Miaka Yuuki and her best friend Yui Hongo are studied for their high school entrance exams. One day when they go to the library to return some books, they accidentally discover an ancient text called “Universe of the Four Gods” (also called “The Four Gods Sky and Earth”). According to legend, the one who reads this book to its completion will be granted her fondest wish. So, naturally, they begin to read, and are instantly sucked into the world of the book. Neither of them realise at this time that their friendship, their courage, and their very lives will be put through a test far greater than they had ever expected to take.
Fushigi Yuugi is a title that I’ve been following for years and years. I picked up the manga around 15 years ago and started reading it – and I couldn’t get enough. To me, it was like shoujo genre at its best. So when I was able to get my hands (and eyes) on the anime adaptation, I started watching right away.
Since it’s classic shoujo/fantasy, you know right away to be expecting a few things: a pure heroine, an attractive male lead, detailed backgrounds, tumultuous romances, tragedy and heartbreak. It’s just par for the course. And Fushigi Yuugi manages to get the balance just right. Expect to run the full gauntlet of emotions whilst watching this one as from the very beginning it shows itself to be a good blend of slapstick comedy, heartbreaking romance, and fast-paced action. Some of the best characterisation in anime is to be found in this series. Watching the anime was like being reunited with old friends.
But a couple of things just seemed a little… off.
Not that these things completely destroy the anime. As a stand-alone piece, it works quite well. But be prepared to find yourself thinking “hang on a minute…” and picking a few things apart if you are a fan of the manga. In my opinion, these few flaws prevent the series from being the classic it should be – up there with similar timeless shoujo successes such as Sailormoon and Cardcaptor Sakura.
To begin with, the animation quality is particularly poor – showing itself up particularly in action battle scenes. A storyline like this deserves way better than the flat flame rates and muddy colouring that make up the animation. I know this anime was made many, many years ago, but usually I find this type of animation charming. But in Fushigi Yuugi? It’s like someone stopped caring halfway through.
It also suffers in the characterisation department, which is equally disappointing. The characters they bother to develop are developed beautifully and I love the depth of exploration that they have. For example, the relationship between Miaka and Yui clearly shows their deep friendship and how it is put to the test big time through a series of one misunderstanding after another. Yet even when one is ready to give up on the other, they somehow still manage to not fully give up on them – they just can’t turn away from one another. That at the end of the series they are closer than ever is a tribute to the power of their feelings for each other. They really did grow up after all.
Pity this development didn’t extend to all of the Guardians of Suzaku. Mitsukake and Chiriki, the guardians that had the misfortune of showing up a little later and so weren’t as fully embroiled in all the drama as the others were, didn’t seem to say or do much at all. In the anime, there may as well have been only five guardians as the exposition on their characters was near to nothing. Mitsukake got one small story arc to give him entry into the character group and Chiriko had only one episode in which to introduce himself as the last remining member of the Seven. And it was practically “Oh, hello, I’m Chiriko and I’m the one you’re actually looking for.” And then we pretty much don’t see him do anything again until he dies – and that is a severely long sequence. But do we really feel anything for his character, like we would Nuriko? Not really. Mitsukake’s death in the manga was really touching, but I felt that they brushed over it a bit in the anime to give Miaka more screentime. How is the audience meant to care about these characters – and their subsequent deaths – if the writers get rid of all of their screentime? There’s plenty of Hotohori, the bishounen emperor, and he barely leaves his throne to go on any adventures.
Aaaand… then we have Miaka and Tamahome’s together, not together, together again relationship. It does wear thin for a few episodes before they finally do admit what the audience has known about for the entire series, but it doesn’t ever get prohibitively annoying. Miaka does seem a bit more annoying in the anime than she was in the manga, but I imagine that this is mainly down to the silly ‘comedy’ that the writers put in. Plus they changed the scene where Tamahome punches a tiger in the mouth (arguably one of the best scenes of the series) to him licking it. Somehow nowhere near as cool.
On the whole, it’s not the best animated rendition of a classic shoujo story that I’ve seen, but I’m still glad I watched it. Though the pacing and the animation may be difficult and dated, the emotions behind it all still remain and I found myself laughing at the memorable comedy and dreading the sheer number of feels that I know would arrive with certain scenes. Fushigi Yuugi doesn’t shy away from any hard topics and difficult decisions, and I think that’s why I continue to enjoy it. For a story about a girl that gets sucked into a book, this one is both consistently funny and moving and at least does the manga justice in its pathos.