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Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon #1
Naoko Takeuchi (translated/ adapted by William Flanagan)
Kodansha paperback $10.99

review by Sarah Ash

"Moon Prism Power!" It's been a busy day for 14-year-old Usagi Tsukino. She was marked with a meagre 30 percent on her test at school, there's sale on at the local jewellery store (but she daren't ask for a reward after scoring such a low mark), and there, to cap it all, she bumps - literally - into a young man who's dressed in a tuxedo and dark glasses, who calls her 'Miss Bun-Head.' Still smarting, she encounters a mysterious black cat, Luna, who can talk. Luna - distinguished from other cats by a crescent-shaped mark on her forehead - gives Usagi a pretty brooch and tells her that she has been chosen as a guardian.

Cue a sparkly transformation, as Usagi changes - just like her idol, Sailor V - into a champion of justice and beauty: Sailor Moon! The jewellery store is being by used to drain life energy from the customers and Sailor Moon must rescue them. The only problem is that Usagi is not yet used to using her powers and everything goes disastrously wrong until Luna tells her to use her magic tiara. Sailor Moon wins the day - and meets an enigmatic masked, cloaked young man who tells her he is looking for the Legendary Silver Crystal. Is he a friend - or a foe? Usagi doesn't know, but she's impressed by his dashing appearance.

A magic girl is nothing without her team of sidekicks, so each chapter leads Usagi into new peril - and an encounter with another of her fated companions. First of all, her brainy school-friend Ami turns out to be Sailor Mercury; then Rei, a stern young priestess at a local shrine, comes to the rescue as Sailor Mars, and the last to reveal herself is Makoto, Sailor Jupiter. Their enemies make their presence felt long before then; the evil Queen Beryl of the Dark Kingdom has sent her four (bishonen!) commanders to draw energy from the humans and find the Legendary Silver Crystal.

And then there's the dashing Tuxedo Mask. Or is he really Mamoru Chiba, a student at the local high school? When he sweeps Usagi off her feet at a masquerade dance (she's gone to investigate Princess D, a foreign royal visitor who may be in possession of the Silver Crystal) the readers are also swept up into a romantic sequence that ends with a kiss... Each time Usagi meets him, she senses that there is something familiar about him, a sensation of warmth... but why?

Sailor Moon starts out in the same mould as Sailor V; the first panels even show us Usagi reading excitedly about her heroine's crime-fighting exploits in the paper. But somewhere along the way, her story acquires much greater depth as Queen Beryl and her commanders present a genuine threat and the first hints of a tragic backstory emerge.

I first discovered Sailor Moon as an anime series, when it was shown on children's TV in the 1990s. My sons and I soon realised that - even in this ill-dubbed and mangled version - it wasn't the usual cartoons by numbers fare served up for younger viewers (this was long before the brief but brilliant appearance of Dragonball Z on Cartoon Network.) What appealed back then - as it still does now - was the earnest, yet sweet nature of the klutzy heroine and the way it portrayed the Sailor Scouts as strong and independent young women, able to work together to defeat their enemies.

Revisiting my first introduction to the magic girl genre - appearing here in a shiny new translation by William Flanagan for Kodansha US - has been partly nostalgia, partly a voyage of discovery. Naoko Takeuchi is often credited as the first mangaka to bring the magic girl genre to western audiences. I never read the Tokyopop version (1997-2001) preferring Cardcaptor Sakura (1996-2000) from CLAMP, and I have to admit that Takeuchi's art does look a little dated. Yet, as the story gathers momentum, the mangaka becomes more skilful at creating her own brand of shojo magic, so that by the final chapter 'Tuxedo Mask,' I had surrendered to its charms.

Sailor Moon #1 treats us to six colour plates of a startling and vibrant brightness at the beginning and useful translator's notes are added at the end of the volume, as well as a preview of the next volume in the original Japanese. Sailor Moon makes a pleasant and nostalgic trip to a simpler time in manga history for older fans - but might well appeal to younger readers who have enjoyed Tokyo Mew Mew and Shugo Chara. The US age rating of 13+ seems rather over-cautious; I'd be happy to recommend it to my year six students.

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon 1

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