At last! Spring has come! Birds are singing, flowers are blooming, and everything is bright and pretty! You know what else is bright and pretty? MAGICAL GIRLS!
Don't worry, there are no contracts here - just a month's worth of reviews. So to kick things off, let's start with a series by Naoko Takeuchi.
No, not that one, the one before it...
CODENAME: SAILOR V (Kodo Namu wa Sera Bui), by Naoko Takeuchi. First published in 1993, and first published in North America in 2011.
Before Usagi became Sailor Moon, there was Minako Aino. Minako is a lively and athletic girl, with a healthy appetite, not a lot of school smarts, and a deep love of video games and idol singers. One day, she stumbles across a white cat with a moon-shaped scar who turns out to be a talking cat name Artemis. Artemis gives Minako a device which turns her into Sailor V, giving her magical powers to transform and to fight against the evil forces of the Dark Agency, who seek to drain the energy from the world for their own nefarious plots.
Poor Codename: Sailor V. It always has to suffer under constant comparison to its much more successful sister series. Sure, Sailor V came first, and without it Takeuchi wouldn't have created Sailor Moon at all, but the latter was the one that went on longer and became a veritable franchise, while Sailor V never saw an official release here until nearly 20 years after it started. All that being said, the real question is this: can Codename: Sailor V be enjoyed on its own merits? The answer is yes...sort of.
Of course, Sailor V doesn't help its own case when you compare their two leads. Minako and Usagi might as well be the same character, although when put into historical context it's more like that Minako is like a rough sketch for Usagi. There are some differences - Minako is much less sensitive, much more skeptical, and much more athletic than Usagi at the same point in her own series. It also doesn't help that Sailor V's powers are extremely similar, complete with a costume pen and a moon-themed beam that dissolves the bad guys into goop. At least Minako makes much more and better use of the costume pen then Usagi did. Even the supporting cast looks familiar at times - Minako's best friend is pretty much a carbon copy of Ami/Sailor Mercury, there's a glasses-wearing otaku that follows her around, and the police chief that secretly admires Sailor V looks like a slightly older Rei/Sailor Mars. Heck, some of the actual sailor scouts (in their civilian guises) make cameos.
The biggest difference between the two works is in their story structure. Unlike Sailor Moon, Sailor V is very episodic. There's only the slightest hint of a larger plot, and it's clear that Takeuchi had yet to come up with the whole Silver Millennium mythology because there doesn't seem to be a purpose to the Dark Agency beyond "suck everyone's energy" and "EVIL." As such, it does get a bit repetitious by volume's end, when we've already had a couple of evil idol singers and an evil tour guide fighting Sailor V in Greece.
I feel like I'm being a bit harsh on Sailor V, because at its best it is plenty of fun. I also think that Takeuchi starts to get a better handle on Minako's personality and powers as the volume goes on. Sailor V may be something of a rough sketch for its sister series, but it is also an enjoyable, if flawed, work of its own.
While Takeuchi's writings skills were still being honed with Sailor V, her visual style had already come into its own. Her character designs are very simple and often wispy...at least, when it's not going into chibi mode. The linework isn't quite as delicate as it would get in Sailor Moon, but some of Sailor V's poses and moves are drawn in a downright pretty manner. The simplicity does sometimes hurt the artwork, as it tends to go off-model at times in earlier chapters, and Artemis in particular suffers greatly from this. Takeuchi also tends to go a bit crazy with the screentones during the battle scenes which can make them a bit hard to follow. I do like her use of actual patterns behind the characters during the lighter moments, something rather distinct to her work. Of course, this means that the panels can often be a bit busy (it is a surprisingly chatty manga), but never to the point where it becomes impossible to follow.
Sailor V's artwork, like its story, is sometime rough and unpolished, but it's also light and sometimes pretty, and Takeuchi's unique style is already in place.
There are color pages in the front, which I rather like as I feel Takeuchi's art looks best in color. There are also plenty of translation notes in the back, as well as a brief profile on Minako.
This series is being released by Kodansha. 3 volumes were released in Japan, and all have been published in 2 volumes, all of which are currently in print.
You can purchase this volume and many more like it through RightStuf.com!