This is a shoujo series from the mid-90s that was adapted from the 18-volume manga series Fushigi Yûgi by Yuu Watase, but with subtle (and some not-so-subtle) variations from the manga plot.
Having read the manga first - and started watching the anime while reading vol. 15 -, my main drive for wanting to watch the anime was firstly, and mainly, because I was enjoying the manga so much that I was spurred to watch the anime version. I had a real hankering to see how the characters moved when brought to life, which is a very positive thing that indicates just how invested I was in the characters and their individuality.
It's a freshly-spun tale, with some creative license taken with the actual Chinese myths and legends it's based on within the book, The Universe of the Four Gods, but Watase did a fantastic job with weaving romance, drama, adventure and very good character development in this series, despite the ease in which stories in the shoujo genre can often be predicted to lead. Allowing for some tried-and-tested 'separated lovers' trying to do the best they can by each other by putting themselves through individual emotional turmoil, Watase masterfully plays the 'Person in a Strange World', both Miaka and Yui, the main protagonists, alongside the characters surrounding both girls, and challenges / parallels / conflicts they both face. Importantly, Watase also manages to maintain plausibility in the background plot devices, with two teenage girls just suddenly disappearing from the face of the earth and the many ripples caused by this.
The story progresses well. I don't recall ever feeling bored or disinterested with this series, even though I was reading the manga at the same time, which is a notable testament to the series' intrigue and well-written characters.
Look, this is a mid-90s anime, and it looks every minute of it. The fight scene animation ranges from 'reasonably adequate' to 'cringe'. However, the inventive and distinct character designs and reasonably good backgrounds (these were done far better in the manga, for mine) were more than aesthetically pleasing enough to carry the series through the dated style. Ultimately, the animation still got my total 'girlish crush on Tasuki' seal of approval!
The VAs were very well cast, and carried the characters to a tee. I can find no fault with anything there. However, the sountrack is almost painfully 90s/80s hangover at times, including the opening and closing credits and some of the fight scenes. This could have more to do with my personal aversion to painfully 90s things even outside of anime, but sometimes the drama / action were a little tiny bit 'ripped off' by the whiny, kinda predictable soundtrack. However, this is almost totally eclipsed by the VAs' excellence in their roles.
Well, I could write pages and pages about each character and why I loved, hated or loved and hated them. Such was the strength of the characterisation; there was plenty of room for developing these 'complex' relationships with each character - with some often challenging your opinion of them and still managing to hold a piece of you (in either the positive or negative extreme).
The characters and their individuality (and of course, their interaction and 'togetherness') isn't treated cheaply, and each bond is shown to be tested and mature alongside the story. Even outside of the paradigm of Miaka and Yui's direct contact with the characters around them, the story is still allowed to have 'a mind of its own', and the characters expand their investment in their quest(s) and their relationships beyond just that of the main objective(s). It's really heartening for me to have experienced that, and it adds another layer of depth to the viewing experience.
Without giving anything away, I will say that Tasuki was my favourite character, closely followed by Tamahome and Hotohori. And I normally wouldn't include such a firvilous note, but I feel the surprisingly strong need to pay homage to their effect on me within their roles in Fushigi Yugi: The Mysterious Play, no matter how lame it might sound to say that!
I would most definitely recommend this (in both anime and manga form) to any fans of shoujo/romance/drama/adventure etc. But also to anyone looking for a solidly entertaining, lighter series to get lost in!
A firm 8.5/10