If you haven’t done yourself the favour of reading the original Sailor Moon manga, I suggest you drop whatever stigmas or preconceptions you have of the series and find yourself a copy. Naturally, it suffers from the cliches it helped to establish: baddies-of-the-moment, elaborately named attacks, and a penchant for all the bad parts of 80s women’s fashion. Coupled with the toxic sweetness of Mamoru and Usagi’s relationship, if you go in expecting anything less than the crown jewel of the magical girl genre, you’ll be going in horrendously underprepared. That said, the manga has its merits, and Sailor Moon is definitely one of those “read the manga, skip the anime” type affairs. Any fan of really, really well-drawn and well-paced manga should read Sailor Moon.
On the note of the anime, the fact that they managed to squeeze 162 episodes out of a mere 52 chapters should give you a hint as to the concentration of the manga: each chapter is a glorious 50+ page affair, and the entire first anime series, R is concluded in scarcely 12 chapters. Naoko Takeuchi’s art starts out good, if a little stiff. By the end of those initial 12 chapters, her art reaches a level in many ways untouchable by other shoujo mangaka to this day.
It is a rare thing for an illustrator of any kind to be as skilled in one style as another – a huge part of illustrating professionally is defining one’s own “style” (and for better or worse, sticking to it.) Takeuchi displays as much ability with her black and white illustrations as she does with her color ink washes; and her use of lines conveys both extreme motion and a sense of acute stillness, all within the same illustration. In her manga spreads, a similar display of extreme skill . Panel lines do more than simply divide space; they direct the energy of the page. In doing so, Takeuchi controls entire chapters down to a pinpoint, though the initially “messy” and “flowy” nature of her art would have you think otherwise.
It’s hard to appreciate what Naoko Takeuchi has done, from our current standpoint. While the age of the manga, at almost 20 years old(!) is a factor in this, it is the reach of the manga hampers us. Because Sailor Moon is so iconic, it’s hard to see past the blond dumplings, and even harder not to recall the awful dub. It’s hard not to think about the silly fangirls, badly made merchandise, and men cosplaying as the scouts when thinking about the series. Because it was the introduction to anime for so many, it’s hard not to think of it in a jaded, colored way. As fans, we pass it by for reasons which have nothing to do with the quality of the manga itself. If you can do look past these things, the reward is immense: a journey on the scale of Gurren Lagann, a love story to give Cinderella a run for its money, and the manga that started a movement.