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In Association with Amazon.com
Codename Sailor V #1
Naoko Takeuchi (translated/ adapted by William Flanagan)
Kodansha paperback $10.99 / 7.99

review by Sarah Ash

Before Sailor Moon, there was Sailor V... Thirteen-year-old Minako Aino is in the middle of a midair somersault with a half twist in the school gym when a white cat appears on the mat, spoiling her landing as she tries to avoid crushing it. Mina is even more surprised when the white cat tells her later that she has been chosen to protect the Earth. With magical gifts of a pen and a crescent-shaped mirror compact, she must transform herself into Sailor Venus and become a Champion of Justice. Boss, a mysterious disembodied voice, sends her instructions - and the white cat, announcing himself as Artemis, becomes her companion and mentor.

Mina finds herself fighting the evil forces of the Dark Agency who disguise themselves as attractive idols to brainwash and enslave the people of Earth. Thanks to her lively (hyperactive?) personality, she cheerfully rushes into danger, blindly dealing out justice to rescue her friends and family with the same passionate enthusiasm that she pours into game-playing in the arcade.

A recurring gag is Mina's love of transforming herself to baffle the enemy: various roles include a GI fighting girl ('camouflage version') a 'beautiful' maid ("I love to clean!"), and even a 'pretty boy-idol.' But these don't always produce the desired effects (changing into a Super Sentai female warrior leaves her weighed down by heavy armour), so inevitably she falls back on her Sailor V identity and her super moves, such as "Rolling Screw Sailor V Punch!"

"Why do bad things always happen to me?" wails Mina, who often - because of her escapades fighting evil as Sailor V - arrives late for school or is kept in after school on detention for failing to complete her work. But by volume eight: Love On The Boulevard - Full Throttle Turbo we find her keeping a diary and sighing over a chance encounter with an older boy in high school. For the first time, she's fallen in love, and there's a hint amid the frantic action of a deeper, more interesting situation that doesn't rely on crescent beams or zany transformations.

A hint, in fact, of Naoko Takeuchi's developing skills in storytelling that would come to the fore in 1992 in Sailor Moon. Sailor V dates from 1991, yet, for all its peppy charm, seems to hark back to an even earlier age in manga. Mina always announces herself as "The Pretty Guardian in a Sailor Suit!" whenever she transforms into Sailor V, putting her story firmly in the magical girl category (which first appeared in the mid-1960s), but with Takeuchi's fresh spin on the genre.

This 'first time in the US' edition from Kodansha USA has been issued at the same time as their new edition of Sailor Moon and shares the same attractive features: translation by the ever-dependable William Flanagan, six glossy colour plates at the beginning, and helpful translator's notes at the end. Book one includes eight 'volumes' (long chapters) which serve to remind us that originally (I understand) it came out intermittently.

Because of this, Sailor V feels much more episodic than Sailor Moon; the irrepressible Mina confronts and defeats one new threat per volume, with the 'Dark' nature of the baddies being the only unifying theme, although Takeuchi was obviously having fun in lightly satirising the popular media of the time (and indeed, now) and the brain-washing effects that they exert over us: arcade games, pop idols, satellite TV channels, and lotteries with exotic foreign holidays as their prizes...

The panels are busy, bursting with frantic activity, Mina's thoughts, and sound effects (all translated but with the original Japanese left intact, hurray!), yet Takeuchi draws it all with a light touch. By volume eight, she's not just telling a more involving story, she's telling it more effectively, using better pacing as well as shojo-style close-ups. It's not Sailor Moon yet, but it's fun to see where it's going.

Reading Codename Sailor V is rather like drinking a glass of sweet fizzy lemonade; there's an initial sugar rush, but it leaves you with a refreshing aftertaste of nostalgia. They don't make manga like this anymore.

Codename Sailor V



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