Mysterious Play (Fushigi Yugi)
For those who haven't heard, Fushigi Yugi, a 52-episode TV series based on the manga by Watase Yu, begins rather normally (for shojo, anyway), when the main character Miaka and her best friend Yui (both students gearing up for high school entrance exams) are beamed to a distant world that bears much resemblance to ancient china. Inexplicably, Yui is sent back to the real world, and while Miaka carries on as best she can, Yui follows her exploits by reading the book that got them there in the first place.
Miaka is rescued time and time again by a guy named Tamahome, and when the two are discovered by the emperor of the foreign land (named Konan), Miaka is declared the Priestess of Suzaku (fansub name: Suzaku no Miko), a legendary girl from another world that will bring the aid of the god Suzaku to the country that is trapped in a cold war with a bordering state. In order to obtain this power, she must find the Seven Celestial Warriors (fansub name: seven seishi) whose job it is to protect her. Tamahome is revealed to be one of these (made apparent by the red mark on his forehead - the kanji for "ogre"), as is the bishonen emperor Hotohori and one of his concubines Nuriko. What follows is an epic of love triangles, fighting, tragedies, and intrigue (and plenty of slap-stick humor as well).
Perhaps no other anime has had such a far-reaching impact across the industry while not being commercially released as has Fushigi Yugi, originally subtitled by Karen Duffy of Tomodachi Anime. Now heralds the release of the commercial releases by Pioneer, which is causing former dub-obsessed newbies to wonder if the new version will be as good as the subtitled version.
The show, while over the top at times, is always entertaining throughout, with some of the most angst-drenched scenes ever animated. Miaka is consistantly annoying, as everyone is falling over her as she stumbles about her own stupidity. (How many times can she run away crying, thinking, "I'm sorry, Tamahome..."?!) The show is a consistant winner among unmarried girls (as was shown by the fansub), and several large shrines have been dedicated to just about all of the male characters (as well as at least one dedicated to wishing Miaka would die).
I was quite impressed by Pioneer's packaging scheme, calling the dubbed version "Mysterious Play" with a small "Fushigi Yugi" subscript, and then having the subtitled version inverted, making them quite easy to tell apart.
Less impressive, albeit still passable, was the dub itself. No doubt the most annoying feature of the dub is Miaka's voice, which is so incredibly ear-grating that she brings back memories of C-ko from Project A-Ko and Hikaru from Kimagure Orange Road, adding yet another on the list of girls to throw on a deserted island and bomb out of existance. Especially early on, Miaka always sounds like an adult lady straining to stay high-pitched, and therefore unable to act anything low-key. Yui is never quite believable; as she reads, she either sounds bitter or narrative. Taitsu-kun (the recap and preview narrator at this point) doesn't sound old at all...
But that's where the mediocrity ends. Tamahome, although the casting takes a bit of getting used to, is very good and funny. He'll never come close to the original Hikaru Midorikawa's fun nasal voice and he sounds a bit too "voice-actor", as if he was pulled randomly from Ocean Group's pool of ambiguous male talent. (This was dubbed by ZRO Limit, the company Manga Entertainment is famous for using... their dubs range from horribly bad to some of the best ever produced.) Hotohori sounds excellent as the bishonen emperor, as does Nuriko's gruff violent psychotic tomboy spells. The dub was genuinely hillarious, as much so as the original.
Perhaps we've been spoiled by Karen Duffy's lovely rewrite, but Pioneer's version is nowhere near the quality of the fansubs. The rewrite for the dub sometimes comes off as clumsy, although I did like their translation of "Seishi". The most obvious point is the opening narration of the first episode, which comes off as rather forced. The translation itself is very close to the original, and of course, fixes the errors in the fansub script. Other post-production flaws include the total lack of translation of any signs or on-screen text with the exception of the credits (which are rather nicely done). Despite early reports, Pioneer did not cut a single opening or ending from the tape, sensing a probable fan-riot on their hands if they did so. Unlike earlier Pioneer dubs, the songs are not in English, which I found a bit disappointing, as their English singers are usually as good (sometimes better if the original is lame) as the Japanese. The songs are subtitled by the notorious Captions, Inc., with their equally notorious green song font. Due to this font's extraordinary size, the end theme and credits are left totally untranslated until the end, which kind of puts a damper on the cliff-hanger fun at every episode.
One nice unexpected bonus was the "Omake" (video extra... yes, they actually called it "omake"!), a credit-less version of the opening subtitled with singable Japanese Romanji (english letters). I'm looking forward to seeing if the tradition of romaji is followed through with every volume.
Overall, the dub was not nearly as bad as I had worried it would be, but there are still several hurdles up in the air... the most worrisome of which is how, if at all, they're going to translate Chichiri's ending every sentance with "no da!" Still, faults aside, this is an excellent tool for any otaku to hook dub fans on shojo anime. The upcoming DVD release will make this especially worthwhile, and further releases can only get better...
Overall : B
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