Once upon a time, back in 199X past, I remember sitting in amazement as one of my friends at the time, who invited me to her house, pulled out this golden yellow manga booklet with a golden-haired beauty crouching proudly while holding a peace sign, a white cat with a moon crescent on its forehead perched on her shoulders. By this time, Sailor Moon had already become a thing for people in the know – anime was just started to pierce through the North American consciousness with Toonami leading the way. Still, this book surprised me. Even though I recognized the character as Sailor Venus, my friend told me that this was a prequel to the Sailor Moon series. However, as intrigued as I was, it would be another fifteen years before I would be able to read basic Japanese phrases, let alone an entire manga volume.
(We’ll just ignore the fact that Kodansha published an English translation in 2011 – two years before I began to study Japanese intensively.)
Now, here in 201X present, Codename Sailor V (コードネームはセーラブィ, Kodonemu wa Sera V, Kodansha Comics) is still just as interesting and definitely more amusing that its more popular progeny, which could have its dark, twisted moments. If Sailor Moon is more of an adventure series with moments of hilarity and seriousness, then Codename Sailor V is purely an action comedy. Never has fighting evil been so light-hearted.
A little bit of background – back in the early 1990s, Japanese toymaker Bandai approached young mangaka Takeuchi Naoko to create a series in a similar vein to the Super Sentai series – what we call the “Power Rangers” series here in North America. However, instead of featuring five armored fighters (mostly male), the series instead would feature five fighting girls. Published in the manga magazine RunRun in 1991, Codename Sailor V would set the foundation for Sailor Moon – it even features glimpses of future heroine Usagi and the other Sailor Senshi!
Codename Sailor V is the story of Minako Aino – a boy crazy 14-year-old middle school student who is good at sports but not so good at academics. In the middle of her plot to finally confess to Higashi-senpai, a white cat with a crescent bald spot on his forehead follows her every move. Eventually, the cat introduces himself as Artemis and informs Minako that she is really the soldier of Love and Justice, Sailor V! Initially skeptical, Minako’s newfound power pushes her to accept her destiny – in her words, it strikes her with the urge to act!
While Sailor Moon gets all the glory (and rightfully so), Codename Sailor V is a great series in its own right. Minako is a heroine that’s easy to root for – she isn’t perfect, but she tries her best and cares for her friends. She doesn’t take this Senshi business lightly – even though she begrudgingly does it (at least at first), she’s got a lot of questions for Artemis and rightfully so! The Dark Agency, Minako’s enemy, is not just about destroying the world, either. They’re all about making that cash in the process. Although, considering how idols are abundantly used to mess with people, I don’t think I’ll ever look at groups such as AKB48 the same way again!
If I’m allowed to be slightly academic, I really like how Codename Sailor V is very much a commentary of Japanese Popular Culture. Villain-of-the-Week caricatures mirror popular figures often found in the Japanese news – idols, pop groups, and even juvenile delinquents. Minako fights for video gaming glory against Arcade Otaku Takurou Otaku (that’s his actual name) who champions the arcade as the refuge of men and laments how it’s been filled with women and couples. Nerd classmate Amano (the precursor to Sailor Moon’s Umino) is also an Otaku, yet his knowledge of computer programming and video games always manages to help Minako at the right time. As someone who enjoys studying about Japanese popular culture, this is quite a read!
If there is one thing I absolutely love about Codename Sailor V, it’s that Minako shows the reader that there is no one way to be a girl. While Minako is as beautiful as the Goddess Venus, she is active, athletic, plays video games, and is boy crazy. She has so many traits that people can relate to. While she does have the same emotional interiority as Usagi (this is a comedy, mostly), she’s still nonetheless has her moments of vulnerability and is a determined heroine. The fact that she actually gets in there and fights the good fight is an immense bonus.
As I mentioned before, while it doesn’t get as dark as its progeny, it’s still a fun read. It’s interesting to how Sailor V compares and contrasts to Sailor Moon, and it’s fun to see the little nods to the future series. Plus, it’s just good to read it in English after years of wondering what the heck was going on! (Never mind that I can read in Japanese now). I highly recommend Codename Sailor V to everyone, especially fans of Sailor Moon. You will definitely enjoy it!