Nobody wanted to be Sailor Venus when we played Sailor Moon back in elementary school. It’s pretty harsh in retrospect now but as devoted watchers of Toonami’s anime block, we knew Mars had the kickass fire powers, Jupiter was the strongest fighter, Mercury was the smart one, and Sailor Moon got the show title and the boyfriend, but Venus? I mean, she had a chain whip and a cat, but mostly we thought she was just a poor copy of Sailor Moon.
Despite what American publication history might indicate, though, Naoko Takeuchi’s internationally renowned mahou shoujo manga Codename wa: Sailor V is not one of those prequels you can skip. Not only was Sailor V (the “Venus” was originally shortened) instrumental in developing the classic cosmic story we know and love, but it stands as a strong story in its own right that in some ways dwarfs its successor. By the time I first read Sailor V a decade had passed and I became absolutely livid that I hadn’t gotten the chance to grow up giving Minako the respect she so rightfully deserves given how ditzy and superficial she’s presented in the original anime.
Add to this the fact that a successful manga that’s been around for two decades still doesn’t have its own anime to speak of when Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon got an entire reboot and I can’t help but think something is seriously wrong (‘cmon, y’all, we’re talking two or three volumes of content here depending on the version). Until the anime industry gets its act together, here are some reasons that a Sailor V anime is not only necessary on its own, but would also make up for some of Sailor Moon’s major weaknesses (warning: spoilers for both Codename wa: Sailor V and Sailor Moon ahead).
One lesson I know Sailor V could have taught me better than Sailor Moon was how to cope with emotions in more grown-up ways. One of Minako’s hallmarks (later given to Makoto in the original anime) is the fact that she develops crushes almost constantly throughout the series. In Sailor Moon Usagi barely gets a chance to form heart eyes for Motoki, the arcade owner, before she decides on a serious commitment with Mamoru. Though obviously different people have different experiences with attraction, Minako’s unrequited feelings are far more common. It’s easy to call these feelings superficial, but I argue that at 14-years-old it’s much healthier to develop your identity and then respond to emotions rather than build your identity around the romance. Part of Usagi’s vulnerability to this comes from the fact that she has little to no control over how she feels, going from 0 to waterfall sobbing in seconds regardless of the consequences. While Usagi has the benefit of depending on a team for comfort and guidance, Minako develops an understanding of how to process and express strong emotions on her own.
For instance, in one story Minako discovers as Sailor V that the boy she is interested in has a crush on someone else. Although the resulting heartbreak causes tears to form in her eyes, she reasons that “tears don’t suit Sailor V.” Importantly Minako isn’t equating crying with weakness (which Sailor Moon more or less does a great deal in the beginning) or suppressing her feelings, but rather acknowledging that she has a more immediate responsibility as a public figure and that means not focusing the attention on herself. That’s a really powerful thought for children learning how to share attention and become more emotionally independent (I know a few adults who could even benefit).
Another thing that Sailor V has going for it is that Sailor Moon forgets its ability to balance its serious and comedic subject matter. Where Sailor Moon’s tone starts off similarly to Sailor V’s with hammy, exaggerated humor we veer into high stakes extremely soon, whether it’s due to villains, endangered eternal fiances, or the simple identity crisis of realizing your body is inhabited by the memories of a thousand-years-old princess from the moon. Because Sailor V is more concerned with developing the character than depicting an epic fairy tale, it retains a lot more lightheartedness; sure, Sailor V is constantly protecting her town from the Dark Agency, but villains are more of a Scooby-Doo level threat with some magic powers thrown in here and there.
In addition, Sailor Moon tends to relegate serious real life difficulties like body image to side chapters or for comedic effect. Admittedly Sailor V does have a sketchy relationship with fatphobia (in one chapter the entire city gains weight as a result of the enemy’s evil chocolate and Minako desperately attempts to avoid this), but it also has moments when Minako questions being the incarnation of the goddess of love and beauty in ways that seem natural for any maturing person, especially a young woman.
The final and perhaps biggest lesson Sailor V teaches are the real dangers that can occur for women and girls in romantic relationships. Let’s be honest here: in the Sailor Moon manga (and now Crystal )Tuxedo Kamen does a lot of skeevy things that get forgiven because he’s Usagi’s reincarnated soulmate for infinity. A few examples include: stalking Usagi, kissing her after she passed out drunk, and essentially kidnapping her to his room after she falls unconscious in a fight, none of which was done with consent. And that’s just our male protagonist. Sailor V on the other hand symbolically book ends her entire series with two different unhealthy relationships. In the first relationship Minako starts wearing her signature red ribbon to impress her crush, but discovers how to be less concerned with changing herself for a boy than coming into her own individual identity since keeping the bow as part of her and Sailor V’s trademark style is Minako’s own decision.
When Kaitou Ace (the man Minako feels she’s been in love with for quite a few chapters) similarly attempts to use abuse tactics to manipulate her into thinking she’s destined to be his romantic partner she rejects him after remembering that genuine love should look like the nurturing support of her senshi friends. Intimate partner abuse statistics for teens are a growing issue, and while it may not eliminate the problem, the more media countering a narrative of rape culture and unhealthy power dynamics the better in my opinion.
Knowing that we continue to be robbed of this anime masterpiece can be frustrating, but at the very least Sailor V finally got some of her much deserved shine with the American release of her manga a few years back. One thing’s for certain: if I had the chance to go back in time, I know exactly who I’d choose to be in Sailor Moon. In the meantime, though, we always have some spectacular creations courtesy of the fanbase to look to for comfort.
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I think you also gotta remember, Sailor V wasn’t completed until after Sailor Moon manga’s original run. (Or most of it). So the themes towards the end could also be Naoko trying to make up for what she was doing during Sailor Moon’s run. Still, neither one is perfect- especially by today’s standards and could’ve been better. Storywise, I do believe that Sailor V is vital to understanding how Sailor Moon works. Especially since it explains a lot of things that could’ve been expanded on if it was it’s own Anime. (Or at least an OVA, come on. Even Ami got one!)