"Soap Opera." For me, this phrase generally illicits only negative responses. If asked what came to my mind upon hearing the term, the result would probably be something along these lines: poorly acted, intellectually devoid, shamelessly manipulative trash aimed at uneducated housewives with far too much time on their hands. While I generally tend to avoid comparing animes to totally unrelated parts of American pop culture (Cowboy Bebop is like Die Hard plus JAZZ!), in many ways Fushigi Yuugi and your standard soap opera are eerily similar.
Like your average soap opera, Fushigi Yuugi contains a frustratingly manipulative plot. The characters are often made to react in absolutely irrational ways, because if they didnt, there wouldnt be a conflict. Also, constant measures are taken to keep the two main lovers apart, and oftentimes this feels more than a little contrived. Even more annoying is Fushigi Yuugis almost constant dependence on cliched devices to tell its story. Aside from the blatantly obvious magical girl archetype, we are also plagued with a story that has schoolgirls warping to another dimensions, friends torn apart by circumstance, and hair raising DBZ powerups. After a while, the hackneyed storytelling really begins to interfere with the overall plot. Finally, the anime suffers from random and generally distracting fanservice that really goes against the classic love story that the anime is supposedly striving for.
Worse than any of these faults, however, is the outrageously casual way in which the anime deals out death sentences. Starting in the final half of the anime, characters begin to be murdered away in a frustratingly flippant fashion. After their deaths, the anime is barely impacted; the characters are often freely cracking jokes the very episode after someone important has died. As opposed to plucking at my heartstrings, these frivolous fatalities angered me; I could only be jerked around so much before I saw these deaths for what they were: ratings boosters.
Furthermore, Fushigi Yuugi is eerily similar to soap operas in its relatively low-budget music and visuals. The animation, on the other hand, is just barely good enough to not draw attention to itself. Repeated footage, as well as other standard 1995 methods for money saving, is used at will. The character designs are all fairly unappealing (at least for guys such as myself).
The instrumental parts of the soundtrack are irritatingly repetitive, and are only occassionally broken up by bland and vaguely nauseating J-Pop. Voice acting is far from impressive as well.
Also in traditional soap opera fashion, the anime has far too many characters to possibly keep track of. One would think that an anime that was 52 episodes long would have nice character development, but no - almost no time whatsoever is given for characterization of the more minor characters. Many of the supporting characters feel almost like sacrificial lambs, waiting for their moment in the sun when they can be slaughtered in a heartless ploy for more viewership. The villains, as well, needed far more development than they were given. Oftentimes the "character development" that they received was nothing more than a brief description of what their superpowers were.
The only two characters that are worth mentioning by name are Tamahome and Miaka, the two main characters of the show. For what it's worth, they're acceptable, albeit unspectacular, leads, and do a fine job of anchoring the show.
Why, exactly, are so many people here cheerfully labelling Fushigi Yuugi as soap opera, and then giving it positive reviews? What is driving them to actually LIKE an anime that is plagued with so many aggravating faults?
The answer, I think, once again lies in the general nature of soap operas. Fushigi Yuugi, much like the genre of television I am comparing it to, has a distinct charm to be found in its sheer innocence. Sure, the characters are cliched, the story is hackneyed, and the soundtrack is godawful, but its heart is almost certainly in the right place. The two more contemporary animes that resemble this one, The Twelve Kingdoms and Kimi ga Nozomu Eien, undoubtedly surpass Fushigi Yuugi in overall execution, polish and creativity. However, by gaining sophistication, they lose something that Fushigi Yuugi has in spades: guileless appeal. This single innate quality makes the show enjoyable in spite of its undeniably superior successors.
Story - 8/10
A teenage girl is transported into a strange world and has to save it. Now, the story may be a bit cliché, but in 1995, the year of its production, this was something new. I do think it was a nice storyline, with historical features, romance and fantasy elements. It may be a bit of a soap opera, but I do think they did a great job on that.
Animation - 7/10
Again - the anime is of course outdated. But the animations are usually smooth and nice, sometimes a bit jerky, and the backgrounds are usually undetailed when it's of a landscape. Overall, it was not too bad.
Sound - 8.5/10
The music, for an oldie like this one, was very good. I found myself singing along with the opening and closing songs, and I don't do that too often. The chinese themed background music was also very nice, and added something to the anime. I watched once with the original Japanese voice acting and once with the English dub, and I don't think they did a bad job on both - even though Miakas voice is irritating from time to time.
Characters - 7.2/10
The characters are loveable creatures, even the bad guys have something you like in them. Especially Soi, who saves her beloved Nakago. All the characters change over time, Miaka becomes much more mature, and Tamahome less greedy. The struggle Yui goes through is very realistic, and even though she does some evil things, she proves in the end that she's not that bad. Overall I think they did a great job on the characters.
Overall - 7/10
I really enjoyed watching this series, I enjoyed the parts about the Chinese legends about the four gods.
Tamahome! Miaka! Tamahome! Miaka! Tamahome! Miaka! TAMAHOME! MIAKA! TAMAHOMEEEEE! MIAKAAAAAAAA!
There. I have just retold Fushigi Yugi for you and saved you approximately 26 hours of your life.
...I kid, I kid.
All joking aside, Fushigi Yugi is, despite its many problems, a great show that has more than earned its place among the great anime classics. So, without further ado, let's get to the meat of this, shall we?
The story is nothing you haven't seen before, though it was among the first animes to use this kind of plot. You've heard it all before--teenage girl gets sucked into another world and has to save everyone by gathering a handful of smoking hot guardians and summoning a god. The execution of the story is pretty darn good, and has both its funny and serious moments, its highs and lows. It really does leave you wanting to know what happens next. And the writing? It's a lot better than most people give it credit for, though the series does in general tend to be overdramatic and soap opera-esque. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I figured I'd mention it in case that's not really your thing. Even if it isn't though, it manages to balance action, over-the-top drama, and humor well enough that it still works.
Unfortunately, it has a pretty glaring weak point: the romance. The romance between Tamahome and the protagonist, Miaka, while at times lovely and sweet, is, in general, laid on way too thick and presented in a clumsy, rushed manner. Not to worry though, it more than makes up for its defieciencies with the memorable cast of characters--more on that later.
Not gonna sugar coat it for you--I love this show to death, but the animation is, well, bad. Even for 90s standards. It's choppy and has way too many off-model shots. The characters also frequently go into super-deformed mode, which, while adorable in the manga, doesn't really translate as well into the anime style as it could. However, the character and background designs are well done, despite the animation shortcomings.
Pictured below are a couple screenshots to give you a feel for the style.
The music in this series is really good, both when it comes to vocals and background music, though sometimes it can get a little heavy on the saxophone. I view this as a plus. You may not. But yeah, music-wise, it's definitely withstood the test of town.
As for the voicing, the Japanese cast is great, and includes some pretty big name voice actors like Hikaru Midorikawa, Tomokazu Seki, and Takehito Koyasu. The voices all fit the characters near perfectly and put on a wonderful performance. It's definitely one of the series' biggest strengths.
The dub, on the other hand? Uh. Just. Do yourself a favor and stay away from the dub. Half the voices are cardboard and the other half are plain annoying. It has straight up got one of the worst dubs I've ever heard.
Whatever language you're watching it in, there is one thing that might bother you--as I alluded to above, Tamahome and Miaka tend to scream each others' names a lot. It's bad enough that even those of us that really like the series will make fun of this relentlessly.
Another strong point of the series is its entertaining and endearing cast of characters. There's a pretty great diversity of personalities and everyone's got at least something going for them in terms of being interesting. Now there are a couple characters that really don't get as much screen time or character development as they deserve, especially relative first-season latecomers like Mitsukake and Chiriko, and certain members of the antagonist group, but overall, the characters are pretty great. I don't want to go into too much detail about the characters because it's so much more fun to meet them yourself by watching it, but I would like to rant about Miaka for a bit, then introduce you to a couple of my favorites.
Okay, Miaka rant. You think you know where this is going. You're wrong. The topic of my rant today is--people give her WAY too much shit. She is one of the most disliked protagonists I've seen, and a lot of the reasons given aren't even true. I've heard people say she's a Mary Sue damsel in distress who never does anything on her own and just screams and cries until someone saves her. That is NOT Miaka Yuki. Her problem is the exact opposite. She's too damn brave. She constantly tries to take burdens on all by herself and often goes off to take care of matters without telling her Celestial Warrior guardians. Yes, she's constantly getting rescued by them, but only because she bit off more than she could chew in the first place. Because she couldn't stand idly by and do nothing while everyone else was risking their lives. Because she chose to fight. She's strong willed and stubborn as all heck. Early on in the series when she gets attacked by thugs, she fights back and would have actually WON if one of them hadnt snuck up behind her and launched a surprise attack. Sure Tamahome rescued her at the end of that particular fight but she fought like HELL. Miaka is NOT a wimp. She also cares deeply for those close to her and has a strong moral compass.
Now yeah, she's naive and emotional, and she is prone to making PAINFULLY stupid snap decisions. She's a middle school student. She's a dumb teenager. She's not gonna know how to handle a lot of these situations, and she's got a lot of growing up to do. But see, she DOES it. She grows up. I think she gets some amazing character development. You see her change from this insecure, naive, somewhat whiny little girl into a strong, brave, confident young lady. What her character really suffers from is being one of the parties in a really poorly written, cringeworthy romance. That tends to eclipse the underlying character development at times just because its so damn prominent.
All problems aside though, Miaka is actually a pretty relatable protagonist, especially to other people her age. Part of what makes her endearing is that she's so ordinary.
Of course, even if you disagree with me about Miaka, let me introduce you to the two best characters in the series. These two alone make the series worth watching.
See those two losers in the foreground? That's Tasuki and Chichiri. Tasuki is a hotheaded mountain bandit with a kansai accent, and Chichiri is a complete dork of a monk who ends all his sentences with verbal emphatics. They're two of the seven Celestial Warriors destined to protect Miaka, and they are both adorable and 200% hilarious. They spend a good deal of screentime as the comic reliefs of the series, though Chichiri also fills the role of "responsible adult who looks after the kids" for a good part of the series (even if it's not immediately obvious because of how damn much he goofs around). They're also two of the most well developed characters in the series and are a lot deeper than you'd originally guess. I rank them both pretty high on my list of all time favorite anime characters. If for nothing else, you should watch the show for these two.
Fushigi Yugi has gotten a lot of flack over the years, and admittedly, it deserves at least some of it. However, you shouldn't let that scare you off. For all its flaws, it's a great show that will suck you in pretty darn fast and it's definitely worth taking the time to watch.
Brought to us by the same guy who made Ayashi no Ceres, and basically following the same formula to the point I will reuse text from the review I made for it. It another one of those sappy melodramatic shows that made some impression at their time but were otherwise forgotten fast after several other better shows came about.
Romance is a very specific genre. There is not much variation to how “boy and girl meet” and usually everyone expects the exact same thing to happen in the conclusion. That is why to spice things up, the conditions under which the boy and the girl meet or the ordeals they are going through need to be different each time, in order to at least make the world around the otherwise one-track romance to appear interesting.
Take this series for example. We have quite the usual fuss. Naive good girl meets mysterious pretty bad boy and falls in love with it 0.13 seconds after they first meet. Why? Well, she is naive, he is a boy, he is pretty, and apparently being bad is quite fascinating if you spent your life pampered and see this as a way to get wild before you grow old and wither away in boredom with some fat, bald poor business man who cares more about football than you. Ok, I understand; it’s been like that in most corny shoujo and it still sells today no matter the stupidity of the whole deal. For more information, check out the success of frakking Twilight .
STORY SECTION: 6/10
Analysis: Premise 2/2, Pacing 1/2, Complexity 1/2, Plausibility 0/2, Conclusion 2/2
But that is now and this is, what, twenty years ago; a time when romances were to the most part not happening in space, in the past, or in magic fairylands. Very common today, very rare back then. This anime did not receive its fame because of its romance, which to be honest is following the book of corny romances to the letter. It is about the world around that romance.
-Let’s have the girl being the reincarnation of a celestial maiden, whose mystical powers can control the forces of the world.
-Let’s have her knight in shining armor be a super warrior in a magical land and part of her elite followers.
-Let’s have her best friend tuning out to be her worst rival, because fate requests it and because the villain in the show exploits her emotions.
-Let’s add a hundred other people trying to exploit, survive or just have fun with all that.
-Let’s add flashy superpowers. Lots of them.
-And tears. Lots of tears.
-And let’s always end the most important episodes with a cliffhanger.
Yeah, sounds great already.
So I’m not going to lie, the premise of this anime is amazing, despite being so old. You can focus on different aspects to it instead of just seeing it as yet another corny romance (which it is by the way).
But let’s try to see a bit deeper than that and check out some things most fangirls … err… viewers don’t notice. The pacing for example has always been the most overlooked aspect of most stories, being left alone to read books home while bijinism and extravagant are out partying like crazy all night with naivety and suspended disbelief. If this poor champ would be noticed for some weird to imagine reason, he would tell you that this series (as well as most others for the same matter) is suffering from tuberculosis. It has a very formulaic way to present its story, some parts are damn boring, some others are hardly affecting the overall, and the finale is a five year old writing Tolkien fanfiction on a napkin… with its mother’s crayon.
Of course, nobody ever listens to poor old pacing as the fang… fans of such shows are too busy yelling “Kyaaa, Tamahome is so dreamyyyyy!” This example can expand to pretty much any romance by the way, with the only difference being the name yelled. But in some alternative reality of the multiverse where his voice is heard, everyone would agree that the way the story unravels is far from “as dreamy as Tamahome”.
-Most side stories are hardly affecting the overall plot and yet they are there to slow the pacing. Just imagine four teams of warriors, each one having seven members and yet only one or two in each one matter. And the way the fated couple keeps copping with their ordeals looks too silly at best.
But it’s not like the story is complete boinkers either. Its main idea expands further beyond the main duo and shows how circumstances can turn an average person to a savior and charismatic leaders being manipulated by shady people to do things they never intended. It is also full of emo characters with colorful personalities and sappy personal drama along with supernatural fights in the likes of Naruto or Bleach. And to its core, it is still a romance, ideal and corny enough to follow with your ears gone out of order because of the constant screams of those fang… fans of romances.
Bottom line, it is a good story with a messy presentation. It may sound epic at first but it plays out like a soap opera with magic, slapstick humor and mediocre fan service. I consider this anime the forefather of The Twelve Kingdoms, which a decade later managed to gain far more fans by having far more mature presentation (it is was sadly left incomplete).
ART SECTION: 5/10
Analysis: General Artwork 1/2, Character Figures 1/2, Backgrounds 1/2, Animation 1/2, Visual Effects 1/2
Yup, the visuals are as weak as a harem lead next to a pair of panties. All the attempts at showing cinematics seem poor even considering the age they were made. And the character figures have quite simplistic anatomy and facial structure, being separated only by their hair color or clothes. Of course, this being a romance most will probably only care about how pretty the guys and the gals look (or better say the same guy and gal with different wig and uniform) and won’t give a frakk about the awful way they move… or don’t move at all and stay frozen with a flapping mouth. The manga version could get away with its fluent lining and rather stiff body positions but the anime version is guilty as charged.
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Analysis: Voice Acting 2/3, Music Themes 3/4, Sound Effects 2/3
This part is rather ok. Voice acting is fine (considering how annoyingly sappy the characters are meant to sound) and the songs are ok to listen to many times without feeling fed up with them. At the same time, there is nothing amazing about it either.
CHARACTER SECTION: 7/10
Analysis: Presence 1/2, Personality 1/2, Backdrop 1/2, Development 2/2, Catharsis 2/2
The cast is actually quite interesting on paper as there is a plethora of different people with different goals and demeanors and most of them do change or mature or simply get killed. As far as variety goes, there is lots of it and their behaviors are very well excused through their backdrop stories.
What ruins it is the way they mature / develop, etc. It feels generic in the least and eventually it is all about following what the priestess said. A monologue by some good guy is enough to change one’s worldview immediately while inhuman villains try to look sympathetic to us ten minutes before they kick the bucket. I’m sorry; it’s too sudden to mean anything. As it is with all those characters who seem to matter for one or two episodes and afterwards become nothing but stunts in the team and stall time in the battles.
Some minor bickering can be said about the main characters as well for being to the most part irritating stereotypes. They do eventually develop of course but considering the amount of air time they get, it feels slow and vein popping to the most part.
-Miaka for example has nothing special to remember her about. She is aloof and frail when it comes to some hunk near her. She either gets saved by pretty boys or gets super powerful when they are not around; so she survives no matter what happens. She also has a real problem in staying dressed or not being chased around by rapists every ten minutes. And lol at her superpowers going away if she is no longer a virgin; this alone guarantees her purity remaining intact for the whole show.
-Tamahome is to the most part the stereotypical hunk the heroine is after from the first second they met. He is simply so blunt in whatever he is doing and even most of that has to do with running after Miaka or desperately trying not to deflower her although he really digs her ass.
-Yui is basically the evil side of Miaka, manipulated by the villain who is basically an evil Tamahome. That’s right, the main antagonists are the dark counterparts of the heroes. What, you expected something more? Anyways, Yui is also a blockhead for becoming her best friend’s nemesis for something she never did. Furthermore, how much of an idiot can you be for not knowing if you got raped or not?
VALUE SECTION: 3/10
Analysis: Historical Value 1/3, Rewatchability 1/3, Memorability 1/4
Um, not much. It is ok the first time you watch it, with those cliffhangers constantly making you yearn for more. But the second time you will most likely skip most of it, since to the most part it plays out as a corny shoujo with corny shounen action. And the premise in general has been used numerous times in later shows with better animation; so tough luck even there.
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 1/10
Analysis: Art 0/1, Sound 0/2, Story 1/3, Characters 0/4
Good concept, bad pacing, bad animation, irritating personalities. Gets 1 out of 4. But if you are one of those Banshees, you will like it a looooooot more.
The Twelve Kingdoms
Vision of Escaflowne
I really liked the story. I was rarely bored, and almost always hooked. I'm pretty sure I finished the entire series in a period of three days. It had an extremely good plot, and was very original. It wasn't a corny shoujo/romance where everything runs smoothly for the two characters in love, and everything ends happily. No, if that's what you're looking for, then I recommend you stop reading this right now and go watch Kimi Ni Todoke or something. It's a very dramatic anime, where the two characters in love face many obstacles. Not only the two characters in love, but friends, comrades, you name it, there's a whole shit load of drama between the characters.
As for the animation...it was made in 1995, what do you expect? I honestly despise old animation, because I am extremely picky about animation. But I somehow got pass that, and finished the series easily. Even if you're like me and hate bad animation, you'll definitely forget how bad the animation is once your hooked.
The sound was fine. I liked the voice acting, though I usually like the Japanese voice acting in comparison to the English dubs. God, I despise English dubs so much, that I can't tell whether or not the Japanese voice acting is bad or not. Anyway, the quality of the sound isn't amazing like it is today obviously, but again, you get pass that while watching all the drama. :)
I fell in love with the characters. I don't know what more I can say. xD They were all different and unique, and kept the story interesting. I know that anyone who watches this anime will probably love them just as much as I did, if not more.
Overall, definitely worth watching. If there was anybody who watched this and didn't like it, I'd be amazed. I recommend this to anybody who likes Action, Romance, Shoujo, and Fantasy.