Welcome back to the Summer Comics Binge of Naoko Takeuchi’s “Sailor Moon,” today we’re looking at the first half of the prequel “Codename: Sailor V,” which we feel comfortable calling a prequel even though it debuted before its sister title on August 3, 1991, since it was released quarterly alongside it, and concluded afterwards on July 3, 1997. So, just what exactly is Sailor Venus/Minako Aino’s solo title like?
Created by Naoko Takeuchi
Translated by Alethea Nibley & Athena Nibley
Lettered by Lys Blakeslee
A year before meeting Sailor Moon — and her destiny as a member of the Sailor Guardians — Minako was the first hero to find her calling. At age 13, all this teen can talk about is finding a boyfriend, but her dreams change when a talking cat with a crescent moon on his forehead reveals her true identity as the Soldier of Justice, Sailor V! Magic has returned to modern Tokyo, and she must use her powers to stop the Dark Agency, which is trying to manipulate Japan’s entertainment industry and enslave the population.
Simply put, it is (or at least these eight issues are) an extremely lighthearted comedy, The Hobbit to “Sailor Moon’s” Lord of the Rings. The protagonist’s ability to create disguises for herself, which largely fell away after the early issues of Usagi’s series, is used regularly, and Minako’s origin plays like a goofy first draft of Ms. Tsukino’s debut: to wit, when Artemis introduces himself to Mina at her home, our terrified heroine, who was getting ready for a shower, throws him out for being a peeping tom. (Or peeping tomcat: get it?)
Characters being thrown out on their knees is repeated in virtually every issue, and why not? It’s a pretty great running gag once you get in touch with your inner child. Likewise, Minako getting sexually harassed and giving the perpetrator their comeuppance is another often repeated gag. As a westerner, I’m not surprised by this kind of humor in a Japanese kid’s comic (see Master Roshi in “Dragon Ball”), and while I’m not comfortable with the notion of subjecting the protagonist to that, it’s good readers would get a kick out of seeing Mina deliver her entirely appropriate responses to this kind of vile behavior.
The series on the whole has a much more heightened, cartoonish atmosphere: Artemis and Mina bicker relentlessly, and are generally terrible at hiding their identities (Artemis just does not get, no matter how many times he’s reminded, that talking cats aren’t a thing on Earth.) The situations they get into are generally far more outlandish than the darker, more epic storylines of “Sailor Moon,” such as an installment where she gets sucked into a video game, or inadvertently ruins a man’s life again and again until he becomes a villainous Tuxedo Mask analogue. Even Natsuna Sakurada, the police superintendent who ostensibly opposes Sailor V, is secretly a fan who fawns over a poster hidden in her office. (Altogether now: “notice me senpai!“)
Mina’s early adventures are also refreshingly small scale to read after “Sailor Moon”: it’s nice to see a Sailor Guardian intervene against petty crime and human bullies, and in one story, she doesn’t even battle any supernatural enemies, just a bunch of misogynistic jackasses in an arcade, who think Mina is a crossdresser because girls can’t be better than them at video games. (How surprisingly — and depressingly — topical.) The ambitions of her foes in the series, the Dark Agency, also feel small and silly, even though they are a branch of the Dark Kingdom, who employ similarly underhanded tactics to enslave people, because of how they target the frivolous world of showbusiness: the stakes feel lower when they’re just turning TV addicts into zombies.
There’s a good dramatic moment when Mina blows up at Artemis over how vague he is with explaining their goals, and a sentimental moment in part eight when she realizes the boy she’s into has feelings for an older woman, but overall the comic is a manic romp. Other than its fun tone, the best thing about “Sailor V” is how much it gives us a grasp of Minako’s character, which was always difficult to discern thanks to her nature as Usagi 2.0, and her relatively late arrival in the “Sailor Moon” manga and anime: what I realized reading it is how, although Minako and Usagi share a lot of characteristics (immaturity, tardiness, and gluttony), Mina is a much more aggressive and physically adept girl, taking to fighting crime far more naturally than her future queen.Continued below
Despite her long blonde hair, Mina is essentially a tomboy, who’s unafraid of physically smacking around boys who accuse her of being unladylike: she’s Takeuchi’s take on Eliza Doolittle, the titular uncouth flower seller-turned-lady of My Fair Lady (and the George Bernard Shaw play it was based on, Pygmalion), with Artemis as her Henry Higgins, the professor constantly hectoring her to be a proper (super)woman. She has a passion that genuinely reflects her Roman namesake, that makes you realize how complementary she is to Mars, and what a contrast she is to Usagi, Mercury and Jupiter.
Speaking of the other Guardians, a couple of them do cameo here a few times, and that’s not all: Queen Beryl’s top general, Kunzite, is namedropped as the one the Agency answers to, and Venus’s castle of Magellan is established well before the ‘Dream’ arc of “Sailor Moon.” The standalone context of Mina’s story means it gets to explore or clarify aspects of the series we take for granted, such as the way Sailor Guardians melt their foes, which is played for laughs about the smell it creates, or the very uniform they wear, which Mina soon learns is great for movement when she dons a suit of armor to look imposing instead.
I thoroughly enjoyed my first time reading “Codename: Sailor V,” and can’t believe how much I’ve missed out by not prioritizing it until now: tonally, it feels as much of a predecessor to the Sailor Moon anime as its own manga. Will it get darker in its second half? Let’s find out next week.