Wednesday, 16 May 2012

ふしぎ遊戯 / Fushigi Yuugi / Mysterious Play

Oh my, I’ve neglected this blog recently. Apologies for that! On the plus side, a few days ago I passed 100,000 views, which is always nice! Anyway, to today’s impressions – which this time are of the classic series Fushigi Yuugi.

Like several other anime I’m writing about at the moment, it took me a long, long time to get to finishing this 1995 series and writing my thoughts. I think I started to watch it in 2006 or 2007, when the first thought I had of this story about two girl transported into a mysterious world by a magical book and ending up leading legendary warriors into battle was of how strange and jarring the rhythms of the humour were. When I saw Teen Titans, it struck me that the sudden goofy swings between realistic and silly SD styles that were meant to be tributes to anime were a little off – but Fushigi Yuugi showed me that I had simply not been watching the right shows, for the same odd, jerky, often ill-timed changes were here, too. But the story was a simple and effective one and I found the characters very interesting – Tamahome with his skilful fighting and that kanji character on his forehead; Chichiri with his mysterious powers, funny way of ending sentences with ‘-no da’ and awesome hidden face; cross-dressing, clownish badass Nuriko and, eventually, adorable little Chiriko. Miaka was a likeable enough protagonist and the rivalry at the centre of the story was compelling. The antagonists also had some good designs and some interesting stories, especially Amiboshi and the psychotic Nakago.

However, by 2010 I had tired of it, finding it quite embarrassing to watch anywhere but in the comfort of my own home: an episode I watched on a train on March 31st contained ‘attempted rape, girls restrained in underwear, twin boys kissing and lots of clothes getting ripped up’. This may have been a simplification, but it spoke to the reasons I became a little uncomfortable with Fushigi Yuugi and how it was written. I don’t mind the reverse-harem in shoujo action series, especially when the characters are as rich as these. I certainly don’t mind homoeroticism. But more and more, Fushigi Yuugi reminded me, of all things, of Twilight (though obviously predating it by years). The depiction of the female characters did not sit well with me – they were always damsels in distress, needing rescuing or getting abused. Again and again, the spectre of rape rears up – invariably as a horrible fate that is actually quite thrilling when narrowly escaped. Sex is treated as something very special and reserved for just one person, which I thought a positive message, but it is also presented as quite titillating to be treated as an object – if only for a while. Plus, while I liked Amiboshi and his story, the way identical twins were treated came over as very patronising and immature, making them seem at best like doppelgangers who sap the energy from one another, and at worst like sexual curios bound to be thought of as incestuous.

And, quite honestly, it all got rather dull towards the end, with it becoming increasingly apparent that the antagonists, the Seiryuu Seven, had no hope at all of prevailing, and that Yui was mostly just bonkers – again, rape or the impression of rape the rather cheap catalyst. The art was not terrible but the animation had dated very badly by the time I saw it, and while the voice acting was very strong, several of the voice actors still being very prominent today (Chichiri’s has been in everything from One Piece to Full Metal Panic to Lucky Star. Tamahome’s was Heero Yuy from Gundam Wing. And I find it hilarious that the voice actor for the emperor Hotohori went on to voice Excalibur in Soul Eater), the dialogue was often utter drivel with far too much of Miaka dramatically yelling out various names. It’s also painful when subs don’t get the nuances of ‘okama’ (here: the misleading ‘homo’). Still, I watched to the end happily, and there were tragic moments that were really very well done.

What delayed these thoughts by several years was having to watch the OVAs, which I really didn’t enjoy. The first batch were anime-original stories, and apart from some entertaining omake at the end of the episodes, they were very dull stories about Tamahome living in modern-day Japan and then mysteriously disappearing. Confusingly, the second batch went back to the stories from the light novels and this time, Tamahome is reborn as Taka, and must regain his memories of his old life. The final set of OVAs were a little better – by 2001-2, Studio Pierrot were able to make rather nicer animation, and these episodes, especially in the faces of (older) Chiriko, the young reincarnation of Hotohori and Hotohori’s little brother, reminded me of the character designs for their anime version of Hikaru no Go, no bad thing. The anime also had some rudimentary CGI which didn’t look bad considering the age of the anime (certainly not as jarring as the more recent MÄR adaptation, and not that far behind the gaichuu in Tegami Bachi) and was again based on the stories from the novels. There were episodes focusing on the backstories of particular characters, which were the highlights, but also a central story about gathering the reincarnated warriors to battle a bratty new priestess trying to replace Miaka. This part was rather more ill-judged, firstly because the antagonist girl was so over-the-top and so lacking in backstory she was absurd. And secondly because…well, the reincarnations apart from Nuriko’s were stupid, so we ended up getting a talking baby and a tiny little boy with a booming bass voice. It was all unintentionally hilarious, yet not to the extent it became entertaining.

Flashes of brilliance, strong characters and some very funny moments sadly don’t add up to something that warrants the ‘classic’ status this anime enjoys. 1995 actually isn’t that long ago, and there were much, much better anime out at the time – the most obvious choice being Rurouni Kenshin


  1. Fushigi Yuugi is one of my nostalgic anime - it was a big hit among my group of friends in high school (we even nicknamed each other after the characters XD) I still have a FY wallscroll I bought in 2003 hanging in my room. I recall a lot of fans hating on Miaka for some reason while I always thought she was a fun, likable female lead.

    I haven't watched the series or read the manga since the early 2000s, so even though I loved it back then (for the reasons you suggested: good characters, some very hearfelt moments, and humor that's surprisingly done right) I wonder what I'd think of it if I watched it now nearly ten years later. I watched the OVAs too and remember liking them, but again, I wonder if that would change were I to watch them now.