Fushigi Yuugi: The Mysterious Play box cover

Info

Available on VHS and DVD from Pioneer Animation.
TV Series: 52 episodes on 16 VHS tapes or 2 DVD boxed sets
25 minutes per episode
Shoujo Fantasy/Comedy
Version I Watched: Subtitled in English
Objectionable Content: Violence, sexual themes

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Fushigi Yuugi: The Mysterious Play

If you haven't heard of (or watched) this series, there are only two things you really need to know. 1) It's a shoujo drama, and 2) it's incredibly melodramatic.

Well, now that I've scared away all the DBZ fans, onto the review.

Yes, Fushigi Yuugi is a melodramatic shoujo drama (soap opera might be a better term), complete with quite a few cliches of the genre. Anyone with an aversion for romance, melodrama, and the like, may want to think twice before considering this series. But you know what? I simply loved it.

Fushigi Yuugi's overall plot can probably best be described as The Neverending Story meets El-Hazard. The story itself occurs in a book entitled "The Universe of the Four Gods", and as one reads the book, the adventure becomes real. Miaka, a young school girl, along with her friend, Yui, discovers the book kept hidden away in a library. As the two begin to read, they are suddenly teleported into the strange world within the book.

Being a shoujo anime, character development is paramount. Miaka is your typical junior high school student putting off studying for the high school entrance exams. Actually, "typical" isn't entirely true. She does have a few distinguishing quirks, most notably her fervent appetite, that makes her somewhat of an oddball. Of course, the fact that she and her best friend, Yui (who is level-headed and studious, unlike Miaka) travel to another world makes them stand out even more. It is in this world that Miaka becomes the priestess of Suzaku (one of four animal gods) and undergoes a quest to find the seven Suzaku Seishi and return home. Of the seven Seishi, she meets Tamahome first, falls in love, and hence, begins a long, arduous relationship with him which is the driving point of the whole series. The second Seishi, Hotohori, the emperor of Konan, also falls in love with Miaka, and so emerges a love triangle. One of my favorite Seishi, Noriko, shows up soon after. At first, I absolutely despised her, but later she became quite likable, especially once a certain secret gets revealed. My overall favorite Seishi was Tasuki, who was played for laughs most of the time, but was just so damned cool. Chichiri, another comedic Seishi was also quite funny and charming, especially the way he ended every sentence in "no da" (which has no English equivalent). Of the two remaining Seishi, Mitsukake and Chiriko, not a lot of time was spent developing them. This was unfortunate, because they ended up serving as minor characters, and during a few scenes which otherwise could have been quite dramatic, ended up somewhat shallow because there wasn't much emotion attached to them. There are plenty more characters, including Miaka's brother, and most of them are developed nicely.

On the other side of the coin, there are also a handful of villains who make life rather unpleasant for Miaka and her cohorts. The number one baddie is none other than Nakago, who embodies everything that a true villain should. His malicious behavior, deadpan calmness, and wry half-smiles truly make him someone worth hating. He also has a handful of underlings, but of which only a couple are properly developed, namely Amiboshi and Suboshi, twin brothers. The rest, though, weren't focused on quite enough, and ended up not being all that interesting.

The story line, though, is both one of the series' greatest strengths and greatest weakness. It takes a full 52 episodes to tell Miaka's quest, and for people that enjoy the series, this is quite a blessing. However, at the same, the length is also a detriment. Some parts of the series really begin to drag, and the same plot devices are used over and over to the point of tedium. Miaka and Tamahome's relationship is the best example of this. One minute they're a happy couple, and the next they're splitting up. Then they're back again, only to break up again. This of course, is accompanied by melodramatic cries of "Miaka!" "Tamahome!" "Miaka!" "Tamahome!" "Miaaaaaaakaaaa!" "Tamahoooomeeee!". I honestly couldn't count the number of times this went on. It was a bit excessive, to say the least.

While this series has no shortage of shoujo-style romance, and quite a few dramatic moments as well, there is also a decent mix of fantasy, comedy, and action. Fantasy, because of the mystical nature of the series, comedy thanks to liberal use of super-deforming, and action because whenever the Seishi clash, there's always more than a few scuffles.

Fushigi Yuugi's presentation is also a mixed bag. The artwork itself is pretty functional, and the characters had good visual designs. The animation, on the other hand, wasn't terribly spectacular. I even noticed some reused animation here and there (and I'm betting there was more that I wasn't aware off). The music, though, was pretty good. So good in fact, that I even bought the OST. I really liked some of the themes in the series, and the opening and closing songs were quite nice.

The bottom line is, if you enjoy shoujo drama, fantasy, or comedy, then you'll probably love this series. But for anyone who prefers more shounen-oriented anime, or for that matter, may not have time to watch the whole thing, might be better off leaving Fushigi Yuugi alone.

The Verdict: * * * * (good)