[Review] Fushigi Yuugi
I won’t pretend like it hasn’t been a long time since Fushigi Yuugi aired (21 years, as it turns out). Yet that’s the funny thing about good anime; it only gets better with time. After watching the series recently, I’m convinced it deserves the kind of nostalgic attention that so many other shows garner.
In short, Fushigi Yuugi is the story of Miaka Yuki and her best friend Yuki Hongo. The two are drawn into a mysterious book that has the power to grant wishes. As you might expect, there’s a catch. Making their wishes come true involves summoning one of the beast gods (the cardinal gods you’ve seen in so many other shows and manga—Suzaku, Seiryu, Genbu, Byakko—the usual suspects).
Yet summoning the beast gods isn’t so easy. The priestess must gather her seven guardians before the beast will appear (it reminds me of something else, for some reason). To make matters worse, Miaka and Yui aren’t exactly on the same teams. By the end of the show, their friendship has changed quite considerably and the plot takes an incredibly unexpected turn.
For a series made up of only 52 episodes, Fushigi Yuugi has an impressively diverse cast. It has the makings of a harem anime as well, because Miaka’s entire cast of guardians has at least a vague love interest in her.
Speaking of which, a huge point of the plot is the relationship between Miaka and Tamahome. Tamahome is the primary male protagonist, and his personality helps to move the show through numerous light and dark moments.
In general, the cast works together pretty well. There is a healthy list of antagonists to oppose our heroes, but the internal drama among the good guys is enough to keep things interesting regardless.
Perhaps the only major flaw is the slight repetition in some of the characters’ interactions. Tamahome and Miaka especially go through tons of “on again, off again” throughout the story, with most problems generated out of thin air.
That brings us to the story’s plot. Some shows are hilariously predictable. Consider the original Sailor Moon, where each episode essentially ends the same. For much of Fushigi Yuugi, I didn’t get that feeling. The writers were willing to take risks and make tough decisions. Everything isn’t always resolved in a way that keeps the heroes safe and comfortable. In that sense, it feels much more satisfying.
There were a few points where I felt the outcome was foreseeable, particularly with the characters’ relationships. One of the key elements to the story is the book where everything is taking place. Someone is always reading the book as things happen. I had major concerns with that fact, but they actually address it near the end of the show.
As you might have guessed, there’s some frustration with the antagonists. Some of their actions don’t make a whole lot of sense, even once their motivations are revealed. Despite that, there aren’t nearly as many “bad guy mistakes” as we’ve come to see in modern stories. If anything, it felt like the heroes were at a constant disadvantage throughout the show.
That “SD” Look
One thing you might find disappointing in watching such an old anime is the overall paint quality. The drawings themselves are actually fairly good, but in the ‘90s they were still using actual paint to color anime. Colors were in shorter supply and edits needed to be at a minimum, so backgrounds are more the classic “painted still” instead of what we’ve come to typically see from computer generated backgrounds.
As a result, there are also some problems with watching the show on a large HD digital TV. The picture doesn’t exactly stretch perfectly and as far as I know, there isn’t a remastered version to make up for that. If you’ve a stickler for good visuals, Fushigi Yuugi might give you some trouble.
On the other hand, there’s a bit of nostalgia to how things are drawn. Newer shows are certainly impressive looking, but some of that “perfection” takes away the human element of the show. You’ll definitely never have that feeling in Fushigi Yuugi; everything definitely feels like it was done by hand.
Considering its time, the story, the cast of characters and the overall length of Fushigi Yuugi, it ranks fairly high in my book of worthwhile anime. It doesn’t quite hit my all-time favorites list, but to be fair that list is reserved for the absolute best. The series’ resolution was acceptable and “closed the book” on things well enough, but there’s still some contention over whether or not it was as good as the original print ending (the consensus is mostly no).
Unfortunately, Fushigi Yuugi didn’t get quite the level of attention outside of Japan that we saw in similarly timed shows such as Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon, etc. That’s not to say it’s its own fault; Fushigi Yuugi is a much more “Japanese” show, and those just weren’t as popular in the ‘90s. Yet it does hold up well today.
Where to Watch It?
For what it’s worth, Fushigi Yuugi is actually very accessible. Crunchyroll has it available in both sub and dub form, though I would recommend against the latter. They also have the OVA which I neglected to watch, but the plot is entirely its own thing.
Just be careful if you aren’t watching from home. Quite a few of us pop in a pair of headphones and load shows up on public WiFi commonly found at cafes and the like. But public internet use without a Virtual Private Network is always a risk. If you’d like to know more, Secure Thoughts has a good review about the benefits of VPN usage (you also might need one to watch the show if you’re outside the country).
So have you seen Fushigi Yuugi? Even if it’s been a while, share your thoughts on it! If not, go watch it then come back! We’d love to hear what you have to say.