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

Content warnings for homophobia and sexual assault

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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.)

Once she’s freed, Miaka goes out with her friends, who mock her intelligence and insult her when she says she’s taking the exams for Jonan, a prestigious high school. Her best friend Yui is trying for the school, but it’s NBD because, in Yui’s own words, “[she’s] a genius and [Miaka is] stupid.” She then asks Miaka to go to the national library with her, and it’s surprising that she doesn’t start explaining what “books” are and the marks on the “pages” are called “kana”, given how condescending she’s being. This is only the first incident in a long string of Yui being an awful friend.

Miaka wanders off to buy some juice and when she goes to pick up a coin she drops, a giant phoenix appears and flies off. vlcsnap-2015-11-19-19h57m10s322Miaka follows the red sparkles to the restricted reference section, where Yui finds her and insults her intelligence some more. A book JUST HAPPENS to fall off the shelf, which Genius Yui can read despite it being in old Chinese. Miaka recognizes the illustration as the phoenix she saw, and Yui reads the preface, announcing that the book will become real for whoever reads it once the first page is turned. Instead of the two putting down the book and walking away, because obviously some weird shit is happening and they should probably focus on exams, they turn the page and are engulfed in a flash of red light.

The two come to in a desolate plain. Miaka’s first reaction is to ask Yui if she’s okay, and Yui responds by elbowing Miaka in the head. vlcsnap-2015-11-19-20h04m47s873It’s supposedly because she wants to check if it’s a dream, but I’m not really willing to give her the benefit of the doubt here. Miaka responds by punching her in kind, then crying because there’s no food. Because she’s greedy and dumb, get it? A couple men grab Yui from behind, and start talking about how much they can sell her for [sexual assault count: 1]. Miaka recognizes that they’re speaking Chinese and assumes they’re acrobats, which makes no sense because she has no problem understanding what anyone else has to say for the rest of the series. “Are you stupid? We’re slave traders,” they say, because everyone in the show is required to insult her intelligence, I guess. (In the dub they say “human slave traders”, I’m going to assume because they’re vegans and think livestock is like, enslaving animals, man.)

Miaka headbutts the guys, but it’s useless because the story doesn’t move forward if she isn’t constantly being rescued. The slaver raises his sword, and husbando #1 appears to beat them up, looking oh-so-90s with his teal hair, lavender eyes, and kanji for “ogre” on his forehead. As he beats them off, the camera focuses mainly on Miaka and Yui looking helpless. I could postulate that it’s because Miaka is the subject here and the focus is on her emotional reaction rather than action but let’s be honest, it’s all because of the low budgevlcsnap-2015-11-19-20h19m31s983.pngt. Teal-haired husbando throws the men from off-screen, and now that the action is all safely finished and no longer needs to be animated, we can actually focus the camera on him now. He asks the girls if they’re all right, and demands payment for his services. They have no money, of course, so he calls them losers and walks away. Miaka goes to dig through her pockets for some cash, and while she’s conveniently turned away, Yui disappears in a flash of red light because the plot needs Miaka to be alone for now. Miaka turns around to find her gone, and Yui is back in the library. She reads the book and finds a description of what she just went through, and boom, we have our convenient narrator.

Miaka rides into town on the back of a wagon, unable to comprehend why all the farmers are staring at the girl in a modern middle school uniform. “In a city full of people, I’m sure I can find him here!” she exclaims, because that is DEFINITELY how cities work. Apparently, in this magical world, it actually is, since she immediately spots him. She goes into town but gets distracted by elephants – can’t blame her for that one – and loses track of him. Her stomach growls, once again, because her sole character traits are stupidity and gluttony. She steals some pork buns – yen aren’t acceptable currency in Fantasy China – and wanders around asking about ogre husbando for a while with no luck.

A guy pulls her aside and tells her that he’s alone too. Miaka assumes he’s asking her out, and starts to turn him down, but he says he knows ogre husbando and will take her to him. Meanwhile, ogre husbando overhears people talking about this weird girl looking for him, but when he hears there’s only one, he assumes it can’t be her. Cut back to Miaka and the dude, who have gone down an empty, ramshackle alley. Instead of Ogre Husbando, a bunch of threatening-looking guys come out of a hole in a building (why couldn’t there have just been a door? This show makes no sense) and WELP turns out THEY TOO want to sell her, but first they’re going to rape her in the second sexual assault attempt in one episode. vlcsnap-2015-11-19-20h43m19s552They also insult Miaka’s intelligence because, like I said, it seems to be a requirement for every character. They form a circle around her, laughing threateningly, while Miaka blames herself for falling for their ruse. It’s pretty unsettling how quickly the show blames Miaka for trusting the wrong men, while the entire plot revolves around her trusting the right men.

Miaka realizes there’s no teachers there to punish her for fighting back against her rapists (?!?!?!?!?!) and starts shouting nonsense she lifted from a women’s wrestling special she saw. She fights back, comically throwing the guys around in imitation wrestling moves. When all the guys are on the ground groaning, she congratulates herself for her skill and contemplates vlcsnap-2015-11-19-20h51m23s334going pro. Of course, she must be punished for her confidence, and one guy pulls her down, even angrier that she fought back. In uncomfortably lingering shots of her prone and twisting in fear, Miaka cries out. Luckily, Ogre Husbando shows up just in time to beat the guys up and rescue our fair damsel. Inappropriately peppy music plays, signaling the end of the episode as the two stand still and stare at each other for a really, really long time.

Episode 2: The Priestess of Suzaku

Opening theme song! Budget-saving one-minute recap of the previous episode!

Miaka concludes her lingering stare at Ogre Husbando by bursting into tears as he comforts her and it’s actually kind of a sweet moment. Once she calms down, she demands to know where Yui is. He says he doesn’t know, and there’s an extended sequence of her following him and haranguing him about how she needs her shitty rude friend. This scene vlcsnap-2015-11-19-21h05m04s680includes my favorite bad animation sequence ever, with the background is hilariously obviously skipping every time it reaches the end of its cycle. She keeps following and yelling and following and yelling and finally she shouts, “STAND UP AND BE A MAN!” Ogre husbando has finally had enough, and tells her to pay if she wants him to help her. She starts screaming that he kidnapped and sold Yui and the phrase “human slave trader” comes up again. The townsfolk gasp and stare, and Tamahome covers her mouth and carries her away, which will definitely dispel those rumors.

He carries her off to an empty alley, and she confirms that she knows he’s not a slaver. She starts crying about how she’s alone, and he starts to hem and haw about how it’s hard to find someone in a city, even though they had no trouble whatsoever finding each other. With no transition whatsoever, they’re surrounded by a crowd and the imperial procession is going by and this episode is impossible to follow with anything resembling logic. Ogre Husbando tells her that’s the emperor going by, and sighs longingly over his wealth. Ever-so-perceptive Miaka manages to find enough context clues to figure out the emperor is rich, asks if he’s nice and runs into the parade to ask him for a jewel from his crown so Ogre Husbando will help her while twelve-year-old me’s screams of mortification echo through time. This decision is heart-stoppingly stupid because Miaka your own country has an emperor, this is not a foreign concept.

Ogre Husbando is just as mortified as I am, and Miaka trips over a stone and grabs at the palanquin, adding yet another oh-so-charming personality trait: clumsiness. At this point, I’m starting to feel like Miaka is supposed to be written to be similar to another clumsy, gluttonous, crybaby Relatable Heroine of the era: Usagi Tsukino, aka Sailor Moon. However, unlike Miaka, Usagi always managed to come through in the end. Sure, it was with a little help from her friends, but she grew into her role and saved the day herself many times over. Spoiler alert: Miaka never really stops being dumb and clumsy. I’m not saying that out of misogyny, either; Miaka is written as having below-average intelligence and does things no thinking human would do. She never reaches a point where she stops having to be rescued. When I call out Miaka as helpless and poorly-written, I’m just pointing out the show’s inherent misogyny. With only a slight change in POV, Miaka would be an 00’s-era moe dojikko. Yui would probably have been given glasses and never changed facial expressions.

Anyway, back to the show. A guard has taken great umbrage to Miaka’s “assault” on the emperor and starts screaming about how he’s going to cut her to pieces. Ogre husbando throws smoke bombs in and rescues her yet again, while shouting at her for putting herself in danger because she is mentallvlcsnap-2015-11-19-21h39m17s480y about three years old. He promises to help her find Yui, and FINALLY introduces himself as Tamahome. Miaka opines that she’ll never be able to repay him, and he says in a very creepy voice, “Don’t worry… I know how…” and kisses her on the forehead. It’s supposed to be sweet and romantic, but after she’s survived two attempted rapes, it’s deeply uncomfortable.

The guards come back and start shouting about how they’re going to kill them (doesn’t anyone get a trial in Fantasy China?) and Miaka and Tamahome are engulfed in red light because…??? Miaka goes all transparent, everyone’s confused, and for some reason Miaka can see Yui reading in the library. She calls out, but Yui doesn’t respond. Miaka doesn’t seem to realize she can’t hear her, because I imagine Yui pulls shit like this all the time. She reappears in Fantasy China, and the emperor order his guards to arrest them because if you want something out of them, you toss them into a cell. Miaka has an anxiety dream about her high school entrance exams and wakes up whining about how she’s hungry. Meanwhile, the Faceless Emperor says that he suspects the foreign girl is the Priestess of Suzaku.

Miaka gets some gum on her face and the guard runs away in terror because ancient people don’t understand modern things, lol. Tamahome does the same thing, but since there’s nowhere for him to run, he runs into the wall and knocks himself unconscious. With no guards, the two manage to escape and have a much easier time getting out of the dungeon and into the palace than they should in a country that’s at war (spoilers!) They find themselves in the temple of Suzaku, and Tamahome explains the universe’s cosmology: each of the four cardinal directions has a country, and each country has a god. They’re in Konan, the western country, whose god is Suzaku. Miaka, however, smells food and takes off in the middle of his lecture because “glutton” is still her primary personality trait.vlcsnap-2015-11-19-21h54m23s250

Miaka realizes she’s lost and runs around in a panic, until a sparking person who appears to be wearing a bathrobe points her to a gate. They talk about her circumstances, and the person, doing incredibly affected feminine gestures introduces themself as Hotohori and takes Miaka’s face in their hands? And there are the guards with Tamahome! They seize Miaka, and we get the first of the infamous “MIAKA!” “TAMAHOME!” sequences. I guess hearing her scream his name gives Tamahome glowy forehead powers, because he breaks his binding, punches the guards, and screams protectively about how he’ll make them sorry if they lay a finger on her.

Hotohori reveals themself as the emperor, and Miaka is shocked that such a “young, beautiful woman” is the emperor. I’d compliment her on not making cissexist assumptions, since Hotohori’s voice is quite deep and vlcsnap-2015-11-19-22h16m30s578obviously the product of testosterone, but in context it’s really just that Miaka is not smart, womp womp. Instead of bowing, she tests her theory
by feeling Hotohori’s chest to confirm the lack of boobs, and commenting on how he must have “man stuff down below”! Miaka. You are not unfamiliar with the concept of authority. For God’s sake, learn some impulse control.

Cut to the throne room, where Hotohori asks Miaka to become the Priestess of Suzaku and save Fantasy China. Miaka is confused about how an ordinary girl sucked into a fantastic otherworld can do that, because I guess she’s never read a manga in her life. But once he tells her she could have any wish, she thinks about her options – the body of a supermodel! Popular with the boys! Physical strength! Food! And – she concedes reluctantly – getting into whatever high school she wanted. There are little hints scattered throughout that Miaka is really a scrapper at heart, but the story’s constant insistence that she be helpless so the men can rescue her turns that into her wandering into danger over and over and never learning. She wants to be strong, but the idea that she can be more than a damsel never seemed to enter mangaka Yuu Watase’s head. Hotohori condescendingly calls the very normal concerns of a fifteen-year-old girl “baby wishes”, but Miaka agrees to do it. Cue inappropriately peppy closing music as she is declared the Priestess of Suzaku and the courtiers all bow to her.

Next up: Miaka needs to be rescued! Again!

Fushigi Yugi Simulwatchathon

Fushigi_Yugi_-_Suzaku_Seven

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.