Anybody who had their pulse on the pop culture scene during the 1990’s will easily remember the Sailor Moon phenomena. Although it only had a small cult following in the United States, in Canada, thanks to peak time slots on national channels such as YTV and Global Can-West, Sailor Moon was one of the most popular cartoon franchises of the decade amongst little girls. It was so popular that little boys would put down their Transformers for a half hour a day and watched along, and it even spawned a following amongst adult viewers. Sailor Moon dolls became the hottest toy item in Canada for Christmas 1995, with the dolls disappearing off of shelves quicker then stores could supply them. Just like Battle of the Planets, Robotech and Voltron had done over a decade earlier; Sailor Moon introduced a generation of kids to the art of Japanese animation. Of course, in Japan, Sailor Moon is one of the most successful animated franchises of all time, spawning films, video games, stage musicals, a live action television show, boatloads of merchandise, and has been translated into twenty two different languages world wide. Today, the little girls who dressed up as Sailor Moon for Halloween and sang along with the bouncy theme song are all, for the most part, university graduates, but a love for Sailor Moon and her friends still remains as an important part of their childhood memories.
Now, as sentimentality for the 90’s begins to grow, Sailor Moon has returned! Kodansha Comics, the original Japanese publisher of the classic series, is re-releasing artist Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon comics again in a series of graphic novels. Originally published in Kodansha’s Yakanoshi magazine between 1991 and 1995, Sailor Moon was first leased and translated in North America by Tokyopop in 1997. Now, Kodansha is re-releasing the series with a brand new translation and presentation. When the first volume hit bookstores two weeks ago, Sailor Moon Vol. 1 quickly found its way to the number one spot in New York Time’s Anime Booklist. However, for most long time fans, the Sailor Moon re-release is something they’ve already seen before. This volume is really for anime fans that missed the series the first time around. Yet, Kodansha has a special treat for Sailor Moon fans who have been waiting for something new for the last fifteen years. Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon prelude, Codename Sailor V, chronicling the adventures of Minako Aino, better known by fans as Sailor Venus, and her magical cat Artemis, is now available for the first time in English!
Predating Sailor Moon by a matter of months, Codename Sailor V first appeared in RunRun magazine in the winter of 1991. Naoko Takeuchi had become anime’s newest sensation with a figure skating manga series called The Cherry Project when she was commissioned by Kodansha Comics to do a comic strip about anything she wanted. A fan of the ailing “magic girl” genre, as well as the primarily boy-oriented Super Sentai Series, which was a long running series of live action science fiction based TV programs which spawned such classics as Kamen Riders and Power Rangers, Takeuchi decided to do a parody of the two genres and fused them together in a cute little strip for girls. The result was Codename Sailor V. Takeuchi didn’t expect much to come from her creation, but it would be the beginnings of an anime empire.
In the first chapter of Codename Sailor V, readers are introduced to Minako Aino. A spunky and athletic thirteen year old boy crazy middle school student, Minako finds a talking white cat named Artemis who bestows upon her magical powers derived from the planet Venus. Reporting back to a mysterious voice in a magical pen, Artemis sends Sailor V on a mission to defeat the mysterious menace known as The Dark Agency, lead by the evil Danburite, which is targeting young girls by disguising their agents as entertainment idols. Unfortunately for Artemis, Minako has the attention span of a gnat and much rather swoon over boys then fight alien menaces. However, through her courage and sense of humor, not to mention training via a Sailor V video game, Sailor V and Artemis become Tokyo based crime fighters, often teaming up with the police, much to the dismay of Toshio Wakagi, a young police detective that feels that Sailor V makes fools out of the department. Sailor V’s adventures also brings her to other nations, including Russia, England and the United States where Minako fights crime and has brushes with romance, which usually results in her having her heart broken.
Upon it’d debut, Codename Sailor V was immediately opted to be turned into an animated series. During talks between Teoi Animation, Kodansha Comics and Naoko Takeuchi, it was decided that Takeuchi’s concept of Sailor V being powered by the planet Venus would be expanded and an entire team of girl warriors would be created. As a result Takeuchi retooled her idea into Sailor Moon, which ran in Kodansha’s Yaknoshi magazine beginning in the fall of 1991. When introducing Usagi Tsukino (better known to North American fans as Serena Tsukino) to the audience, many of the same elements of Sailor V’s original stories were repeated. However, for the most part, Sailor Moon had a far more epic storyline. Usagi meets a mysterious talking cat named Luna, becomes Sailor Moon, and is sent on a mission to find the fabled Sailor Warriors and the Moon Princess and defeat the Dark Kingdom that threatens Earth. Through fifty-two chapters, Sailor Moon became a multi-layered story filled with romance, reincarnation, humor and the eternal battle of good vs. evil. Yet, despete being a retooled version of a comic appearing in another magazine, it was immediately revealed that Sailor Moon was living in the same Tokyo as Sailor V. In the first chapter Usagi visits the same arcade that is prominently featured in Codename Sailor V, ran by Minako’s friend (and crush) Motoki (otherwise known as Andrew to North American fans), and even plays the Sailor V arcade game which Minako uses for training. Yet many of the supporting characters from Sailor Moon, including Usagi’s friends Naru (Molly) and Gurio (Melvin) were knock offs of previous Sailor V characters. In fact, many fans have accused Sailor Moon and Sailor V of being virtual knock offs of each other, but true fans can tell you that there is plenty of differences between the pair other then the fact that Sailor Moon wears massive pigtails and Sailor V has a ribbon in her hair. While both are poor students and will often be distracted by boys, Minako is athletic and graceful while Usagi is a klutz, and Minako is more of a drama queen while Usagi is a cry baby.
Eventually Sailor V was incorporated into the Sailor Moon strip. Sailor V encountered the other Sailor Warriors in the eight chapter of Sailor Moon. With the other Sailor Warriors believing the much more experienced Sailor V to be the Moon Princess, it is revealed in the next chapter that the Moon Princess is in fact Sailor Moon, and Sailor V takes the moniker Sailor Venus and transforms her costume into a new one to go along with the rest of the team, color coded yellow instead of the original blue and red, and also drops the use of her trademark mask. It is also revealed that the mysterious “boss” that Artemis had been communicating with was, in fact, Sailor Moon’s cat Luna. Thus began the beginning of Minako’s career as Sailor Venus. However, despite Minako’s incorporation into the Sailor Moon comic strip, Naoko Takeuchi continued to produce the solo Sailor V comic strip in RunRun for a number of months. Released far more sporadically then the monthly Sailor Moon comic strip, eighteen chapters of Codename Sailor V were produced, which were eventually released in three collected volumes for the Asian market.
For the most part, Codename Sailor V has far less of a storyline then the massive Sailor Moon series does, and often lacks the substance of the more popular of the two strips. But it is a fast and fun read, and Minako is a far more charming character then Usagi, who can often border on being annoying. Yet Codename Sailor V remains important because the entire basis for the Sailor Moon franchise is found in its pages. Kodansha Comic’s new English translation of Codename Sailor V is a true treat for North American Sailor Moon fans who have waited far to long to finally be able to read these early original stories. The first volume of Codename Sailor V is now in bookstores across North America and Europe, and incidentally, currently holds the number two spot on the New York Times Anime booklist, right under the first volume of Sailor Moon. Kodansha Comics will be releasing Codename Sailor V Volume 2 in November 2011 and the third volume of Codename Sailor V in 2012. Codename Sailor V is where the Sailor Moon legend all began, and finally Sailor Venus takes the spotlight as the original Sailor Warrior!