For my first full review I decided to go back to my years in middle school to one of the very first manga I have ever read. In those days there was only a small selection of manga translated into English to choose from, and even smaller was the selection of shoujo manga. Luckily enough manga had slowly begun to increase in popularity, and one day as I was passing through the library I had come across an intriguing novel by a Japanese artist. In its pages lay a story of a mysterious book where a young girl is thrust into a world of gods and war, there she must face a struggle between doing her duty and being with the one she loved. I am talking, of course, of Yuu Watase’s Fushigi Yugi.
Being nearly 20 years since it’s release in English, I realize there are many of you who have probably already read through all 18 volumes of this classic. But for those of you new to shoujo manga, or even manga in general, perhaps you have yet to stumble across its pages. It is to that end that I write this review, in hopes of encouraging a new generation of FY (Fushigi Yuugi) fans. Firstly, a brief summary to bring us all up to speed, and maybe dust out a few of the cobwebs for those of us old readers.
We start off with the glutton Miaka Yuuki, a 3rd year middle school student in the midst of studying for her entrance exams for the prestigious Jonan high school.* One day while studying in the library with her best friend Yui, they discover a mysterious book in the back room called ‘The Universe of the Four Gods’. Upon opening its pages they are immediately transported, unbeknownst to them, smack dab into the middle of ancient China. After a confusing run in with some local thugs and a handsome stranger, they are returned home with doubts about whether their experience was a dream or reality?
Plagued with curiosity, Miaka decides to re-enter the book and finds herself written down as the Heroine, the Miko of Suzaku (Priestess of Suzaku). In order to obtain the power of the mighty Suzaku, and thus her three wishes, she must find her 7 celestial warriors across the country of Konan and summon the god-beast. The adventure is wrought with hilarity, betrayal, love, and sacrifice as Miaka and Yui are modern girls plunged into a world of war, struggling to come to terms with a whole new range of emotions and fighting for survival.
The story at first is pretty E (PG) but at about volume 6 the scenes become bloody and the content a little more mature. The whole series I would rate at about T (PG13), maybe T+ (older teen) just to be safe.
I would said that the story on the whole is very worth the read. It is still most definitely a shoujo but it has enough adventure in later volumes that would probably appease even some shounen fans. The relationships between characters are constantly changing and although the beginning seems a little slower, it starts to pick up at about volume 3-4.
Splattered with ridiculous comic relief and, at times, cheesy humor, it does well to break the tension at some of the more intense dramatic scenes. The romance is a little predictable at the start, and almost seems to fall into the Mary Sue Syndrome but it more than makes up for it in the long run. The many twists, turns, and back flips the relationships between the characters in this series must endure will have you second guessing and losing hope altogether. In the end you will be left with a stark reminder that not all stories end happy and not everyone’s favorite characters will survive to the end.
One of the most interesting things to observe is the progression of Watase’s art throughout the series. Perhaps the character development is not the best (some of them tend to be lacking a little), but bit by bit with each hardship you will feel them grow and mature until the end, becoming more well-rounded just as Watase’s art style develops to be smoother and well-rounded. This parallel works to enhance the feeling of the character’s progression, some times making up for the lack there of story-wise.
Though it’s true that the full story does span over all 18 volumes, volumes 1-13 are considered “part 1” while the latter 14-18 are “part 2”. And while I am proud to say I have read the entire series a few times, I personally like to believe that the series ends at volume 13 (the end of part 1). As an avid reader myself, I understand the maddening ache when a good story comes to an end leaving you to wonder and wish to find out what happens after “the end”. And while you will make some interesting discoveries about what happens to the original characters after the events of part 1, in my opinion part 2 of the series travels down a confusing and unnecessary path that takes away from the story overall. I still, however, recommend at least reading through the entire series to make your own assumptions. Overall, this series is a bit dramatic at times but it still makes for a great shoujo manga.
Bishounen look: For any bishounen fan this series is definitely a treat! There is basically a harem of guys to choose from in this series! From the Suzaku 7 (6 of which could be considered), to 4 of the Seiryuu 7, and even a couple other warriors that make an appearance, bringing the bishie count to about 14. And the best part is there’s something for everyone. Whether you prefer the strong silent type, the evil type, the noble type, loyal type, optimistic type, emo type, or even just the plain freaky, there are plenty to choose from. And all 14 are definitely bishie status at one point or another in the series, my favorite being Amiboshi. ;)
*For a tidbit of information in case there are some newbies out there, in Japan the school system (mostly) goes 6-3-3-4, 6 years elementary, 3 years middle school, 3 years high school, and 4 years university. Entrance exams take place to get into middle school, high school, and university. The better middle school you get into, the better chances you have in getting into a better high school and thus a better university.