This is an 18-volume shoujo manga series from the mid-90s by Yuu Watase, which has since been adapted into a 52-ep. anime series.
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.
There is no doubt that Watase is a talented manga artist who places great skill in making her characters distinct, fitting to the context (in dress/manner/personal circumstances) and generally really lovely to look at (even most of the 'bad' ones). The aesthetic, personally, at least, really tends to appeal to me on an almost totally superficial level in that 'pretty people' are often far more engaging to the eye and manage to continually pique my interest. Their actions often have me staring back and forth between pages at a particularly poignant/detailed scene, trying to see 'everything', regardless of their 'good' or 'bad' status in the story.
This is a powerful motivator which consquently ensures that I absorb more of the manga in general, including the story, and also keeps my eyes wanting to experience more of the same aesthetic stimulation page after page.
I don't want to oversimplify my enjoyment of Fushigi Yûgi by sounding vapid and blank, because this is only one facet of what may fundamentally spur my enjoyment of a manga. But ultimately, the point stands here that Watase is very good a maximising this level of appeal for me.
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 Yûgi, 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