Yuu Watase – Viz – 2010 – 18 volumes
This is an omnibus containing volumes 16-18

There was no joy in this volume for me. I read it to get it off my floor. It started out as a fun activity where I read it with my roommate (he was the one that prodded me into giving the series a try), but he gave up after the conclusion of the main series, and his negative attitude about the new story arc really brought me down. The story isn’t nearly as creative as the main one was, and while I do like the character interaction among the Suzaku warriors a lot more here (Watase mentions that one of the main draws to doing the extra story was that she could give the Suzaku warriors more time to be themselves, and it works), and it’s great we’re not introduced to a lot of new characters and complications (only four bad guys!)… the story just isn’t any fun. It’s pretty straight-up conflict, bad guys versus Miaka/Tamahome and company. It’s lightened by good stuff like one of the bad guys being Chichiri’s best friend and opening up his backstory, and it’s got a pretty clever conclusion, honestly… but in between all that are long, drawn-out attacks from the enemy, lots of little diversions like Suzaku’s power running out, a new jumping method, complications with Miaka’s parents… stuff like that. I just couldn’t stay interested.

My roommate pointed out that reading Watase’s notes was really interesting. After he picked up on a lot of veiled comments about her getting bullied via editorial pressue, I started seeing it more, too. In one particularly enlightening column, she mentions she wrote the entire first story arc with the intention of splitting up Miaka and Tamahome at the end, and only changed her mind after her editor told her no a handful of chapters from the end. She mentions that this only makes sense, since the main theme of the story was that Miaka was escaping reality into a book, and it wouldn’t be right to have her fictitious ideal of a man be the one she ends up with. This made the entire first story arc really pop for me, since the two-dimensional romance between Miaka and Tamahome makes a lot more sense as a stereotypical “storybook romance” that was to be overridden at the end. Tamahome falling instantly in love makes a lot more sense that way, as does all the silly ups and downs they have. I’m probably reading way too much into the intention in a lot of cases, but it made me respect the story a lot more when I saw it from that perspective.

Anyway. The conclusion to the second story arc was pretty great, for as lackluster as the conflict was this time around. The… final villain that Taka/Tamahome faces off against does make a lot of sense (I was waiting for this conflict to happen the entire time, in fact), and the fight between the two is pretty spectacular. The destruction caused by the villain is pretty apocalyptic in scale, and I love that Miaka and Tamahome were given a bit of a choice in the end. There were a lot of good things in that final volume. I’m just sad that the only other highlight in the entire thing was Chichiri’s backstory (which, to be fair, was also pretty spectacular).

Fushigi Yugi is made of a lot of great stuff, and I do have a lot more respect for it now that I’ve read it all the way through. But even with that additional revelation of intent, I just can’t get myself to like Miaka and Tamahome from those first few volumes of the series, nor can I endorse the 16-or-so characters that carry the first story arc, all with their individual stories. There’s also the matter of Miaka and Yui getting raped (or attempts at raping or having sex with them) that stays a plot point through almost all the volumes of the main series. And… yeah, that last story arc just isn’t all that fun. Fushigi Yugi is a classic of shoujo, even in America, but… it’s just not one for my books. My initial assessment of it from reading it in America Extra has pretty much stayed with me. I only read it this time because I bought all the volumes. I’m still open to the idea of starting at the beginning with Genbu Kaiden, though. I like what I’ve read of that one.

Fushigi Yugi 5 (VizBig ed.)

February 9, 2011

Yuu Watase – Viz – 2010 – 18 volumes
This is an omnibus containing volumes 13-15

I… liked this omnibus volume a lot better than the two previous ones. I was a little afraid of this part of the story, because dragging the fantasy setting into the modern world seemed silly, but it really works for FY, and it’s the perfect way to play out the “conclusion” of the story. I even liked the chemistry between the characters. The complex relationship between Miaka and Yui, how Nakago has been presenting himself all along and what his real goals are, and the way everything works out in the end against all the odds. The latter is pure shoujo manga, and I was happy to see it in FY. As much as I disliked many parts of the story, I did like the “ending” here, and reading Watase’s notes on the process and ideas behind writing it made me like the series a lot more, too.

I was also surprised by the amount of character deaths overall. Many happen over the course of the series, and even more happen here. It’s unusual in a shoujo manga to see any, let alone all the characters that bite the dust here, because readers get angry when their favorite minor character gets killed. I liked that it was a real thing that happened here, especially when presented as a consequence of war. And I also liked the way the enemies were dispatched throughout the series, rather than making allies out of all of them. Even Watase’s favorite character wound up dead by the end. Her comments on the character throughout her notes in this omnibus made me laugh.

Anyway, so the story “finishes” here with volume 13, and a new chapter of FY picks up and continues through 14 and 15. I think I knew about this, and I recognize the plot from summaries of the anime, but I was still a little shocked when the story I thought was continuing for six more volumes suddenly ended in the middle of a war, and just when all the characters were making a jump to reality. The new story is okay so far. Suzaku summons Miaka to gather orbs in order to… save the world of the book from an ultimate evil, or something. Each of the Suzaku warriors has an orb, and Miaka uses a device that Suzaku gives her to jump between reality and the book, looking for the orbs in a pre-set period of time while reuniting with the old characters and battling the ultimate evil.

Despite that somewhat generic-sounding summary, I already like it a little better than the beginning of the main story, if only because it’s a little more grounded in fantasy elements and relies less on character personality stereotypes and gags. There’s still plenty of levity, and it’s already got Miaka and Tamahome all fleshed out, so we start with two characters who are slightly older, an established couple, and know their way around the fantasy world. Most of what I dislike about the first FY is gone, and while I’m still trying to get into the plot (which is admittedly not as good, or as deep), it’s easier for me to read.

The next omnibus will be the end. While I’m not overly fond of the side story as of yet, I am looking forward to seeing how the whole thing is plotted and goes down in only three volumes. Hopefully it’s not rushed.

Fushigi Yugi 4 (VizBig ed.)

September 10, 2010

Yu Watase – Viz – 2010 – 18 volumes
this omnibus contains volumes 10-12

My roommate is reading this at the same time I am for nostalgia reasons, since FY was one of his favorite anime series as it was being released on VHS. But even he has trouble with the manga, pointing out the flaw in Nakago’s rape-fest immediately. Why can’t they just kill her rather than passing her around to try and rape her? Why is rape attempted for almost two solid volumes? Putting aside how disturbing that is, I just got sick of hearing about it, too.

Maybe they can’t kill her, for the same reason they can’t rape her (“magic”). Or maybe they don’t kill her because they know it would make Yui angry. Even so, they could just… you know, accidentally do it.

Volumes ten and eleven are all about sex and rape (and nine, for that matter). Surprise, surprise, one of the characters isn’t actually dead, and they show up and offer a peaceful life to Miaka, who has decided that because she is “impure”, she can’t be the Priestess of Suzaku or Tamahome’s wife. But she can be someone else’s wife, and they almost consummate. Then she goes into a dream world and almost has sex with a Seiryu warrior, but in her defense, she was spelled into forgetting about Tamahome, and he was “dead” anyway. Meanwhile, Soi is trying to have sex with Tamahome. Later, Tamahome and Miaka almost have sex again, when “it doesn’t matter anymore.” In the in-between chapter parts, Tomo also has his way with Tamahome. As does Nakago.

This is why Sho-Comi can’t have nice things anymore. Of course, I haven’t read Sensual Phrase yet, so I may be in for more nonsensical sex later.

It’s not the sex that bothers me, or the rape (though I think that’s disgusting and difficult to read, so it does bother me), or the fact that this was written for girls in their younger teens (who I’m sure are fascinated by sex and ate this up with a spoon). It’s the fact that, even when sex is presented in a positive context, there is almost no romance. The romance in this series is just… really messed up. For instance, the mystery zombie in volume ten has apparently “always had a crush on Miaka.” And he’s right there, and convenient, so Miaka… gets caught up in the moment and decides, however briefly, that she can marry him because she’s had sex and can’t marry Tamahome? She also falls in love with a “mystery boy” quite fast, and decides to give it up equally quickly. Bah. It doesn’t help that Miaka and Tamahome, for how devoted they are to one another, break up about once per volume for some reason or other. In ten, it’s because Miaka has been raped. In eleven, it’s based on some random advice. In twelve… well, Tamahome runs off. It’s more of a fight, but even so. I am absolutely sick of hearing about how much those two love each other, then watching them mistrust and turn their backs all the time.

Putting that aside (which is difficult, because it’s a major part of the story), how is the rest of it? Pretty good. I forget that, putting all that emotional stuff aside, Fushigi Yugi is a pretty great story. Volume eleven did much to renew my faith in things, since much happens, and almost all of it runs contrary to what is expected. The Suzaku warrior’s role in things, the summoning, the reunion with Yui, the fate of several characters, all of it was different and wonderful, and I love that FY is good at going against expectations. The summoning in particular puts an interesting spin on things, and creates a far more interesting path for the story than the fact that Miaka and Tamahome may be separated by reality.

Volume twelve is just as interesting, with all the fallout from the summoning and an even more interesting twist… I knew that it would happen eventually, but the reason it happens, and the fact that other characters are involved, is pretty great. Not so great is that it is now something that apparently everyone can do, but I like the fact that some unlikely elements are leaking into other parts of the story.

Vague enough for you?

I do like the story. I like it a lot. I wish there were less plot conveniences (Oh no! The Shenso-Pao got stolen! Twice!), and I really wish the Miaka/Tamahome stupidity was toned way down, but overall there is a lot to like here.

Yuu Watase – Viz – 2009 – 18 volumes (this omnibus is volumes 7-9)

Oh, Miaka.  Oh, Tamahome.  Unfortunately, the last couple chapters in the last volume here featured a lot of those two shouting for each other, so that’s what I’ve got ringing through my memory right now.  I still don’t like either of them, and again, that’s a bit of a problem for my enjoyment of the series.  But it would be a shame to hate the entire series because of that, and there’s a lot of other stuff to like here.  So I’m going to pretend that Miaka and Tamahome don’t exist, and I’m going to talk about everything else in these volumes.

I love how interconnected and well-developed the mythology is here.  The Seriyuu celestial warriors are still being introduced one by one, and that does leave a lot of wildcards in the journey.  The journey, in this case, is for the Suzaku warriors down to Genbu territory to retrieve an item that belonged to the former priestess of Genbu (poor Takiko).  Ghosts of the Genbu warriors guard it, and there is another trial the Suzaku warriors have to face before they even get to the cave.  The result of the latter challenge was the reason I stopped reading the series the first time, since… well, what reason did I have after that since it was Miaka and Tamahome’s show from there out?  But the advantage is that most of the stuff after that is completely new to me, so now I’ve got stuff to look forward to.

There’s an awful lot of dark stuff going on here for a nice girls’ comic, too.  Lots of murders, unpleasant sexual torture, manipulation, gore, and other things.  Fushigi Yugi doesn’t pull any punches.  On one hand, that’s a shame since it’s tone makes it more comfortable for an early teen set, but on the other hand, I’m an adult and love it when disturbing stuff like that enters a super-girly series like this.

In addition to Genbu’s trial, there are several challenges from Seriyuu, including Suboshi, Soi, and Ashitare.  Soi’s first attack lands all the warriors on an island where they have to impersonate women or risk being chained up and used for “seed,” something I thought was pretty twisted.   Nuriko gets an awful lot of character development in here, including some insight into why he cross-dresses and some maturation on his part as well.  There’s also a lot of Yui, and she’s still hard to read since she’s been so thoroughly manipulated.  There’s also some detail about the link between the book and the outside world, but I’m guessing we won’t find out too much about that until the very end.

Mostly, I enjoyed the strange Genbu scenes since I’d been reading Genbu Kaiden.  Unfortunately, it’s been so long since I picked that series up that I couldn’t recognize or appreciate the characters in FY, but I still loved the link and that Watase decided to expand their story.  It makes me more curious than ever about the ending of Genbu Kaiden.  I maintain that is the better series, by far, but to be fair I believe it’s written in a magazine meant for an older audience.

FY is an undisputed classic of shoujo, and it’s hard not to like all its fantasy elements and wide variety of friends, enemies, mythology, and everything else that’s going on.  On the other hand, it’s hard not to hate the main couple, and they figure largely in the story and events.  But even they managed to make me sympathize with them a few times in these volumes (and with everything they go through, it would be scary if I didn’t).  FY isn’t my favorite, but I am growing to appreciate it more and more.

Fushigi Yugi 2 (Big ed.)

November 13, 2009

Yuu Watase – Viz – 2009 – 18 volumes (this Big edition is 4-6)

I’ve read all this before, and I find knowing the context this time around helps, and also doesn’t help.  I hadn’t read very much shoujo manga the first time I tried this, and was baffled by being dropped in the middle of a fantasy story set in China with so many characters.  There was a lot of stuff I was missing by not reading the beginning, and I remember some of my thoughts from the first time through too, since again, I read these magazines over and over again for lack of any other manga to read.  But I’m also surprised by how well I grasped the story.  It’s pretty simple, when all is said and done.  Everyone loves Miaka, and she’s trying to summon Suzaku while her best friend is trying to thwart her.

The badly-done romantic drama grated on me in this volume.  Hotohori jumping to Miaka’s every wish, the way everyone, including Tasuki, steps in to try and save her, the way Miaka blindly keeps throwing herself into dangerous situations with no heed for anyone else’s feelings… all the “Tamahome!”s we sit through… none of it works very well.  Hotohori’s parts in particular, when he tries to swoop in for the rebound, and the one page where Miaka briefly ponders switching… wow.  I had a hard time powering through these parts and ignoring what was going on enough so that I could move on with the story.

I hate Miaka in general, which hasn’t changed.  I was a little sad the way she kept cataloging her wishes while gathering the Celestial Warriors.  I suppose any girl her age would, given the chance, but I like that she thinks she can wish for however many things she wants.  I remembered wrong, and thought there was just one wish, but the fact that out of three, only one wasn’t for herself only sealed my hate for her forever.  That, and the fact that it didn’t occur to her to ask other people what they might want.  The fact that Nuriko even had to ask for his wish was just sad.  On the other hand, she’s quite a bit more cheery than most shoujo heroines, and she isn’t very prone to fits of anger, sadness, or drama (aside from calling out Tamahome’s name over and over again), and that does make the story a lot more easy and fun to read.

The formula itself still works okay.  I like the struggle between the Suzaku and Seriyu forces, and the various tricks and tactics they use against each other.  Nakago, for as creepy as he is, keeps things interesting, and most of what was good in these three volumes were things that he threw in for sabotage.  I also like Chichiri, who seems to be the only person who hasn’t fallen for Miaka aside from Nuriko.

The way volume six ends, you can sort of hear the editor telling Watase she has to keep writing past the original end to the story, but Watase also mentions that this part was only the first chapter, so perhaps she did have the rest planned out.  I didn’t like it quite as much after this point, and there’s something that happens soonish that made me more or less quit reading, but I’m curious to see how the story continues from there.

I think, also, sometime shortly after this, Utena or Chicago started running in Animerica Extra, and I forgot all about Fushigi Yugi, so that might have had something to do with it as well.  Now that neither is distracting me, perhaps I’ll be more interested in the story.

Fushigi Yugi 1 (Big ed.)

November 3, 2009

Yuu Watase – Viz – 2009 – 18 volumes (this Big edition is volumes 1-3)

Ooh, I never, ever thought I would be reading Fushigi Yugi, or any other series by Yuu Watase.  As I’ve mentioned before, I read quite a bit of it while it was serialized in Animerica Extra and hated it.  But it’s such a classic, and I’m quite fond of what I’ve read of Genbu Kaiden, and the VizBig volumes are really awesome, so FY wound up having a lot going for it.  Plus I bought this on sale, yet another bonus.

I quickly remembered what I disliked about the series.  One word: Tamahome.  Or maybe, “Tamahome!”  The crying out to be saved happens pretty frequently.  I was hoping I was just remembering wrong, and that the cries for Tamahome had been greatly exaggerated over the years, but no.  Miaka cries out to Tamahome to save her and to be with her quite a bit.  It’s annoying, but it’d be a shame to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Though the lengths Tamahome and Hotohori go to in order to save Miaka border on ridiculous.  My favorite so far is where they both stab each other in an effort to give Miaka their blood when she is bleeding.  This serves absolutely no purpose since they are in the middle of the forest, and they both know this, but they go ahead and stab themselves anyway.  Through the power of magic, they wind up giving her their blood later anyway.  She claims it is very hot.

Miaka herself, other than the constant damsel in distress routine, is far less annoying than I remember.  Perhaps it was because I was closer in age to her when I first read it, but I can write off most of her antics as childish and appropriate now, or at the very least, in line with how heroines in manga frequently act.  She’s a lot braver than the constant rescues cast her in my memory, and she usually winds up in trouble because she’s trying to do something good, like find Yui or stab herself to save the others from a mirror image of herself.  She’s not terribly likable or unique, but for a main character, she’s all right.  Maybe I’ll grow to like her more as I keep reading.

Hotohori was a complete enigma to me.  I have absolutely no recollection of him, which was a little frightening to me since he’s the king and all.  It may be that he’s not featured as prominently after these first few chapters and that’s why I don’t remember him well, but I remember most of the other Suzaku warriors, and even one or two of the Seriyuu warriors.  Just not Hotohori.  He’s all right, another okay-but-not-great character, but he has the royal “We” going for him, which I still don’t remember and probably should.

So far, my favorite characters are Tamahome and Yui.  Both have interesting roles, though Tamahome is quickly falling into the cookie-cutter love interest hero-type role.  I liked that he was so greedy, though, and I liked that he didn’t fall immediately for Miaka, and I still like his cute little sister.  Yui has always been one of my favorites, though I think she was a little scary when I was going through this for the first time.  She’s a good friend, and she’s also got good reasons to be mad at Miaka by the end of the volume here.

Mostly, I’m enjoying the shoujo fantasy atmosphere.  It’s hard to argue with a solid plot like a junior high girl getting sucked into a book and being forced to gather warriors in order to summon a magical being and make a wish.  There’s lots of opportunities for fun stuff to happen, both in finding the characters, being introduced to the characters, and in the summoning itself.  Add in the rival kingdom, and you’ve got a decent story in the hands of any writer that could go on forever, and Watase is admittedly doing wonderful things with it.  She’s using a lot of common shoujo plot devices, but they probably seem a lot more trite today than they did when she used them (well… maybe not), and to be fair, I like it a lot because of the cheesy romance and all that.

The beginning of the story was new to me, I picked up the story in the chapter when Yui is introduced.  The chapter after that I know word for word, probably because I read that issue one thousand times when I first got it.  It’s a little weird I remember it so clearly ten years later, though.  Reading it again now was surreal, because I remember how baffled I was by the visual gags, the sense of humor, and the references to people and places that went completely over my head at the time since I hadn’t read the rest of the story.

I like it.  Not as much as Basara, but I like it a lot more than I remember, and it’s easy to see how it secured its status as a classic.  I’ve got another big volume to read, but I’m definitely going to breeze through the entire series with no problems.