Trigger warnings this installment: Suicide, transphobia/misgendering
Episode Five: Bewildered Heartbeat
We’re back at the palace. Miaka is in bed, suddenly so weak she needs to have water dripped into her mouth instead of drinking it out of a glass. Hotohori somehow blames Tamahome for Miaka falling ill, and Tamahome somehow blames himself because he rejected her. I would say it’s more likely culture shock and the repeated sexual assault attempts against her than a boy saying he doesn’t like her. An adviser jumps in to say that she’s suffering from physical and mental exhaustion, and summoning Suzaku could kill her. She might recover physically, but mentally she’s going to continue marching straight toward a nervous breakdown which, considering all the anxiety dreams, she was probably heading toward from the beginning. Poor girl! I really do feel sorry for her at this point. She was already under a lot of stress before she got to the Universe of the Four Gods, and the pressure has only gotten worse. Miaka starts calling for her family in her sleep, and Hotohori, Tamahome, and Nuriko decide to take her to Mt. Taikyoku to see Taiitsukun, who created this world and gave the emperors their scrolls of The Universe of the Four Gods.
Sappy saxophone plays as Miaka repeats her last conversation with Tamahome in her dreams. She wakes up, mortified that she scared him off as soon as she realized her feelings. DON’T BLAME YOURSELF GIRL, HE’S JUST AN ASSHOLE. Hotohori comes in and tells her about their plans, which is the first time anyone has considered keeping Miaka in the loop. He pulls off his crown, allowing his luxurious hair to cascade sexily over his face and shoulders.
Miaka is concerned about the Konan Empire, even though there has been no evidence of any strife. He asks her to return after she comes back for the sake of Konan and himself, like dude, you’re not alleviating the pressure at all. “Go get better, but remember that all of our fates are depending on you coming back after you do!” Miaka decides to apologize to Tamahome, even though she did nothing wrong.
And here we have the point where Nuriko becomes the best character in the whole show. Tamahome is wandering around all mopey, and Nuriko decides to knock some sense into him by throwing a table at his head. It pisses her off seeing Tamahome acting so wounded and manpain-y after breaking Miaka’s heart, especially since he’s so obviously into her and is acting like a jealous baby over Hotohori’s crush on Miaka. Nuh-uh, he says, he barely knows her and money is the only thing he cares about. But then he walks off, continuing to mope over his poor confused feelings.
The group is ready to set out, and Hotohori refuses to take any sort of security with him. It’s his empire, goddamnit, and he can do what he wants. I thought this was a troubled time for the empire though? Miaka and Tamahome could barely take ten steps without someone trying to rape or mug them. Speaking of those two, they can barely look at each other without acting horribly awkward. I think Nuriko speaks for us all when she growls, “HOW IRRITATING.” The four set out, awkwardness and all.
Konan’s ecosystem is not remotely consistent. The area surrounding the capital was grassy and turned to desert and steppes a few miles out, complete with skeletons. But when the three camp for the night, it’s a forest with hot springs. Miaka’s feeling pretty crummy after spending all day riding with a fever, so when Nuriko comes to tell her about some healing hot springs nearby, Miaka is grateful. Then Nuriko goes and wakes up Tamahome and tells him Miaka wants him to meet her at the hot springs. I’m not sure what she expects to happen. Does she think that, confronted with the sight of Miaka naked, Tamahome will finally admit his feelings? He’s already seen her breasts. Tamahome is reluctant, but Nuriko, in her boundless wisdom, tells him to man the fuck up and go patch things up.
Meanwhile, Yui has developed a fever in the library. The rules about the two’s connection are super-hazy. Is it just what happens to the uniform, like it getting wet or the bloodstain? Yui’s leg wasn’t injured. But the fever is happening to Miaka herself, not the clothes. If the connection is connected to the two girls, not just their uniforms, it makes Miaka’s comments about not being able to find clean underwear a lot grodier.
As Miaka bathes, Tamahome tells no one in particular that he’s just killing time and not going to meet Miaka. But then Miaka screams, and Tamahome’s “rescue the damsel” sense goes off. He jumps into the spring but doesn’t surface. Miaka starts to cry, and he pops up and makes fun of her for worrying about him. The “snake” that “attacked” her was just a log. He says, “You’re such a girl,” and I start to realize the dub script is way more misogynistic than the sub script. They stand awkwardly for a few moments, then apologize at the same time. Miaka, you have nothing to apologize for! He was an asshole! Tamahome, however, is justified in apologizing, saying that no girl has ever said that to him, and he didn’t believe her. Christ what an asshole, but I guess he’s young too, so I can’t stay mad at him. *shakes cane*
Nuriko falls out of the tree and Miaka she had arranged for the boy who had viciously rejected her to see her naked. Instead of being angry, she shakes Nuriko in excitement that Tamahome doesn’t hate her, causing Nuriko’s dress to slip and revealing a boob-free chest. Miaka draws back in shock, and a bunch of faceless buff dudes scroll past the screen. Welcome to one of the ugliest parts of Fushigi Yugi: the way it treats Nuriko. The show can’t decide if she’s a trans woman or a cis gay cross-dresser. Sure, it was a different time and few people realized the difference (many still don’t), but Miaka’s overreaction and confusion that Nuriko is a man, even though he kissed Tamahome and has a crush on Hotohori is weird and ugly. You’re fifteen, Miaka. I can forgive not understanding gender identity, but you’ve never heard of homosexuality before? Nuriko, in the sub script, says, “I’ve abandoned the path of manhood for the sake of love!” Gender doesn’t work like that. The conflation between gayness and transness in 90’s anime is so fucking ugly and exhausting, and it’s gonna pop up over and over here. Buckle in, y’all. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
An old lady cackles as she watches over them, predicting that they won’t reach Mt. Taikyoku in one piece. Sinister!
The group stops at a village, since Miaka isn’t feeling well, and Miaka groans that she has no appetite, even though she’s already eaten a ton! Because she’s a glutton! Comedy! She wanders out to find Hotohori, who is enjoying some alone time for the first time in years. They bond over the pressure they’re both under – her exams and his running an empire – and he tells her about his TRAGIC PAST where his mother fought for him to succeed the throne, treated him as a puppet, and then abandoned him by dying. I’m pretty tired of narratives about power-hungry queens being so conniving for running the empire while their sons are too young. He was fourteen, who else was supposed to do it? How dare this woman, an adult who has already sat on a throne for several years, take responsibility while her son is a teenager who has no idea what he’s doing. And hell, who can blame them for grabbing at whatever power they can, since it’s conditional on no man being available to do it? He literally calls himself, “A bird in a gilded cage,” as trite a line as there ever has been. He pulls Miaka to him, and she’s confused about why her heart starts pounding even though Tamahome is the one she likes. You see, Miaka, at your age, you’ll have a lot of hormones and confusing feelings and an attractive man is holding you. Crushes be damned, anyone’s heart would be pounding at that. Nuriko falls out of a tree again, and she really needs to find better surveillance spots or stronger branches. Tamahome holds her back, but shoots Miaka the biggest baby pout ever. You rejected her, dude, you don’t get to act all wounded and make her feel guilty.
Sinister old lady chants a rhyme and makes a mirror spin around really fast.
Miaka and Tamahome squabble over her tripping in front of him, allowing him to see her panties. He body-shames her and her teenage body because he’s a gross boy, and she runs off and gets lost in the woods. She smells food and runs after it, finding herself trapped in a mirror with a girl who looks like her, but is evil! (You can tell because she talks in a slightly lower register.) Inappropriately peppy ending music plays as MirrorMiaka makes fun of Miaka for being a glutton, but if I were traveling through the woods I would be pretty excited to find a feast as fancy as the one set out? But we must shame Miaka for everything she does, and the episode ends there.
Episode Six: Even If I Die…
Two and a half minutes of reused footage. Ah, delicious budget saving…
Miaka struggles to understand what exactly Mirror Miaka’s deal. As usual, she’s pretty slow on the uptake and can’t seem comprehend that the girl who is identical to her on the other side of a magic portal is the mirror version of herself. Mirror Miaka takes advantage of the real Miaka’s confusion to leave the mirror herself, announcing her intention to stay with Hotohori. She also puts on makeup. Slattern! She wants to stay and be the empress and the Priestess of Suzaku. We’re supposed to be horrified at how evil and selfish she is, but none of this really seems that bad? This show seems to think ambitious women are the absolute worst thing, and that everyone should be sweet and guileless and selfless like Miaka.
Sinister old lady challenges Miaka to break her spell. Miaka eats all the food and yells to let her out because she’s a glutton. Womp womp.
The moment Mirror Miaka finds the rest of the group, she throws herself into Hotohori’s arms, to both Miaka and Nuriko’s horror. She mocks Nuriko and outs her, and THAT is actually super shitty. Still, it’s the first thing she’s done that actually sucks. Tamahome and Hotohori are both weirded out, and Nuriko runs crying into the forest, breaking trees along the way.
I feel like this moment was played for laughs, and Nuriko is routinely outed for humor as the show continues. Miaka flirting with Hotohori is shown as a much worse thing for her to do, which really says a lot about this story’s values. Hotohori, to his credit (I guess?) is more surprised that “there’s a man as beautiful as he is” than upset about Nuriko’s gender. Miaka watches from the mirror, concerned that everyone is going to hate each other.
Mirror Miaka pulls Hotohori into the forest and tells him that she wants to stay in Konan. She moves to kiss him, but then he threatens her with his sword. “The Priestess of Suzaku I know doesn’t ever behave like this!” Man, fuck this double standard. Hotohori was super forceful with her, pushing her down onto his bed and telling her he’ll find a way to make her love him, then telling her to spend the night in his bedroom. Mirror Miaka behaves basically the way he has always wanted her to, and she’s an evil slut. They demand to see the real Miaka, and Mirror Miaka tells them she is “her shadow self, a part of her that even she isn’t aware of.” I start to imagine a Persona 4-style game of Fushigi Yugi. I think it could actually be pretty fun, although it would require more self-awareness than any of these characters possess. Tell me in the comments what you think their shadow selves would be like! Miaka calls her the “irresponsible part of me”, and once again, how was she so irresponsible? She flirts with the emperor and likes the idea of being in a position of power. What’s so awful about that?
She takes out the mirror and uses it to absorb Hotohori and Tamahome’s powers. They’re sworn to her, after all, so their power is rightfully theirs. The two kind of cringe and kneel on the ground as lightning flashes around them, looking more mildly inconvenienced than actually in pain. Miaka watches from the mirror as sinister old lady cackles and challenges her to break the spell. She makes an enormous logical leap that since Mirror Miaka is her, she must kill herself to save Tamahome and Hotohori and stabs herself in the fucking chest with a broken plate. Yui, in the library, starts bleeding out of the chest, and Miaka drives the plate shard in further. It would take a huge amount of force to do this, way more than an ill teenage girl could get with a broken plate. That’s kind of what ribcages are there for. Mirror Miaka turns into a gross monster, which means it’s totally cool for Tamahome and Hotohori to kill her now.
Somehow, though she was affected by Miaka wounding herself, Miaka isn’t dismembered when Hotohori cuts her arm off, or smashed when Nuriko throws a boulder on her head. Tamahome and Hotohori compliment each other on their fight, because men aren’t catty bitches like women, even when they like the same girl.
Now that Mirror Miaka is dead, real Miaka appears on the ground, unconscious but somehow not bleeding out. Nuriko, showing she’s the smartest cast member, remarks that Mirror Miaka started bleeding from the same place. She also tells Hotohori and Tamahome that “calling her name over and over isn’t going to help her.” I love her! She orders the two men to turn around so she can dress Miaka’s wound, but it’s okay because she’s a woman at heart. Remember how I mentioned how this show doesn’t understand the difference between being gay and being trans? She hasn’t hit anything vital, but she’s at risk of bleeding out. Hotohori and Tamahome start yelling her name, like, didn’t Nuriko just tell you that’s pointless? Nuriko says that she needs blood, so Tamahome and Hotohori literally stab themselves and bleed onto her wound as all my blood-borne pathogen training screams in horror. They bleed out, and the rest of the show is about Nuriko being an awesome vigilante with her super-strength, going around and kicking the asses of would-be rapists all over the Konan Empire. Just kidding. Ah, if only…
Miaka, meanwhile, is all hazy and floaty ~on the border between life and death~ and is tempted to go gently into that good night. After all, she’s been useless and selfish, and what a pretty field of flowers… In the border between life and death, she and Yui can somehow communicate, so Yui screams (somehow not bleeding out herself, although they have identical wounds) at her to rage against the dying of the light. Listen, Yui, you being shitty to her is part of the reason her self-worth is so low that she thinks her life isn’t worth saving. You’ve belittled her and insulted her intelligence, so how about you just fuck clean off?
Somehow, the three warriors screaming her name over and over does help her, and she decides to live. She wakes up, they all hug, and poof! They’re at Mt. Taikyoku, which has waterfalls and lots of purple bubbles floating around. I’m not convinced they’re not just hallucinating from blood loss and the sinister old lady voice welcomes them and calls Miaka “Priestess of Suzaku”. She’s been Taiitsukun all along, and now that the four have proven themselves by surviving when she tried to murder them, she can send Miaka home.
Next time: Yui pretends to care about Miaka some more.
4 thoughts on “Fushigi Yugi: Bewildered Heartbeat/If I Die…”
Those screencaps are your regular reminder that Hotohori >>>>>>>>>> Tamahome
Hotohori doesn’t have a dumb rat tail, but he IS entitled
Ahh, memories… This manga was the first series with a trans character I read, and I was really happy when I did read it because it was better than nothing. Although I was really disappointed at how the series treated Nuriko. Whether they’re a gay man or a trans woman the writing was… not great and I have lot of memories of this manga being the source of many a homophobic and transpobic joke amongst our group of friends who were into manga…
To this day I do not know which pronouns to use for Nuriko. (I vaguely recall it being a matter of some debate in fandom? I stuck with she/her because, basically, I really wanted Nuriko to be a girl and I had no idea at the time how gross the whole thing was. Now I don’t even know.) I think it was actually my rage over the “I chose to become a girl for X reason because gender totally works that way” trope’s appearance in Dangan Ronpa that made me start reconsidering rewatching FY like I’d been planning. I never actually finished it and I’d always wanted to, but I have learned so much that I did not know then, so I wasn’t sure it was such a good idea. Now you’re saving me the trouble, so thanks for that!
Man, Nuriko *is* just as awesome as I’d remembered, though. Yet another character who deserves so much better than they got.