by Naoko Takeuchi
Remember how excited I was last year when I heard that Sailor Moon was going to be reissued in America?
Well, it's here. Actually, the first volume was released last September so it's been around for a while now. Last time I was at the bookstore, I was reminded that I wanted to talk about the books as they came out. So here I am, getting a late start on it all.
So first, some background: Back in the late 90s/early 00s, Tokyopop began translating Sailor Moon. On the one hand, their “pocket-sized” manga, handily priced at $9.99, ended up revolutionizing how the manga industry published books. (I talked a little bit about Tokyopop's impact on manga a while back, when they announced they'd be closing.) On the other hand, their Sailor Moon manga was a mess. They used funky fonts that were hard to read and the page reproduction quality wasn't always good. Since the characters had been renamed for the American dub of the anime, Tokyopop used the “English” names...which resulted in some weird hybrids. For example, Usagi's name was changed to Serena for the show, but the manga called her Bunny because “usagi” means “rabbit” and Tokyopop wanted to preserve many of the jokes related to her name. All in all, it was a poor translation...a fact made all the more obvious when I read the new book, published by Kodansha.
So what happens? Usagi Tsukino is just an average fourteen year old girl. She's not particularly bright, a bit of a crybaby, rather lazy, and addicted to video games. Usagi's also quite clumsy – in fact, one day as she' rushing to school (late as usual) she literally trips over a cat with a moon-shaped mark on its forehead. Later, it follows Usagi home and announces that its name is Luna, and Usagi is destined to become Sailor Moon, a warrior who fights evil. Usagi's not interested, but gets sucked into her new role when her friend Naru is in danger. Now she must find the other planetary warriors and prevent the Dark Kingdom from taking over the Earth.
It's amazing the difference a good translation can make. Even though I'm reading the same panels and conversations as before, this story feels far less childish than the Tokyopop translation. The language used by the characters is more mature – there's no fake “teen speak” found here - and the translation more literal, which makes the story much clearer and entertaining. So even if you've read the old version, it's well worth your time to go out and read the new edition.
But I think that even a new reader, one who isn't already predisposed to love this based on fondness for the anime or old series, will like Sailor Moon. Usagi may be immature and flighty in the first few chapters, but even in this first volume she shows quite a bit of personal growth. For the first time in her life, she's being trusted to lead and take on responsibility...and while she may not be the best superhero to defend Japan she's not doing too badly, either. Sailors Mercury, Mars and Jupiter all bring something new to the growing cast as they appear, promising good stories in the future.
Takeuchi's art style is very distinctive. Her figures tend to look more like fashion mannequins than superheroes. The girls all have the same body shape, slim with extremely long legs – even when the character is supposedly under five feet tall. Near as I can tell, though, Takeuchi never mastered the art of drawing hands, so Sailor Moon and her friends occasionally sprout bizarre, claw-like digits. There's inconsistencies in costume, too - accessories like glasses, belts and jewelry tend to disappear and reappear at will. But for all that, I love how she draws. The drapery of fabric always looks flawlessly luxurious, as does the flowing hair of Moon and Mars. Most importantly, the characters' faces are extremely expressive. You always know exactly how Usagi feels – happy, sad, hungry, lovelorn, pensive – because it's there in plain sight.
It may just be the nostalgia speaking, but I loved reading this new Sailor Moon. It's a fun story full of adventure and romance, with lovely art and unforgettable characters.
5 out of 5 stars
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