Reviewby Casey Brienza,
Fushigi Yûgi -VIZBIG Edition-
Miaka Yuki is an ordinary, mediocre student gearing up for the pressure cooker of high school entrance exams. But then a study session in the library with her best friend Yui proves to be the beginning of the adventure of a lifetime. She gets sucked into a book called The Universe of the Four Gods and becomes the heroine of its Ancient Chinese story, the Priestess of Suzaku charged with gathering the seven Celestial Warriors. If she is able to find them all, her wishes will be granted. Just by wishing, she will be able to save the Kingdom of Hong-Nan from its enemies...and she will be able to get into the elite Jonan High! Is Miaka up to the challenge? And how will she cope when Yui turns against her? Oh yes, and there's that little matter of her burgeoning romantic relationship with Tamahome…
Fushigi Yûgi was not the first shoujo manga series ever published in the United States, nor was it even the first to be commercially successful. Yet thanks to its epic run of animated television episodes and OVAs, it is without question one of the most beloved. Now Yuu Watase's classic tale of a girl who is magically transported into another world is the first shoujo manga to be reissued in VIZ Media's doorstopper VIZBIG 3-in-1 omnibus editions. (Previous titles to have gotten the VIZBIG treatment include Rurouni Kenshin, Dragon Ball, and Vagabond.)
It is, undeniably, an attractive volume. Although it feels like a brick in your hand and is correspondingly difficult to read with any modicum of comfort, there is plenty of paratextual bling to compensate: metallic foil stamping (the first on a VIZBIG edition), french flaps, super bright, acid-free paper, and thirteen full-color illustrations. The unusual trim size means that some illustrations get cut off slightly around the edges, but the loss is not unnecessarily lamentable. More importantly, none of the text bubbles are hacked off or hard to read.
But will the diehard Fushigi Yûgi fans be satisfied? That is a harder question to answer. Certainly, some of the editorial choices seem strange in light of the 21st century; the English adaptation by Yuji Oniki is, for example, well over a decade old and much more heavily adapted to Western culture than is standard for VIZ Media titles nowadays. The book's treatment of sound effects is likewise incongruous. Some have been replaced while others have not (a translation for those is provided in a lengthy list of endnotes)—even on the same page!—and the choice one way or the other seems entirely random. Color pages, instead of being integrated back into the text itself, as they are in other VIZBIG editions, have been stuck on like an unprofessional clump of an afterthought at the very end of the volume. Moreover, some of the pages that were originally produced in color are not included in that color clump at all.
Yet despite these sour production notes, this is still a very good book for newcomers to the series and well worth the $17.99 list price. Fushigi Yûgi has become a classic for several very good reasons, and with a triple dose of three whole tankoubon volumes to be downed in a single sitting, readers should get enough of the story to get thoroughly hooked. You see Miaka's first encounters with Tamahome, Hotohori, Nuriko, and Chichiri, and by the end of volume three the central conflict between her and Yui, and between the Suzaku and Seiryu Warriors, that drives much of the forthcoming plot is laid out. Also, this is one of the manga that made male harems and ordinary Japanese girls transported to alternate worlds fashionable, and returning to it nearly twenty years after it was first published, it is abundantly clear why. This manga is so much fun.
And boy does Watase know how to make you laugh. None of the characters get taken too seriously, and all have flaws that are used to lovable, comedic effect. Miaka sucks at studying, and she is a glutton to boot. Tamahome is obsessed with money; Hotohori is obsessed with his own beauty. Nuriko is ready to take a super-strong stand for male-to-female crossdressers everywhere. Watase herself fills the side margins with considerable—and interesting—commentary, and she is more than ready to laugh self-deprecatingly at her own narrative penchant for melodrama. For example, Tamahome and Hotohori's willingness to sacrifice their lives for Miaka becomes the site of some serious laugh fodder. Furthermore, this humor gives Fushigi Yûgi a humanistic depth that no amount of action-adventure or angsty romance could do on its own.
Of course, like any good shoujo manga, it also has gorgeous artwork. Though lacking the assured, crisp lines of Watase's later endeavors (see Absolute Boyfriend), her fantasy China and the people who inhabit it are evocative and transporting nonetheless. Oh, and her character designs are exquisite. (There was probably an entire generation of Japanese girls who were saving themselves for either Tamahome or Hotohori. Mostly long-locked Hotohori, as he was reputedly more popular, at least in the beginning.) Her main weakness in the art department is the action scenes; attempts to sequence swordfights and martial arts moves are pathetic even by shoujo manga standards. Good thing the battles are always over very quickly.
Anyway, if you have not yet read Fushigi Yûgi, now is the perfect time to explore the Universe of the Four Gods. And even if you have already been there and back, you may discover that VIZ Media's new 3-in-1 omnibus edition is compelling enough an invitation for a nostalgic return trip.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : A-
+ A famous shoujo tale featuring otherworldly travel and a large male harem...oh yeah, and it is really funny.
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