Welcome back to the Summer Comics Binge of Naoko Takeuchi’s manga “Sailor Moon,” this week we’re continuing to look at the short stories, namely the three-part ‘Entrance Exam Wars.’ These lighthearted stories shine the spotlight on the Inner Guardians, as they prepare for their upper high school entrance tests during the ‘Infinity’ arc.
Before we begin, I should note I described a couple of the antagonists in ‘Chibiusa’s Picture Diary’ last time as guardian spirits, when the term Takeuchi actually uses is genius loci, which is much more appropriate given the Greco-Roman inspiration for the series. I say this because all the villains here are genius loci too!
‘Mako-Chan’s Melancholy:’ Jupiter kicks this series off dreaming about greeting her future husband as he returns from work with a hot meal, a reminder that, despite (or perhaps because of) her brawny exterior, Makoto Kino wants nothing more than to be a domestic goddess. Unfortunately, she struggles with having to study instead, and procrastinates by preparing large (deliciously drawn) meals and tea for her friends before they come over to study, shopping for new furniture, and cleaning.
A genius loci opens a bargain shop, which lures in Mako with its addictive tea and cakes, which she decides she’d rather gorge on than go to upper high school. The other Guardians sense something’s amiss, and come to her rescue: Usagi reminds Mako they need to become “blossoming high school girls” who hang around at and outside of school together, giving her the motivation she needs to snap out of her stupor and vanquish the evil spirit, as well as to make the necessary sacrifice to pass her exams.
Surprisingly, my main takeaway from this wasn’t a particular insight into Mako (although we do learn she’s unsettled by airplane noises as a result of her parents’ death), but Ami/Mercury, who alarmingly turns into a domineering schoolmarm, forcing her friends to concentrate on studying. (“Everyone knows instant ramen is an exam student’s best friend!” she proclaims while scolding Mako for cooking more delicious dishes.)
At least Rei/Mars one ups Ami by responding to a Shakespeare quote with a Francis Bacon one, reminding her “to spend too much time in studies is sloth.” (Usagi and Mina, meanwhile, wonder what kind of bacon Rei is eating.)
‘Ami-Chan’s First Love:’ Ami reckons with the unhealthy repercussions of studying above all else in her own story, where she goes into overdrive after discovering a boy called Mercurius is matching all of her stellar mock test results. Determined to cross paths with him, Ami basically studies and undertakes mock exams 24/7, causing her to burn out to the point her work begins to degrade.
The genius loci of the test prep school is bothered by how Ami’s true interest lies in meeting this boy for romantic reasons, and goes to attack after she falls ill from not looking after herself. However, the delirious Ami believes her to be Mercurius, and blaming him for her sickly state, transforms into Mercury and destroys her. (Her inability to see her attacker is strikingly conveyed by pixelating her eyes and mouth.)
Still, Ami can’t help but wonder what Mercurius looked like. Usagi and Minako inform her they met him, but haven’t the heart to tell her he was very nerdy, and lie that he resembled a pop star on a poster. However, Ami finds out Mercurius (who derived his name from reversing his own, Kurume Suri) is alive after the exams are held, and sees that once again he matched her grades. Hilarious, but Ami really needs to go to therapy.
‘Rei and Minako’s Girls’ School Battle?!:’ Minako returns to the spotlight here with a story about her relationship with Rei, whom she’s irritated to discover doesn’t actually need to sit an entrance exam because she goes to a rich private school, and is only studying with her fellow Inner Guardians because she’s bored. Mina can’t believe her life is boring, so Rei challenges her to spend a day at her school. While disguised, Mina makes a complete fool of herself, enraging the nuns by running through the halls, eating loudly, and smashing a window playing volleyball — however, the funniest part of this sequence has to be the way Rei is continually rendered as the definition of grace and beauty, which contrasts so much with Mina’s cartoony antics it’s hilarious.Continued below
Feeling lost, Mina wanders off and opens an old well, freeing the local genius loci who’s been trapped within for 300 years. It possesses Rei, who proceeds to “eat” the school’s “uncivilized” young ladies by kissing them. Mina springs into action as Venus, and uses one of Mars’s own ofuda charms to exorcise the spirit before she smooches her. Rei is angry Mina caused something so embarrassing to happen, and that she used her attack without permission, but Mina says she’s glad to have Rei back to her old stubborn self, and teases her for trying to kiss them.
One moment I found very curious is how Minako gets jealous at Rei because the police see her and praise her beauty, before scoffing at Mina. Granted that was rude, but Mina dislikes cops, and Rei doesn’t even like boys, so why was that her fault? I suppose it does reflect though how girls and women would rather fight among each other than acknowledge the men as the problem, as if they were settling for scraps from the patriarchy — I suppose it makes their declaration in the ‘Stars’ arc that they don’t need men all the more impactful.
We’ll return next week with Rei herself finally narrating her own tale, as we cover the last three remaining, standalone short stories, before beginning our Mooniversity column proper — that’s right ‘Casablanca Memory’ fans, we saved the best “Sailor Moon” manga for last.