By Naoko Takeuchi. Released in Japan as “Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon” by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Nakayoshi. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.
(There are spoilers for this volume in the review, please be aware.)
The first thing I noticed about the new volume of Sailor Moon, which contains half of the original Vol. 2 and half of 3, was how nicely it bookended itself. The volume opens with a dazed Usagi, waking up in Mamoru’s apartment, stunned to find out that he’s really Tuxedo Mask. And some two hundred and forty pages later, we end with the menacing cliffhanger of Usagi staring stunned at the same Mamoru, eyes now dark and with a menacing sneer on his face. Both of these things were highly predictable, but Takeuchi has a way of taking the most cliched plots and making them fascinating anyway.
Of course, in between those two set pieces, there’s a lot of stuff going on. First off, we get the arrival of our fifth Senshi. Takeuchi was not relying on her readers having read Code Name: Sailor V, so Minako gets introduced as if we’re meeting her for the first time. Which is a good thing, as Sailor V readers must have been confused by this serious, no-nonsense girl they thought they knew as a hyperactive ditz. (Remember, Sailor V was still less than halfway done at this point – the serious backstory for Minako was done retroactively after Sailor Moon ended.) In this case, I think Takeuchi realizes that the story is at a point where she needs Minako to be the experienced leader, rather than the genki flake. (That will come later, though never as much as the anime.)
So Minako is here to be the Senshi with long experience in fighting evil. The setup with her pretending to be the Princess is actually very well-thought out and sensible (I smell Artemis’s hand behind it), and even once the Princess’s true identity is revealed, note that it’s Venus who gets to be King Arthur and pull the huge sword out of the stone. (This does lead to the one ‘Mina-chan’ moment of the manga, where she drops the sword in the middle of Ami’s swank apartment complex lobby.) Unfortunately, this is a plot rather than character based manga series at this point, so Ami, Rei and Makoto get far less to do this time around except exposit. Though Makoto does manage to get briefly controlled by the enemy – it’s far more realistically done than Mamoru, and thus more disturbing.
There’s also a lot of destiny in this volume, most of it involving Usagi. A lot of this volume and the next is concerned with the past repeating itself – both the Senshi and the villains are worried about that, for different reasons – and how much fate controls our lives. There’s definitely a Romeo and Juliet vibe to the past life of Serenity and Endymion, though it’s unclear why their love is forbidden except that they come from different worlds. (Also, note Endymion being the leader of Earth – which helps explain why there is no Sailor Earth in this series, only in 70,000 fanfics on the Internet.) Seeing Endymion killed by the forces of evil is not particularly surprising, but seeing Princess Serenity stab herself with a giant broadsword IS. Takeuchi has never been shy about showing us blood and horror (witness Usagi’s dream of Mamoru’s melting skull, and Luna later on getting thrown so hard against a wall she almost bleeds to death). You can see why folks would like to fight Destiny repeating itself.
There’s also a lot here about the corrupting power of evil, something we’ll see time and time again in this series. Metallia is shown as a gray amorphous blob of pure nasty, and almost all the villains taking human form are shown to be possessed or controlled in some way, be it Beryl (who went on an archaeological search for Metallia’s seal, so was admittedly asking for it) to the four male Generals (who, like our heroes, appeared to have been reborn on Earth, but sadly were abducted and turned before they really knew what was going on.) Kunzite almost manages to throw off the spell for a bit – it’s clear that he’s dedicated to Mamoru over Beryl, at least till she pours the evil back into him – but for the most part it’s meant as tragedy, showing us the power and ambition that evil can command. (Note Beryl’s desire to take power for herself – and overthrow Metallia. Villains who turn against their masters is another thing you’ll see a lot of in this series, even if it doesn’t amount to much here.)
Kodansha’s presentation is pretty good. I noticed a typo or two, but for the most part the translation is very smooth. It’s not adapted as much as Tokyopop’s was, which works in some ways and not in others, but that is the nature of such things. Usako and Mamo-chan are both used here, with an endnote showing how they derived from the original names. This translation also keeps Takeuchi’s habit of having Usagi’s name represented by a bunny drawing – which can take some getting used to, I will admit. I wish the extras in the back had been translated – yes, they’re in teeny weeny script, and translating writer scrawl is always hard, but still. I also heard there are 4 ‘mini-comics’ that were left out of this edition. I checked to see what they were, and they all seem to be variations on Takeuchi saying ‘oh my god my old art is so bad’ and ‘deadlines are HAAAAARD’ and the like. So they would have been nice to see, but are not remotely essential.
Honestly, by the end of this volume I was feeling wrung out. There’s so much drama and emotion going on, in such a small amount of pages – remember, the anime took around 36-37 episodes to get to this point in the manga. Volume 3 will see the wrap-up of the first arc, and it should be a doozy. Let’s hope that destiny can be fought – well, except the destiny of true love conquering all, of course. That can stay.