Name: Fushigi Yûgi (in America, “The Mysterious Play”)
Number of episodes: 52 + 2 OAVS (several episodes each)
Plot = A-
Characters = B+
Music = A-
Overall = A-
You can’t go wrong in anime when you pair good, evil, impossible romance, deadly rivalries, and of course, giant monstrous beasts that destroy Tokyo. (I always feel so bad for Tokyo)
Fushigi Yûgi is the story of Miaka, a Tokyo schoolgirl whose main concerns are food, food, and occasionally fretting about whether she’ll pass her entrance exams for high school. She desperately wants to be in the same school as her super-smart friend Yui, whose responsible attitude and academic skills are the polar opposite of Miaka. The two discover an old Chinese book in the library – but when they open it, the pages are blank. They are suddenly surrounded by a bright red light, and both are drawn into the book. Yui is almost immediately returned to the Tokyo Library, but Miaka remains in the mysterious land of Konan in ancient China, where it seems she is to be the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy about a priestess of the phoenix god Suzaku. She must gather her seven warriors, or seishi, and summon the god to protect Konan from the encroaching empire of Kutou, represented by the dragon god Seiryû. Two of her seishi become romantically attached to her – Tamahome, whom Miaka loves in return, and Hotohori, the prettiest man that ever lived (and also the Emperor of Konan). In short time she finds the seishi Nuriko, a man dressed as a woman in the harem of Hotohori (long story). After Miaka falls ill, the four set out to find the other seishi as well as a way to return Miaka to Japan. Eventually they dicover the remaining four seishi: Chichiri, a traveling monk; Tasuki, a mountain bandit; Mitsukake, the mute…er…healer; and Chiriko, a seemingly worthless 10 year old.
However, they soon discover that in Kutou, the priestess of Seiryû has appeared magically. By putting two and two together, they realize that this new priestess is Yui, drawn into the book when Miaka returned to Japan for a short while. The complications are many, including the fact that Nakago, the main villain (and a good one at that), as well as a seishi of Seiryû, has convinced Yui that Miaka does not care for her and in fact, is against her. That, combined with Yui’s infatuation with Tamahome, turns the two girls into deadly enemies. It is a race against one another to summon the god first – but many roadblocks lie in the way.
Pretty nice. Some of it is rather tinny, repeating character music, but some, like Hotohori’s Theme, are sweepingly majestic and beautiful. There are several soundtracks to Fushigi Yûgi, being the TV soundtracks, the OAV soundtracks, and the character’s ‘vocal memories’ (being the voice actors singing, most of which is very good). Many of the tracks have an electronic/techno feel, while some are orchestral, depending on which character or event they symbolize. Not a bad job at all.
Suzaku no Miko and Shichiseishi:
Miaka (Suzaku no Miko):
Well….annoying. She is your typical Sailor Moon-type (in fact she is voiced by the same seiyu that does Chibi Moon). For most of the series, I’m afraid, one just wishes someone would duct-tape her mouth shut; However, later on, she actually develops into a worthwhile character (somewhere around episode 30, lol). Her romance with Tamahome is very beautiful, even if they do get in the shoujo habit of repeating each other’s names too much.
Tamahome: The first Suzaku seishi to be discovered, he is outwardly a thief and opportunist, always looking out for number one and wanting lots of “o-ka-ne” (money). However, underneath he is actually a very strong man who has shouldered the responsibilities of his family at a very early age, and has learned many ways to conceal his true emotions. His drive to protect Miaka eventually becomes his main focus.
Hotohori: Bishounen at its finest. Hotohori is pretty, and he knows it. Beyond the layer of conceit, however, lies a young Emperor who has come into power at a very delicate time in his country’s history. He is the one who first charges Miaka, as Suzaku no Miko, to find the seishi, summon the God, and save the land, as it was prophesied. He himself is a seishi, although he cannot take part in many missions because of his political importance. He, also, falls in love with Miaka.
Nuriko:The prettiest transsexual this side of RuPaul. Nuriko, when we first meet him, is dressed as a woman (and has even managed to become a part of Hotohori’s harem). His femininity is belied by his incredible strength, which is his gift from Suzaku. Nuriko has been in love with Hotohori since he first saw him, and would do anything, including get rid of Miaka, to get the Emperor to notice him. However, he and Miaka eventually become fast friends.
Chichiri: My personal favourite seishi! Chichiri is a wandering monk whose only weapons seem to be his staff, his kasa (hat) and his kesa (cape). We soon learn, however, that the staff is an instrument for focusing Chichiri’s magical energies, and the kasa and kesa are portal instruments that he can use to transport himself and others at will. His real face is scarred horribly and he is missing his left eye, so he wears a mask (see images). He and Tasuki become inseperable, and he is the oldest seishi.
Tasuki: This flame-haired mountain bandit has a weapon no-one wants to mess with – a tessen, or a fighting fan. This one happens to be enchanted, and when Tasuki aims it and utters the incantation, it spews fire. He is arguably, on the outside, an irresponsible, uncaring lout; in truth, he’s just a big ol’ softie who is afraid of water. ^_^
Mitsukake, Chiriko, and Tama: Since these last two seishi are discovered later in the series (and really don’t do much), I lumped them together. Mitsukake is a doctor whose gift is the ability to use his chi energy to heal others; Chiriko is a 10 year old genius whose gift is…well…*ahem* And Tama is the requisite cat. And a damn cute cat he is.
Seiryû no Miko and Shichiseishi:
Yui: Yui is underdeveloped, in my opinion, and could have been a much better character. When we do get a glimpse of her, she makes for the perfect confused antitype; while, granted, we wish to smack her and tell her to wake up and smell the coffee, we can alternately sympathize with her and hate her.
Nakago: This Aryan seems out of place in Chinese history – he is the shogun under the Emperor of Kutou, in name the second most powerful man in the kingdom, in actual strength the most powerful. His magic rivals Chichiri’s; his swordfighting can best even Tamahome and Hotohori. His persuasion of Yui to become Seiryû no Miko and forsake her friendship with Miaka, as well as other events he instigates, are crucial to the storyline.
Soi: The only (truly) female Seishi of the two lands (there are two other Gods, and they had female seishi). Soi’s gift is the ability to manipulate lightning and the weather, as well as use tantric magic to strengthen Nakago (don’t ask, for the love of everything) – however, her weak spot is that she truly does love Nakago dearly.
Amiboshi & Suboshi: These twins are downright deadly. Amiboshi’s flute, when played, can induce dreams, nightmares, madness, and even death. Suboshi employs the ryuuseisui, lethal orbs that he manipulates mentally and can rip people to shreds. The twins have a strong bond, rivaled only by Suboshi’s love for Yui.
Ashitare: A man/wolf who was rescued from a circus freak show by Nakago, and now serves him (and he’d better, because when he fails, Nakago whips him till he bleeds). He has a taste for human flesh, and can track people for miles by their scent.
Tomo & Miboshi: These last two appear only in one episode each; Tomo is a painted nutjob (think Noh theatre on crack) who can manipulate thoughts and Miboshi is a spiritual persona that can inhabit various bodies at will, making him hard to kill.
Keisuke: Miaka’s older brother. After Yui and Miaka have both been taken by the book, he himself picks it up and also aids them from outside.
Tetsuya: Keisuke’s best friend, who also becomes a ‘narrator’ of the ShiJinTenchiSho and researches it from outside.
Thoughts (CONTAINS SPOILERS):
For a shoujo series, this lasted a LONG time – and that isn’t counting the OAVs. It was insanely popular in Japan, where the manga-ka that created it (Yu Watase, who also draws Ayashi no Ceres) found it to be her first big hit.
Does it deserve the acclaim?
I think so, personally. Yes, sometimes it can be mushy and insipid. But you really, really ge involved with the characters and feel their losses and triumphs acutely. The deaths of the seishi, especially Nuriko and Hotohori, are tear-jerking (and makes me wonder why MIAKA couldn’t have died instead). All in all, a very fun and rewarding series that I highly recommend. You may want to look at HK import DVDs because the length of the series makes it expensive to buy the American releases (and NEVER watch the dub- its HORRIBLE).