I got into anime in seventh grade. This was in the late 90’s, back when you paid $30 for two or three episodes on a VHS tape, four if you were lucky. Sub vs. dub wars were still relevant since you had to choose one or the other, and buying was largely through mail-order catalogues. Most anime out during this period was firmly male-oriented, so much so that the dictionary definition of anime for years denoted “of a violent and sexual nature.” When a friend lent me a VHS of Fushigi Yugi she had bought at Suncoast, I fell in love instantly. It seemed to hold everything anime had to offer a girl like me: an adventure-filled melodramatic plotline, dreamy bishounen, slapstick comedy, fantastic worlds, and that certain something, that edge that American cartoons lacked. There was never an assurance that things would be okay in the end. Actions had consequences, mistakes could be made, and characters could die. I was smitten.
That was more than half my lifetime ago. I’ve grown up, my tastes have changed, and I’ve learned a lot about storytelling, character development, and specifically how women are written. In retrospect, Fushigi Yugi was awful. A helpless heroine who is constantly threatened with assault, sexual or otherwise, trans- and homophobic humor, and a story where everything seems to happen more for the sake of convenience than anything else. The dub script is so stilted even normally talented actors such as David Hayter and Mary McGlynn sound halting and confused half the time, and the animation is just as bad. But somehow, doubtless in no small part because of girls like me who wouldn’t know quality if it bit them on the nose, it was a Big Deal in anime fandom back then. Like I said, there wasn’t much anime out there at the time to appeal to teenage girls, and Fushigi Yugi was one of the few aimed squarely at a demographic that was starving to be marketed to.
To be honest, I’ve been dying to write about it since I started this blog. It was a landmark show, and so full of damaging messages to young women, it felt like an obligation to my past self. Nowadays it seems unlikely that many impressionable girls will stumble on it – it’s licensed but only available on DVD or through illegal means (edit: now it’s on Crunchyroll but seems to be most popular with adults reliving the 90s) – but there’s a lot of poison to get out for those of us who did watch it. Plus, nothing gets page views like snark and negativity, which I feel towards the show in spades.
So here’s how it’s going to work. On intermittent Sunday or Thursday evenings, I will announce a stream around a half hour ahead of time on the tumblr. We’ll watch two episodes at a time, and the next day I’ll post a recap/discussion of the episodes we watched. Fushigi Yugi really is an important piece of historical context for the modern-day shoujo fandom, especially those who enjoyed the similar but vastly superior Yona of the Dawn. I’m excited to have you enjoy me on my journey through the Konan Empire.