What They Say:
Miaka, a junior high school student in Tokyo, has normal problems: fights with her mom, entrance exams, and deciding where she’s going to go eat with her friends. Then, she finds a mysterious book in the library, The Universe of the Four Gods, and her life is changed forever when she and her friend Yui are transported inside it!
Upon arriving in this new universe, the girls are immediately attacked by would-be slavers. Lucky for them, a dashing young man happens to be around! Saved from the would-be slavers, both girls are enthralled with him, but all he’s really after is money! When Miaka isn’t looking, both Tamahome and Yui vanish. Could he have kidnapped her to sell her for money? Unbeknownst to Miaka, Yui has been sucked back into the real world. Back in the library, all she can do is read on as her childhood friend sets out for the city to find the mysterious young man.
But what awaits for Miaka isn’t what either of the girls expect – and now Miaka’s only way back to her world is to become the Priestess of Suzaku and save their world.
Contains episodes 1-26.
The audio presentation for this release is fairly straightforward as we get the original Japanese language in stereo and the English language dub in the same format. The encoding is a bit wonky as the first disc is set to 112kbps for the Japanese and 96kbps for the English while subsequent volumes are 448kbps and 192kbps respectively. The last disc is even a bit worse in a way as both tracks are encoded at 96kbps, though there’s nary a difference between that and 112 at this point. The series is one that is definitely a product of its time where it’s a full sounding mix without much in the way of directionality at all and very little when it comes to depth. The series has a lot going at times with multiple characters on screen and some talking over others and it handles it fairly well, but it’s not one that stands out and the first disc obviously sounds a bit weaker in general, though with the age and design of the source materials it may not always be quite so evident.
Originally airing in 1995, the transfer for this twenty-six episode TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The show is spread across four discs in a seven/six/six/seven format. Animated b Studio Pierrot, the series is one that is certainly showing its age here, both in design and the source materials themselves. There’s some decent detail to the show overall at times, but it’s also one that has a softer and less detailed look because of the standard definition materials and the lack of cleaned up work done to it. There’s a thin layer of grain to it in general from its film source basis and there’s some cross coloration throughout, but it’s not a blinding or constant, so it’s not hugely distracting, but it is evident. Some line noise exists in various panning sequences and there’s a certain softness to it as well, but it’s pretty much how the show has look in general for a number of years as it needs a really strong source cleanup and high definition film based remaster.
The packaging for this release uses a standard sized DVD keepcase to hold all four discs with a hinge inside to accommodate them. The design for the release is definitely good as it uses some familiar artwork for the front cover with a heavy red theme that brings in headshots and partial body shots of most of the main cast of the good guys. Edging part of it with Suzaku helps to tie it all together with a bit of flair and additional color through its flames and feathers. The logo is kept simple and similar to what we’ve seen before while also noting which season it is. The back cover provides for some softer white backgrounds with a bit of detail in gray throughout it which makes it easy to read the very simple premise that’s used. a few shots from the show are included as well as some really nice character artwork as well. Episode counts, production credits and the technical grid lays everything out in a clear and concise way with everything detailed accurately. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for the release goes for the very simple approach as it’s all text based with a simple background. Each volume uses a different color as its overall background, kicking off with red on the first one that looks good overall. The logo dominates the top half while the bottom half features the navigation with quick and easy to load submenus along with a little ornamentation to give it a touch of flavor and in-theme aspects. The layout doesn’t do much overall and it’s easy to navigate. There’s little to do on the discs outside of the setup and scene access, but the first volume also has a trailers section. Everything loads quickly and the disc defaults to English with sign/song subtitles.
Based on the manga of the same name by Yuu Watase, Fushigi Yugi is a fifty-two episode series that’s split between two seasons. The original manga ran for eighteen volumes, completing after the anime itself ended, and it had a few shorter OVA sequels as well. When this series was first licensed and released in the US, it was a pretty huge event as it was one of – if not the first – series to get a full season release like it did. Coming at a time when DVD was really just starting to take off, it got a $200 box set for the first season of twenty-six episodes, like what we have here, and made a huge impression on fans who wanted things like this. Fushigi Yugi is also important to me because its original release was what got me to really push forward on my original site and to slowly figure out a way to do this for a living.
Similar to other shoujo properties like Sailor Moon, Fushigi Yugi is a defining series for what it does, even if it overplays itself in certain ways which is all too common with this genre among others. The series revolves primarily around the middle school senior student named Miaka Yuki, a pretty friendly and outgoing girl with a voracious appetite and a tendency to overreact. She and her best friend Yui Hongo are pretty much your standard archetype characters, where Miaka is almost flighty while Yui is serious and intense in some ways. The two of them find themselves caught up in a very dangerous situation though when while at the libary studying for entrance exams, Miaka is drawn to a special records room where the pair of them discover a book called the Universe of the Four Gods. Unfortunately, the book has a bit of magic about it and both of them are taken into its world, an alternate feudal past of some sort.
Within this world, we get a fairly familiar layout with the way there are four realms in essence that go down to the old gods, and the two primary ones that are dealt with involve the gods of Suzaku and Seiryu. While Yui gets thrown back into the real world quickly, she’s still tied to Miaka and the things that happen to her in the book happen to Yui in the real world. But what Yui can do is read along to Miaka’s adventures, which span several months but that she reads over a couple of hours. At least until Miaka returns to the real world and Yui is drawn into the book herself, alone for awhile until Miaka heads back as well. The show works in essence as a story about Miaka as she’s the primary, but she’s bonded to Yui in a stronger way than anyone else and it’s also very much about the way the two of them end up on opposite sides. With Miaka, she’s greeted as the Priestess of Suzaku and works towards the positive goals there. For Yui, when she’s drawn into the world the second time, she becomes brutalized and raped, and in her mindset more easily taken advantage by those that use her as the Priestess of Seiryu.
While the two are pit against each other as the season goes on and Miaka learns what’s happened to her friend, the first half is more just a loud, silly and amusing journey of discovery for Miaka. She ends up falling for a young man who defended her early on (while looking for profit) named Tamahome, and he becomes the first of the seven Celestial Warriors that are bonded to her to protect her as priestess. She acquires more of them along the way, from a crossdressing gay man named Nuriko to the emperor of Konan, a young man named Hotohori. And as it progresses with the journey they’re on to try and fix things, there’s also Tasuki from the mountains and Mitsukake, Add in the twisty character of Chiriko who has one of the best subplot stories here and the monk Chichiri who made “no da” a popular and problematic catch phrase for many when the show was released and you have a pretty decent group of archetypes.
The first half really does play for fun in many ways, with lots of gags and silliness as Miaka tries to understand her situation and does her best to cope, largely by eating and realizing that she’s falling for Tamahome. The addition of other characters in her group of protectors comes slowly, and in some cases it takes awhile to really reveal some key things about them, which is a plus. It’s not playing like some shoujo series where each episode adds a new character with a basic personality and goes from there, but rather some slow teasing and ferreting out of information that definitely makes it more engaging to watch, even if you can see a good level of predictability in all of it because it plays to such familiar storylines. Miaka is a character that can definitely frustrate, and I felt that at times during my original viewing of it years ago, but it bothers me far less now than it did before.
The use of Seiryu is something that grows in importance as it goes on of course, and as we see more of what Yui is up to and how Nakago is manipulating her for their goals, we also see just how far around the bend she’s gone in a way as she intends to steal Tamahome away from Miaka for the way Miaka supposedly betrayed here. It’s a bit forced and overdone at times, but it paints a picture of just what’s been down to Yui. Seeing Tamahome kept with her and the others in Seiryu definitely works as it allows the rest of the Suzaku Seven to have more time with Miaka that isn’t complicated by Tamahome, but Tamahome’s story is twisty enough in itself as he’s pulled into Nakago’s plans and used by him and the others. Running that story alongside Miaka bringing everyone together and then going towards conflict with each other hits all the right notes, and does a solid job of bringing this collection to a point where the team is finally assembled, in as natural a fashion as you can for a shoujo series, and preparing it to move towards real conflict, pain and anguish as the two sides strive for the goal.
While some aspects don’t hold up as well as others, I have to admit I really enjoyed revisiting the series. The years have colored my view of it and I forgot just how much humor there was in the first half and just the general level of silliness and gags that are in it as Miaka copes with her situation. It does change as it goes on, but that layer of humor is always there on some level and helps to defuse some of the more serious moments. It does know when to stay serious, such as when it touches on Yui’s struggles, and it also does so as the story gets bigger and more engaging when the Celestial Warriors come together. There’s a good balance to it overall, one that is definitely more evident when you marathon large chunks of the show. Fushigi Yugi has an important place in the anime history, at least in North America, and it’s great to have it back in print in an tigh and affordable collection, even if it’s a bit problematic with some of the technical aspects.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B-
Video Grade: C+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: Media Blasters
Release Date: June 12th, 2012
Running Time: 650 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.