Blast from the past.
Today I’m taking a moment the step back and talk about a the first volume of a title that hails from the bad old days of “Mixx” and “ChixComix”. If you’re scratching your head in bewilderment, Mixx is what later became TokyoPop, and ChixComix was its imprint for shoujo titles (Sailor Moon, Miracle Girls, and Corrector Yui also appeared under this imprint). The volumes were tiny (I recall some of the Sailor Moon volumes bragging about being pocket-sized… maybe a cargo-pocket, but they were pretty small), names were changed, and content deemed vaguely offensive was excised. At the same time, though, credit must be given where it is due, as Mixx was aggressively targeting an audience American comic publishers didn’t care about – girls. So, yes, frownyface that Makoto in Sailor Moon was named Lita, but it was the first stumbling steps to an American marketplace in which being able to make up one’s mind is a bigger issue than hoping that there’s maybe one title you like being published that year.
You may’ve noticed I used name changes in Sailor Moon as an example for edits and such… well, that’s because Saint Tail actually retains all of the original Japanese names, and, overall, is fairly uncensored. Honestly, once you get past the basics of the premise (there’s this teenaged girl who steals things and does so under the auspices of a nun-in-training), there isn’t much here that could offend anyone. As far as magical girl fare goes, Saint Tail is pretty lightweight, even in the company of titles like Corrector Yui. Its an entirely Robin Hood-esque set-up – no greater evil lurks in the background, and the worst that could possibly happen is that Saint Tail gets arrested… which, yeah, that would suck, but no one is dying in this story.
Just for a slight bit more background, Saint Tail was one of the magical girl titles that was licensed in an attempt to grab onto Sailor Moon’s coattails, although TokyoPop pushed it more than some of its stablemates – they even licensed the anime. (Another property that found itself licensed in an attempt to cash in on the Sailor Moon craze was, fascinatingly enough, Revolutionary Girl Utena, the boxes of which shouted, “FROM THE DIRECTOR OF SAILOR MOON!” back when Central Park Media released the anime.) Unfortunately, it never caught on, so much so that the final volumes of the anime didn’t even feature a dub, something that was basically unheard of in those days.
Anyway, on to the actual material here!
In volume one, we are dropped in media res, as the titular character practices some thievery, and we then learn that she’s middle schooler Meimi Haneoka. Like most other phantom thieves, she steals for good reasons only – in this case to return items to their rightful owners from bad people. Her intermediary is her best friend, Seira, a young nun-in-training who is also one of her classmates. Standing in opposition is the determined young Asuka Jr., whose father is a police detective often outmatched by Saint Tail (and, despite his exasperation with his father’s failures, Asuka Jr. has the same success rate).
Honestly, its not terribly substantial, but it is cute and charming. There are also some intriguing points to be had. For one, Meimi doesn’t utilize magic in the sense that she has magical powers, but instead relies on sleight-of-hand skills she’s picked up from her magician father (and its hinted she got the general thievery skills from her mother). And there’s also no mascot character in sight guiding her – this is the magical girl genre done with only girls involved, as it is Seira who roughly takes on the role generally handed to a cutesy little creature that can speak Japanese.
There isn’t anything huge in this volume – Saint Tail steals things, Asuka Jr. shouts and chases her around, and there is a smattering of schooltime antics, but that’s about it. The volume is entirely about setting things up, having us get to know our characters. By the end of the volume, we’ve gotten indications that Meimi will/has a crush on Asuka Jr., but it isn’t set in stone yet (even if we all pretty much know it’ll happen from the first two chapters alone). There are also two bonus stories, but they’re fairly forgettable (I can’t even recall what the second one was about, and I read this a week ago). It is funny, though, to see splashed across the cover “Bonus material!”, as if including one-shots that were published in the Japanese tankoban is somehow giving us something extra! (The copy I own is actually from the second print-run, so it has a different cover than the one I have pictured above.)
All I could say about the release itself I’ve already basically gone into – this is a fully standard Mixx/TokyoPop release circa 2000. I can’t help but feel that younger fans would pick it up as if it were an antique from some distant era, boggling at how primitive it seems. And, of course, it goes without saying that this one is out of print, although it is very cheap on the secondhand market, even for copies in good condition. Of course, if you really want to blow someone’s mind, try to pick up copies of the individual chapters – this was originally a monthly serialization by Mixx, after all.
I recommend Saint Tail, in particular to folks who would like to chew on some magical girl fare, but have already read Sailor Moon and CardCaptor Sakura, and aren’t really feeling Magi Puella Madoka Magica. You might find the experience of reading an old-style release quaint, but the story shines through fairly easily.