Reviewby Casey Brienza,
Fushigi Yûgi -VIZBIG Edition-
Her heart blackened by the misguided belief that Miaka never had any intention of rescuing her from the Qu-Dong empire, Yui has turned against her one time best friend and become the priestess of Seiryu. Tamahome secretly leaves Hong-Nan—and his cherished Miaka—behind, traveling to Qu-Dong and becoming Yui's hostage…all in the hopes of forestalling war between the two kingdoms. Miaka, meanwhile, knows that Tamahome will not return to her until she can find the rest of Suzaku's Celestial Warriors. And so, with the help of Hotohori, Nuriko, and Chichiri, she sets out on another adventure. Fortunately, the rest of the Warriors aren't too hard to find. More problematic is Hotohori's burgeoning feelings for his priestess…and the possibility that one of the Warriors may be an implacable enemy in disguise!
“Gotta catch 'em all!” takes an interesting turn in the next three volumes of Yuu Watase's Fushigi Yûgi, here collected in a 3-in-1 reprint omnibus edition. After discovering that her best friend has allied with the implacable enemy of her newfound companions, Miaka is more determined than ever to gather the Seven Celestial Warriors of Suzaku and wish her life back to normal again.
Interestingly, though, gathering the Suzaku Warriors is much less of an epic project than readers who think they know where this reverse harem series is going would be inclined to presume. Finding Tasuki and Mitsukake, while diverting side adventures in their own right, seems little more than a pleasure jaunt for Miaka and her companions. And not to spoil anything, but suffice it to say that Chiriko finds them. No, of far greater importance in this now-classic shoujo manga series is the relationships—particularly those relationships between friends and lovers—that are put to the test by the improbable events of this otherworld fantasy. In volumes four through six, we see Miaka lose Tamahome to brainwashing, Miaka regain Tamahome through the power of her love, Hotohori confess his love to Miaka even though she is unable to reciprocate, and Yui's devotion to Miaka transform into jealousy and hatred. It's quite a lot of ground covered for a “mere” comic book, and it's emotionally gripping.
As always, Watase's artwork holds up half the sky in this China that never was. Although her action scenes continue to be especially pitiable, she is bar none one of the best when it comes to drawing handsome characters. There is probably an entire generation of women in Japan that were saving their hearts for either Tamahome or Hotohori. But the girls are also appealing-looking as well, and Watase's Osakan penchant for humor is deployed to its greatest effect during bawdy jokes and scenes of (Miaka) gluttony. Moreover, the artwork has aged very well. About the only thing that suggests its early 1990s pedigree is the thickness of the lines and heavy-handed use of black ink.
Nevertheless, this is one manga series that manages to clearly show its age—in other, non-visual ways. The accouterments of modern society such as the Internet, cell phones, and digital music players that have, if possible, become even more ubiquitous in Japan than on this side of the Pacific. Yet in this text, they are nowhere to be found. Miaka communicates with her world by hair ribbon. Fortunately, reading Fushigi Yûgi as a product of its particular historical time period does not at all detract from its pleasures. Yet on the other hand, the Viz translation is also a product of its time, and the adaptation dating from the late 1990s into the early 2000s does not age nearly as well as Yuu Watase's own fantastic tale of romance and adventure. The prose is more loosely adapted than one might be expect to find in Shojo Beat imprint titles these days—for better and for worse—and sound effects are replaced about half the time. (The other half of the time, you are referred to a lengthy and unwieldy list of endnotes.) You definitely are left with the impression of a manga in English that is trying not to be too “Japanese.” In spite of some very Asian cultural subject matter.
The VIZBIG editions are just that—big, heavy blocks of tightly bound printed matter that seem specially designed to break the finger bones of hapless reviewers. On the plus side, the paper and the overall print quality are excellent, and french flaps, metallic stamping, and thirteen pages of color illustrations in the second VIZBIG volume of Fushigi Yûgi are especially nice bonuses for a book that retails at only $17.99 (only a few dollars more than the first English language Animerica Extra editions of Fushigi Yûgi waaaay back in the day—anybody remember them?!). Plus, when you are finished reading, the object will make a pretty rose-colored doorstop—or deadly weapon. Bash somebody over the head with this baby, and it's gotta hurt.
While without question prominent in the manga milieu in Japan, not to mention having spawned any number of derivative rip-offs over the years, Watase's Fushigi Yûgi is without a doubt one of the titles to set the standard for what “manga” in the United States has come to be. For this reason alone, it is a must-read. But even if you couldn't care a whit about its historical significance, it's still a fun story that may be enjoyed purely on its own terms.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : A-
+ Even though it's over fifteen years old, this entertaining tale feels like it could have been penned yesterday.
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