If you’re looking for a Valentine beauty in the spirit of Venus herself — that is, beautiful, blonde, and kickass, with a side of magical powers — then Codename: Sailor V is for you. A two-volume series, it showcases the origins of Sailor Venus as a crime fighter, drawn by the original artist/writer of Sailor Moon.
The origins of Minako Aino as Sailor Venus was one of the most arresting, and untold, parts of the Sailor Moon universe — until now. For those of you for whom the Sailor Moon animation was a gateway series, the original manga version of twelve volumes has a lot of expanded universe to offer (especially for those looking for the Sailor Star Lights), and its side story spin-off, Codename: Sailor V, even more so.
Penned in 2004 and out in the US for the first time ever, V comes at the end of Kodansha USA’s complete Sailor Moon manga release, along with Sailor Moon Short Stories. However, unlike the often episodic nature of the first few Moon volumes and the unconnected tales in Short Stories, V starts out with a long plot from the beginning. One will see shades of Usagi (Sailor Moon) in the construction of Minako’s family background and her personality flaws, especially as seen by Artemis (harkening back, in part, to the off-hand, one-time account of Artemis and Luna that they originally thought Minako was to be Sailor Moon).
But for all that these “memories” of the original series seem like recycled devices; there’s actually a lot of depth to the story that’s brand new. Minako, as V, creates her own legend, but lives in the realm of pop stars and TV personalities, all while being “too kick-ass to be properly feminine,” to paraphrase Artemis at one point. You’ve got costume changes, celebrity life, magic, and a beautiful idol (much wiser than Beiber) to root for—what more could a teen want?
There’s also the witty, underlying gender trope reversal and social commentary that the author shines at. One of the great things of Naoko Takeuchi’s manga that doesn’t appear in the TV series adaptation of Sailor Moon is the social commentary, so subtle that one often misses it at first read. In the manga, Minako’s a flake, but she’s actually quite smart; she just needs some focus. As well, girls go after guys frivolously, but the boys are the object of a sexual gaze, not the other way around. The girls hit the streets without fear, and with impunity. Girls talk back to manner-less otaku, and the narration, as the voice of a Champion of Justice, preaches respect and responsibility between the sexes with great humor too. And, lastly — as I’ve discussed previously with Short Stories — we see something unusual: all the high-ranking officials in the book are women, from TV producer to Police Chief, without anyone batting an eye at this; it’s the men who are subordinate. So what seems like fluff at first is really a woman constructing a world, through writing, where girls can be anything they want, and that’s not unusual at all.
Another gem is the art. At first, the skeletally big hands and the Barbie-necked faces seem to be taken to the extreme, but when viewed in context of the time period from which the author debuted, there’s actually a lot to enjoy from the manga student’s point of view. Not only is the art style a bridge between famous Sunday strip Sazae-san and the likes of Fushigi Yuki, but the tapered, curving lines to make the likes of clothing and hands, and the movement-filled poses at every level are reminiscent of Ukio-e. There’s a sophistication to Takeuchi’s art that puts it solidly in Japanese tradition both modern and ancient, which is really worth a look. But, beyond that, the faces have a precision akin to religious art that is truly remarkable, and there’s fluttering movement in even the most bland of poses — something with innate value to study for the artist.
V has a significant number of stunning color pages, which boast a pleasurable color layout and a vivacity that pops more than your average manga’s printing. The book’s red, blue, and yellow cover stands out on one’s table, and it’s always cheering to see. With some books, the color pictures are rather lackluster, but with this one, you’ll find yourself returning to the tome just to see them.
Codename: Sailor V volume 1 all in all is a good book that you can enjoy on the surface or at deeper levels, be it in art, story, or character. It’s colorful and lively in every aspect, and at 250 pages, is a little longer than your average manga volume, giving only more value. The story is enjoyable for all ages, and is definitely safe to give to your girls — and it’ll probably empower them too.