Sailor Moon 1
October 26, 2011
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.