Part 1 of the very-multi-part watchalong of the ’90s shoujo fantasy Fushigi Yugi with Caitlin, Dee, and Vrai!
For this first installment, the gang takes a trip down memory lane. Miaka is pretty okay actually. Everybody loves Nuriko. Hotohori? Not so much.
CONTENT WARNING: Fushigi Yugi contains depictions of sexual assault, homophobia, and transphobia. The podcast will also discuss these topics when they arise.
00:41 Background of Fushigi Yuugi
01:42 Experiences with anime and manga
13:34 Miaka as a protagonist
24:43 Teenage angst as a theme
48:31 Shounen influences
52:14 Hotohori and Nuriko
Recorded Saturday 1st July 2017
Music: Open Those Bright Eyes by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
CAITLIN: Hi. Welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name is Caitlin and I’m a writer and editor for the site, as well as running my own blog, I Have a Heroine Problem.
DEE: Hi, I’m Dee Hogan, a writer and editor for AniFem, and I’m also the owner of the anime blog, The Josei Next Door.
VRAI: Hey. I’m Vrai Kaiser. I’m an editor and contributor to Anime Feminist, and you can find me all over the internet by throwing “Vrai Kaiser” into Google.
CAITLIN: So, today, we’re going to be talking about the first seven episodes of the ‘90s shoujo classic, Fushigi Yugi, which is a series that we all have our own personal histories with.
Fushigi Yugi began its life as a manga penned by 22-year-old Yuu Watase in 1992 and running in the Shoujo manga anthology, Shoujo Comic. It tells the story of Miaka Yuki, a 15-year-old girl who is pulled into another universe through a book and made the priestess of Suzaku.
It was first adapted as an anime in 1995 and ran for 52 episodes plus three OVA series for a total of 13 episodes. It first began its US run in 1998 in the Viz manga anthology magazine, Animerica Extra, at a time where shoujo manga was really rarely released in the US. Since then, it has also inspired a series of prequel light novels exploring the lives of the cast, and two prequel manga about Miaka’s predecessors.
So, let’s talk about how we came to Fushigi Yugi, because I feel like we all have pretty long histories with it.
VRAI: [laughs] I feel like “history” is one way of putting it, yes.
CAITLIN: How old were you guys when you first got into it? ‘Cause I was 12 years old. Just a little, impressionable preteen.
DEE: I’m gonna… I think 13. I may have turned 14 while we were watching it, but it was around that time, ’cause it was my eighth-grade year.
VRAI: Yeah, I was 12 into 13 as well. It definitely hits those middle-school buttons. That is entirely the target audience for this series.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I feel like you have to be middle-school to really buy into the melodrama, but at the same time, it has a lot of stuff that’s really not super appropriate for…
VRAI: Well, you say that…
DEE: Yeah, it gets a little rough later on.
VRAI: No, but the way it handles those subjects is so entirely in keeping with what that audience that age would want to see. ‘Cause I was definitely… I never saw… This is the first time I’ve actually picked up the anime, because when I was that age, it was so prohibitively expensive, and I didn’t really understand torrents or anything like that. So I was only reading the manga from my local library. The flipped versions, even, for a little while there.
But I was entirely reading it for the prurient hope that there would be boobs in it. I was reading for the sex.
CAITLIN: [laughs] There’s a little bit of boob.
I was first… I was just getting into anime and one of my friends was also starting to get into it in seventh grade, and she had picked up a random VHS of it from SunCoast, I think.
DEE: So it was $35 for 4 episodes?
CAITLIN: Just episode 15 to 19 or something like that. Yeah, just random episodes. And she lent it to me. And I was just transported. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Most of the anime I’d watched before was Ranma 1/2 and maybe a few other series. It was the first time I had ever really seen anything with that sort of melodrama that had really been aimed at my demographic specifically.
There’s not a whole… At the time, there wasn’t a whole lot of nerdy stuff aimed at 12-year-old girls. It was mostly aimed at teenage-to-adult men.
DEE: Yeah, and definitely in visual media. You could find novels and things, but…
CAITLIN: Yeah, and that was about the same age that I was getting into more of Pierce’s stuff too, but…
VRAI: Yeah, but in fairness, Tamora Pierce definitely… She was way better at handling sex and consent than Fushigi Yugi.
CAITLIN: Oh, absolutely. Oh, yeah. They don’t really compare. But they redid my local library and they had really expanded the teen section, ’cause that was when that started becoming a thing. And they had a bunch of anime and manga and so they had a bunch of Fushigi Yugi videos, and I checked out whatever there were of them. But it was always just sort of like whatever I could get my hands on. It was before torrents had really become a thing. It was back when it was VHS trading… Fansubs was the way to get anime not-really-legally.
So, it took a really long time to actually… for me to see the series from beginning to end. But it was my favorite, favorite anime for a long, long time. As I’ve grown up, I sort of started to realize that it has a lot of really not-great stuff in it.
Actually, recently, I reread the whole manga, and I was reading the author columns, and it was sort of like… gave me a different perspective. So, in some ways, I’ve come back around a little bit. But it still does a lot of things really poorly.
Do you guys want to talk in more… do you guys have any stories about how you got into it?
VRAI: It’s interesting because I definitely read it from beginning to end. The end I think I came back and read later after I’d fallen off. I read all of Watase’s stuff that came out. Ceres and Alice 19th, too.
CAITLIN: Oh, I was so into Ceres for a while.
DEE: I read anything she published.
VRAI: But I don’t… I was definitely consuming them, because I was reading all of the manga that was available, but it didn’t… I read Fushigi Yugi at around the same time I also read the Gravitation manga, and that was the piece of shit that my emotions really glommed onto hard. Which, also, in retrospect, is terrible garbage about terrible relationships.
DEE: That’s a solid comparison, yeah.
CAITLIN: I got into Gravitation in 9th or 10th grade. Oh, God. That’s a whole other thing, isn’t it?
VRAI: We should do that. If people want us to do that, I can talk for days.
CAITLIN: So, are we just gonna have a series of podcasts where we talk nostalgically about terrible anime?
DEE: It’s “My Fave is Problematic: The Podcast Series.” It’ll be great. [laughs] No, that would be fun. This is technically a “My Fave is Problematic” watchalong. For the folks at home.
VRAI: We’re dragging you down with us.
DEE: I would imagine most of the people listening to this probably saw it, because I don’t… It’s not one of those series that you see a lot of people bringing into the fandom. Because it’s kind of a hard sell at times. “Well, this thing is really important to me, but I am also very aware that it does not age well.”
So, it’s not like Utena, where I’m just throwing it at new anime fans without hesitation. It’s one where it’s like, “Oh, I don’t know if this is really gonna work for you. Maybe you had to be in a very particular time and place for it.”
CAITLIN: Yeah. I saw a few people watching it after Crunchyroll put it up, but it was more like morbid curiosity.
VRAI: It definitely has that reputation now, doesn’t it?
CAITLIN: Yeah, it’s…
DEE: Yeah, it does. I mean, I really think it’s a pretty damn good teen melodrama fantasy series, which is part of the reason why I enjoy it. Although, I never really was into the melodrama aspects.
Anyway, my personal history with this show that I kind of love is we had this really cool video store in my hometown that had a bunch of anime. And so my friend and I were already into shows, and we’d been watching stuff regularly for the last year or something.
So, we’d seen a lot of different shows, and we were looking over the VHSes trying to figure out what we wanted to watch next. And my friend turns around and points at this one box and goes, “Let’s watch that.” And the box she pointed to… first of all, it was called “The Mysterious Play,” which sounds like an erotica.
CAITLIN: That’s right! Because the dub VHS said “The Mysterious Play” and the subtitled ones said “Fushigi Yugi.”
DEE: Yeah. So, she spins around… and all they had at the store was dubbed at that point, ’cause we… they eventually got DVDs, but all the VHSes were dubbed. So, she spins around, she points at it, and it says, “The Mysterious Play,” and I’m like, “Hmm.” And the box that she points to is the one of the two twins who you, dear listeners, will meet later, with their arms all over each other.
And I’m like, “I don’t think I want to watch a twincest porn. Thank you, best friend, but let’s pass.” But she kind of kept… and we didn’t realize… We’d had friends who talked about Fushigi Yugi, but we just didn’t make the connection that it was the same show. Because they’d never referred to it by its English title.
And, so, we kind of just went about our business for a few more weeks, and then finally she talked me into it. She was like, “Come on. Let’s just try it.” So, we grabbed a couple of the boxes and took them home, and just… Caitlin, what was the word you used? “Transported?” I think that’s very apt. We were sucked right into the world along with Miaka. And we only watched eight or 12 episodes that night, and then we ended up bingeing the entire thing the next time we got together. Which is a mistake. Because that’s a lot of episodes, and you hit the rough patch at 3 AM and you’re not having a good time.
But we got through it. We really… both of us were super into it. It wasn’t my first fandom, but it was probably my most passionate and longest.
I bought the manga. I have the Genbu Kaiden prequel. I have a freaking character song CD, three of the Japanese light novels, two artbooks, a guidebook for the video game that they made, a Chichiri UFO doll. I wrote fanfiction. Fanart. I was in text-based RPGs. I got into stupid internet fights about this stupid show. I translated two of the routes for this damn video game.
CAITLIN: Oh, I forgot there was a video game!
DEE: Yeah. Well, there were technically two. One’s for Genbu Kaiden, and the other one’s for Fushigi Yugi. And it’s Suzaku Ibun, and it’s a retelling of the story where you get to play as a new priestess named Madoka. And you get to choose which of the boys you want to romance, and the decisions you make along the way are, “Well, if you screw up, somebody might die.”
It’s not a great game, but it improves upon the story of Fushigi Yugi in a lot of ways, so I might talk about that a little bit as we go.
VRAI: Please do.
DEE: Point being, I love this damn series. And…
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yep, in spite of everything…
DEE: In eighth grade, I didn’t give a lot of thought to why that was, and so part of the fun challenge of this watchalong will be figuring out if I do still love it, and I’m pretty sure I do because I started tearing up during the opening theme when I first started it for this watchalong, and so if I do still love it, trying to figure out why. Because my head knows it is full of problems, so…
VRAI: Y’all are adorable and I am a dirty poser.
DEE: [laughs] No, I’m really glad we have you on here, because I think it’ll be good to have the opinion of someone who’s not super warm on it. Plus you’ve never seen the anime, so this will be an exciting experience for you in that regard.
CAITLIN: Yeah, ’cause the anime is not… It doesn’t depart too significantly, but it does some things different.
VRAI: Yeah. I think the first time I twigged to the fact that the anime had done some things different was when I heard about the infamous torture scene. I need to use bigger air-quotes for that. But we’ll get to that later. That’s not in the manga.
CAITLIN: So, all right. Let’s talk about what we watched. So, we watched the first seven episodes from the point where Miaka first enters the world to when she leaves it. What did you guys think of the story so far?
DEE: I was honestly surprised by… I haven’t rewatched this in a long while. Partly because it got to the point where I could practically recite the whole thing, so I didn’t need to. But I… As a kid, I hated Miaka.
CAITLIN: Oh, me too.
DEE: Never liked her. I think… Honestly, I think half the fun of watching Fushigi Yugi as a kid is watching Miaka and going, “You idiot! We’re practically the same age. I could definitely do a better job.” And I think there is some appeal to that in that character. But watching it now, as an adult, she’s not as bad as I remember her being.
CAITLIN: I’m way, way more sympathetic to Miaka, at least in the first few episodes.
DEE: Yeah, I was gonna say: that may change as we go. But, at this point, I’m kind of… I kind of like her. She’s frustrating, but in ways that teenagers just are, and the way I know I was. But she has some kind of admirable qualities. She’s very proactive. She’s persistent.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Mm-hm. She’s spunky.
DEE: She’s spunky. But she’s also not a spunky jerk. She tries to make friends with people and try to make peace when she thinks she’s messed up. She screws up kind of out of hormones and obliviousness, and then when she realizes that she screwed up, she does that thing you do as a teenager, where you think taking responsibility means just self-flagellating yourself.
You know what I mean? Like, “Oh, I’m the worst! I can’t believe I caused so much trouble for you!” kind of thing. And goes [for] that sort of “martyrdom” approach a little bit, which is frustrating, but, on the other level, I think I can sympathize with that more now that I’m a little bit removed from that age.
CAITLIN: Yeah. She’s very anxious, too, is what I’ve realized. She’s going through a lot of stuff. She has anxiety dreams for… three anxiety dreams in the first three episodes.
DEE: Yeah. Every episode starts with an anxiety dream. The first three do.
CAITLIN: Yeah, and it’s really rough and it sort of made me realize, “Oh, this is actually really, really hard for her in a way that’s more relatable now.” She’s really struggling with the situation she’s in. And that has definitely made me more sympathetic to her.
DEE: And it’s kind of sad, too, because in the anxiety dreams, in the little bit we see of her with her friends at school, you get the sense that nobody believes in her. Her friends are like, “Oh, you’re going for that school?”
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Oh, her friends are awful to her.
DEE: “That’s a terrible idea. You shouldn’t do that. You’re stupid.” And then she has that stress dream about her mom, and she’s like, “I’m gonna go to Jonan,” and her Mom’s like, “It’s no use. You can’t do that,” kind of thing.
CAITLIN: Well, and that’s interesting because her mom is the one pushing her to go to Jonan in the manga.
DEE: In the manga, yes.
CAITLIN: In the manga, yeah. It’s not covered in the anime but her mom was the one who was like, “Oh, you need to go to Jonan. Jonan’s the best and if Yui is applying to Jonan that’s a problem, because she’s smarter than you. And that’s one spot that you don’t get.” They don’t really cover that in the anime.
DEE: Yeah, her… It’s a small change that kind of makes a big difference, because the Miaka in the manga ends up being somebody who really doesn’t want to do the things her mom is forcing her to do, and so the book is something she kind of makes a choice about. Like: “I’m going to escape to this world so I don’t have to deal with this crap.”
Whereas, in the anime, it’s more of a: “she kind of just gets stuck here”? So, it’s a minor change, but it does adjust her arc a little bit. Sorry, Vrai. What were you saying?
VRAI: It’s good. I find… I’m still frustrated with Miaka, but it’s not her fault, is the thing. Because I think her character in text… First, I was surprised rewatching these early episodes how much she does have a character. She has interests, and she is proactive, at least until the plot calls for her to be damseled so that one of her hunky bodyguards can rescue her.
But it’s hard to watch that knowing what those traits will become, just in a broad sense. I don’t think it’s too spoiler-y to say that part of the reason people remember this series as “Miaka is a terrible protagonist” is that, as the series goes on, her character gets flattened out a lot, often to “She likes food!” and “She’s under constant threat of sexual assault!”
CAITLIN: “And she’s not very smart!”
DEE: We… Yeah. It’s one of those things where you get the sense that they were trying to make her seem more mature going forward, and in the process, they ironed out a lot of her fun quirks in the early going, like the fact that she gets angry and is more than happy to just punch people. The scene where she decides she’s gonna use wrestling moves is just the best.
VRAI: It’s very endearing, and then it goes away.
CAITLIN: It’s almost like she gets punished for being proactive. And you see a little bit more… You do see a little bit of that in these episodes, when she tries to take on the bandits, she’s still… even after she knocks them all down, she still gets almost assaulted anyway by one of them who was able to grab onto her.
But she’s just… She tries. She does her best.
VRAI: She does. She tries.
DEE: She does. And she’s not totally incompetent in these early episodes. She does have some successes along the way, even if they’re a little bit—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah, I mean, but she also… she does so many things where I’m just like, “Miaka. Mia—no! No, stop! No! Miaka! Don’t chase after the emperor’s carriage asking for a jewel because you have an emperor in your country.”
DEE: She should have a concept of “you don’t just walk up to the emperor.”
VRAI: But just watching it as an adult, too… There are moments where… In-narrative, it’s a very affecting scene when she’s thinking about Yui and how much she wants to get into high school. That scene is very well done and it warmed my heart.
But at the same time, as an adult, I’m being like, “You know, there’s… High school? Really? That’s your ultimate goal? Just to get in to a high school?” And I know that it’s a different culture in Japan, but it… Adult goals?
CAITLIN: Where you go to high school can actually play a big role in determining your future.
VRAI: It’s one of those things that feels very much like, “Of course this is important to a middle schooler. Of course it is.” But, as an adult, it’s not where I’m at anymore. So, it gets harder to engage with that.
CAITLIN: Yeah. And it’s one of those things that feels like the end of the world when you’re in the moment, and then you look back and it’s like, “Oh, well, you know, that wasn’t actually that huge of a deal.”
What do you think of her relationships with her friends?
VRAI: Yui is Best Character. That still remains true. I had a major crush on her when I was twelve, and it remains true now.
CAITLIN: I don’t… See, I don’t like her.
DEE: Yui’s kind of mean.
CAITLIN: She’s mean as hell to Miaka. And honestly I feel like that’s one of the things that did some damage to me, ’cause I was like, “Oh, they’re mean to each other in an affectionate, joke-y way. It’s ok for me to talk to people like that.” And I ended up actually pissing a lot of people off.
VRAI: Yeah, that’s… That’s totally fair. I guess maybe I am thinking down the line where she gets villanized a lot for things she legitimately—
DEE: [crosstalk] Careful, careful…
VRAI: —angry about. Yeah.
DEE: Yeah, we don’t want to get too much into that. There is more to come. But yeah, no, at this point, you feel kind of bad for [Miaka] because we don’t really see a lot of them together. The flashback of them growing up, I think, does a lot to humanize and soften that relationship, because up until that point, all we’ve really seen is Yui kind of insult her, and then just yell at her like, “You better come back ’cause I told you to!”
CAITLIN: Yeah, she’s… She calls Miaka stupid. She does not treat her nice. I don’t understand why they are friends as I’m watching these first few episodes. They don’t seem to have anything in common. They don’t… Yui just talks about how dumb Miaka is all the time.
DEE: And maybe they are the kind of friends who became besties in kindergarten and just, as they grew up, kind of started going separate directions, but because they’d been friends for so long, they still hang out all the time.
CAITLIN: Yeah. And, I mean, I’ve had friends like that. Literally, I have a friend who I’ve been friends with since kindergarten, and our interests have diverged and come back together and diverged and we’ve stayed friends through all of that, but… Yeah, I never treated her the way that Yui treats Miaka.
And [unintelligible] are big characters but they also join in on picking on Miaka, and no wonder this girl has no self esteem. Everyone just treats her so terribly. And then she gets to this other world and everyone’s like, “Hey.”
VRAI: They’re like, [flirtatiously] “Hey.”
DEE: Yeah, but she’s important here. And people actually worry about her too. So it’s not just like, “Oh, you’re this great person who can do this great thing.” It’s also like, “Hey, are you okay? If you need to take a break, we’ll do that.” And I think that combination is kind of appealing to her.
One of the things I like about the second watchthrough is, I think, in some ways, it almost turns into this grand metaphor for all of your fears and hopes about growing up and adulthood, because you have—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah. Yeah. That’s something that I wanted to get into later.
DEE: Okay. Should we wait?
CAITLIN: No, we can talk about it now. It’s very much about the anxieties of a teenage girl, and sort of the whole series feels that way, in retrospect. She wants to be… she wants boys to be into her, but it seems like no one’s really been interested in her in real life. She wants to be cool and powerful and beloved, but she’s also got a lot of anxieties about her future, and about her relationships, and just the world around her, and a lot of these seem to get expressed through what she goes through in The Universe of the Four Gods.
DEE: Yeah. It’s kind of… They do a lot of… I think it kind of runs the gamut of things you imagine that high school and adulthood will be like when you’re that age. Because you know… There’s the dream… The straight-girl kind-of dream she has: “Oh, all the boys will fawn over me.” But then it happens and it’s actually really stressful. [laughs]
And then the freedom of: she can just get up and travel and kind of go where she wants. But, at the same time, there’s this added responsibility of being the priestess that she really doesn’t start to feel until the mirror version of her shows up and starts messing… starts hurting them, and she’s like, “Oh, shit. This is my responsibility.”
But then there’s also… So you’ve got the expectations of adulthood, which, I think, responsibility comes into that… and the ideals of it, which is sexuality and freedom. And then you also have those kind of creeping fears where… the constant threat of sexual assault that she runs into during these early episodes.
CAITLIN: Absolutely. Just… I counted how many threats of sexual assault there were in the first few episodes.
VRAI: We need a counter.
CAITLIN: Well, I’ve been doing these episode summaries, and I do have a sexual assault counter. [laughs]
DEE: Oh, no.
VRAI: When your show has a sexual assault counter, that might be a problem.
CAITLIN: Let me see if I can…Oh, no, that’s not the link I wanted to click.
VRAI: It is definitely one of those things where the show…I kept running into this thing while watching these early episodes where the show would do something really good and interesting, and then it would plunge headlong into the depths of melodrama. There’s that really great scene where Miaka goes up to the emperor and asks him for his stuff, and you can see Tamahome being impressed by her. You can see maybe that’s where he starts to be interested. And immediately, the next episode, he’s in her bedroom, telling her to cry against his manly chest. I’m like, “Alright, that went quickly.”
VRAI: Or then there’s that great scene in the mirror where she’s freaking out, because of course she is. Nobody told her how to do this job they’re all expecting her to do. So she stabs herself in the chest. Alright, that took a turn!
CAITLIN: There were five sexual assaults in the first four episodes and then it cooled off and there weren’t any for the next three, which is where we’re at right now.
DEE: Hooray! I thought we had reached a point where there were quite fewer of them. So, on the one hand, I want to give the show a little bit of credit for acknowledging that that is a very real anxiety of… I mean, women in general, but especially teenage girls as you’re starting to feel the waters of, “Well, I might want to make out with people and have sex,” but there’s always that fear in the back of your head like, “What if this goes wrong?”
CAITLIN: Right. And there’s the sense that other people are starting to look at you that way as well.
DEE: Well, and the fact that she keeps running into slave traders—sex slave traders—in this season, I think it’s very literal objectification.
CAITLIN: Mm-hm. And I think it’s relevant that Yuu Watase was so young when she started writing it. She was 22 years old. ‘Cause she was still very tapped into those anxieties. And she said in her chat columns she does reference she still suffers from a lot of anxiety related to work, but…Yeah, if she’s just a generally anxious person, then the manga is going to be covering a lot of that.
And, ohhhh, boys. There are a lot of boys taking notice of Miaka in this series.
DEE: Well, two, currently. There might be more.
VRAI: Is this the proto-reverse-harem? Like is this The One?
DEE: There had to have been… I think in the West, over here, it’s the early sort of famous one. I couldn’t say for Japan just because we don’t have a lot of access to ’80s and ’70s manga. It’s definitely a famous one.
CAITLIN: I would… Yeah. Yeah, it’s definitely a popular example. I was so into Hotohori when I was a teenager.
DEE: Yeah. I didn’t really understand why Miaka was into Tamahome when Hotohori was right there. When I was 15.
CAITLIN: Yeah, but honestly, Hotohori has probably stood the test of time the least of any of the characters so far.
DEE: I think you’re right. I think you are correct.
CAITLIN: Oh, God. He is not…
VRAI: Although, I’d forgotten Tamahome had a character at all besides just pining after Miaka. It was like, “Oh, yeah, he’s skinflint. Oh, I forgot. Yeah.”
CAITLIN: I mean, he doesn’t have that much… That’s pretty much his only other character trait so far.
DEE: Well, he’s kind of sassy and spunky early on. He and Miaka have kind of a fun back-and-forth in the first few episodes. And he’s kind of got a “big brother” vibe going on a little bit with her.
CAITLIN: Which is weird and creepy.
DEE: It is. Well, and it’s kind of… The thing I almost… So, watching it this time—I also didn’t like Tamahome very much my first time through. It’s weird how much I love the show given how completely uninvested in the main couple I was. But the thing I kind of enjoy sort of cringily, I guess, watching it this time through, is Tamahome, to me, is a realistically shitty teenager.
CAITLIN: Yeah. ‘Cause he’s only 17.
DEE: He’s 17. He’s honestly pretty nice to her and they have—I mean, he’s not the nicest guy ever, but he’s pretty decent to her early on. And then once she tells him she likes him, he just freaks out and doesn’t know what to say and then starts being a jerk to her.
And that very much feels like, “How do communicate?” as a teen. To the sense where you’re like, “Well, he could probably figure that out.” And their relationship is so realistically “shitty teenage relationship” in terms of no one knowing what to say and everyone’s hormones are smacking into each other and they’re getting jealous over the dumbest shit.
CAITLIN: Oh, God. He will… He’ll reject her and then the next episode, Hotohori was flirting with her, and he just has the poutiest baby-face on.
DEE: And then Nuriko throws a table at him. And so…”Why are you acting so upset? You’re the one who rejected her.”
CAITLIN: That was so good. But let’s… Tamahome has improved with age. Hotohori, though. He’s so fucking entitled to Miaka and her body. He pushes her down on the bed and forces her to sleep in his room—
DEE: Pretty much immediately.
CAITLIN: She’s so not comfortable with it.
DEE: Yeah. You can tell she is not into that.
CAITLIN: Yeah, it’s really… He’s really violating her boundaries over and over. Does he talk about his: “the only woman he’s ever wanted for his own life” in these episodes?
DEE: Yeah. Yeah, he did. And it is, in fact, the priestess of Suzaku. He is in love with the idea of Miaka that he has placed upon a lovely pedestal in his brain.
CAITLIN: And he doesn’t know her. But he’s like, “Oh, I’m…” Also she’s 15 and he’s 18. Not super appropriate.
DEE: [reluctantly] It wouldn’t have been that weird in Dynastic China because it would have been fairly common for girls to be marrying at 15 and guys to be marrying at 18, but I hear your point.
CAITLIN: Okay. [laughs]
DEE: I get your point! I get what you’re saying. I’m just saying for the time period it wouldn’t have been that weird.
CAITLIN: But, yeah. He knows nothing about her. He’s known her for maybe a week at this point. And he is confessing his love for her.
DEE: He asked her to marry him, for fuck’s sake.
VRAI: Yeah. When Tamahome is being weird and offering Miaka a shoulder to cry on, that at least… It feels like the anime is moving too fast, but it feels like Tamahome is sincere in a not-overreaching kind of way. As opposed to Hotohori, who has clearly got designs in a creepy way.
DEE: And Miaka and Tamahome, at that point, have at least been through a lot together in a relatively short amount of time. They’ve been kidnapped, captured, chased around, almost stabbed by guards…
CAITLIN: Yeah, and he’s saved her and it’s pretty natural that she would be into him.
DEE: Suspension bridge effect!
CAITLIN: And he’s not instantly throwing himself into being in love with her. He is hesitant for his own personal reasons. He doesn’t know her super well. Tamahome has withstood the test of time as a character way more, and it’s so funny how my opinions have reversed.
DEE: [crosstalk] Flipped a little bit?
CAITLIN: Yeah. They really have.
DEE: I started warming up to Tamahome in the—when I was playing the video game, partly because… Well, it turns out when you get him away from Miaka, he has more of a personality, which is fun. And, two, in the video game, he is voiced by Miyano Mamoru. And that man is very charming. So…
CAITLIN: Wait. Tamahome?
DEE: Tamahome in the Suzaku Ibun video game is voiced by Miyano Mamoru.
CAITLIN: Oh, okay. He’s got… He’s Hikaru Midorikawa in the anime.
DEE: In the anime, yes. Miyano was, like, 12 when the anime came out, I think, so that wouldn’t have worked.
DEE: Yeah, he voices him in the video game, and I was like, “Oh, you’re kind of cute and charming. When did that happen?” And then Hotohori… [This] is when I started to cool off on Hotohori while playing the video game for all the reasons we discussed, but also, he’s a pain in the ass to translate. He talks like he has a giant stick up his ass and it’s very annoying.
CAITLIN: Well, he’s the emperor.
DEE: That’s true. He is the emperor. So, he kind of has to talk like that. But it’s still annoying! He’s also not a great emperor.
VRAI: Yeah. “My kingdom will be fine while I go off on this quest about this girl that I like.”
DEE: With no guards. Not even a couple undercover just to keep an eye on them. [laughs]
CAITLIN: Oh, God. That was so… Why would he…?
DEE: [through laughter] He’s not a very good emperor.
CAITLIN: No! Well… No, he’s not.
DEE: There are worse emperors. But he’s not great. He’s very… He’s 18. He’s got a lot of hormones.
VRAI: Yeah, well, apparently he doesn’t, because he hasn’t patronized his harem at all.
DEE: He’s got a lot of pent-up hormones.
DEE: Yeah, he has not. He has not patronized his harem at all. That is a Light Novel Fact coming to you from someone who has read the summaries and sometimes the complete translations of the light novels. Aren’t you guys glad you have me on?
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Oh, yes. For lots of reasons.
DEE: For all of this useless trivia that is shoved in my head for the last ten to fifteen years.
VRAI: It’s delightful.
CAITLIN: Well, if he had patronized his harem, he would have met Nuriko earlier on. [crosstalk] Subtle transition!
VRAI: [crosstalk] Best character, you mean?
DEE: [crosstalk] Best character? [skeptical noises]
CAITLIN: Best character, in the show, across the board. Not an… Indisputable fact. Not an opinion.
VRAI: A scientific fact.
DEE: One of the best characters. Agreed.
VRAI: And I think before we get in further, we discussed some before recording that we wanted to use neutral pronouns for Nuriko because they don’t have them in the Japanese track, am I right?
CAITLIN: Yes, and talking about Nuriko’s gender is a tangled fucking mess.
DEE: It is. And we might need the entire rest of this podcast just to unravel some of the lines of this particular episode.
DEE: So let’s get into that.
VRAI: Well, ’cause they talk about when Tamahome is being a shitty teen who is shitty, Nuriko does talk about the fact that they are a woman at heart. They have that line, at least as the subtitle.
DEE: Yes. It’s… Their “kokoro” is “that of a woman.” So, yeah. “Soul.” It’s “soul” in the manga; “heart” in the anime. So, that’s good.
CAITLIN: Right. And a lot of that sort of… Nuriko’s backstory is so…
VRAI: [crosstalk] You know I have opinions on that!
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] It’s a mess. It’s a mess.
DEE: We will have plenty of time to talk about that later when we get to it. And that’s part of the reason, for the listeners—if they are watching along with us—part of the reason we’re using “they” and not “she” at this point is because of some stuff later. And so, yeah. We’re just gonna stick with “they.” And I apologize… I may slip into “she” occasionally just ’cause that’s habit for me, but I will do my very best to… I will correct myself if I mess up.
VRAI: Well, I mean, I think the listeners can… even if they don’t know any spoilers, they can get a sneak preview of the shitty things that are going to go down later. Because, frankly, a lot of people are really shitty to Nuriko in these episodes.
CAITLIN: Oh, God.
VRAI: I hate it. I hate it.
DEE: I can kind of cut Miaka a little bit of slack, because her reaction, to me, strikes me very much as something a 15-year-old in 1992 would say if they met a trans person.
They’d be like, “Wait. So, you look like this but you’re in love with… What are gay people?” To me, that’s kind of a… I could see a teenager in 1992 being like that. It’s the other characters and some of the other reactions that happen in the story where the problem comes in.
CAITLIN: Yeah, no. And also not understanding gender identity. I mean, 25 years ago, most people’s understanding of transness and different gender identities was really, really, uh…
DEE: Nonexistent, almost?
CAITLIN: Yeah, either non-existent or probably pretty shitty.
DEE: Watase does this really—
VRAI: [crosstalk] It is—
DEE: Oh, sorry, go ahead, Vrai.
VRAI: No, no. I was just going to cast shitty side-eye at Please Save My Earth, which came out after this, I think. And is worse.
DEE: [crosstalk] Actually, it was before.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] The manga… I have the first volume of Please Save my Earth right here.
DEE: The manga is before. The manga is ’86.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I think the manga was… Yeah, 1989 or something.
VRAI: Oh, well, then, Fushigi Yugi is—
CAITLIN: [Crosstalk] 1987. It is as old as I am.
VRAI: Hm. Yeah, it was terrible, was the point.
DEE: Yes. It’s a mess. But, yeah. You kind of get the sense, like… I’ve always felt like Watase’s heart was kind of in the right place with Nuriko? She really… I think she wanted to explore gender identity and sexuality with this character, and she wanted to place Nuriko in sort of this nonbinary state. Which, again, I approve of the intent. The process is just extremely insensitive and tone-deaf in a lot of ways.
CAITLIN: Right, well, I think… I’m not sure about now, but especially back then, in Japan—and in the US—people kind of conflated gender identity and sexuality.
VRAI: Yes. There was a lot of that.
CAITLIN: They didn’t… They tend to see them as intermixed and not two totally separate things. So, it’s like, “Oh, you’re a man in love with a man, of course you have the soul of a woman.”
VRAI: “You’re an okama. Of course you are.”
CAITLIN: Yeah. Or something that people bring up with Sailor Moon… Like, “Oh, it’s so progressive. Haruka is nonbinary.”
VRAI: [crosstalk; angrily] If another person talks about them, I’m going to fucking strangle them.
CAITLIN: No, no, because that’s… They say she has the soul of a man and a woman because she’s a butch lesbian.
VRAI: Mm-hm. That’s just the mangaka being shitty. The same mangaka who was like, “Oh, well, those high school girls have a lot of time on their hands” to imply they’d grow out of this phase that they’re in and I hate it. I kind of hate the Sailor Moon manga. you guys.
CAITLIN: Yeah. But, anyway, Nuriko is—
DEE: [crosstalk] Same time period, incidentally. Sailor Moon started running six months before Fushigi Yugi, so this is all kind of coming together.
CAITLIN: But Nuriko… When they first enter, they’re really catty… unpleasant. Really catty and unpleasant to Miaka.
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah, just a super jerk.
CAITLIN: And they don’t… And they kiss Tamahome without permission.
DEE: And cart him around for about an episode, just tied up. Which is not okay, regardless of a person’s gender.
CAITLIN: Nope! Not okay. And I actually included that on the sexual assault counter, because it’s not okay to just walk up to someone and kiss them ’cause you think they’re pretty.
VRAI: Mm-hm. It’s one of those things where I can—not necessarily excuse, but understand—Miaka’s reactions in the narrative make sense as somebody who is a jealous teenage girl and sees Nuriko as a rival. Of course, as a teen, she’s gonna be kind of shitty. And they get closer and she gets over it, and that’s fine. That’s an arc she can have. It’s that the rest of the narrative goes out of its way to excuse and kind of normalize everybody else having that awful “reveal” moment, then use that for comedy.
CAITLIN: Right. Yeah. Well, Hotohori’s reaction wasn’t that bad.
DEE: Okay, one thing I will give—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] “Oh! Another man who’s as beautiful as I am?”
DEE: They’re honestly reasonably chill about it, all things considered. It’s not handled—the worst part, for me, is the Nyan-Nyans are just assholes.
CAITLIN: Oh, my God! And Taiitsukun—
DEE: [crosstalk] So, thank you for punching them. That scene is shitty.
The scene in the woods when Evil Miaka outs Nuriko is honestly… Watching that, I almost started tearing up, because I was like, “Oh, God. This is horrible.” And I thought they didn’t play it for laughs in the anime. So, I did kind of like that. Nuriko is genuinely shocked; runs away crying. And, as a nice bonus, gets to drop a boulder on that little a-hole later. So…
VRAI: I think they almost nailed it, but then having the comedy tree just…
CAITLIN: Yeah, I think that, too.
DEE: Yeah, them just kind of shattering the trees. Again, it kills the moment, but, to me, it didn’t come across as, “Ha-ha, let’s laugh at this person.” Does that make sense? [crosstalk] Like “Oh, Nuriko is just super strong.”
CAITLIN: [crosstalk; skeptical] Yeahhh…
VRAI: Yeah. It could be worse and I’ve seen worse, but it wasn’t great.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] I don’t know if I’d agree.
DEE: In the manga, it’s a lot less sensitive. The manga’s kind of a jerk about it. The anime, at least, made an attempt to make that moment land emotionally. You get a feel for the fact that Nuriko is upset. But it’s not particularly well-handled.
CAITLIN: But it’s like when they’re out on Mount Taikyoku and Tamahome and Hotohori have just sliced open their wrists and bled all over Miaka—
VRAI: [through laughter] Which is not how anything works.
[Everyone cracks up]
CAITLIN: But I love how Yuu Watase, herself, makes fun of that moment.
DEE: Yeah. there’s parodies of that scene. There’s multiple parodies of it in the manga, which is pretty good.
CAITLIN: [through laughter] “A few minutes later, Nuriko is the only one standing.”
DEE: My favorite thing about that scene is Nuriko basically being like, “You guys aren’t helping. You’re not helping.”
CAITLIN: Taiitsukun’s like, “You’re all very low on blood,” and Nuriko’s like, “You can have some of mine,” and Taiitsukun’s like, “Save it.”
CAITLIN: Like, what the fuck?
VRAI: What the fuck are you trying to imply?
CAITLIN: That’s so shitty. Why does everyone shit on Nuriko? All. The. Time? Are you the American Red Cross or something? I don’t know!
VRAI: Which… I mean, that does lead to the metaphorical blood threesome, but still.
DEE: [cracks up]
CAITLIN: Oh, God. It was… That scene was very… weird.
VRAI: [through laughter] Tell me that’s not what that scene was.
CAITLIN: “I can feel both of their bloods entering my body. I can feel their warmth.”
[Everyone cracks up]
DEE: “Simultaneously.” Good teamwork, boys.
VRAI: Well, they did have that great scene about how well the other one handles a sword.
DEE: Oh, yes. I posted that from the manga. It’s very wink, a little bit, there. Yeah. I mean, really, a polyamorous solution seems like a good way to go here.
VRAI: Except for the fact that Hotohori is a jerk. But beyond that.
DEE: Yeah, that’s true. I don’t actually want him to hook up with anybody.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yeah, Nuriko deserves better.
DEE: [crosstalk] I used to ship him with Nuriko.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Right. ‘Cause you want Nuriko to be happy.
DEE: Yeah, I used to ship him with Nuriko and now I’m like, “Mmm… no. You can do better, Nuriko. You can find someone better.”
CAITLIN: Yeah. They could absolutely do better. That scene, in particular, made me so mad. Nuriko’s like, “Why do I feel like I’ve just been insulted?” I’m like, “Because you have!”
VRAI: You were! You were.
CAITLIN: Deeply insulted.
VRAI: You were treated like something dirty and degenerate. What the fuck?
DEE: Yeah, it’s really shitty.
CAITLIN: And the Nyan-Nyans being like, “Oh, I’ll fix your perversion.”
DEE: God, that’s the worst. At least Nuriko gets to hit her. [pained laughter]
CAITLIN: Yeah, but…
VRAI: It’s got to be the most I’ve ever been in favor of ’90s anime hyperviolence.
DEE: Yeah, there’s a lot of the ’90s anime slapstick in this. Which is kind of fun. You don’t see it as much anymore, and their faces are all wacky-looking. So, I kind of enjoy that.
VRAI: Yeah. Some of the ’90s stuff is a nice, fuzzy throwback. I do… Miaka being naked and having no nipples… I may have had to take some time to stop and laugh.
DEE: That’s anime right there.
DEE: That actually… That brings us to something that I think is kind of interesting about this series, just talking about Miaka being naked. It has those moments of, like: Tamahome walks in on her when she takes off her bra, or the panty shot. And it’s kind of interesting to me, because Watase has talked about how she really liked shounen growing up, and was really influenced by that.
And I think that might be part of the reason the series appealed to me growing up is because it does kind of have some of the structure and tropes of a shounen, combined with some of those more emotionally-oriented, character-drive-type shoujo arcs, where it’s like “feelings save the day” kind of stuff. ‘Cause you’ve got the collection quest…
One thing I noticed in this watch-through that I hadn’t really paid attention to before: there’s three or four times in these seven episodes alone where characters pull that, “You call yourself a man? A real man would do this. A real man would do this.” And that’s very shounen to me.
And then just kind of the way the series is very: constant movement and conflicts and arcs and things like that.
CAITLIN: It is very action-driven for a shoujo series.
VRAI: [crosstalk] I mean, Dee, you were—
CAITLIN: I like that. I like action shoujo.
DEE: Oh, God, me too.
CAITLIN: And it’s not the first shoujo manga that’s action-driven. I mean, shoujo honestly has a really great history of action, fantasy, and science fiction. Right now, I’m looking at my bookshelf and I see Basara, which, I think, preceded Fushigi Yugi.
DEE: Yeah, I think it was a late-80s show. It might have gone past Fushigi Yugi, too. It’s long.
I mean, just thinking… I mean, Princess Knight was kind of considered the first shoujo, and it’s very much an adventure series. And then Rose of Versailles has a lot of… It’s a little bit of a mix of the more what you’d call the “high school drama” elements of shoujo and then the more action-driven.
But, yeah. It’s not the first one by any stretch, but I think knowing that Watase has this background in shounen makes some of the decisions—like, even some of the bad decisions make more sense, like the panty shot, and things where it’s like, “Oh, okay. That’s just a trope that needs to be in a romance story. I get it.”
VRAI: You know, even that is… It all feels so quaintly tame, almost. Because he sees her naked, but the camera stays at a mid-shot.
CAITLIN: And her underwear fits. Her bra actually fits her well. [laughs]
DEE: Yeah, it’s nice. It is. It’s quaint ’90s-isms, in a way, which is kind of fun.
VRAI: And, I mean, she’s still very stylized in shoujo, but I always feel like with her and Usagi that they should be bigger characters. If you’re going to make them love food, fine, let me have it. But, even still, she has realistic-ish human proportions.
DEE: Yeah. She does. Watase, I think, has talked about that, too. She likes drawing characters with curves. It bugs her, the kind of…
CAITLIN: Although, there was a character profile that’s like, “Oh, she’s 5’4″ and 120 pounds. She still has some body fat.” I’m just like, “Bullshit.”
DEE: Yeah, in the manga, it does say she’s “slightly pudgy,” and I’m like, [skeptically] “Mm, okay.”
VRAI: No. No, she’s not. If you want Miaka to be fat, let her be fat. How great would that be in this series where all the handsome men are falling over themselves for her?
DEE: That would be wonderful.
CAITLIN: Something really interesting… When Nuriko was actually picking on Miaka, and Hotohori’s like, “Why are you bullying her?” And she’s just like, “She’s just a little girl! She showed up and everyone’s obsessed with her?”
It’s like, yeah, no, she is just a girl. She’s… What’s so special about her? Nothing. She’s a teenage… just a 15-year-old girl, and everyone’s falling over themselves for her.
And, you know, that is the fantasy, but I feel like Nuriko was not wrong in—I mean, Nuriko should not have bullied her the way they did—but I feel like it was coming from a place of jealousy, but… it’s not… Nuriko’s not wrong to be confused by it.
DEE: Yeah. Well, and, again, Fun Trivia Tidbit: the harem that has formed at the palace has been there for like a year, and it was… Everyone there knew that the emperor didn’t visit because he was waiting on the Priestess of Suzaku. So, Nuriko has spent a year kind of pining after this guy, and she has known that he’s in love with an idea, basically.
So, I think some of her—their—God, sorry—some of their frustration comes from this extended period of time where a lot of people had this idea of what the Priestess of Suzaku would be, Nuriko included. And so when she gets there, there’s a lot of frustration and confusion on the part of the characters who actually pay attention to Miaka’s personality and who she is and the fact that she is a well-meaning but kind of clumsy teenager. As opposed to Hotohori, who has basically decided she’s the best thing ever.
VRAI: And that’s got to be doubly frustrating for Nuriko, because if you’re going to love an ideal, it might as well be anybody, and Nuriko is beautiful and talented and has literally trained for this. “Why can’t it be me?”
CAITLIN: And has super strength.
VRAI: “I, too, am magical.”
DEE: Mm-hm. That would be frustrating.
CAITLIN: There was one scene where Miaka and Tamahome were attacked by bandits and Nuriko was like, “Yeah, I’m gonna let you guys handle it.” I’m just like, “Nuriko, you can literally walk in, pick them up, and throw them. Why are you not helping them out?”
DEE: ‘Cause Nuriko was kind of a jerk early on.
DEE: I really hated Nuriko for those early episodes the first time I saw the show. And then very quickly Nuriko becomes a very likable character. And it’s a very—it’s kind of a sudden about-face, but…
CAITLIN: It’s almost like once they establish that Nuriko is not a woman and thus not a legitimate romantic rival—
DEE: [crosstalk; annoyed] Mmmmm…
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] —Nuriko and Miaka can be friends.
VRAI: There is definitely an element of “women be competing” through this entire series. It’s bad.
DEE: There is. And there’s also a shitty undercurrent of, uh… “I guess Nuriko can’t hook up with Hotohori because they were assigned male at birth.” Which is also shitty.
VRAI: I was paying attention and I noticed that, after the shitty reveal, and I think after they heal Miaka, they start drawing Nuriko differently. Their clothing is less pinched at the waist. Their shoulders look broader. And it kind of made me sad.
CAITLIN: Well, they also start wearing men’s clothes.
DEE: Not yet. They’re still in their courtesan outfit right now.
CAITLIN: Later they start wearing men’s clothes for traveling in, which, you know, ehhh, it’s more practical.
DEE: It is. Honestly, one of the things that drives me bonkers about this series is that Miaka insists on wearing her school uniform everywhere!
VRAI: The fact that the school uniform is a plot point!
CAITLIN: Well, when we see her in non-school-uniform clothes, her clothes are so ugly. But that’s… We’ll see that next time.
DEE: What I mean is, like, they hide her leaving the city because the school uniforms are going to draw attention. You do realize you have clothes? You are at a palace.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk; amused] That’s true!
DEE: You can very easily get clothes tailor-made for this girl and she can wander around your kingdom and not draw attention to the fact that she’s showing, like, all of the leg, which would be very strange for the time period. I never got why she didn’t switch into clothes from that area and blend in better. It bugs me.
CAITLIN: Alright, so we should probably start wrapping up. Any final thoughts?
VRAI: I mean, I do want to watch more of it. We’ve been having a great time at my house, Mystery Science Theater-ing the thing.
CAITLIN: Oh, yeah. No, it’s super fun to watch with other people.
DEE: It definitely is. I’ve watched it with friends most of the times I have watched it, and it’s always a different experience, and it always makes it fun. And it’s one of those shows that I can simultaneously sincerely like and also just tease relentlessly.
CAITLIN: [sing-song] Otakon drinking games~
CAITLIN: Are we ready to close out this episode?
VRAI: Next time we’ll be watching episodes seven through 14, did we decide?
DEE: Yeah. We… So, listeners, normally with the watchalongs, we do six episodes, but Fushigi Yugi is 52, which doesn’t divide up neatly. And then the midway point is kind of at an awkward spot, anyway.
So, we’re going to be doing seven episodes for a few of them, and then six for most of them as we head towards the end? So, we’ll let you know at the end of every podcast how many to watch. This next week, it will be seven episodes.
CAITLIN: Right. So, episodes eight to 14 for next week. See you there.
And I just want to mention that I have a few panels coming up at upcoming conventions. At Otakon, I will be doing a panel about abuse and romance in shoujo manga. And I will also be doing a panel about awesome women making anime with Rose Bridges of Anime News Network.
And then, at Anime Fest, I will also be doing the “romance in shoujo manga” panel in addition to a panel discussing different approaches to analyzing anime from a feminist point of view without necessarily going to “Is this feminist or not?” I’ll be doing a panel about isekai shoujo series from the 1990s with Megan of Manga Test Drive.
Did you guys have anything you want to plug?
VRAI: We got a lot of it done up at the top. Just need to plug stuff for the site, now, I think.
CAITLIN: Yes! So, we hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. If you liked what you heard, tell your friends and leave us a really good review on iTunes. If you really liked what you heard, consider tossing us a dollar or two on our Patreon every month. Your support really helps this site.
Because of the Patreon, we can pay Peter for editing these episodes; we can pay our contributors; we can have people going to conventions who wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
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VRAI: See you next time.
CAITLIN: See you next time.
DEE: Later, AniFam!