Finishing the Sailor Moon Manga

sailormercury-coverSailor Moon was one of the seminal shows of my anime fandom. I recall the joy of waking up every weekday morning to see what would happen next just as much as the embarrassment of being a Sailor Moon fan (I was a dumb kid for sure). However, as formative as that series was in certain respects, one thing I had only heard about but never directly experienced was the Sailor Moon manga. Now, 20 years later, thanks to Kodansha Comics’ re-translation of not only Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon but also its predecessor Codename Sailor V, all of that’s changed.

I don’t think Sailor Moon needs much of an introduction at this point, but just to cover my bases: A young girl named Tsukino Usagi discovers that she has magic powers that lets her transform into a costumed fighter named Sailor Moon. Along with her allies whom she gathers over time, the Sailor Guardians, she fights against numerous forces threatening the Earth. What makes Sailor Moon so memorable is its ever-continuing story of twists and turns, the powerful image of strong female characters fighting without needing to be rescued by a man (though occasionally a man will show up to give some moral support), and just the way it sparks imagination in audiences young and old.

The manga is no exception, though if there’s anything that stands out immediately about the Sailor Moon manga, it’s the relatively brevity compared to its animated counterpart. Instead of a 200-episode TV series, we have instead a 12-volume manga (15 if you count Sailor V and some additional side stories). While this typically implies a great deal of filler or extra stories to pad out entire seasons, and this is indeed true of Sailor Moon, it’s rarely to the degree seen here. Kenshiro in Fist of the North Star takes 26 episodes to reach his first major adversary, Shin, but only one volume of manga to do the same. The Sailor Guardians fight Jadeite in the anime for 13 episodes; he lasts only 3 chapters in the manga. Sailor Moon cuts through villains and entire story lines like a hot knife through butter, and covers most of the major arcs that the anime does in a fraction of the time.

This is a significant change of pace compared to the anime, which is based around a kind of episodic peek into the world of Sailor Moon. Each week, there would be a monster to fight and a problem to solve, and while the overall story would gradually move along, it’s sort of like visiting some friends. The feel of the show is slower, and I don’t mean that necessarily in a bad way. With the manga, however, everything moves forward at such a fast clip that I feel as if the dynamism of the characters themselves, as heroic figures, as beings with style and physicality, progress the narrative through their bodies and the actions they take with them. There’s a kind of connectivity from panel to panel that’s achieved through the statuesque shoujo designs of the characters and their fights that can’t be found to quite such a degree in the anime, even when taking into account the elaborate transformation sequences.

By the time Sailor Moon finishes, I get the sense that Usagi herself has changed tremendously. However, I’m not entirely sure if her maturation is entirely convincing. There are moments when Sailor Moon seems to have learned important lessons about doing what’s right/right for her, and then there are others where the manga tells you that she’s grown, or she suddenly shows a greater sense of compassion and responsibility, but it seems to have come from out of nowhere. In a way, having the story move as quickly as the manga does can make some events feel a little too rushed, and Usagi’s character development might just be one of those aspects. On the other hand, some of the weirder aspects of Sailor Moon (Chibi-Usa’s entire story) come and go just as quickly.

As a final note, I’d like to just give an aside about my favorite character, Sailor Mercury. It’s funny to think about what drew me (and a lot of other boys growing up on Sailor Moon) to the character. To put it simply, I was a nerd, and she was a nerd too, one who prized knowledge and study and interest in books and science. These days, that’s the norm for a lot of characters, and specific attention is being given to encouraging more girls to get into math, science, and the highest of higher education. Nerd girls are so expected of the world that they’ve entered the realm of stereotype. That’s how much things have changed since I first saw Sailor Moon, but the admirable qualities of its characters, whether in manga or anime, are what help make it timeless.

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