Story and Art by: Yu Watase
Touch-Up Art and English Lettering by Bill Spicer
Published by: Viz
Contents: Collects installments from Animerica Extra Vol. 1, No. 1 through Vol. 2, No. 4.
My Verdict: Buy it.
Miaka Yuki thought she was a normal junior-high student, stressing more over her high school entrance exams and what her next meal will be than anything else. But Miaka has a weird experience in a library: she opens a book and is magically transported into the story, The Universe of the Four Gods, where she is hailed as the priestess of Suzaku, the deity of the realm of Konan. Based upon the medieval China, a war is brewing, and Miaka must help the people of Konan by gathering the seven legendary warriors of Suzaku. When Miaka gathers the warriors and summons Suzaku, she will also be granted one wish, which she plans to use to pass her exams in the real world.
[ad#longpost]Watase’s characters are interesting and vital. While Miaka might not be as academically gifted as her friend Yui or even all that clever at times, she has a heart of gold and wants to do the right thing. She has untapped resources of strength. Miaka’s relationship with her mother, when she is in the real world, is something with which most readers will identify. Tamahome as the rogue-hero provides much of the comic relief, as well as the angst. The host of other characters, from the beautiful and wise Emperor Hotohori to the transvestite Nobuko, are equally charming.
The plot of this first volume mostly introduces the characters and lays the groundwork for the future. Watase isn’t above a few visual jokes here and there, and she makes great use of her exquisite drawing skills to increase the pathos of certain plot elements. Not as haunting and horrific as Watase’s other triumph, Ceres, there’s still plenty here to interest all kinds of readers. There’s adventure, comedy, and fantasy, as well as more than a little romance.
Watase’s art is, as always, beautiful. The characters, male and female, may seem a bit idealized (are there no ugly people in Konan?), but you’ll love looking at every page. I only wish there were color pages; the lushness of Hotohori’s palace must be blinding in color. She’s amazing at drawing emotion and responsiveness, and even if the text were in Japanese, you could probably follow the action.
Each chapter, as printed in Animerica Extra, also has a short column by Yu Watase herself. This gives her the chance to share something of her life and practices with her fans, and gives those fans a little insight into the manga-writing process. These columns are a great addition, and I hope that other manga titles in the future try this out.
Basically a typical shoujo book, Fushigi Yugi delivers better than average adventure and characters. You’ll want to know more about the Universe of the Four Gods, as well as who the other Celestial Warriors of Suzaku are. Will Miaka find them in time? Why is Tamahome, usually so honorable and honest, so interested in money? Is there more to Miaka and the rest than meets the eye? Viewers of anime will eat this one up, as will anyone who enjoys fantasy, especially historical or Chinese tales, or adventure. There’s enough romance to keep the romantics happy, but not so much that it interferes with the plot or makes you roll your eyes at the silliness of the characters–Miaka may sometimes make you crazy with the choices she makes, but it isn’t because she’s busy swooning; it’s because she doesn’t always have all the facts the reader does. Readers who have never tried manga before are well-advised to start here. In short, try it; you’ll like it!