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.


EDIT 5/2012:  Kodansha has fixed a number of problems in this volume, such as Princess-sama and "soldier of beauty and justice", and changed all instances of "bro" to "onii-san."  See this thread for pics.

Now I will talk about some specific examples of improvements, as well as address some criticisms from both myself and other hardcore "Moonies".
Book Comparison

From left to right: the original English manga from Mixx (1998), the Japanese reprint (2004) and Kodansha's English reprint. The Japanese manga first debuted in 1992 (I do not own these originals), and was reprinted with some new artwork as part of a revival the series experienced around 2003. This reprint is what Kodansha is adapting now. Back in the day, manga in the US was flipped to read left to right. This practice was ended as manga became more popular, so this new version of Sailor Moon allows us to read it "properly". I find that Kodansha's English volume is much better quality than the Japanese. First of all, it's bigger, and the colors are more vibrant. Secondly, the paper stock is better quality, nice and white so that the ink tones pop. This is typical, though: for a number of reasons, Japanese manga uses lower quality, brownish paper stock and publishes in smaller formats.

One criticism I have heard some Sailor Moon fans very fervently vocalize is the choice to name the label the Sailor Senshi as Pretty Guardians rather than Pretty Soldiers. While it's true that the Japanese title Bishoujo Senshi means Pretty Soldier, and Takeuchi has embraced this as the English translation because she uses it in such things as the artbooks, the fact is that Pretty Guardian was chosen to represent Sailor Moon during the revival in 2003-ish. The live action series used this title, and all merchandise released during this time used that title. The English words "Pretty Guardian" can be plainly seen on the Japanese cover, so at first blush, this seems like a non-issue.  However, the main concern if for what will happen at the end of the 4th story arc (Dead Moon Circus), when the Senshi are introduced to their "Sailor Power Guardians".  Will those guardians now be known as the guardians of the guardians?  Takeuchi writes the word "guardian" in katakana, so she leaves little wiggle room for naming these sprite-like characters.  Obviously, the translators did not think this far ahead, and likely weren't even aware that such characters existed, but I wouldn't label this a crisis.  English is a language with a lot of words...with some thought, the translators could still capture the spirit of these "guardians" using a different term (maybe "protective spirits" or something).  I think that some fans are still bitter about the Sailor Senshi being called "scouts" for God knows how many years, so they've become very protective of the "soldier" moniker. But this complaint is really only important to the most exacting of fans, and most folks won't know or care about the difference.

Usagi being forced to stand in the hall as punishment for being late for school

This an example of a translation that represents an entirely different idea, and I suspect the reason why is a combination of censorship and an attempt to make the situation less foreign. In Japanese schools, students are sometimes punished by being forced to stand out in the hall, occasionally having to hold something heavy, like buckets of water. I suspect that Mixx was afraid of portraying something unfamiliar to most Americans, and might also have been afraid to show something that could be construed as mild corporal punishment. The original Japanese says what Usagi says in Kodansha's translation, and contains no mention of a kitty on the street.

However, this example also illustrates a valid criticism. Some of Kodansha's translations are not very natural. Usagi says, in Japanese, "Moooo!" (pronounced like the name "Moe", not like a cow) which is a sound of frustration. I would not choose "oh, honestly!" for a teenage girl, especially not one as flighty as Usagi. Something like "geez", "come on", or "uuugh" would be much more natural. The next sentence is a fragment. These kinds of fragments are quite common in Kodansha's translation. People certainly speak in fragments in English, but not quite like this. Another example cited by others is when Usagi first stops by the game center on page 18. She says, "I can't defeat them....these low-level bad guys." This shows that Kodansha is being very literal with their translations, because this sort of thought formation (topic - comment) is typical in spoken Japanese, but not in English. 
Umino's news
Here's a fun example of how Mixx tried to add some zesty American flavor. Umino certainly does not mention Schwartzenager in his Japanese text bubble. I always found it odd to include Ahhhnold's name, anyway, because even in 1998, he wasn't that topical. You can also see that Mixx bizarrely chopped off a piece of his word bubble, the part that says "sou desu yo!" ("that's right!") and erased the sound effect of his wagging finger.
Nephrite's Intro
This shows how Mixx left out an important character detail. Nephrite is one of the "Shitennou", ("four heavenly kings", more frequently referred to in English as the four generals) and each one of them represents a region of the Earth. They each represent a region of the Earth because they used to be warriors of Earth that served King Endymion (the male lead of the series). Mixx decided to just totally leave this out, because I suppose they fancied themselves co-creators of all the characters. There is another scene where Nephrite actually speaks the "four heavenly kings" name in the Kodansha version, which of course didn't happen in the Mixx version, because what the hell does Naoko Takeuchi know about making interesting characters anyway? 
Also worth noting is how crappy and faded Mixx's ink looks.

Usagi meets Makoto

This is another example of Mixx improperly representing the character by both leaving out details and stupidly translating other details. Makoto is introducing herself to Usagi. Do you notice one PRETTY IMPORTANT detail missing in Mixx's translation that is present in Kodansha's? Yup, it's that Makoto lives alone. And because she lives alone, she wants to know where there's a cheap supermarket so she can do her grocery shopping. Mixx probably thought that was unacceptable for a teenager, or that some parent would go on "The O'reilly Factor" to complain that Sailor Moon manga caused her kid to move out at 14, so they just ignored the "hitorigurashi" in the Japanese and decided to make Makoto HIP 'N' HAPPENIN' by having her ask if there are any cool stores around. Mako-chan happens to be one of my favorite characters, so this maiming particularly infuriates me. I nearly wept with joy to see Kodansha's translation.

Naru's Youma Mom

Dying is bad and scary. A small panel underneath this one shows Naru's mom tied up with some text pointing to her saying, "Naru's mom, still alive." It says this in the Mixx version, too, so I don't know why referencing a possible death was such a no-no, especially because Mixx DOES allow the evil, evil word and its derivatives in later chapters. Perhaps it was the fact that the monster references a specific MODE of death that made this so horrifyingly inappropriate. Of course, since she doesn't do this in Mixx's version, Naru screaming "NOOOOOOOOOO" like Darth Vader in Episode 3 seems a little overdramatic. I think she would have preferred her mother dead from starvation to being tied up, actually.

That being said, I don't 100% agree with Kodansha's translation. I would have said "dying of starvation" instead of "dead from starvation." The Japanese text to me reads as something that is happening now, not as something that has happened already.

Ami and Luna

This one is a long-standing pet peeve of mine, because it just doesn't even make any sense why it happened. Before this scene, Luna (the cat) jumped onto Ami's head as a way to initiate a conversation between Ami and Usagi. Ami says in Japanese what the Kodansha translation says. This explains why she is pointing up at the sky. In Mixx's version, I guess she's just trying to practice some dramatic public-speaking gestures. And it looks like they glued that piece they chopped from Umino's bubble earlier onto Ami's bubble here, because we really needed that "oh" in there! It saved the whole fucking panel.

A high school student?

I had to chop this page into pieces to fit it all in 1 image. I like this example because it shows how Kodansha represented the contrast that Mixx totally failed to represent. Usagi is a middle-school student, and Mamoru is a High School student. This contrast is clearly represented everywhere but the Mixx version, where I suppose dynamic language is too hard to handle. Notice how the lettering is much more dynamic in Kodansha's version, too.


Yeah, Usagi, I'm wondering what that's supposed to mean, too.

I talked about how some of Kodansha's translations are unnatural / too literal earlier. This is one example where translating too literally results in something really puzzling. In Japanese, Luna says "kinchoukan" (緊張感) which literally means a feeling of nervousness. But asking someone to live nervously, and exemplifying that by waking up early, just doesn't make sense. She could have said something like, "you should be more concerned about how you live your life." Mixx wrote, "you should live your life with more voracity." While that word doesn't really capture the feel of "kinchoukann", it at least helps the rest of the dialogue make sense. (I suppose I should have included the Japanese and Mixx images as well. Meh, too lazy now.)
After enraging her mother by bringing home a lousy exam score, Usagi gets kicked out of the house.  Her brother Shingo, who is just coming home himself, taunts her as he goes inside.  Their bickering suffers from some problems in Kodansha's translation.  First of all, Shingo calling Usagi a "dumb bunny" seems like an amateur translation error.  In the Japanese, he calls her, "baka Usagi," which simply means "dumb Usagi."  We all know that Usagi's name means "bunny", but why in the world would the translator think the usage of Usagi in this one instance actually refers to the animal and not the character?  It clearly doesn't, because I hardly think "dumb bunny" is an insult, unless you're referring to someone who lives in the Playboy mansion.  Secondly, isn't Shingo doing exactly what Usagi says in the last Kodansha panel--acting like a little brother?  Little brothers are popularly characterized as being pains in the ass for their older sisters.  Why Usagi would shout at him to act out that characterization is mystifying, especially when he's already doing so!  Mixx does a better job of capturing the essence of Usagi's retort while making it sound natural.

Sound effects are not treated with consistency

People complain about the sound effects. Most older manga erased the Japanese sound effects and replaced them with English ones. These days, it's more common to see Japanese sound effects left intact, sometimes with a translation next to them. This is what Kodansha has chosen to do, which I don't have any particular opinion about. However, their English translations of these sound effects are inconsistent. Sometimes, they will translate them into an English equivalent, as in the example of Luna scratching Usagi's face on the left. The Japanese says "bari-bari", and the English says, "scratch scratch". Other times, they will translate them phonetically, as in the example of Usagi playing a video game on the right. This sounds kind of stupid because we don't use those onamotapoeia in English. We would use sounds like "beep boop" or "pew pew" or "ping" or whatever other electronic onamatopeia, not "pyuiin" and "peeko". This is a small matter in my mind, but I would hope that Kodansha establishes some kind of consistency with this, because it can be a little jarring for the brain to read something unnatural like "GFUNKT".


"Legendary Silver Crystal": The Japanese is "Maboroshi no Ginzuishou" (幻の銀水晶). Nobody argues about "ginzuishou" meaning "silver crystal". But boy do people argue about that "maboroshi" part. Look up this word in a dictionary and you will see it means "phantom", "illusion". It can also be used to describe something that is rare or rarely seen, as in "maboroshi no sake" (a rare sake). I think "legendary" is fine. It captures the idea of this thing, which is an amazing, mystical, mysterious, sought-after item that people know about but may not have seen. I do not think "phantom silver crystal" or "illusionary silver crystal" are appropriate, because those terms give the impression that the crystal doesn't exist or is just a figment of people's imagination.

People giving their names in a Western fashion: In Japanese, people write their names and introduce themselves with their last names first. This doesn't happen in Kodansha's translation. Usagi says, "I'm Usagi Tsukino" instead of "I'm Tsukino Usagi." I agree that this should be represented properly, but I don't think the fact that it wasn't is worth adding a few points to one's blood pressure reading. The person's name is the same either way.

Sailor Moon's introductory speech is translated on one occasion as "soldier of beauty and justice" (p.35) when it should be "love and justice": I agree that this is strange and sloppy. The word is "ai" (愛); it could never be translated as beauty, and everyone knows Sailor Moon's intro speech by heart at this point, after over a decade of hearing it every single time she shows up.  It does make me bristle a little because it smacks of Mixx's habit of pulling words from the ether.

Usagi calls her brooch a "broach":  Again, not sure why this happened.  It can't be fully classified as a spelling error, because the dictionary does list broach as a less common spelling of brooch.  However, because it is outside of standard usage, choosing it is an odd and frankly out-of-touch decision.

Motoki being called "bro" by the girls: I agree that this is a case of poor adaptation. Motoki is a college-aged dude working at the game center. The girls all have crushes on him and affectionately call him "Onii-chan" in Japanese, which means "big brother". Since they usually abbreviate it to "Nii-chan", Kodansha decided to translate it as "bro". I get the reasoning behind it, but "bro" carries a different colloquial meaning in English that doesn't properly represent the feeling of the Japanese. The first thing most people would think of is two guys referring to each other (bros before hos? bromance?). I think they should have just left "Nii-chan" as is and added a translator's note about it at the end. They do leave in name suffixes like -chan and -san in other names, so I don't think "Nii-chan" would be out of place.

Which leads me to the next complaint: silly use of the -sama suffix. Luna says that Sailor Moon needs to find "our princess" in one chapter, then suddenly says "princess-sama" in the next chapter. First of all, that sounds pre-tty dumb. Second of all, it's redundant in English. In Japanese, a character will say "o-hime-sama" or "purinsesu". They will not say "purinsesu-sama".

There's some other complaints I've heard going around the hardcore moonie circuit, but these are the most prominent ones I wanted to discuss.


I could spend forever talking about this, but my brain is starting to get a little saturated, and I think yours is, too. If I find of any other exemplary comparisons, I'll post more, but we've got 11 more volumes to go, so I'll have plenty of material to look forward to.

Overall, I am quite pleased with this new release, despite some problems with adaptation.  While the hardcore fans demanding perfection will likely be the loudest audience, I feel that most of the negatives really won't even register at all with more casual fans.  I would readily recommend this book to anyone, and I am thrilled that I can now lend out an English version of the Sailor Moon manga to my friends without having to give a huge disclaimer about missing and corrupted content.


  1. I was worried about how they are referred to as "Guardians," too. The official name for Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Venus as a whole is “Guardian Senshi”. What are supposed to be called, “Guardian Guardians” or simply “Guardians,” or some other inaccurate translation? The Outer Senshi could be called “Outer Guardians,” but it just doesn’t seem right.

  2. I think Kodansha might be trying to fix their mistakes. I got mine a week ago and it doesn't say bro, it just says oni-san in one place. Sailor Moon is the guardian of love and justice throughout as well. The dialogue is still awkward though and the bonus pages still missing. I also think there are new errors, Queen Beryl says "You have erred twice". Princess-sama is not here either.

    Maybe Kodansha are discreetly changing it due to complaits.

    1. Really? That's unexpected, and definitely good to hear. Better late than never. The next time I go to the bookstore, maybe I'll pick up one of the older volumes and check out some of the problem panels.

      "You have erred twice" is proper English, although I can't think of anyone who would actually say it.

      Thanks for the heads up about this!

    2. I'm thinking about mentioning/showing it in my first impressions of Sailor Moon Vol 1. I've seen enough reviews to know some of the errors by heart. We need someone to get vol 1 in a years time or check a bookstore to see if any further changes have been made.
      What this means is that I might wait 6 or 8 months down the line to see if at least some of the mistakes are corrected. By the way, is the translation of the generals title actually 'heavenly kings'?

      Thanks for the speedy reply.

    3. Forgot to mention, brooch has been fixed as well. Many spelling mistakes and text inconsistancies have been fixed. I'm hoping he takes another stab at this and fixes the way the dialogue flows.

    4. Yes, "Four Heavenly Kings" is accurate. The shitennou is a group of 4 gods from Buddhism. The name has been used in many works of fiction. For example, in Final Fantasy IV, the Four Elemental Fiends (or whatever they're called in the English translation) are called the shitennou in Japanese.

  3. "I hardly think 'dumb bunny' is an insult, unless you're referring to someone who lives in the Playboy mansion."

    Just FYI, it IS an insult, and one I've heard before. The problem here is that it's outdated slang. The sources I've found state the term was coined and came into popular usage somewhere between 1920 and 1945, so it's pretty old. It would be like calling someone a square today. Many people would still get it, many people wouldn't, and you'd date yourself horribly by saying it. :P

  4. I agree with you that 'Legendary' works fine. And I do see your point about "Phantom", but doesn't it fit in with all the other mineralogical names in the series?

  5. Bagging on the DiC adaptation? Still? People who know how syndication works understand why they made many of the "changes" they did. The series was actually _exceptionally_ well-done. And if it weren't for some of those "changes" - especially the "Sailor Says" segments, which were there for a very specific reason - the show never would have been carried by anybody, and many Sailor Moon fans in the US wouldn't even have known the series existed until internet access became common (and even then it might have taken a long time).