle will happen in the next volume, and we’ll move on to the beginning of the SuperS arc after that. I like the themes in SuperS better (the movie is my favorite, despite not having anything to do with the manga series), so I’m looking forward to re-reading that part.

But Stars is still my favorite. None of the Stars volumes are out yet, but I can’t wait.

Sailor Moon 6

Naoko Takeuchi – Kodansha USA – 2012 – 14 volumes

Hm. Maybe I read it in a less sour mood or something, but I was really, really into this volume of Sailor Moon. And that’s saying something, because the Death Busters storyline is one of my least favorite.

I think a good part of it is that there’s a legitimate mystery going on. The mystery doesn’t revolve around how evil the enemy is, but rather who Haruka and Michiru are. There’s the usual mystery of “What’s going on at Mugen Academy!?” which is obviously the hang-out of the villain of the piece, and creepy Professor Tomoe is a hilariously obvious bad guy. But it’s more interesting here because Haruka and Michiru are involved, and Hotaru makes for an interesting puzzle piece as well. We do learn who Haruka and Michiru are at the end of the volume, but I still want to read on, because their motive isn’t clear. I also can’t quite remember what the Death Busters want with the talismans. All of this works really well in the context of the series.

Also, I didn’t remember Haruka being so awesome. I forgot she was mostly portrayed as a man, and acts as such while still flirting and teasing with everyone. She’s my hero. I wish she was Sailor Moon instead.

Much the same as usual, the villains work in sort of a limited capacity here, but the in-between stuff is way better. There are still random demons that pop out that the Sailor Guardians fight, and later in the book that’s followed up by a member of the Witches 5 that is immediately vaporized after only appearing briefly two or three times. But that’s how it works. The villains continue to have character designs that are way better than their limited screen time should allow.

Chibi-Usa is a character I’ve never liked, as she’s almost a brattier version of Usagi. But she’s tolerable and humanized here, so I was even interested in her role in the story. I hope this trend continues through the SuperS arc, which I know features her heavily.

I’m crossing my fingers and hoping for a lot of awesome stuff in the next volume. Setsuna appears on the last page, and I’m all over her showing up and being awesome, even if it doesn’t quite make sense in the context of the series.

Sailor Moon 5

Naoko Takeuchi – Kodansha USA – 2012 – 14 volumes

I’m a bit behind on this, and I should really catch up. This volume ends the R/Dark Moon story arc, and the S and Super S story arcs are stories I don’t remember as well. Maybe it’ll be like reading it for the first time!

I’m still really torn on how to feel about this series. Again, it’s full of really good ideas, and there are parts and characters I really like. On one hand, the fact that a criminal from 1,000 years in the future was sent to a prison planet and eventually merged with it to become this ultimate rival evil is kind of awesome. But Wiseman/Death Phantom is never more than… just evil. The manga isn’t really about him, but Sailor Moon is probably one of the only action-oriented series that doesn’t try to humanize the villains more than a smidge. Reubeus, Sapphire, and Diamond all have a smidge of characterization (Diamond does what he does because he’s in love with Neo Queen Serenity and wants her for himself, Sapphire thinks that the crystal Sailor Moon has is the source of too much strife and is a bit of a rogue, et cetera), but not more than that. Some characters go way over the top in this, but then again, I think I may enjoy Sailor Moon more if the villains were a bit more than cannon fodder.

Perhaps the extra depth is why I like Black Lady so much. Well, that and the character design. She was my favorite part of this volume.

Other than that… really, there’s just a whole lot of the bad guys being bad because they are, and that’s what they do. The Guardians struggle, are nearly defeated, and overcome in a triumphant way. It just doesn’t feel as good in Sailor Moon for some reason. Perhaps because I’ve read it before, or perhaps because the battles aren’t that great, I don’t know.

Poor Sailor Pluto, though. I forgot about that part, and it was sad.

Having complained for several paragraphs, there’s still something I really like about this series. Obviously, since I’m five volumes in and still going. But I’m not sure if it’s a love of the basic idea, or nostalgia, or probably both. But I’m reading it… and feeling a bit rushed and a little disappointed, because I’m just not enjoying it very much.

Again, though. Maybe the S/Infinity arc will be better, because other than the basic parts, I don’t remember the storyline well at all. I’m hoping I’ll get really into it if reading it is a bit fresher next time.

Sailor Moon 4

Naoko Takeuchi – Kodansha USA – 2012 – 14 volumes

Okay! I give up! I submit! I’m completely caught up in the story at this point. The guardians keep disappearing, evil is encroaching, the far future is brought to bear on the present, the 10th planet of the solar system (this part made me laugh) is actually evil, and everything is escalating nicely, with the heroes in a rather dire place throughout the entire volume. I live for this stuff. Sailor Moon delivers nicely. Plus, Sailor Pluto is my favorite.

The time travel part of this story arc has always been one of my favorite parts of the series, trumped only by the Sailor Stars arc. The big reveal that Chibi-Usa is actually from the future, and traveled to the past to get the legendary Sailor Moon to save her mother… and actually, she’s from 30th Century Crystal Tokyo and her mother is Usagi, was always all kinds of mind-blowing to me for whatever reason. Plus, she made friends with the forbidden guardian of time, who gave her a key to travel through time with. Best not to dwell on that last part, especially since time travel is apparently the last taboo and is guarded viciously.

But the Guardians can do it, and the bad guys can do it, so now we are shuffling between the present and future once all the explanations are out of the way. As I mentioned, the Guardians keep disappearing, and we go down to a core staff of Sailor Moon, Tuxedo Mask, and Sailor Venus by mid-volume. By volume’s end, even Sailor Moon finds herself in a situation where… she’s more or less out of action. Prince Demande (though I prefer the translated gem names, so Diamond) has a great and very crazy reason for kidnapping her. I like his motivation, though I have to admit I probably only enjoy it because I know it doesn’t go anywhere creepy.

Mostly, though, I’m ready for the next volume, which introduces the Black Lady. She’s also one of my favorites. I’m also curious to see if the S arc is better than I remember. I’ve never been the biggest fan of that one.

Sailor Moon 3

Naoko Takeuchi – Kodansha USA – 2011 – 14 volumes

You know, every volume of this I read I grow a little fonder of it. I can’t help it. It’s Sailor Moon. I still think it has some problems, but it is addictive. Also, it’s hard to hate on this volume, which starts with a big double-page color map of every single character in the first story arc. So cool!

Also cool: the ending to the first story arc. I’m always a little puzzled by the action scenes in Sailor Moon, as it’s not always super-clear what’s going on. This is a good example. It took me a minute to realize that Sailor Moon was murder-suiciding Tuxedo Mask. And… yeah. It’s a shoujo manga, and the power of love and strength of heart and blah blah blah undoes all of it, but that it happens at all is pretty fantastic. That’s a fairly dark place for any shoujo manga to go.

The… menace that Queen Metalia poses is also a little ambiguous. She… overtakes the Earth for a minute… with a black aura. That affects the weather. What she’s doing, exactly, I’m not sure. It’s bad, though, and with Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask out of the picture, the four other guardians have to save Sailor Moon and somehow resurrect the Silver Crystal. You know where this is going. I’m vaguely dissatisfied with this, because it is a little too long, and a little too abstract for my taste. The other Sailor Guardians are merely powering up until the Silver Crystal works. And then everything is okay. The sense of scale is nice, but the fight is… almost nonexistent. It’s still kinda cool, and I do like it as a finale, but… I don’t know. Maybe I’m just getting down on it unnecessarily.

So then! The Dark Moon story arc starts in this volume. The Guardians start disappearing, and small ladies appear in their place. I’ve always liked the random introduction of Chibi-Usa, who appears from nowhere and is taken in and accepted by all, despite the fact she threatened Usagi with a gun first thing. Only Usagi doesn’t like her. I never really cared for her either, but she does play an interesting part in the upcoming story.

These chapters are all one-shots in which the Guardians disappear one by one, and I liked these stories much better than the one-shots in the first story arc. Perhaps because I care about the characters now, but also because the victims here are those characters, and they don’t come back at the end of the story. It’s a bit depressing, but it makes for a good story. I also like the Dark Moon bad guys. They’re still fairly faceless (Berthier is good at chess!), but somehow, I like them better this time around.

Meh. I’m still being pretty mean to this series. I do like it now, at least, and I’m probably being overly critical and unfair. I’ll probably stop within the next few volumes, because then I’ll be distracted by Sailor Pluto. She’s my favorite.

Sailor Moon 2

Naoko Takeuchi – Kodansha USA – 2011 – 14 volumes

I was surprised to see that many of my issues with volume one were resolved in volume two. The art settles down and the layouts are less cluttered, the story slows down and takes time to develop the relationship and characters of Mamoru and Usagi (though I still don’t like the latter), and we get some backstory about the Moon Empire and the Empire of Darkness. Even the adaptation feels much more natural this time, though maybe I was just over-analyzing it last time since the story wasn’t gripping me.

This volume covers a lot of ground story-wise, and leaves the random encounters behind in favor of a few battles with Kunzite and more exposition with Queen Beryl and Queen Metalia. The volume stars off by introducing Sailor V, who reveals that she is the princess that the guardians are meant to protect. There’s also some relationship development between Usagi and Mamoru, who know each other’s identities and are drawn to one another. With both Sailor V and the relationship in play, the group faces off against Kunzite, who manages to nearly kill Tuxedo Mask and unleashes the power of the Legendary Silver Crystal. Because of this, Tuxedo Mask is kidnapped and Usagi is devastated. In order to jog their memories, the guardians take a trip to the moon and the relics of the Silver Millennium Empire and receive a message from Queen Serenity. Then they return to fight back against Queen Metalia with the Legendary Silver Crystal.

While I do appreciate the development that Usagi and Mamoru get in the beginning of the volume, and I love all the details about their life in the Silver Millennium Empire, I feel like there just wasn’t enough of the latter. One of my pet peeves throughout the series is that, often, super-interesting details like that are introduced, but not explained well. We do hear a lot about the Empire, its history with the Empire of Earth and Prince Endymion, and what happened to bring it all down, but part of me was longing for a shoujo fantasy flashback that showed us their lives and a lot more detail about what was going on. It’s also implied that Kunzite and the Four Generals were actually Prince Endymion’s bodyguard, but betrayed him for Beryl/Metalia… and then this is not explained, either. I love details like this, and Sailor Moon really does have a lot of interesting story to tell, but just doesn’t get around to it. That’s a real shame.

But what is in here is at least compelling, unlike volume one. We begin to find out about Queen Metalia, the face behind the bad guys, there’s some doubt and confusion from Kunzite, and there’s even some wonderful romance sequences. I had forgotten how sparkly the love scenes in Sailor Moon are. I had a complete girl-gasm when I stumbled across a few choice pages in this volume. I can’t recall if there are more of them after the first arc or two, since the relationship between Usagi and Mamoru is not a primary focus later in the series.

It did get me a little fired up about reading volume three. I know what’s in the immediate future story-wise (poor Mamoru!), but I can’t recall how the first arc resolves. I think I might continue the momentum and read volume 3 next, despite the fact I have both volumes of Sailor V sitting here waiting on me. Something tells me reading those will put me off the series again.

Sailor Moon 1

Naoko Takeuchi – Kodansha USA – 2011 – 14 volumes

I confess: I don’t like Sailor Moon. It was the first comic I gave up on when I was younger, though I kept buying it and eventually finished reading it after all the volumes came out. And that was when I was 14, so the story was written for me back then. But I did get excited when Kodansha announced they’d be re-releasing it in English, and I was more than happy to give the series another chance.

I do like the premise. The premise is, by far, the absolute best thing about this series. Having normal high school girls transform into magic-using soldiers that represent and have the power of the planets? And one of them is a princess? That’s brilliant. As is the fact that Takeuchi also bases a lot of the characters and powers and things off gemstones. There’s a lot of different directions to take that plot, and I loved how the story slowly expanded to include the past and future incarnations of the characters, a lost civilization on the moon, and soldiers for every single one of the planets out there. All of that is good stuff. It’s the kind of thing that sticks with you after you finish a book, because it’s easy to expand on and fill in your own details.

I don’t like the execution, though, or many of the characters. I hate Usagi, for instance. She gets a lot of praise since she’s a fairly normal girl filling some fairly big shoes, and acts accordingly, but she’s also got a lot of stereotypes from the early 90s. You can also see these characteristics alive and well in Miaka from Fushigi Yugi, which came out around the same time. Usagi isn’t good at anything. She sleeps in, she’s bad at school, she’s a glutton, she seems to get in trouble with her parents a lot, she plays too many video games, and even her friends discourage her from her bad habits. She’s nice enough, but she’s just so lazy that I can’t root for her. She’s just not very heroic.

That’s sort of the point, that nobody would be heroic when made to suddenly fight crime, and they’d probably blunder their way through, too. But that doesn’t make it any easier to sympathize with her as a heroine. Especially when she uses the powers to her advantage, like the dress-up pen to wear a wedding dress or other outfits that she puts on for shallow reasons.

Usagi definitely develops and turns into more of a woman as the series goes on, and that’s also one of the nicest things about it. But she’s insufferable at the beginning, and I had forgotten that before I started this volume.

There are a lot of other regular characters, even in just the first volume. Usagi’s parents and her little brother, two friends at school, the boy at the arcade, Luna, Mamoru and/or Tuxedo Mask, the three other planetary guardians, and the bad guys in every chapter. That’s too many characters for one volume. To be fair, some of them are meant to fill a relatively shallow role. But it bugs me that three of the four other guardians are introduced in volume one. Each gets her own chapter, where we are literally told about their personality, not shown, and then the story moves on to the next thing. All the girls get some time in the spotlight as the series continues, but again, as of the first volume, we simply have everything dumped into our laps.

The villains are the most disappointing. Perhaps I’ve got the anime tainting my perception, but I was always disappointed that the generals didn’t last longer than the first volume. Some didn’t last longer than one chapter. I can’t figure out why there are even generals in the story, who control monsters, when they could either do the monster’s work themselves, or Queen Beryl could send the monsters out instead of using middlemen. The generals serve no function in the story, and we are told nothing about them. This is the case in Magic Knight Rayearth too, but in MKR the characters had a lot more personality than they do in Sailor Moon.

The pacing of the stories drives me crazy, too. Maybe it’s just because the first volume is filled with one-shot chapters, but having to sit through pages of exposition about what the monster might be doing to the citizens, while bypassing Ami or Rei’s character development, and making the actual fights only a couple pages long is maddening. This might just be a slightly dated method of storytelling, but I’ve been spoiled by modern Tanemura-style magical girl stories, where the plots last several chapters and the fighting and story development can take its time.

This isn’t really Sailor Moon’s fault, but I also get a little sad when so much story time is spent with repetition. The first two pages of every story recap what’s happened before, and a lot of other factoids are repeated through each of the stories. Usagi cries a lot. She gets bad grades. Ami’s very smart. Umino is very smart. It’s written serially for little girls, so of course all these things have to be repeated, but it doesn’t read well in a graphic novel.

I’m also not the biggest fan of the artwork. While I do think Takeuchi can draw beautifully, she’s guilty of some really cramped, busy, confusing compositions throughout the entire book. There’s often too much going on per page, but again, this may just be a dated drawing technique, since modern shoujo manga definitely has less per page. I’m not finding any examples as I’m flipping through right now, but there are also some confusing transitions, where the place and time changes are ambiguous. This was the deal-breaker for me when I was younger, because I often couldn’t tell what was going on.

And… the translation here. I was very happy when I heard that William Flanagan was handling the translation. I’ve read dozens of books he’s translated, and he’s quite good and very professional. I also really enjoy his translation notes in series like xxxHolic. He mentions in the back that he was asked to do a very literal translation for this book, and that’s exactly what it is. I was very put off by the fact the characters were speaking in a manner that was not suited to junior high school girls, and I was constantly re-phrasing things in my head. Not that I think it should be over-slangy or anything like that, but they all have a very formal and hollow way of speaking that young girls just don’t do. They also use very strange phrases, such as when Usagi observes that Luna “is looking a little weak” in the first pages, or when Ami thinks about how she “has to find Usagi-chan and the other girls!” Sadly, I think I prefer the adaptation in the Tokyopop editions. Again, the fact that William Flanagan mentions specifically that he did a literal translation makes me think that Kodansha really wanted this “as true to the original as possible,” but I find things like this a little ridiculous. It makes it even harder for me to read that it already is.

But yes, this was one of the first manga I picked up when I was younger, and I adored the plot to pieces. I’ll read every volume of it as it comes out in this new edition, and a lot of what I complain about here does get better. But some of the problems stay, and I’ll talk more about that as it keeps going. But please accept my apologies for not loving Sailor Moon.


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