By Naoko Takeuchi. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Run Run. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.
And here is where it all began – Takeuchi’s first big success (which was immediately subverted by its own publishers and then cannibalized into Sailor Moon) and the debut of Minako Aino, the only senshi besides Usagi not to give off that ‘I am ostracized from my peers and need a purpose in life’ vibe. Mainly as she and Usagi are the everyday heroines, and therefore get the everyday lives. Indeed, their families could be almost identical, minus Usagi’s younger brother. There are a few differences, though.
In fact, the cover pretty much gives the biggest one. Usagi is a sweet, but reluctant superhero who has to be dragged into her first few battles as villains are scary. Minako has no such issues. She is athletic, hyperactive, and ready and willing to leap into being a superhero, after a few initial shocks. She’s battling Dark Kingdom enemies as well – though these are far more of the monster-of-the-week variety – but she also uses Sailor V to catch bank robbers and generally ‘do good’. Not that she’s perfect – she also uses her magic tools to cheat at homework, and wonders at one point how to make money out of all this – but Minako’s proactiveness seeps through every panel here.
Usagi also had her main cast – she met Mamoru, Ami and Rei almost immediately. Minako pretty much just has Artemis there to poke her into doing the right thing and groan at her hijinks. Yes, she technically has a best friend (who, sadly, does not have a T-shirt reading ‘I am not Ami Mizuno’ like earlier scanlations gave her) and an annoying otaku classmate like Umino (the otaku actually gets more screentime than the best friend, oddly enough), but most of the time Minako sets out on these missions on her own, and you can tell that by the time they got to integrating her into Sailor Moon (especially the anime) they wanted to play up the Lone Wolf aspect of her.
The manga is very episodic in general – unlike Sailor Moon, which has a feel of an epic romance almost from the start, Sailor V looks like an action comedy, and doesn’t really gain depth until midway through it. The series ran very irregularly in Nakayoshi’s spin-off Run Run, and once Sailor Moon started, you’d see long breaks between chapters – sometimes yearly breaks. You can pretty much see the exact point the series goes from regular to irregular – it’s lampshaded by having Minako pass by Usagi in the final panel of the chapter.
Some other interesting things to note. Minako and Artemis here are communicating with a mysterious ‘boss’ who’s giving them orders – something which may puzzle those who know Sailor Moon. Is it Luna? No, can’t be, she won’t wake up Sailor Moon for about a year. (I did like Minako being 13 here, a year younger than Usagi in Sailor Moon, which means no timeline issues when the other senshi in Sailor Moon note Sailor V’s been fighting evil for over a year now). The identity of the power-that-be is an intriguing mystery.
Likewise, one of the highlights of each chapter is seeing Minako use her disguise pen to change into a different outfit, complete with pose – note how they’re timed to match the page turn, students of manga art! Usagi did this at the start of Sailor Moon as well, but it gets dropped once the manga gets more serious. My personal favorite when when she turned herself into a male teen idol – and seemed pretty much fine with it. (Bet she experimented when she got home too… *whack* Ow.)
The final chapter might give us a taste of what’s to come in the second and final volume of Sailor V. It’s more serious in general, and for the first time Minako’s disguise pen is used for serious purposes. There’s a more melancholy feeling to it, and it actually bookends nicely with the opening chapter. You sense that Minako is not going to be able to continue in the wacky adventures line for much longer. But for now she is, and thank goodness. Minako is my favorite of the ‘main five’ senshi, and I’d read the Japanese version of this (in 3 volumes) with a text translation years and years ago. It’s fantastic to see it here, and see Minako fight for (and sometimes run roughshod over) justice.