Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Short Stories, Vol. 2

By Naoko Takeuchi. Released in Japan as “Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon” by Kodansha, serialized from various sources. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

And so we come to the final final volume of the Sailor Moon manga. Kodansha has indicated there’s an artbook coming along, but for the moment, this is it. And I really wish that it ended better. I’ve been a huge supporter and preacher for this entire series, pointing out how awesome it is, and thus it saddens me that this collection of three short stories has only one that really measures up to the standards set by the series in the past. And no, that’s not the one the anime chose to adopt into a movie. (I do give big props for that cover, though, which has a post-coital Usagi and Mamoru in bed, with Usagi winking at the viewer. Fourth-wall breaking has always been in the Sailor Moon manga to a degree, but this really takes it in new directions of cute.)

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Let’s start with the story that takes up over half this volume, Princess Kaguya’s Lover. This was adapted into the 2nd of the 3 Sailor Moon movies, Sailor Moon S. And indeed that’s quite deliberate: Takeuchi wrote it with a movie in mind. I don’t think it ran in a magazine, but instead appeared straight in the original tankobon. It also stars Luna. Luna, Artemis, and Diana have gotten dramatically less focus in the manga than they did in the anime, which ironically helps the story a bit here. We’ve never seen Artemis pining over Luna quite as much as we do in animated form, so there’s less bafflement at Luna’s treatment of him. And the invasion of yet another female villain poised to destroy the world is handled with the usual Sailor Moon aplomb. At heart, though, this is a love story about a cat and a human, and that’s just sort of uncomfortable, even if Sailor Moon does transform Luna into a human so she can say goodbye to her (already in love with his childhood friend) crush. (Also, Venus and Jupiter have birthdays 6 weeks apart! Throw them separate parties, sheesh.)

Casablanca Memory is the reason to pick up this volume, as it’s excellent. Given Rei had to share a short story with Minako last time (and that really was Minako’s more than Rei’s), it’s fitting she gets one of her own. This takes place early on in the Senshi’s lives, around the time they first met Jupiter. Rei’s background has been quietly mentioned before, but this story is all about it: her father is a prominent politician with no time for family, and has assistants to remember things like “when is Rei’s birthday” and “get her something nice.” Her mother was a quiet supporter of her father, but fell ill and died, which Rei has never forgiven him for. Then there’s Kaido, the assistant of Rei’s father, who’s like an older brother to her… or maybe something more. The story isn’t perfect – it’s never clear if Kaido is possessed or was posing as a Dark General all this time, and his death is also very ambiguous. But it really gives you a good sense of Rei, and is at least very much in character.

And so we come to Parallel Sailor Moon, the final story in the manga, and the nadir of the series. This was written a couple of years after the series ended for an artbook, and the author noted it was in an alternate universe AND THANK GOD, because everyone in this is shallow and awful. Takeuchi has, throughout the manga, had a bad habit of making her characters shallow and annoying for the sake of humor. Since this story is all humor, that’s all we get. The premise has our heroines all grown up and married, with kids of their own, and apparently not senshi as they all live in modern-day Tokyo. They’re all noted to be daughters of prominent families who had arranged marriages, and the kids are “wise above their years” cynics who would not be out of place on an 80s ABC sitcom. Usagi has had a 2nd child, Ko. Ko is hyper-annoying and loves to eat, and everyone hates her. There’s not even the “we love Usagi for all her faults” here, except for one panel where they realize she’s in trouble. It’s just “Ugh, her.” I just… I identify with the characters more than anything, so seeing them portrayed like this hurts my soul. I laughed once the entire story, when Hotaru remarked about how they were going to take over the world as civil servants. That was it.

There are a few extras here, with a timeline for the series (real-life timeline, i.e. publishing dates) and Takeuchi’s description of visiting Cape Kennedy to see space shuttle launches. But overall, despite Rei being cool and beautiful, this book is for those who want t have the complete collection, and I suspect that of all the re-releases it will be the one I dip into least. Still love Sailor Moon, though.

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Short Stories, Vol. 1

By Naoko Takeuchi. Released in Japan as “Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon” by Kodansha, serialized in the magazine Run Run. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

There’s an important thing to keep in mind when reading this first of two collections of short stories that were interspersed throughout the series’ run: they didn’t run in Nakayoshi. They ran in a sister magazine, run Run, which was also home to Sailor V. Run Run no longer exists today, but I seem to recall when it was around that its core audience was girls about 2-3 years younger than the usual Nakayoshi audience. And that’s not even getting into the fact that these are quick side-stories Naoko dashed off in between chapters, so are naturally going to be a bit more comedic and fluffy than the core plotline.

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If all of this sounds a bit defensive, well, let’s just say that ‘light and frothy’ doesn’t begin to describe this volume of Sailor Moon extras, most of which are very silly and not exactly lending themselves to deeper analysis. Four of the stories star Chibi-Usa and her friends (with occasional rescues from Sailors Moon and V), while three others detail the struggles of the Inners to pass high school exams. The first one is around the R continuity (Chibi-Usa has just arrived, and is meeting her very busty friend Momo… Ranma fans will immediately be reminded of Shampoo), but most of the stories take place around the SuperS continuity – indeed, a few of them were adapted into the SuperS anime – with the final one seeming to be around Stars, given it has Hotaru.

This is not to say I did not 100% enjoy these stories, as I did. I like Naoko’s style of blatant humor, and she has a knack for amusing caricature faces. The Chibi-Usa stories at the beginning are pure fun for kids, with the kids getting into danger and having to transform to get themselves out of it. The story at the end is slightly longer and attempts to have more depth, but there’s only so far you can go when you find out that Naru’s sister is not only a kogal but is also named Naruru. It’s good to know that Japan has horrible naming sense as well. (Also, kudos to Mari Morimoto for the translation of this chapter, which was filled with topical Japanese slang that Chibi-Usa and Hotaru pointed out and lampshaded throughout, thus making it virtually unadaptable. A very nice job.)

My favorite part of the book, I will admit, are the three stories focusing on the Inners. Makoto’s is probably the weakest, but we do get some amusing scenes of her procrastination through cooking and housework, and also hear about her late parents for what may be the only time in the manga OR anime canon. (They’re killed in a plane crash when Makoto was a little girl, which is used here as both an amusing gag and to have Mako gain sympathy points from her friends.) Ami’s First Love is probably the best written of the three, and it’s no surprise that the anime adapted this into a short film for theaters. Ami can be very tightly wound, so seeing her coming unglued at finding a student who’s just as perfect in studying as she is is hilarious, particularly when she gets so upset by this she seems to make herself ill.

And then there’s Rei and Minako. I’ve discussed how much I love this chapter before, silly as it is, and that hasn’t changed. The manga version of Rei – cool, collection, a bit ‘ice queen’ – is in such contrast to Minako’s extrovert that it makes sense that she’d want to see what Rei’s life at school is like – and yes, she’d want to ask if Rei farted. I think that Minako regards Rei as a bit too perfect, and this is just her own tactless way of trying to reassure herself that Rei is human after all. Of course, all that her visit to Rei’s perfect Catholic school ends up doing is tweaking Minako’s own insecurities – and that leads to Rei seeming genuinely upset at Minako getting angry, showing she *isn’t* the perfect ice princess. Rei is likely very lonely at that school where she only has admirers, and just can’t express her friendships in the way that Minako wants her to. Still, they manage to bond by… well, Rei being possessed and trying to kiss Minako. And afterwards being crankier than ever. But Minako’s feeling good again, and that’s what’s important. Bless these children.

So if the Sailor Moon series was a full-course meal, then this is dessert. Don’t go into it expecting anything more than delicious sweets that are easy on the eyes but not all that good for you, and you should be fine. Also, Rei has never farted. She is better than all of us.

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, Vol. 12

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.

And so at last we come to the climax of Sailor Moon’s story. We’ve seen her start off as a whining crybaby of a superhero, and advance to the point where the obvious solution is “kill the entire population and then let Sailor Moon resurrect everyone”. She’s gained friends, a lover, and a future child. Her life has, despite the ongoing war against various miasmic shrouds of darkness, been pretty damn awesome. So what happens when you take all of that from her? Worse, when her enemies are alien versions of her – Sailor senshi from other planets who were the Sailor Moons of their worlds, now fighting with Galaxia in an effort to gain some form of happiness and peace? Why is Usagi Tsukino the special one, why is she the hero, why (if we get right down to it) is she the messiah? This is heavy stuff for a manga that runs in a magazine for 7-9 year old girls.

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Of course, Usagi’s never truly alone in this volume, if only as we need people to stare at the enemy and scream her name. The Starlights, Princess Kakyuu (who decides it’s time to man up and become a senshi at EXACTLY the worst time, I feel I should note), and of course the mysterious Chibi-Chibi. Best of all, when things are at their worst, and she’s being attacked by evil forms of all her friends (which is incredibly creepy and wrong – they’re not only using “Galaxia” versions of their attacks, but the expressions of cruel glee on “Venus” and “Saturn’s” faces as they try to kill Sailor Moon just screams out WRONG), back from the future comes Chibi-Usa and her own senshi, the Asteroids, to protect their own slowly dissolving future. I’ve given Chibi-Usa a bad rap over the years, but in the manga, where there’s no filler or drawn-out irritation to deal with, she’s become a really great character. Even if there’s not much she can do here.

Despite all this, in the end it’s down to Usagi herself to save the day, as you would expect. In this she’s helped by Chibi-Chibi, whose real identity is finally revealed (and is quite different from the anime, I note). Well, sort of revealed. Takeuchi has always had pacing problems, and the ending of the series can be quite rushed in places. Sailor Cosmos would seem to be a future Sailor Moon who was unable to take the pressure and ran away, but it’s unclear if she’s meant to be our Sailor Moon or one of the many, many senshi we see scattered throughout this arc (my personal favorite being ‘Soul Hunter Sailor Heavy Metal Papillon’, who cries out for an origin story, one that I hope involves Jem and the Holograms in some way).

The decision Usagi has to make, though, is laid out very well. Chaos is the origin of conflict in this universe, and Usagi can destroy it, leading to eternal peace (but her friends will all be gone), or bring back her friends and doom the world to an ongoing battle with darkness. This is laid out in such a way that it sounds like Usagi makes a horribly selfish decision, but that’s not what’s happening here at all. Life *is* conflict. Life is struggle. Choosing eternal peace is merely choosing death. And if you can’t reach out to save your friends and try to create a future that will last as long as it possibly can, then what’s the point of fighting in the first place? Usagi makes the right decision here, noting offhandedly that she’s never fought for peace or justice, but just for the sake of her friends and loved ones.

Who return at the end, because this is not a sad manga. (On a side note, I’d also like to address something that is really upsetting to me, as seen on the TVTropes page for Sailor Moon. The page states that since we don’t see the cats resurrected at the end along with everyone else, that we can assume they were genuinely killed off. No. That is 100% incorrect. I am sick of you fandom psychos going around to every happy, heartwarming, uplifting series we have and trying to inject your own DC Comics angst and murder into everything. Sailor Moon is a story about a messiah who resurrects the world MULTIPLE TIMES, for Christ’s sake. We didn’t see the cats as Naoko didn’t have room to fit them in in the rushed final chapter. They’re not dead just so that you can say that there’s always tragedy somewhere. This reminds me of all the readers who followed series like Negima or Bleach, and got very upset when their perfect unhappy endings were ruined by the day being saved. What the hell are you reading manga for? Go away. I hate you. The cats live.) And we have a wedding, where Usagi notes she can tell she’s already pregnant with Chibi-Usa. The final page may feel a little self-congratulatory towards Sailor Moon, but really, she’s been through a lot here. Cut her some slack. (Also, Minako’s top hat in that cover page is awesome.)

And so the main series of Sailor Moon concludes, though there are two volumes of short stories still to come. And in the end, after re-reading the series, I find that if anything I love it even more. A classic magical girl tale, not afraid to have kickass women defending love and justice, or whiny crybabies who save the universe. The stories could get a little similar at times (this arc even lampshades that, with the cloud of darkness noting all the other clouds of darkness Sailor Moon fought earlier were its siblings), and yes, 60 chapters of manga will never have the same time to develop character that 200 episodes of anime do as well. But you can have both in your heart, and cherish them equally. I am so pleased that this series is back in print. Everyone should read it.