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 Post subject: Fushigi Yûgi
PostPosted: May 14th, 2011, 6:37 pm 
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... aka. "The Mysterious Play", originally created by Watase Yû.

It struck me that there was no thread about Fushigi Yûgi, so I decided to make one, just for reference, because I watched the entire series (not the OVAs though) during the last week and wanted to share a few thoughts.

On a technical level I was a little disappointed when I saw that the first box offers translation notes on every DVD while translation notes are completely absent from the second box.

I have watched Fushigi Yûgi twice now, plus two incomplete tries to see it through.
The first time I watched it in 1999, in English, then I tried again in 2002, but halfway through my DVD player broke down. My next attempt came in 2006, but then I got busy with college stuff and I abandoned the plan. Now, 12 years after I had originally seen the whole thing in a weekend sitting with a friend, I finally made it - and I had to realize that seeing it as a graduate who has studied Japanese media and theater it made a different impression on me.

With more Anime experience nowadays, one thing was amusing in a way:
Question - What makes it obvious that Fushigi Yûgi is a Shôjo Anime (i.e. for girls) and not a Shônen Anime (i.e. for boys)?
Answer - The fight scenes are way too short.
If Fushigi Yûgi was Shônen, certain duels would have lasted at least two episodes. Like when the brainwashed Tamahome returns to Kônan and fights Hotohori. Or when Ashitare engages Nuriko. Even for me the final confrontation of Tamahome and Nakago was kind of lackluster. It was almost realistic: The opponents exchange a few blows and then someone goes down. That's how it goes in real life, but in Shônen Anime they would fight with ever more complicated special attacks and combos, there would be an exchange of antics or pseudo-philosophical dialogue, and there might even be flashbacks of a character's past.
Shônen authors are also very much more concerned with fighting techniques.

One thing remains for sure: Fushigi Yûgi is a masterpiece of emotions and drama. If you can stand the kitsch, and I can, it will also make you gasp and cringe, it will make you cheer and cry with its characters. If you allow yourself to go with the flow you will enjoy this emotional rollercoaster a lot and it will be worth every Cent you spent on it.

Fushigi Yûgi is the story of Miaka and Yui, junior high students from Tokyo, who end up in a fantastic world of war, intrigue, and adventure after reading in the magically powered book "Shijin Tenchi-sho", i.e. "The Universe of the Four Gods". They fall in love with the same young man Tamahome, get separated, and due to the sly manipulations of the main antagonist Nakago find themselves being enemies. What ensues is an adventure of trials and tribulations where friends die for each other and where love spans dimensions and centuries.

In this regard, arousing emotions, Watase Yû is a master of her trade. But on most other elements I find that she very much fails.

First of all I found it remarkable that every character who reads in that book can read Kanbun - that is classical Chinese as it was written by Japanese scholars since the 8th century. Kanbun is more removed from modern Japanese than Latin is from modern Spanish, and don't forget that the Kanji are today different in many cases. Now you might say that this is part of the magic of the book, but why would the book not just magically write the story in modern Japanese so that people can follow easier? Screenshots depicting the book clearly indicate that it is written in Kanbun and not in Japanese - and still every character involved in reading just reads fluently without ever resorting to looking up antiquated Kanji.
The author seems to have been generally sloppy with the linguistic behavior of her characters - on several occasions the inhabitants of the Kônan Empire, although completely removed from the world of modern Japan and its cultural and historical contexts, use loanwords from English, a language that doesn't exist in the "Universe of the Four Gods".

Furthermore, in the conflict between Seiryû, the Dragon of the East, and Suzaku, the fiery Bird of the South, a great opportunity was wasted and one side was labelled the evil guys. I find it much more enjoyable when both sides have a moral justification for what they are doing, for opposing the other team. Gundam and Nadesico come close to that ideal. Simply declaring one team evil lifts a big burden from the author's shoulders since evil characters do not need any creative justification for their deeds - they're just evil and they do what they do for the fun of it, or for the loot and the hookers. All the good guys, on the other hand, have to do is try to foil the enemy's plans without any need to question whether they should do what they do: The enemy is evil so the good guys have to save the world and that's it.
I really wonder how the story of the other teams, the Genbu Seven and the Byakkô Seven went? To make the Seiryû Seven evil is in accordance with Buddhist folklore that evil comes from the east - whyever. But it becomes clear that the Seiryû Seven are the only evil team among the four. The Genbu Seven and the Byakkô Seven clearly existed but we never learn against whom or what they fought, if they fought at all.

What was that trouble with assembling the seven warriors anyways? In order to achieve this as quickly as possible the earliest members of the Suzaku Seven set out to find the others. The Seiryû Seven never do anything like this, because, as Nakago puts it, they are drawn to their priestess by fate, and it is not necessary to take any active steps to find them. Which means the Suzaku warriors could have gone for the alternative Shinzaho treasures of Genbu and Byakkô instead of wasting time with the quest of assembly. The counter argument that they did not know about the Shinzaho before Taiitsukun told them about the pieces is valid, but somewhat weakened if you consider that Nakago also learned about their existence somehow without the help of Taiitsukun.

Irrationality is a big point in general, and that includes "lack of communication". Many dangerous situations arise by characters acting irrationally - or stupid, of you will. In the most common scenario, one of the team would leave the others to do something alone, or wouldn't talk about his or her plans with the others, if there is any concrete plan at all.
The irrationality starts with Yui, and later Miaka, believing that she had been raped. I can understand that under the shock of such a horrible situation many people would attempt suicide, so that's not what I mean. Miaka lives for several days and Yui for several months under the impression that her virginity was forcefully taken - and I wonder: Do they never clean themselves down there? Wouldn't it take about five seconds in a secluded situation to check whether the crime was done or not?
The other summit of irrationality was Nuriko, in an attempt so save time, dashing forward to get the Shinzaho of Genbu and leaving the others behind, although he knew well that the Seiryû warriors were close by and could strike anytime. The result being that he is attacked by Ashitare and killed in the ordeal.
And much later, Mitsukake spends his entire energy at once to heal every single person on the battlefield. He subsequently dies. And for what? For nothing! It was one of the most retarded actions I have seen in the series, actually one of the most retarded actions I can even imagine, since the people he just healed will instantly continue maiming and killing each other, rendering Mitsukake's sacrifice utterly useless!
Last but not least the eastern Kutô Empire is known for its aggressive policies, they have at least attacked the northern Empire some time ago - so why do the other three empires not unite against Kutô, thus neutralizing Kutô numerical strength?
Irrational actions save the author a lot of creative work, and it is nothing less than regrettable that she never seemed to have spent a second thought about whether any sensible person would actually do this or that. Irrationality serves as a welcome excuse, since the author doesn't have to come up with anything believable. It is much harder to have characters act resonable, but then again, reasonable decisions will hardly lead to dramatic situations.

What virtually dumbfounded me completely was her neglect of core characters.
The Seiryû Seven have clearly distinguishable abilities: Amiboshi manipulates his enemies with his flute, his brother Suboshi drills holes in them with his ball/blade weapons, Soi controls electricity, Tomo is an illusionist, Ashitare is a werewolf, Miboshi summons demons, and Nakago deals energy blasts.
What about the Suzaku Seven?
Tamahome, like Nakago, attacks with energy blasts, Tasuki summons firestorms, Nuriko has super strength, Hotohori is a skilled swordfighter, Chichiri teleports, Mitsukake heals people, and Chiriko... uh, what's Chiriko's skill?

From a roleplaying point of view I'd say that Miaka, Tamahome, and Nuriko are the regular player characters, Hotohori is the guy who only joins the gaming sessions when he feels like it, and all the other Suzaku warriors are NPCs. They hardly have any screentime or dialogues.
Tasuki is a mere comic relief character. Chichiri is only important when his teleportation skills are needed. Mitsukake is your generic healer. Chiriko just tags along, but besides acting as a Deus Ex Machina in saving the other warriors from Amiboshi's flute play he never ever does anything. All we ever learn about him is that he is a highly intelligent student who at the age of 13 is about to take the exam to become a state official, comparable to a university degree - his best moment is his death scene. And while Hotohori even gets a grand goodbye song (performed by his voice actor with a supporting choir) Mitsukake doesn't even have a death scene. You see these greenish lights descend on the battlefield, you see that people are being healed amass, but Mitsukake never appears on screen again (until the final fight).
These last four characters lack any depth, they are as elaborated as your run-of-the-mill AD&D NPC with a few lines to speak.

And how does it all end? Taiitsukun states that Miaka had done a marvellous job as the priestess of Suzaku. I admit she does show character development, from a schoolgirl to a more mature young woman. But has she saved Kônan?
She might have saved the late Hotohori's empire for the moment, but it's by far not what you call secure. The emperors of both Kônan and Kutô are dead, and Hotohori's successor has not been born yet. Depending on what laws Kônan has Hotohori's wife Hôki might not be eligible to reign as empress until her unborn child has come of age. A sideline of the family might now be in charge, there might be succession struggles.
That goes all the more for Kutô, a country that seems full of morally questionable people. With its emperor and its most powerful general gone it is very likely that several individuals will try to assume power or get as much of the cake as possible, considering that according to Nakago most of the troops are mercenaries. Even if the worst scenario does not come true I cannot see how the current conflict would just subside and dissipate into thin air.

What Watase Yû has done is cleverly combine different elements of drama, which made a really interesting and mesmerizing story, but in my humble opinion the level of creativity in her work is not as high as it could be. Fushigi Yûgi clearly shows her limits.

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 Post subject: Re: Fushigi Yûgi
PostPosted: May 15th, 2011, 4:01 am 
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I watched the show up till before Noriko was about to go fisticuffs duel somebody on some mountain somewhere. Episode thirty-something or another.

Its been too long so I don't really quite remember. I didn't think the show was particularly awesome, but it was good enough that I kinda just kept watching. I couldn't find the remaining episodes which led to me stopping and kinda just tuned out.


I much prefer Ayashi no Ceres if I had to compare the two works. Fushigi Yugi is kinda all over the place with too many characters while Ceres had significantly more focus. Granted they differ in number of episodes as well.

As for what makes it obvious its a shojo anime over a shonen anime - well rather than the short fight scenes I'd simply gun for the fact the main character is a damsel in distress surrounded by her very own handsome hero squadron.

At any rate, there is a manga about the Genbu maiden and seven if you are interested. A prequel that occurred a fair bit before the events of Fushigi Yugi.

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 Post subject: Re: Fushigi Yûgi
PostPosted: May 20th, 2011, 5:19 pm 
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Storm_Shinobi wrote:
I much prefer Ayashi no Ceres if I had to compare the two works.

I watched a handful of Ayashi no Ceres episodes and I found it very brutal. It's the show that convinced me that Watase was not a Mangaka but a psycho-terrorist with a pencil. I have doubts whether I want to see it.

Storm_Shinobi wrote:
At any rate, there is a manga about the Genbu maiden and seven if you are interested.

The Genbu chapter hasn't won much acclaim and if it's just a Manga I'm not overly interested.

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