~by Naoko Takeuchi
1993 Kodansha Manga Award
In 1997, Naoko Takeuchi's manga series Sailor Moon was one of the very first titles published by Tokyopop. It, along with the anime series, became somewhat of a phenomenon in the United States. But, Tokyopop's license ended and Sailor Moon has been out of print for years despite its popularity. Then, in 2011, Kodansha brought the manga back in a completely new edition under the title Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon. Kodansha's version is based on the 2003 revision of the original series, which was first published in Japan between 1991 and 1997. I'll admit, I mostly missed out on Sailor Moon the first time around except for a single day that I was sick in bed and there happened to be a marathon of the Sailor Moon anime on television. I don't really remember much of it though, and the whole incident may very well have been a fever dream, but I'm pretty sure it actually happened. Still, I was very glad that Sailor Moon was selected for the December 2011 Manga Moveable Feast so that I could be properly introduced to the series.
Usagi Tsukino is an average fourteen-year-old middle school student at Minato Ward Juban Public. She enjoys eating, sleeping, and having fun. Her grades could stand to be better, but she would rather visit the local game center than study. On her way to school one morning, late and in a rush as usual, Usagi comes across a strange cat. After helping it--she was the one who stepped on the poor thing after all--the cat begins appearing wherever she goes. That night the cat, Luna, reveals its ability to talk and declares Usagi to be a guardian, destined to find her allies, defeat her enemies, and protect the princess and the legendary silver crystal. Usagi's not really sure what Luna is talking about or even that she wants anything to do with it. But given the ability to transform into Sailor Moon and the powers needed to save her friends from harm, Usagi suddenly discovers she's not just a normal teenager after all.
For a cat that appears to know just about everything about what is going on, at the same time Luna doesn't seem actually to know anything. Although I'm sure that Takeuchi has some basic idea of where she is taking the story, in this first volume of Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon I really feel like she's making up most of it as she goes. Things just kind of happen and the readers and characters are simply there for the ride. The guardians themselves seem oddly accepting of everything that is occurring around them and of the revelations of their true natures--they just seem to go along with it. I actually found the resulting narrative chaos to be rather delightful at first, but I do hope that the story finds a bit more direction and focus in subsequent volumes.
Probably the thing I like best about Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon so far is the cast. While the villains come across as a bit one note, Luna and the guardians and Tuxedo Mask are all very likable. I particularly appreciate the range of their personalities. I was actually a little surprised by how much I ended up liking Usagi. She's a bit of an airhead and an admitted crybaby, characteristics that tend to annoy me. But those aren't her only defining qualities. When her friends are in trouble she will do anything she can to help them and will give it her best. Usagi's an unlikely leader, but her confidence is growing and the others trust her. I think that Takeuchi's artwork has held up pretty well over time. Granted, I do read a lot of older manga, so maybe it just doesn't bother my stylistically. However, the more action oriented sequences and fights can be difficult to follow. I wasn't astounded by the first volume of Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, but I did enjoy its charming silliness enough to want to read more.