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Roundtable: Sailors Moon & V, first volumes

MELINDA: Back in March, the Manga Bookshelf Battle Robot got together to share some squee about Kodansha Comics’ announcement regarding their upcoming re-release of Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon. nine months later, this re-release is well underway. The debut volumes of of both Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon and its predecessor, Codename Sailor V dominated Matt Blind’s Manga Bestseller charts for months, with preorders of later volumes hitting the top charts well before they’ve been released.

As a newcomer to the series, I’ve been anxious to reconvene the Battle Robot’s original discussion now that I’ve had some real exposure to the series, so I’m quite pleased to say that Michelle, David, and Sean (a newcomer to the Bookshelf since our first go-around!) have agreed to join me once more!

I’ll talk about my impressions of the series in a moment, but first, I’d like to ask the rest of you–all fans of the series previously to one extent or another–how well the series has held up for you since your first experiences with it. Has this re-read stood up to your expectations?

SEAN: Oh, definitely. I’ve always liked the manga better than the anime, even though I’ve enjoyed both immensely. And since I’ve been involved in the fandom since 1996 or so, I did not have any issues with Usagi’s characterization the way that some people have. Honestly, the re-read of Vol. 1 of both Moon and V just made me realize how much I wanted to read the rest.

MICHELLE: I actually liked it *more* than I thought I would, because I was unprepared for what a difference actually reading it in English would make. There’s an immediacy to having understandable words on the page that you just don’t get when looking back and forth between a physical book in Japanese and a translation on a screen. Like Sean, I have loved Sailor Moon for a long time, so Usagi was exactly what I expected her to be at this early stage. It must help having advanced knowledge of her more competent moments!

DAVID: This is actually my first time around with the manga. I’ve seen a lot of the anime, though. This is really rare for me, but I actually like the anime more, and I think it’s because of what Michelle just said about Usagi’s competence. I’m reading a lot of titles right now that feature spunky, can-do heroines, and this early evolution of Usagi strikes me as a huge, can’t-do whiner. Is that blasphemy? I love the other sailors, though.

SEAN: This is an issue that I’ve thought about for some time. I discussed it a bit in my reviews of Teru Teru x Shonen as well. When you have a story where your goal is to take a very flawed heroine and gradually make her grow up and improve, how annoying can you make her at the start without losing your audience? I know with both Sailor Moon and TTxS, I had people tell me, “I don’t care if she gets better, I found her so aggravating I don’t want to read how it happens.” As David noted, the process might be helped here by the addition of the other senshi, who the reader can identify with as well. (Ami was the most popular senshi in many polls in both Japan and North America, for reasons that should be obvious.) It also might not be helped by seeing the Sailor V manga as well, as Minako is flawed in different ways, and I think Western fans approve of ‘shallow ditz’ more than ‘whining crybaby’ by default.

I also read the Super S manga first, so had exposure to Usagi’s epicness before I went back to read the early stuff.

DAVID: I think the comparison with Sailor V definitely doesn’t help, because her reaction to the circumstances feels more natural. She’s excited that she can become glamorous and powerful and, to a lesser extent, help people. If Usagi had something compelling going on in her life, the added responsibilities might actually seem like a burden, but she seems put out because it’s cutting into her nap time. It reminds me of how right Joss Whedon got this dynamic so right with Buffy, whose destiny was really gruesome and dangerous, and Cordelia, who went from being very shallow to really enjoying making a difference. Usagi is a very “Math is hard!” type. I’m looking forward when manga Usagi catches up with anime Usagi, who was a lot more likable and credible.

MELINDA: This might sound crazy, but I was actually really surprised after I read volume one and then saw everyone describing Usagi as annoying. I get that she’s slow to embrace her destiny and complains about it a lot, but it didn’t affect me the same way. I guess maybe I’m used to working with teens who complain that you’re ruining their lives if you ask them to practice between lessons or enunciate when they sing. By comparison, Usagi’s whining seem pretty reasonable. She doesn’t strike me as overly immature for her age, and I thought her little mental freak-out near the end of the volume over the fact that she’s supposed to be the leader of this group of girls, each to whom she feels stunningly inferior, read as very natural and relatable. I actually kind of…. like Usagi. I wonder what that says about me! Heh.

SEAN: I’m trying to think of comparable heroines… Miaka from Fushigi Yuugi, if I recall, had a similar issue with fans calling her a ‘whiner’. It seems to be far more of an issue here than in Japan… impulsiveness is not as much of a sin as reluctance or running away.

MICHELLE: Oh, maybe consuming the story out of order has a hand in my feelings, too, since my exposure to Sailor Moon was the third season of the anime. I guess all we can really do is assure people that Usagi does mature while still essentially remaining herself.

SEAN: Actually, while we’re discussing the anime, and how some of us saw that first, I wanted to mention the only character who is noticeably different between her anime and manga incarnations: Rei Hino. Rei in the manga tends towards the cool and collected, and might occasionally be grumpy or irritated with people, but for the most part is meant to show ‘aloof’ more than anything else. Rei in the anime, is, well, a hothead, who is contrasted with Usagi – and also compared, as the fights the two of them get into (and the arguments over Mamoru) make us realize their similarities. At least in this first volume, Usagi does not really have this – the other three senshi we meet are all more together or have better attitudes. I do wonder if the manga might be better presented in five huge volumes, one for each arc – I think Usagi grows a LOT in future volumes, and seeing this is easier once you get Vol. 2 and 3 down as well. And as I said earlier, I wonder why Rei was the only one gives major changes for the anime. (You can argue Minako was made flakier, and to an extent that’s true, but Rei’s seems DIFFERENT in a way that Minako does not.)

MELINDA: I’ve never seen the anime, outside of maybe one episode, so I came to the first volume of the series (and Sailor V too, of course) without really knowing what to expect. Even though Sailor Moon is iconic, I never had a clear sense of why people really loved it, even when friends would try to tell me. So I feel like I came to it with no expectations at all.

Honestly, I was charmed from the very first pages. It helps of course that I adore older shoujo art styles, but it wasn’t just that. There is a sense of, oh… girlish joy woven into the fabric of these books that I haven’t experienced to this extent since my pre-teen years when I was consuming things like Maida’s Little Shop and the Betsy-Tacy books as rapidly as I could acquire them. Of course Maida Westabrook and Betsy Ray weren’t fighting evil, but theirs were the kind of books that, even in their dated settings, seemed to take for granted that girls were brilliant, capable people with nothing to be ashamed of. They could run their own businesses or become famous writers, but they could also angst over friendships and romantic prospects, make mistakes, hate cooking, and leave their family’s religion, without tarnishing their awesomeness as girls in the slightest.

Sailor Moon and Codename: Sailor V are the same kind of books for me. The short skirts and concern over prettiness that I worried might be a problem for me, ultimately are exactly the opposite. These girls are allowed to care about feeling pretty and other typical teen things, but there’s never the sense that they need to care about these things in order to please boys, or for any reason other than because they enjoy it. In a way, this may even be related to why I like Usagi. She doesn’t feel terribly ashamed for wanting to nap instead of being ordered around by a cat with big claims on her destiny, and on some level I’m with her on that.

MICHELLE: Melinda, I’m so glad that you love these books. I remember in our first roundtable attempting to reassure you that the girls calling themselves pretty really makes all the difference in the world; it’s like an empowerment thing. As I read your comment, I wondered whether people who approach this manga will fall into two camps: those who love it while spewing copious hearts and those who wonder what all the fuss is about. Is there a middle ground of people who simply kind of like it? I’m not sure.

Sean’s point illustrates why I’d recommend reading the manga and watching the anime. Personally, I like the manga version of Rei a lot more, and her squabbles with Usagi in the anime are kind of irritating. But there’s more humor in the anime, more fleshing out of character relationships (or at least more flirting when Haruka and Michiru come along), and more time for the villains. Several of Queen Beryl’s henchmen are dispatched in the first volume of the manga but stick around for dozens of anime episodes. Some of the villains are fun characters so it’s nice to have the opportunity to spend a little more time with them.

DAVID: I definitely feel like I fall into the middle ground that you theorized about, Michelle. I like a lot of these girls, and I like the fact that they still get to be teen-aged girls with specific lives and interests outside of their shared destiny. I tend to be of the belief that a little vanity and a little glamor should be a universal quality in super-hero fiction, which Sailor Moon certainly is. There should always be moments when the protagonists kind of step back and realize that their lives are pretty fabulously cool in a lot of ways, and I definitely get that vibe here.

I also really like the fact that none of the Sailors, even Usagi, are shrinking violets when the time for battle comes. They might not know exactly what they’re doing yet, but they know it has to be done, and they don’t tremble. After some awkward moments in the first volume of the generally wonderful Princess Knight where Osamu Tezuka seemed to be suggesting that a girl can’t be feminine and tough at the same time, Sailor Moon is definitely a tonic in that regard.

MICHELLE: Your first paragraph reminds me of a great exchange between Buffy and Faith (and for once I am not the first person to inject Buffy into a conversation!) in season seven where they’re commiserating about their dangerous destiny and Faith says, “Thank God we’re hot chicks with super powers.” “Takes the edge off,” Buffy agrees.

That sentiment definitely manifests in Sailor Moon, as I can think of several painful or pivotal moments for Usagi during which she has transformed into a serene and lovely version of herself.

SEAN: That’s a key thing about the series: Mamoru may give encouragement, or tell her not to doubt herself, He never saves her. She’s always the soldier, even when she’s the princess. In fact, that’s the unique thing about this incarnation as opposed to past lives: she *is* a soldier, as well as the princess to be protected. And this is one of the main reasons why they don’t die again (well, OK, they do, but they get better.) Mamoru may be a dashing prince and boyfriend, but he loves her strength. (Also, note how the series shows that a) you don’t need a boyfriend to validate yourself, but also b) if you get one, that having a handsome and understanding boyfriend IS great.)

MELINDA: So to switch gears a little, let’s talk about Sailor V. I read this first, and though I liked it quite a lot, I did get pretty weary of its string of similar villains, whose only purpose in villainy seemed to be making people their slaves. After a while, it almost seemed like a running joke. Is it just me?

SEAN: Sailor V is a bit schizophrenic simply due to how it was conceived and played out. The magazine it ran in (Run Run) came out, I think, only 6 times a year. This necessitated every single chapter reintroducing the basic plot for new readers. (You see that a lot in some Hakusensha shoujo, such as Natsume’s Book of Friends or S.A.). Then once she was told to create Sailor Moon, she drew V sporadically for the next 7 years. And by sporadically I mean ‘about 5-6 chapters in the entirety of 7 years’. I think as she did this, she realized she wanted to wrap it up in such a way that it could end with V joining the cast of Sailor Moon (as indeed she does). Thus, Volume 2, which comes out everywhere but comic shops this week, has a much stronger plot and is slightly more serious than Volume 1 is.

As for the one-shot villains being a running joke, Takeuchi doesn’t come close to the creators of the anime. How can one top Doorknobdar, for example? XD Most shoujo magical girl genres feature incredibly silly one-shot minor villains, and stronger major villains who are not as silly. We’ll meet Minako’s main nemesis in Volume 2 as well.

MICHELLE: I had forgotten the doorknob one! I remembered “Hurdler,” who is basically a tennis shoe imbued with demonic power who menaces a bunch of runners. Probably I remember that one because it appears in the episode depicting how Haruka and Michiru met which I *may* have watched about four times as often as the rest of the series.

So yeah, I’m not sure if Takeuchi intended the enslavement plot to be a joke or what, but you’re definitely not the only one to wonder what the point of it all was, Melinda. Not only that, they’re all singing sensations. Was Takeuchi making a dig at the idol biz?

DAVID: I have to admit that I found myself favoring the low-rent cheese of V. it doesn’t speak well of me, and I can see why Takeuchi was asked to do a proper version of the story, but I just… like it.

MELINDA: I think Takeuchi’s “low-rent cheese” is some of the most fun I’ve seen, so I can get on board with that, David.

So, other than Usagi’s character development, what should I be looking forward to in future volumes of Sailor Moon?

DAVID: Well, I’m not sure what’s on the horizon exactly, but I know that it will involve lots more Sailors and sidekicks, and, in my book, the more crowded a super-hero book is, the better.

SEAN: As you’d expect, you’ll see Minako and Artemis join the cast. Get ready for a lot of destiny talk, as well as epic fantasy flashbacks. There will also be some bloodshed – Takeuchi is not afraid of violence when it suits her plot. Vols. 2 and 3 will be less episodic and more serious – though there will still be humor. And a very interesting – and controversial – plot will drop in as the first arc ends. Literally.

MICHELLE: Ha. I’d say *that* particular plot is even more controversial than Usagi herself!

I am tempted to squee about the eventual debut of the Starlights (volume eleven), but they’re around so briefly in the manga that I’m not sure you’ll love them as much as I do after prolonged anime exposure. Actually, they bring around a controversial plot in their own way, or at least something that’s controversial among the fandom…

SEAN: Are there still Seiya/Usagi fans? Sheesh…

MICHELLE: Yep. There was some big brouhaha at Ask a Pretty Soldier just recently having to do with that pairing.

MELINDA: Oh, fandom. I’m not sad to have missed out on all of that.

Thanks to all of you for joining me here. I look forward to reading both series’ second volumes!

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  1. […] Manga | Also of interest to Sailor Moon fans: my Manga Bookshelf colleagues Melinda Beasi, Sean Gaffney, Michelle Smith, and David Welsh hold a roundtable discussion on Sailor Moon and Codename: Sailor V. [Manga Bookshelf] […]

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