20 Years of Sailor Moon: The Silver Millennium Arc

In 1992, Naoko Takeuchi and her editors were invited to meet with producers at Toei Studios to discuss the possibility of a Codename Sailor V.  Everyone was on board for the idea, but like most studio products, they want to make a few changes.

At the time, one of Toei's biggest hits was Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger. Well before it was shipped overseas and turned into Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, it was a huge hit with Japanese schoolchildren and making money hand over fist from merchandizing.  The producers clearly saw the potential to cash in on its popularity by creating an all-girl sentai-style team for Sailor V. They just wanted to make a few other changes as well, to take Takeuchi's ideas about cute girls in space, phantom thieves, and whatnot and spin them into something a little different.

The editors were more than OK with the changes Toei wanted to make. These editors were from Kodansha's flagship shoujo magazine Nakayoshi. It had survived for decades on innocent tales of first love, but editor-in-chief Yoshio Irie wanted to take things in a different direction. He wanted big-name titles that could be used to launch cross-media franchises - manga, anime, merchandise and more. He and his editors had always meant to groom the project that would come to be known as Sailor Moon into a major franchise. Still, not one person in that room could have guessed just how fast the series would take off, and how big it could truly get.

Sailor Moon is the story of Usagi Tsukino.  By her own admission, she's a crybaby and a klutz.  She's also not terribly good at schoolwork, kind of lazy, and prone to wasting her allowance on junk food and games at the local arcade. One day, she discovers a black cat with a bandage over a crescent moon shaped mark. She didn't think any more of it until that same cat shows up in her room and tells her that she needs Usagi to protect the world from evil. Usagi is skeptical, but the cat, Luna, produces a brooch that transforms ordinary Usagi into Sailor Moon. Usagi struggles at first with fighting evil, but along the way she gains new friends who become her fellow Sailors. Thus, shy and brainy Ami Mizuno becomes Sailor Mercury, cool, aloof Rei Hino becomes Sailor Mars, strong and sweet Makoto Kino becomes Sailor Jupiter, and bubby, boy-crazy Minako Aino is finally able to reveal herself as Sailor V, aka Sailor Venus. Together with the mysterious Tuxedo Mask, they fight evil, search for the Legendary Silver Crystal, look for the lost Moon Princess, and once and for all stop Queen Beryl and the forces of the Dark Kingdom from draining the world's energy.

One thing about the Sailor Moon manga that becomes quickly apparent is that the pacing is far, far snappier than that of the original animated series. After all, Takeuchi wasn't the one who had to stretch her story out over the course of a couple of seasons. As such, it doesn't take a lot of time for the Sailor Guardians to work their way through the henchmen and their monsters and face off against Queen Beryl herself. Those monsters are also nowhere near as goofy as they got in Codename Sailor V, since more emphasis is placed on the henchmen then on the monsters themselves. That being said, there's a certain advantage to longer, more drawn-out pacing. Since the show writers had much more time to fill, they also had more time and opportunity to flesh out the personalities of the Sailor Guardians as well as the villains. They gain personalities, rivalries, even romances. All that character development is sadly not present in the manga. The only Sailor to get anything resembling a character arc is Sailor Moon herself. The same goes for Beryl's henchmen, although we do get much more backstory about Beryl herself. 

The artwork didn't change all that drastically between Codename Sailor V and Sailor Moon.  Takeuchi's own signature brand of cartoony, swishy delicacy is still there.  Still, this series really benefits from the time Takeuchi spent working on Sailor V.  She had time to polish her skills as an artist and to work out the kinks in the story.  As such, you don't see the visual awkwardness you often see in early chapters of a manga.  Sailor Moon instead hits the ground running, and when combined with the ultra-romantic tone of the story the art at times is breathtakingly pretty.  Takeuchi even takes some cues from the past, as there's more than a few shots of Usagi dreamily pondering away that look as if they could have been stolen from some 1970s shoujo manga. 

Now, I could get incredibly nitpicky about all the little differences between the manga and the anime.  Seriously, I've been known to rant over what they did to Sailor Mars.  For the sake of brevity and relevance, though, I'm going to focus on the character who was changed most drastically: Mamoru Chiba, aka Tuxedo Mask.

Most of us remember Tuxedo Mask being a difficult character to like.  He fought with Usagi from the moment they set eyes on each other and stopped only because they were bashed on the head by the plot their past lives and POOF!  It's like they were always in love!  We all joked about Tuxedo Mask being useless.  He would show up, make a little speech, and then bugger off without so much as an adieu.  He spent so much time getting kidnapped, brainwashed, or both that it practically became a running gag.  You can only imagine my surprise, then, to learn that the manga version of Mamoru is so likeable and interesting.

Now, it is still true that he still serves as a sort of cheerleader for the Sailors.  It's also true that he does end up kidnapped and brainwashed at one point.  Still, he's more than just some distant dreamboat for the Sailors to swoon over.  He's a more proactive character in the manga, someone who wants to find the Legendary Silver Crystal for his own reasons.  Hell, he's not even all that stealthy about it.  More than once, Usagi runs into him on the street, wearing his tuxedo with sunglasses while he stares at the business currently occupied by that chapter's monster, and yet she still doesn't connect that this Mamoru guy miiiiight have some connection to that Tuxedo Mask guy.  At least he's bright enough to piece together that Usagi is Sailor Moon, but there are only so many times you can catch a girl having a conversation with a talking cat before figuring that something is up with her.  As such, he stops teasing her early on, and the two do slowly become friends before falling for one another.

Speaking of romance, there's a far greater emphasis on the romance between Usagi and Mamoru in the manga.  Their relationship grows gently and naturally, and the reader really does get the sense that they are genuinely falling for each other in the here and now.  Their feelings aren't forced upon them by their past lives.  Instead, their memories heighten the feelings they have now, and at that point they can trust each other with both their hearts and their secret identities.  This trust between them is the beating heart that drives the second half of the arc and informs Usagi's decisions.  When the other Sailors aren't sure if Tuxedo Mask is on their side, it is Usagi who comes to his defense.  When he returns to Japan as an evil, brainwashed husk of a man, it is Usagi who worries for him in his absence and never doubts that he can be saved and returned to normal, and it makes perfect sense for her. 

We see over the course of these volumes that Usagi, for all her faults, is a sympathetic and loving person.  Even before she becomes a Sailor Guardian, she's the sort of girl who would save a stray cat from being picked on.  When Ami, Rei, and Makoto were shunned by others for being different, Usagi was the one who was willing to reach out to them and trust in their inate goodness.  It only makes sense, then, that she implicitly trusts in Mamoru.  She never loses faith that the Mamo-chan she loves now is still there inside the blank-eyed man attacking them.  It is this same unwaivering faith, combined with that loving and open heart, that spurs Usagi to keep fighting and gives her the power to save him.  It's at moments like that when the reader realizes just how far Usagi has come as a person and as a leader.  She isn't the same immature girl we saw at the beginning.  She has learned to trust in others as well as in herself.  She has taken the first steps towards being the leader she needs to be, as both Sailor Moon and as the reincarnation of Princess Serenity, and she can do so because she has the support and love of both good friends and a good man.  It's the romance that drives both the heroine and her love interest to become better people, and it's the romance that gives the plot the emotional stake it needed.

There's also quite the emphasis on the past, on the history of the Moon Kingdom and how the events of the story echo those of the Silver Millennium.  It influences everything from the formation of the Sailor Guardians to Usagi and Mamoru's relationship to the reason why Queen Beryl would side with the forces of darkness.  At times it seems like the whole messy affair will repeat itself again.  Still, there is clearly a difference in how these characters use that knowledge of the past.  Beryl is consumed by her past, and she loses her sense of self by subsuming herself to serve an evil force.  Sailor Moon, on the other hand, learns from the tragedy of her past.  She cannot change what happened to Princess Serenity in the past, but as Sailor Moon she can change the present.  She can use what she learned from both her past and present to give her and her fellow Sailors the strength and courage they need to win.  As clichéd as it may sound now, they really do win through the power of love, friendship, and trust, and it's a credit to Takeuchi's writing that such a simple, even trite statement like that is given real depth and relevance.  It's a notion that anyone, regardless of age or gender can get behind, and that is just as true now as it was when this series debuted.

Sailor Moon's introductory art is as close to perfection as one could hope for.  I enjoyed reading it the first time around, but now I can truly appreciate the themes of love, faith, and remembrance.  It manages all at once to be beautiful, touching, and triumphant.  It takes an idea born out of a studio conference room and infuses it with a message that is as simple as it is timeless.  As such, there's really no other rating I could give this arc:

Next time, the focus will shift from Sailor Moon's past to Sailor Moon's future as we meet a notorious little pink-haired girl and the Guardian of Time herself.


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