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.
Having defeated Death Phantom and the Black Moon Clan, and briefly saying hi to their 20th century selves, Usagi and friends have returned to the present, ready to prepare for their final year of middle school, with all the test-taking that involves for typical Japanese students. But this is Sailor Moon. More importantly, it’s the Sailor Moon manga, where filler is hard to find. There’s barely any time to breathe before a new enemy has made its presence known. But… who *is* the new enemy, anyway?
It has to be said, the senshi are getting better at finding and stopping threats. There is no flailing around the way we sometimes saw in previous volumes. The trouble is that while they can find beings of power, they aren’t quite sure if they’re bad guys or not. Sometimes it gets obvious right away. Possessed schoolgirl has huge lumpy monster leap off her back? That’s a bad guy. (Well, the lump anyway, try not to kill the girl.) But there’s also a couple at the newly formed Private School For The Awesome, Mugen Academy. He’s a cocky smart-aleck who seems taken with Usagi, but also gives off a different kind of aura. She’s a cool and self-possessed gorgeous teen who seems to like Mamoru. And together… well, they have their own agenda.
Of course, I am talking about Haruka and Michiru, who (along with Hotaru) make their debut here. It’s interesting in hindsight to see how much time Takeuchi-san devoted to making the main cast doubt the two new cast members, mostly as, of course, from our perspective, we know they’re good guys, if ones with ambiguous ethics. They’re helped out by a deliberate stylistic art choice. Haruka, when she’s being her normal Academy student self, is not only drawn in the male uniform but is drawn as a male. The judo practice in particular shows this. Whereas when she’s Sailor Uranus, there are far more curves. As I said, though, this is mostly stylistic (Naoko admitted as much in an interview), and Haruka does not appear to be a sex-changer like Ranma or anything. The anime didn’t even bother to deal with this at all, and just made Haruka obviously female for all but her very first episode.
There’s a lot of gender identity stuff here. When Makoto gets hurled to the ground in the judo match, the other senshi yell at Haruka, but she replies that gender shouldn’t matter if you have something you want to protect. Likewise, later on Usagi asks Haruka (who she suspects of being Sailor Uranus) point blank if she’s a woman or a man, and Haruka asks “Does it matter?”. Being a woman and the strength that it provides are a core theme of the series, of course, but Haruka’s dual identity adds a dual thrill to the whole thing. As for the agenda of Sailors Uranus and Neptune, it seems to be partly ‘this is our fight, not yours’ and partly ‘we are better at this and know better’. Though thankfully not quite as obnoxious about it as they would be in the anime.
And there’s also Hotaru, one of my favorite characters, who at this point seems to be shaping up to be a tool of the big bad more than anything else. As opposed to the other senshi (including Uranus and Neptune), Hotaru’s true identity actually *does* remain a surprise in the manga proper, though this is slightly spoiled by the start of the volume having a giant color picture of all ten senshi. Hotaru here mostly gets ill and bonds with Chibi-Usa (who is quite cute here, and also very much like her mother). There is an interesting scene where she is clearly unhappy with Kaolinite, her father’s new assistant, accusing her of breaking up their family. Unfortunately, I think she is going to be disappointed on that front. Despite her initial standoffishness, though (much like the other Outers), there is a core of empathy to Hotaru that makes us sympathize with her.
I do still have a few issues with the manga proper. The anime, particularly this arc, spoiled me for real villains. Yes, the Witches 5 are present and accounted for, but they’re one-offs who do their schtick and get killed off. We don’t even get Eudial driving her car! Likewise, I’m afraid that the main villain behind the scenes, Pharaoh 90, is another nebulous black miasma of evil. Not to be confused with the previous two nebulous black miasmas of evil. (I think Takeuchi eventually realized what she was doing and ‘fixed’ this, if I recall the Stars plotline correctly.)
Still, overall a fantastic volume of Sailor Moon. And hey, who’s that we see at the cliffhanger? Gosh, she looks very familiar…