This is an interesting series. I don’t think I would call it a great classic, but it certainly has some dedicated fans. At first glance, from the way it is drawn and presented, it looks like a cheerful comic series with lots of slapstick humor. Actually the story is pretty dark and intense.
It’s a story of adventure and romance, of jealousy and revenge, of passion and treachery and loyalty and courage–all of which was enough to keep me watching for all 52 episodes. However there are a couple of things about it that irritate me.
Fushigi Yuugi (The Mysterious Game)
Fantasy, Adventure, Romance, Otome
English, Japanese with subtitles
52 Episodes on 8 DVDs
TV Tokyo 1995-1996
Region 1 Publisher
The thing that annoys me most is that the heroine is a total airhead. She does gradually become less silly as the story progresses, but she never gets really smart. I get the point that she is brave and pure-hearted, and this is the kind of story where a pure-hearted decision may work out better in the long run than one based on a modicum of common sense. That doesn’t keep me from wanting to shout at the screen at least once per episode.
The other annoyance is the animation quality. It is never outstanding to begin with and around the midpoint of the series it starts to get worse, until by Episode 40 it is practically static. After that it starts to get better again. Clearly the production company was hoarding its animation budget for the conclusion (which is indeed worth waiting for.)
It seems to me that the producers must have thought this show was suitable for elementary school children. For example, whenever kanji characters play a role in the story they are shown one word at a time and their meaning is carefully explained in the dialog. Note also how the virtual camera turns away from violent scenes, though not so far away that we can’t see splashing blood.
In fact this is not something that most Americans would consider suitable for small children, due to violence, the deaths of sympathetic characters, and sexual situations, some of which involve threatened or implied rape.
In my opinion this material is fine for teenagers. (Nothing very explicit is shown.) However many ten-year-olds would probably find parts of it very upsetting. I don’t recommend letting anyone younger than that watch it.
Premise and Characters
is a 15 year old middle school student. She is a good-hearted but rather silly girl, and an indifferent student. She likes anime
, but her primary interests are cheeseburgers, pork cutlets, onigiri, ice cream, manjuu and anything else that she can stuff into her mouth.
Miaka’s best friend Yui Hongo
has been protecting Maika ever since they were children. She is responsible, smart and studious. She is preparing for the entrance examination for the highly competitive Jonan Academy. Miaka also hopes to get into Jonan and be with Yui, but her mother warns her that anyone who wants to go to the same high school is a rival, not a friend, since only a limited number of places are available.
Miaka accompanies Yui to the National Libaray. While there Miaka sees a vision of a strange red phoenix-like bird. She runs after it and Yui follows her into a restricted room containing rare old books.
A mysterious old Chinese book called The Universe of the Four Gods
falls from the shelf. When Miaka and Yui open the book they are pulled inside of it. They find themselves in an exotic fantasy world.
The land of Kounan
is a feudal kingdom resembling medieval China. It’s people worship Suzaku
the Red Bird of Summer. It is a mostly happy country with bustling trading ports, boisterous markets and colorful festivals, but it is also plagued by roving bandits and outlaws.
As medieval kingdoms go Kounan is not such a bad place, but it is still not a safe place for a couple of teenaged girls dressed in anime-style short-skirted school uniforms. Miaka and Yui have no sooner arrived than they are accosted by slave traders who threaten to kidnap them.
They are rescued by a handsome young man named Tamahome
who single-handedly defeats the slave traders using astounding martial arts skills.
The kanji character for “oni
” appears on his forehead when he fights. In spite of his obvious heroic qualities, Tamahome appears callous and mercenary.
At this point Yui vanishes and finds herself back in the library.
Looking in the book,
she finds that it describes Miaka’s further adventures. She continues reading, hoping to find a way to rescue Miaka. (The rule seems to be that for the story to progress, someone in the real world must be reading the book.) However she finds that she an Miaka are linked in a nasty way: whenever Miaka is injured in the story, Yui suffers the same injury.
After some minor adventures, Miaka is brought before Hotohori
, the Emperor of Kounan. He is a good-looking young man, so beautiful in fact that Miaka initially mistakes him for a woman.
The Emperor offers her a deal.
They are looking for a girl from another world to serve as the Priestess (miko
) of Suzaku. With the help of the Seven Celestial Warriors of Suzaku
the Priestess can summon Suzaku, and will be granted three wishes, which they hope she will use to protect Kounan from its enemies. Miaka accepts the job, though she seems to be thinking more in terms of wishing for something frivolous like food, or at most a free pass on her high school entrance exams.
Now all she has to to is locate the Seven Celestial Warriors. These are special people, born to serve and protect the Priestess of Suzaku. Each has a unique supernatural power, and each is marked with a kanji character somewhere on his body, a character that identifies one of the traditional Chinese constellations of the southern sky.
, one of the Emperor’s consorts, possesses enormous strength and a fierce temper. She is devoted to the Emperor, who ignores her. She is initially very jealous of Miaka.
is the creator of this universe. She watches over it from her home on distant Mount Taikyoku. She is difficult to find and dangerous to approach. Travelers who try to seek her out often give up is despair or die in the attempt.
Miaka’s older brother Keisuke Yuuki
learns of her fate and seeks to discover the secret of the book.
Kiesuke and his friend Tetsuya Kajiwara
investigate the history of The Universe of the Four Gods
. They begin to suspect that there is a terrible curse on the book that will affect anyone who is drawn into it.
is a whimsical wandering monk who hides his real face behind a smiling mask. He is an accomplished magic user.
, to the East, is a land of warlike people who worship the fierce dragon god Seiryuu
, the commander of Kutou’s armies, is a powerful magic user and a brilliant tactician, canny and ruthless.
is a bandit chieftain with a fiery temper, and power over fire.
is a doctor with great healing powers.
, his cat, can be surprisingly useful to have around.
is a young man who can cast spells by playing the flute.
is a 13-year-old boy genius, a brilliant scholar gifted with wisdom and courage beyond his years.
is a fierce and stubborn young warrior who uses his double-balled weapon to deadly effect.
is a powerful magic user, able to summon lightning.
is a cold land in the North, inhabited by nomadic horsemen who live in round tents and worship Genbu
the Black Tortoise of Winter.
is a fierce, bloodthirsty beast-man. His life has been cruel and he hates normal humans.
are the last surviving Celestial Warriors of Genbu. Many years ago they helped the Priestess of Genbu summon the god.
has the power to trap people in a deadly web of illusions.
In the land of Sairou
to the West, the people worship Byakko
the White Tiger of Autumn. Byakko too was summoned many years ago by his priestess.
is one of the surviving Celestial Warriors of Byakko. Years ago he traveled to distant lands and trained the young Tamahome in martial arts.
is another surviving Celestial Warrior of Byakko. She has power over Time.
is the third remaining Celestial Warrior of Byakko. He has power over plants.
The evil monk Miboshi
has the power to take over other people’s bodies.
The television series has a resounding conclusion that seems to require no sequel. However it only covers the first part of the original manga.
The second part of the manga was made into two OVAs, totaling nine episodes. These were published in Region 1 by Geneon, but are now out of print and almost impossible to find.
A third OVA, called Fushigi Yugi Eikoden, is still available. I haven’t seen it, but the general consensus seems to be that it is dreadful.
The Fushigi Yugi manga is available in English from VIZ Media. (Some of the volumes may be hard to find since the publisher is switching from single volumes to combined volumes.)
Yuu Watase is currently engaged in an ongoing manga called Fushigi Yugi Genbu Kaiden. This is a prequel that tells the story of the Priestess of Genbu. This is also available in English from VIZ Media.
ANN Encyclopedia entry.
Wikipedia entry (major spoilers.)
The Universe of the Four Gods draws heavily on traditional Sino-Japanese astronomy. Steve Renshaw’s Astronomy in Japan is a useful resource for figuring out the astronomical references, especially the pages on Star Charts and Moon Stations.
The Wikipedia article on Chinese Constellations is less helpful since it only gives the Chinese names.