Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Volume 2

Can I just start by saying that I love how colorful these reprints are?  The Japanese versions look great all lined up on my shelf, and I'm excited that the English versions are going to look just as good.  Volume 2's color:  Mercury's bubbly blue!

I hope to present my highlights from this volume in a more organized fashion.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Introduction and Volume 1


September is a very exciting month because it brings us the long-awaited, much-anticipated re-release of the Sailor Moon manga. Anyone who knows me knows that I love Sailor Moon. Way back in the 6th grade, I stayed home from school (not really) sick and happened to catch an episode of the anime on TV. After watching it, I remember going outside and bouncing around in my backyard with excitement. Since that day, I have spent thousands of dollars on collecting Sailor Moon goods and thousands of hours watching, drawing, reading, writing, talking, and thinking about Sailor Moon. It brought and continues to bring positive energy to my life.

It is my belief that Sailor Moon never received fair treatment in the US and that is one of the major reasons why it never took off like it did in countries like Italy and Canada. The Sailor Moon anime debuted during a time (1995) when anime was still quite new and not at all mainstream. Except for a few notable outliers like The Simpsons, cartoons were strictly a kid's commodity, and thus anime--which ranged from family-friendly fare like My Neighbor Totoro, to violent mind-trips like Akira, to young-adult but not "you-need-to-be-18-or-over-to-legally-purchase-this-adult" series like Tenchi Muyo--proved challenging to classify, accept, and market. Thus, Sailor Moon debuted on American TV as a Frankenstein monster of its former self in a terrible time slot. Scenes and entire episodes deemed inappropriate for one reason or another were cut from broadcast, and smaller edits meant to preserve a PC atmosphere (like painting seatbelts over characters riding in cars and adding a "Sailor Says" moral advice feature at the end of each episode) abounded. Efforts were also made to make the show seem less foreign; I always wondered where people were getting those triangular "donuts" (they were actually rice balls / onigiri) and what the deal with that "computer school" after regular school was (it was cram school / juku). Possibly worst of all was that only the first 65 episodes were dubbed, which ended the series squarely in the middle of the second season, and on a cliffhanger, no less.

The year 2000 brought a revival of the series, thanks to its continued success in our neighboring Canada, the popularity of the manga, and a vocal cult following. I was just about singing from the rooftops over all the new stuff I would get to enjoy: 2 more seasons and the 3 movies not only dubbed and serialized on TV, but subtitled and uncut on DVD; the original first 2 series subtitled, uncut and put on DVD; and a slew of better quality dolls and toys. Sadly, the TV versions of the show suffered many of the same problems as I described above, not the least of which being some truly lamentable voice acting. The DVD releases of the first 2 seasons had inexcusably poor audio quality, meh video quality, occasionally questionable subtitles, 1 episode missing, and no bonus features to speak of. As for the following 2 seasons, they fared much better on DVD, and I could at least be thankful for that. However, to this day, we still have not had any official release of the final season.

But what of the manga? Released in 1998, it was Mixx / Tokyopop's best-selling product. And boy did they milk it: it was released not only as graphic novels, but as individual issues in comic stores, and was even serialized monthly as the main attraction of their sophomoric attempt at a girl's magazine, SMILE. So it was popular....that was surely a good thing. But as far as quality went, it was Baddie McBadBad. The badness exists on 2 levels: the level created by just reading it as a piece of written media, and the level of understanding the original Japanese content. As a piece of wrriten media, the ink quality and lettering was sub-par. Images looked faded, and the same font was used for everything and often didn't fit properly in text bubbles. Typos and depressing grammar flubs were not uncommon, and translators couldn't seem to settle on just one name for certain characters, apparently torn between whether to stick with the English anime dub, use the original Japanese, or create something new, so we'd see the same person referred to as different names (example: Black Lady was first introduced as Black Lady, but then changed to Wicked Lady in the next chapter to match the dub.  And don't even ask me about Chibiusa's little friend, Momo). The formatting of the books themselves also changed over time, so that when lined up on a shelf, all the spines look different.
Once you learn Japanese, the situation becomes almost insidious. Similar to the dubbed anime, there are many times when the English diverges so far from the original Japanese that I really think someone was just writing whatever they felt like. Some of these instances have possible motivations, which I will discuss a little in some of the examples. One particulary underhanded decision was to rewrite Naoko Takeuchi's side panels in volume 1 to look like an interview that took place between her and Mixx; the truth was that an interview never happened, and the content of that side panel was written in 1992, 6 years before Mixx ever touched the manga.

When Kodansha announced their plans to reprint Sailor Moon, they shouldered the burden of high expectations from a fanbase tired of getting the shaft and a Japanese company weary of US handling of their product. Perhaps the expectations were so high that they could never be met. However, I, a through-and-through Sailor Moon fan, feel pretty satisfied.