1992’s Sailor Moon, Volume One collects the stories that kicked off Naoko Takeuchi’s insanely popular Sailor Moon franchise.
Fourteen-year-old Usagi Tsukino is a seemingly unremarkable student without any obvious talent. As far as the world can tell, she is a clumsy, spoiled crybaby whose grades make her mother despair. She does have good points: she’s pretty and she’s friendly.
Then Usagi accidentally steps on a cat named Luna
Local brats have stuck a Band-Aid on the cat’s forehead as a joke. Usagi, to make amends for stepping on the cat, removes the Band-Aid. Much to Usagi’s surprise, the cat speaks to her. The bandage had temporarily removed Luna’s ability to speak. The grateful cat helps Usagi activate powers she never knew she had. The girl becomes
[quote […] the sailor suited Pretty Guardian who fights for love and for justice — I am Sailor Moon! In the name of the moon, I’ll punish you! [/quote]
Luna does not reveal the source of Usagi’s powers, nor does she tell the girl anything about the unfolding story in which Usagi is now entangled. (The new-to-it-all Usagi wouldn’t believe the epic backstory.) Luna is willing to hang around to advise the girl. Which is good because, while Usagi may be Sailor Moon, she’s still the girl who hates homework, even when it’s homework exploring her new powers1.
Assisted by her cat and a masked man named Tuxedo Mask (plus her neighbourhood’s weirdly well-informed rumour network2) Sailor Moon confronts and defeats the agents of an unnamed enemy. Who this enemy is, she does not learn, nor is she aware that the other side is desperately gathering energy for some dark purpose. What she does learn is that her enemies are willing to engage in subterfuge, kidnapping, brainwashing, and worse.
Usagi also discovers that she is not the only high school girl with hidden powers. She meets fellow students Sailor Mercury, Sailor Mars, and Sailor Jupiter. Each has her own unique powers, but it’s Sailor Moon who is the heart of the group.
It’s not entirely coincidental that Team Evil is focusing on Sailor Moon’s neighbourhood. They think an artifact of great power may be hidden in the vicinity. It’s probably also not a coincidence that so many other Sailor Scouts live in the same neighbourhood. That’s all we learn in this volume. I assume further explanation is found in later volumes.
Usagi is very much a fourteen-year-old girl with volatile emotions; she’s prone to minor meltdowns. She isn’t yet in full control of her powers. In these early stories, she wins her bouts with Team Evil thanks to Luna’s shouted advice. Oh, and the fact the author is on Sailor Moon’s side.
She does have one ability that she had before she met Luna: she’s friendly. She ignores spiteful rumours and befriends girls the rest of the school has dismissed as snobs, bookworms, or two-fisted delinquents. Friendliness helps her assemble a squad of teen warriors and (I presume) keep the team together in later issues of the manga.
The art of Sailor Moon is not to my taste, but it may be to yours.
Sailor Moon was not the first Magical Girl manga, but it did codify a subgenre, the Warrior Magical Girl. If someone who reads recent manga dips into the first few issues of Sailor Moon, the tropes will seem excessively familiar. That’s because other authors knew a good thing when they saw it, and borrowed extensively from Sailor Moon. (A reversal familiar to fen who hear from newbies that Tolkien is way too derivative.)
For many North Americans this manga and the wildly successful animes based on it were their introduction to manga and anime and to the Magical Girl genre. Worth reading if only as an exercise in the history of the field.
1: One exception to Usagi’s contempt for homework: she does experiment with her ability to transform once she realizes that she can use it to accessorize.
2: In case anyone is curious, there are police in this superhero world. In one episode they’re mentioned as a possible source of help. We never actually see them do anything but at least they exist.
There are lots and lots and lots of manga out there, so there must be one about mundane cops doing their best to protect and serve in a Magical Girl universe. Yes? No?