Is Usagi Just a Copy of Minako from Codename: Sailor V?

♪ One of these things is not like the other ♪

♪ One of these things is not like the other ♪

Whether Minako is considered a prototype for Usagi or a completely unique character seems to be a matter often debated among fans — and not without good reason. After all, it’s a well known fact that Ms. Takeuchi originally started Codename: Sailor V as a one-shot story meant to tell the tales of a sailor-suited warrior of justice. Only later did that idea get transformed into the Sailor Moon world that we came to know and love.

The anime even played heavily, perhaps too heavily, on this trope, adding further fuel to the Usagi/Minako copycat fire.

And yet, like practically everything else in the Sailor Moon universe, things are not as simple as they seem.

Today we’re going to take a look at Usagi and Minako’s characters in-depth and and see if we can settle once and for all just how similar (and different!) they really are. I hope you’ve got a talking cat handy, because you just may need one to untangle this mess!

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Happy Birthday Minako Aino!

Sailor Venus cake by YouTuber DreamChaser

Sailor Venus cake by YouTuber DreamChaser (watch video)

Ah, Minako Aino — part-time lover, part-time volleyball playing, Queen-stabbing Sailor Senshi. Is there nothing this girl can’t do?

Thanks to her dual story arcs in Codename: Sailor V and in Sailor Moon, Minako is one of the few characters sporting character growth nearly on the same level, or possibly even greater, than Usagi herself!

The girl who was once a crime-fighting rookie eventually joins the Sailor Senshi as a veteran warrior and leader of the Sailor Team. The fact that these two arcs blend together so easily is yet another credit to Ms. Takeuchi’s amazing storytelling abilities.

Today in honor of Minako Aino’s birthday (her 40th, if case you’re counting!), we’ll be talking about five interesting facts about her character and the role she plays in Sailor Moon. Be sure to stick her around and wish her a good one!

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Was Codename: Sailor V Inspired by a Volleyball Manga?

Minako plays for keeps in volleyball

Minako plays for keeps in volleyball

When I say “Minako Aino,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? … after “Sailor Venus” … and  “Sailor V” … yeah, after “Artemis” too.

Okay, fine. When I say “Minako Aino” and “favorite sport that you see her engage in occasionally throughout the Sailor Moon anime and manga,” what comes to mind? That’s right, volleyball! Glad we’re on the same page.

While there isn’t really anything terribly remarkable on the surface about the fact that Minako plays volleyball, it turns out that there may actually be yet another of Ms. Takeuchi’s many hidden references when you dig a little deeper.

I hope you’re paying attention, because today we’re going to servevolley of information your way!1

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How Did the Concept of Codename: Sailor V Evolve Into Sailor Moon?

In search of the missing link

In search of the missing link

Now that it’s been over a quarter of a century since Sailor Moon first hit bookshelves, and hit the airwaves shortly after that, I doubt it’s really much of a surprise to anyone to hear that another series by Ms. Takeuchi, Codename: Sailor V, served as a precursor to our favorite series.

And if you didn’t know… well, surprise! Now you do. Since I have a strict “one tidbit per post” rule, I guess that means that we call get to just go home then.

… or, I could finish what I started.

Today we’ll be talking about the creative process that was involved in turning a one-shot manga starring the no-nonsense beauty Sailor V and her sidekick kitty-pal Artemis into the multimedia powerhouse starring a full-fledged Sailor Team.

I hope you join along for the ride!

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Why Is Minako Bad at Japanese?

Don't feel bad, Mina-P! We all have weak points...

Don’t feel bad, Mina-P! We all have weak points…

As odd as I’m sure it sounds, this is actually an article I’ve wanted to write about for a long time. Quite simply, it combines two of my favorite activities: talking about Japanese and looking at the minutia of the world of Sailor Moon.

If you’ve got a moment, why not join along as I throw out a possible theory as to why Minako seems to occasionally struggle with the intricacies of the Japanese language.

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What Was Sailor Moon’s Original Title?

The Original Cast of Pretty Soldier Sailor V

The Original Cast of Pretty Soldier Sailor V

One of the details that’s rarely discussed (which isn’t too surprisingly, since it’s not terribly well known) is that the official title of the series that we all know and love – Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon – wasn’t actually decided until the last minute. In fact, as of November 1991 (the material printed in the January 1992 issue seems to have been compiled at this time, as noted by the date written in the lower right of her sketch – November 5, 1991), Ms. Takeuchi and the editors at Nakayoshi magazine were still referring to the series as Pretty Soldier Sailor V.1 Fortunately, that’s not all there is to the secrets that can be found in this old back issue. In fact, there’s even an interview with Ms. Takeuchi in which she discusses some details about the series, some of which weren’t even actually used!

1992’s Super Heroine Appears!
“Pretty Soldier Sailor V” (Naoko Takeuchi)

“Code Name: Sailor V,” which has been massively popular in Nakayoshi‘s spin-off magazine RunRun, has powered up and will now be serialized in Nakayoshi magazine!! Thanks for your support!

Sailor Moon's Pre-Final Design

Sailor Moon’s Pre-Final Design

On page 48 of the January 1992 issue, you can see Sailor Moon’s working design, which differs both from her final design and even from the one which appears in the Sailor Moon Materials Collection artbook. In fact, if you look closely, both of the designs seem to differ slightly, so it looks like she had several designs being worked on at once.

Sailor Moon here is lacking her tiara and broach, but mysteriously has armor-style shoulder pads and even a crown in one of them. One of the designs appears far more reality-based, at least from the one image, due to the normal earrings and more simply school uniform (and not the normal body-forming Sailor Soldier uniform the team is famous for).

 

Several more interesting points can be found in the early-stage sketch of some of the main cast proposed by Ms. Takeuchi, which appear on page 292 of the same issue, in a monthly interview column titled “Nakayoshi Manga Newspaper.” In the picture (which can be seen at the top of this article), you can see the “mysterious cat” which was likely an early design for Luna (though it could be Artemis, it seems unlikely that she wouldn’t just use his name if it were), though it’s white and appears to be fluffy. We also have an “otaku boy” who appears to be Umino, the  “main character and ally of justice – Usagi,” in addition to the Mamoru-looking character on the right: “a nice guy who’s my type… could he be Usagi’s enemy?!” And the Rei-looking character in the middle of the group? Actually, that’s Ms. Takeuchi herself! It says: “I’ve recently gotten my hair straight-permed and started prettying myself up!”

The interview itself isn’t too interesting and doesn’t really give many details, but for those who are interested, here is a rough translation of the interview between the Nakayoshi editorial staff and Ms. Takeuchi:

Editor (Ed): What will the story be about?
Naoko (N): It’ll be a really cool story that’s totally outrageous, with some romance thrown in.

Ed: What’s the main character like?
N: “Usagi” is her name. She’s a crybaby, but she has a sweet and innocent personality.

Ed: It sounds like there’ll be “transforming” involved. When will she transform?
N: When “the Earth is in peril.”

Ed: What kind of enemies will she face?
N: Incredibly beautiful women and remarkably handsome young men… at least that’s what I’m thinking!

And there you have it! The first time that Usagi’s name was announced to the public… and some more of the background on the series before all the final details had even been decided! I’d really like to know more about what all this talk of “Sailor V powered up” was meant to imply, and if there were supposed to be any direct connections between Minako and Usagi. Hopefully one of these days more information will surface!

Why Isn’t Minako’s Name Associated With Venus?

Sailor Venus and Her Forlorn Namesake Planet

Sailor Venus and Her Forlorn Namesake Planet

One of the first things anyone with even a passing interest in learning Japanese will notice is that the names of all of the (inner) Sailor Soldiers is that their names follow a pretty noticeable pattern. Even if you haven’t studied Japanese, you’ve likely read about their names and explanations thereof in countless numbers of profiles online. For the sake of a quick summary, the Japanese no (の) serves as a possessive and can mean something similar to “of” or signify ownership, much like ” ‘s ” in English. In this way, the last name of each of the characters makes a nice wordplay which signifies not only elemental affinity, but the celestial object they’re tied to. Though the English names for the planets are gaining traction in recent years, traditionally the other inner planets (excluding Earth) and Jupiter have been referred to by elements, which ties back into the elemental affinities of the inner soldiers.

Mercury to Jupiter, in Japanese

Mercury to Jupiter, in Japanese

Here you can see the Japanese names of the planets: Mercury (水星; suisei – water planet), Venus (金星; kinsei – metal planet), Earth (地球; chikyuu – earth globe), the Moon (; tsuki – Moon), Mars (火星; kasei – fire planet), and Jupiter (木星; mokusei – wood planet).

The same characters are found in the name of the Sailor Soldiers: 月野うさぎ (Tsukino, Usagi – Usagi/Rabbit of the Moon), 衛 (Chiba, Mamoru – Mamoru/Protector of the Earth), 水野亜美 (Mizuno, Ami – Ami of the Water), 火野レイ (Hino, Rei – Rei of the Fire), 木野まこと (Kino, Makoto – Makoto of Wood), and 愛野美奈子 (Aino, Minako – Minako of… Love). As you can see, Minako breaks out of this system in a pretty dramatic way and leaves us with the question of just why is it that Ms. Takeuchi decided to not follow the pattern with her in the first place.

The Sailor of Love and Beauty

The Sailor of Love and Beauty

The easiest answer, of course, is simply that Minako came first, as we talked about before in her debut in Sailor V, approximately half a year prior to her appearance in the Sailor Moon manga. Minako is the self-proclaimed Sailor Soldier of love and beauty, so it only makes sense that she has a name that matches, right? Obviously her character being created prior to the rest and before Ms. Takeuchi herself had the naming patter down clearly plays a roll in this, but there are several other reasons which likely played into the decision.

For one, in order to name Minako after the planet Venus (and to conform with the naming system of the rest of the Sailor Soldiers), she would have had to name her 金野美奈子 (Kin’no, Minako). This name unfortunately doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue in Japanese, and obviously is a little too close to comfort with Makoto’s name. The other reason is that, through a clever play on kanji readings, it turns out that Ms. Takeuchi already did manage to sneak Venus into her name, all without having to bother with using her last name to do it.

As you may know (and probably noticed above), Japanese kanji can generally be read at least two different ways, very often more. These readings are referred to as their on and kun readings.1 Taking Ami’s name, for example, her last name Mizuno (野) contains the same character as Suisei (星). The same applies to Hino (野) and Kasei (星), and Kino (野) and Mokusei (星). Well, if one were to take alternative readings for Minako‘s () first name, you can actually pronounce her name as Binasu2 – the older Japanese romanization of the English name “Venus.”

So while it might not be apparent on the surface, it turns out that Ms. Takeuchi did manage to slip the the planetary reference into Minako’s name! It’s amazing how far she really thought these things through…