Fushigi Yugi: Being Kind to Teens and Their Stories

After much thought, I’ve decided to officially end my recaps of Fushigi Yugi.

I started them as a way of exploring the problems I had with my once-favorite series. The homo- and transphobia, poor animation, overwrought melodrama, and awkward dub script had soured it in my mind over the years. When it came out on Crunchyroll, watching and mocking it became something of a trend in my little corner of Anitwitter, and I was more than happy to jump on that train.

However, over the past couple months, I’ve been working on a different project related to it as a part of Anime Feminist, collaborating with fellow contributors Dee of Josei Next Door and Vrai Kaiser. Going back over it with my fellow feminists who grew up with the series like I did started to remind me of why I loved the series so fervently as a teenager. While it’s a flawed work, there’s a power to it that spoke to me that I don’t want to discount. Continue reading “Fushigi Yugi: Being Kind to Teens and Their Stories”

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Fushigi Yugi 13-14: For the Sake of Love/Wolf in the Fortress

Content warnings for homophobia and sexual assault

Previous

Episode 13: For the Sake of Love

Last time on Fushigi Yugi: Taiitsukun forces Miaka to watch Yui’s rape, and also to face reality. Hotohori and Tamahome have a macho dick-waving contest.

I’ll be real y’all: I don’t have THAT much snark for these episodes. Turns out, the second quarter of Fushigi Yugi is the show at its absolute best, when the characters are at their most sympathetic and the plot moves at a brisk pace. Their choices are in-character and make sense and the story progression is logical. Enjoy it, but I may not be as crabby about it as usual.

Keisuke reads The Universe of the Four Gods back in reality, somewhat uncomfortable about how all the boys want to sex up his little sister. Lucky for him and everyone else involved, before Miaka and Tamahome can get their sloppy makeouts going, Hotohori busts in, shouting about sensing evil. To prove he’s not just cockblocking, a threatening voice comes out of nowhere, informing them that Kutou has sleeper agents everywhere and could totally defeat Konan whenever they want. Why haven’t they yet? Because their priestess is horny for Tamahome. To prevent her from destroying the country out of sheer sexual frustration, they must deliver Tamahome to Kutou. I guess it’s always been the case that sex plays a major role in international conflict, but it’s funny to see international relations dictated by hormonal teenagers.

Continue reading “Fushigi Yugi 13-14: For the Sake of Love/Wolf in the Fortress”

Fushigi Yuugi 11-12: Priestess of Seiryuu/Only You

STRONG content warning for sexual assault, self-harm, and attempted suicide

Episode 11: Priestess of Seiryuu

There’s a lot of plot happening in this one, folks, so buckle in.

Last time on Fushigi Yugi: Miaka narrowly avoided getting killed, despite making a lot of terribly irresponsible decisions, and found Yui. Funnily, the opening narration says it’s “as if through the divine intervention of Suzaku”, making it quite clear that this plot contrivance is a huge stretch!

The first rule of entering enemy territory is to be careful and keep your wits about you. Miaka has fairly little in the way of wits to begin with, so she makes the careless mistake of dropping her bag on the floor and revealing that she has the scroll marking her as the Priestess of Suzaku. The emperor calls for the guards, so Miaka shows self-preservation instincts for the first time in several episodes, grabs Yui, and takes off running. Continue reading “Fushigi Yuugi 11-12: Priestess of Seiryuu/Only You”

Forgotten Realms: The Isekai Boom of the 90’s

There’s no denying it: isekai is the genre of the moment in Japanese nerd culture. The loanword identifying the genre literally means “different world”, and it features a protagonist from our own world suddenly finding themselves trapped in an alternate world, usually one dominated by Western fantasy tropes. The trend reached the US in the early 2010’s with Sword Art Online, with its protagonist Kirito trapped in an MMORPG. Isekai are generally adaptation of light novels, where they are so prominent that last summer, a short story contest banned entries featuring alternate worlds. Like most light novel anime, they’re usually aimed at young men already immersed in the genre, and their protagonists tend to have a degree of self-awareness about their situation.

Despite their recent surge of popularity, isekai series have been around for quite a while. Recently, I stumbled on an article that claimed that the genre barely existed until a 1983 children’s show called Manga Aesop Monogatari and the anime adaptation of Inuyasha, which began in the year 2000. This article is, to put it bluntly, dead wrong. One of the earliest examples of the genre is Crest of the Royal Family, a 1976 shoujo manga that is still running to this day. Inuyasha may have been a breakout hit, but isekai anime and manga thrived during the 90’s. US fans didn’t have a name for it at the time – we generally referred to it as “‘trapped in another world’ anime”. The main difference between isekai then and isekai now is the intended audience – 25 years ago, it was a staple of the shoujo demographic, rather than today’s escapist playgrounds for young men. Ordinary young women were pulled into alternate worlds where attractive young men told them they had a special destiny to fulfill. They went on grand adventures and usually – though not always – fell in love along the way.

Continue reading “Forgotten Realms: The Isekai Boom of the 90’s”

Fushigi Yugi: Enemies Unseen/Looking for Yui

Episodes 7/8

Episode 9: Enemies Unseen

Last time on Fushigi Yugi: Miaka jumped back in the book in order to make out with Tamahome rescue Yui, and finds that relations between Kutou and Konan have gone sour, while her best friend is nowhere to be found. HMMM I WONDER WHERE SHE COULD BE????????

The episode opens just after the touching reunion between Miaka and Tamahome, when lights flash from the trees and a pair of hands reach out of the woods and pull her… somewhere? There’s literally no background drawn so it looks like she’s in another dimension. She bites the hand of her supposed attacker, hard, proving once again that she does have some fight in her when convenient. Her abductor, a fox-faced, goofy-voiced man informs her that she was under attack – in the English version he snarks that he should have asked before rescuing her, while in the Japanese version he just says he doesn’t blame her. Why is the dub so mean? He disappears into his hat, and despite all the strange things Miaka has seen, she’s confused.

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Continue reading “Fushigi Yugi: Enemies Unseen/Looking for Yui”

Fushigi Yugi: Going Home/Brief Parting

Trigger Warnings this installment: Blood, Homo/Transphobia

Episode 7: Going Home

Last time on Fushigi Yugi: Three idiots almost bleed to death, Nuriko is the only smart one.

Taiitsukun, after trying to murder all three of them, appears! Miaka and Hotohori are both extremely rude to her and make fun of her for being a wrinkled old woman, instead of giving the literal goddess the goddamn respect she deserves. Even powerful women are worthless if they’re not young and cute!

Taiitsukun reveals that yes, she was the one who sent Mirror Miaka after them. She wanted to “test their willingness to help one another.” This really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. If it was just a test, why did she cackle and say they “wouldn’t reach Mt. Taikyoku in one piece?” That smacks of malice. And how was Shadow Miaka supposed to create a willingness to help each other? She mostly sowed the seeds of strife in the group by outing Nuriko and flirting with Hotohori instead of Tamahome. This isn’t Persona, where they have some means of battling the shadow as a symbol of emotional support. Sure, they realized she wasn’t the real thing, but that’s not helping, that’s just knowing each other. And Taiitsukun herself said she was shocked by Miaka attempting suicide to stop her. How else was Miaka supposed to break free? Was she only one whose willingness to help the others being tested?

Continue reading “Fushigi Yugi: Going Home/Brief Parting”

Fushigi Yugi: Bewildered Heartbeat/If I Die…

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.

Continue reading “Fushigi Yugi: Bewildered Heartbeat/If I Die…”

Fushigi Yuugi: The Seven Stars of Suzaku/Missing Love

Trigger warning for sexual assault

Episode 3: The Seven Stars of Suzaku

The episode opens with Miaka’s third anxiety dream in as many episodes, this time about begging her older brother Keisuke to take her back home. He rebuffs her, telling her he isn’t her brother, then morphs into Tamahome as Miaka wakes up. I feel a little bad for Miaka, who clearly isn’t coping well with all the stress she’s under. Her life was stressful enough: high school exams are a huge deal and what high school you go to can play a major role in the course of the rest of your life, and she was clearly being pressured into aiming higher than she was comfortable with while getting zero support from her supposed friends. Now she’s been thrust into a position of authority in a world she doesn’t even begin to comprehend. She’s so far outside her comfort zone, it’s not even a dot on the horizon anymore. She’s confused and a little upset that Tamahome is in her room, which makes sense because every man in the kingdom seems to want to rape her the moment she’s in a vulnerable situation. Tamahome reassures her that he’s just worried about her, as is the emperor.

Continue reading “Fushigi Yuugi: The Seven Stars of Suzaku/Missing Love”

Fushigi Yugi: The Girl of Legend/The Priestess of Suzaku

Trigger Warning for sexual assault

Episode One: The Girl of Legend

The first episode of the infamous Fushigi Yugi kicks off with one of the best opening themes of the mid-90’s. Seriously, go watch it – it starts off ethereal and atmospheric as Miaka, dressed in priestess robes, moves through a palace and greets each of her guardian warriors. It turns into a more standard, but still catchy pop theme. It’s beautiful and well-animated, unlike the rest of the show.

Who is Miaka? Well, she’s an ordinary third-year middle-schooler and currently dreaming of food that she commands to get into her belly. The dream turns into a nightmare as the food disappears and bright lights begin to harangue about how she should be studying instead of eating. She freaks out and throws her desk, hitting her teacher, who makes her hold the desk out in the hall. (TRUE 90’s kids will remember how “holding heavy things in the hallway” was a common punishment in anime during that decade. Not sure how much basis that has in reality.) Continue reading “Fushigi Yugi: The Girl of Legend/The Priestess of Suzaku”

Fushigi Yugi Simulwatchathon

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Watch Fushigi Yugi on Crunchyroll

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.