Monday, February 4, 2013


It's February, which means that when we are not collectively trying to keep various appendages from freezing off, our hearts and minds are focused on one thing: CHEAP POST VALENTINE'S DAY CANDY!

Er, love.  I totally meant love.

Specifically, it's a time when loved ones give one another presents, and in Japan specifically it's a time where girls give their loved ones craploads of chocolate.  As I do not have a warehouse of chocolate to share with my readers, I decided to give you a different sort of gift: reverse harems!

This month, it's all about the ladies and the gaggle of stereotypes bishonen men that surround them.  We kick things off with one of the classics of this genre, but can it hold up to modern tastes?

FUSHIGI YUGI, by Yuu Watase.  First published in 1992, and first published in North America in 1999.

Miaka is an underachieving student who would rather focus on a good meal and cute boys than on studying.  This becomes a problem, as Miaka wants to go to the same high school as her brainy best friend Yui, but Miaka's mother keeps hinting that she wants Miaka to attend a more prestigious, academically rigorous ones.  During a study session, Yui and Miaka stumble upon an ancient book in the restricted section called "The Universe of the Four Gods."  The next thing they know, they are plunged into the universe of the book itself, where they are immediately assaulted by a wandering band of slave traders.  They are saved almost instantly by a mysterious, handsome young man, who in turns immediately demands repayment for his services.  The girls are sucked back into their own world, and Miaka's thoughts are consumed with that their mystery rogue.  Miaka and her mother have a fight, and Miaka runs away to the library, back to the book and the universe within it.  She meets up with her rogue, Tamahome, and by luck they stumble into an audience with the Emperor Hotohori.  The Emperor believes Miaka to be the prophetized Priestess of Suzaku, who will gather seven holy warriors and gain the power to grant any wish, and Miaka soon finds herself in the middle of an adventure straight out of a storybook.

Sometimes I have to wonder why it is so very difficult to find decent heroines in shoujo manga, as far too many tend to be quivering, insecure jellyfish or annoyingly incompetent.  I also have to wonder why there is such a shortage of decent love interests for those heroines, because they have an alarming tendancy to be inhumanly perfect, irritatingly moody, or rather on the rapey controlling side.  What does this have to do with the story of Fushigi Yugi?  Quite a lot, because a lot of my issues with it stem from its heroine and her love interest.

Let's begin with Miaka.  To be honest, I couldn't stand her.  It's not because she's rather dense and that her appetite is played for laughs, even if I have wonder why Japan finds the notion of girls eating a lot utterly hilarious.  No, the reason I hate her is that like the worst of shoujo heroines, she's utterly hapless.  She wanders into danger without a thought for herself or her safety - seriously, you could almost make a drinking game out of all the times Miaka is assaulted by others (apparently this universe is crawling with roving rape squads).   She trusts complete strangers, even when anyone with two brain cells to rub together could tell that a person was dangerous.  Seriously, was this girl never taught Stranger Danger?  She is always dependent upon others (usually Tamahome) to save her.  I'm not asking that she should be some badass action girl, but giving her a bit of common sense would have gone a long way towards making Miaka a better character.

She's also rather a rather selfish character, although you could joke that this isn't so much a flaw as it is part of being a teenager.  When given the opportunity to grant any wish, does she think about getting herself home to the friends and family who miss her?  Nope!  She thinks about making herself beautiful! Or having a massive feast!  Or getting into any high school she wants!  Way to think big Miaka!  But then, why shouldn't she be selfish when the story pretty much hands her everything on a silver platter, to the point where I wondered if her name should be "Miaka" or "Mary Sue."  Getting pressure from your parents about your future?  No need to confront them about it, just run away to the fantasy world to find some hot guy you knew for all of a few minutes.   Need to find a bunch of holy warriors to make your wish come true?  It's Ok, you'll get three of them right off the bat, and two out of the three totally want to get into your panties.  The only challenges she ever faces are those involving sexual assault, and those she creates herself by being blazingly stupid and strolling straight into danger.

Finally, I have to questions why on earth she falls so quickly for Tamahome.  It's not because of his charm, because he and Miaka fight like cats and dogs throughout the story.  It's not his good nature, because he's also selfish, douchey and obsessed with money.  As far as I can tell, Miaka's only reasons for loving Tamahome are "he is hot and I want to bang him" and "he saves my dumb ass every 10 minutes from the roving rape squads."  That is not love.  That is a combination of lust and gratitude, and it's a piss poor basis for a relationship. 

I wish I had kinder words for the rest of the cast, but for the most part I do not.  I've already gone over my issues with Tamahome above, but his fellow warriors are no better; Hotohori is a cipher of a man, and Nuriko (the cross-dressing courtier who lusts for the Emperor and Tamahome) is spiteful and even a little childish.  The only person I came out of this volume liking was Yui, who was concerned for her friend and smart enough to put together than when strange supernatural events start happening to her, there must be some connection to Miaka.  I also have to question the logic of bringing Miaka out of the story, only to bring her right back within the next chapter.  Watase and her editors could have saved themselves a few pages if they just had Miaka fight with her mother before the study session that led to her getting sucked into the book in the first place.

I could rant this for ages, but I must stop at some point.  Fushigi Yugi fails as a story because the heroine is a black hole of ineptitude that sucks everything into an abyss, including the story, which becomes little more than wish-fulfillment for her instead of the reader.

Watase's writing may drive me up the wall, but her art leaves me more ambivalent.  Her character designs are okay, if rather conventional.  Of course, she seems to be able to draw only one handsome male face and just keeps dressing it up for different characters, and her faces are rather simplistic to begin with and often exaggerated in their expressions.  Backgrounds are rather middling and infrequent as well, although she does bring in more detail once Miaka and company get to the palace.  She does have the good sense to save the screen tones and effects for the goofier moments, instead of using to telegraph every single emotional moment.  There's not a lot of action to be seen, and most of it involves a lot of stiff poses and speed lines.  All in all, it's not spectacular enough to outshine the story but neither does it hinder it.

I read this from the single volume Viz release, so outside of a sound effects guide in the back, there are no extras to speak off.  I know this series has been rereleased in VizBiz omnibuses, which means those would likely feature color artwork, but I cannot speak at this time to any differences between the two.

I honestly can't believe this is held up as a shoujo classic, because from what I've seen Fushigi Yugi is so very, very weak.  I suspect its classic status comes more from nostalgia and the desperation of a time when shoujo was not easily found on the North American manga market than from any superior or timeless quality in the story or artwork.

This series was released in the USA by Viz.  All 18 volumes have been released, and all are currently in print.

You can purchase this volume and many more like it through!

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