Monday, December 12, 2011

Codename Sailor V: Series Review

Codename Sailor V
Manga by: Naoko Takeuchi
Published by: Kodansha USA
Length: 2 volumes

Ever wanted to have awesome powers to defeat evil? Codename Sailor V takes this beautiful selfless dream and crushes it under its high heels. It is the prequel that was written, during, and after the legendary Pretty Guardian Salior Moon franchise. When an anime version of Codename Sailor V was proposed, Naoko Takeuchi envisioned having Sailor V fight with a team of friends, which brought about one of the most celebrated franchises of all time, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon. Codename Sailor V is a classic manga in an episodic format; within the two-volume omnibus is one of the best parodies of the mangical girl genre. Codename Sailor V is a unique experience like no other starring a familiar face that is well-loved among the anime community. In this review I will take you to the highs and the lows of this classic franchise.

Minako Aino is a blonde, athletic, tomboyish first year middle school girl. She is a seemingly average girl who is thrown into a world of responsibility when she meets a magical talking cat named Artemis and a mysterious leader known as the “boss.” She is given mysterious powers to defeat evil, and over the course of Codename Sailor V she learns how to home her power and to be a better person. Minako is one of the easiest characters to relate to in a manga. She is a teenager who complains that she is working hard for no pay, always seems to have really bad luck when it comes to men, and her tomboyish personality brings her into conflict with an interesting set of characters. Her lazy attitude and her easygoing mindset about being a superhero make her incredibly likable. Keeping her on the right path is her mentor/buddy Artemis, who is constantly frustrated at Minako’s imperfections. Over the course of Sailor V, he is Minako’s comic foil who is constantly issuing biting sarcasm and commentary on the indolent lifestyle of the female lead. The person who is keeping both Artemis and Minako in check is the Boss, a mysterious female voice who tries to put everything in perspective.

Codename Sailor V has a strong episodic feel that is both a weakness and strength. It is a weakness because there is no central narrative that holds the story together until near the end of the storyline. The strength is that it is so easy to pick up a random chapter and enjoy a little bite of Minako’s misadventures. The manga provides little vignettes of the world around Minako. Codename Sailor V excels in providing biting commentary on certain social circles. For example, one of the early chapters is about Minako trying to beat a score in an arcade. After going there every day she finally beats the score, only to have the holder of the score angry at her since he couldn’t believe a woman beat his score. His conclusion, she is a cross-dressing man who wears a long wig and a sailor outfit, silliness ensues. Whether Takeuchi planned it or not, it is an interesting way to use social commentary to explain the inclusive nature of many hardcore gamers. The entire story has episodes that poke fun of a variety of groups; no stone is left unturned in Codename Sailor V like idol fans, manga artists, tourists, gamers, business tycoons, cosplayers, and even charity work. The strong episodic storytelling combined with a genuinely funny script makes to a unique experience.

As funny as the manga is, there are some very serious moments. Those serious moments are mainly limited to the main story expositions that tie the Sailor V experience to Sailor Moon. Throughout the story, Sailor V hints at a much bigger storyline; it crescendos at the grand finale where Sailor V is given a sad prediction about her future. It hints to the audience that behind all the fun experiences behind Sailor V that it is merely the beginning of an adventure that will change Minako’s life. That can be one of the best lessons that a reader can take away from Codename Sailor V. It is a story about growing up, with all the innocence of learning and experiencing something for the first time. At the end of the storyline, Minako is still the same Sailor V, except she is more experienced, wiser, and with an ultimate goal in mind. It is this mindset that transitions the silly, immature Sailor V that we see in this manga to the mature, cool, and charismatic Sailor Venus who pops up in Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon.

Codename Sailor V’s art is simple and cute; it has aged fairly well compared to many manga out there. It transitions from the gorgeous colored art to a crazy, super deformed style. The exaggerated features enhance the humor and make the interactions between Minako and Artemis quite a treat. Unfortunately, like with Sailor Moon, we can see that Naoko Takeuchi’s weakness is drawing action sequences. Instead of having clean fights, the action scenes seem cluttered and confused. The difficult presentation of action sequences also mean that it leaves the reader confused. I found myself trying to determine if she had defeated the villain of the chapter because the pages left the possibility for ambiguity.

Flaws aside, Codename Sailor V is a great manga. It is difficult to classify it in a neat box because it does many things fairly well. The two volume edition is a parody of magical girl adventures that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The manga seems like the unpolished original draft of Sailor Moon that allowed Naoko Takeuchi to polish her idea into the amazing product we all know and love. The way I see it, Codename Sailor V is about growing up. Minako starts off as an innocent superhero that fights because she wants to do good. In the end, she fights because she has an ultimate goal to accomplish. Wrapped in the humor is an allegorical tale about the transition from being a teenager to knowing and accepting adult responsibilities. Codename Sailor V is a great manga and it shouldn’t be missed.

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