Part 5 of our Fushigi Yugi watchalong with Caitlin, Dee, and Vrai! Emotions run high as the team grapples with the loss of a beloved character and the many, many problems with the story’s handling of gender and sexuality. Miaka applies for dual citizenship. Tamahome invents a stereotype. Nuriko opens up.
CONTENT WARNING: Fushigi Yugi contains depictions of sexual assault, homophobia, and transphobia. The podcast will also discuss these topics when they arise.
0:02:06 Miaka and Tamahome Codependency
0:10:32 Existential crises
0:13:09 Sympathy for Yui
0:14:06 Female villain
0:21:30 Gender essentialism
0:25:53 Punished feminism
0:28:17 Keisuke: Good boy
0:36:42 More gender essentialism
0:49:11 Nuriko’s light novel
0:52:24 Character and context
0:56:47 Going forward
0:58:26 Translation pronouns
Recorded Saturday 17th September 2017
Music: Open Those Bright Eyes by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
VRAI: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast, and our ongoing watchalong for Fushigi Yugi. My name is Vrai Kaiser. I’m an editor and contributor at Anime Feminist, and with me, as usual, are Caitlin and Dee.
CAITLIN: Hi. I’m Caitlin. I’m a writer and contributor at Anime Feminist as well as running I Have a Heroine Problem.
DEE: Hi, I’m Dee. I’m a writer and editor for AniFem, and I’m also the owner of the friendly neighborhood anime blog, The Josei Next Door.
VRAI: Last time, we ended the first season of Fushigi Yugi and this week we went into episodes 28 through 34, which is the search for the shinzaho and the Genbu trial. Technically, it was seven episodes, but, really, it was more like five and a half, because 28 is a recap episode and about half-to-a-third of 29 is also flashbacks.
DEE: Yeah, ’cause Keisuke’s gotta catch up his buddy on what’s going on in the book world.
CAITLIN: Figure out library technology.
DEE: What am computer?
VRAI: How do? Have you heard of the “card catalog?”
DEE: It’s delightful.
VRAI: Now listeners from last week may remember that we went in chronological order, which we’ve been doing on and off. For this one, I wanted to take a slightly different tack, and basically do a positive-and-negative-style division, because, basically, I think once I start ranting about this run of episodes, it’s not going to stop.
CAITLIN: It gets pretty bad.
DEE: That’s fair.
VRAI: So, let’s start with the good things, which include… Well, “good things.” Let’s start with some of the other characters. Miaka and Tamahome’s relationship starts to become codependent in a really terrible way in this run of episodes.
DEE: Yeah, I feel like it’s not—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] I thought we were gonna talk about the good things first!
DEE: I feel like it’s not so much “good things” as it is things that are—how do I put this?… There’s some things that are just bad. And we’re gonna have to talk about how they’re just bad. And so, I think, maybe this early part is more the conversation we can have about everything else that’s going on in the story.
CAITLIN: Okay, yeah, that’s fair.
DEE: So, yeah. Miaka and Tamahome, they get really insular and codependent this time around. And it’s one of those things where it’s definitely not healthy.
You can kind of understand why it happens in terms of: Tamahome just had his entire family murdered. Yes, he’s going to cling very tightly to this person who’s very important to him. But it’s not really addressed like that in the series?
CAITLIN: No, it’s more like, “They’re destined lovers who [dramatically] cannot touch each other and it’s very sad.”
DEE: But it also gives them an excuse for shitty groping slapstick again. Which I thought we were over. And we’re back to it. And it’s annoying.
VRAI: Well, for a second, it seems like they’re going to deal with it in a responsible way, where Nuriko is great and tells Tamahome that he can’t just throw himself into certain death at any time because then, guess what, you’re dead and that’s not gonna help you or her. This is not noble; this is stupid.
DEE: Yeah, Nuriko gives good advice this week. Nuriko, like, all the other characters—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] “You’re never gonna get laid if you get yourself killed!”
DEE: [laughs] Yeah, Tamahome’s driving force is very much, at this point, “We can’t bang until we summon Suzaku. Let’s do this as quickly as possible.” And I think Miaka echoes that to a point. She is also very interested in a physical relationship with him and has to push him away.
CAITLIN: [unintelligible through giggles]
VRAI: I want to be in favor of this. The fact that they’re so mutually horny and not, like, Miaka is holding out and he is the gross, pervy boyfriend.
CAITLIN: But she secretly super wants it.
VRAI: [groans] Oh, God.
CAITLIN: Sorry. I’ve been reading this manga…
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah, it’s not that, at least.
CAITLIN: I’ve read like three manga in a row where the dude has sex with the girl in her subconscious.
DEE: Oh, God.
CAITLIN: And it’s shown as sexy and not disgusting.
DEE: Fushigi Yugi: It could have been worse.
CAITLIN: Is that our new tagline? [laughs]
VRAI: As of this episode on? Yes.
DEE: I mean, “you will have an emotion.” That’s also still holds.
CAITLIN: I had a lot of emotions watching this stretch of episodes.
DEE: It’s been a rollercoaster week, truthfully. This show has fucked me up a little bit this week. But…
CAITLIN: Yeah. I think I felt every emotion.
DEE: That’s… accurate. But yeah. So… yeah. Tamahome and Miaka, I feel like there’s not a whole else there. I think by virtue of them being more insular, it pushes almost the entire rest of the cast into background art, almost.
They each kind of get to do one fun thing, but it’s very minor. And I think a lot of that comes from the fact that Miaka is focusing—she’s our perspective character and she is focusing on Tamahome to the exclusion of everyone else, with the exception of Nuriko, who is kind of… I’m going to say this and it sounds negative, but I don’t mean it negative.
Nuriko is kind of inserting themselves into their interactions, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. I think it’s good that Nuriko’s keeping an eye on them and making sure that they don’t get so lost in each other’s eyes that they don’t forget everything else.
CAITLIN: Right. Nuriko’s always been the common sense character. Well, once Nuriko got over being a catty, jealous girl, they’ve been the common sense character.
VRAI: Yeah. This run of episodes finally realizes that Nuriko is the cool older sibling who has always given good advice. And they only recognize… [groans]
CAITLIN: [soothingly] It’s okay…
DEE: Are we gonna pull back and get to that later?
VRAI: No. We cannot begin this now. I did want to say that… As these episodes go on, it can be more tempting to get frustrated with Miaka as a character, but, at this moment, I’m frustrated with the writing more than at her. Because it makes sense that she’s 15 and of course it’s totally sensible for her to never want to see her family or her friends or everything culturally she’s ever known.
CAITLIN: Right, yeah! It’s okay for her to just completely throw away her life.
VRAI: But the writing seems to think this is romantic and not deeply stupid.
CAITLIN: And this is part of what got me so jaded about Fushigi Yugi for such a long time, is that Miaka is so willing to throw away everything for the sake of being with Tamahome.
VRAI: Girl, there’s no indoor plumbing outside of the palace.
DEE: What about hair dryers, Miaka? What about hair dryers?
CAITLIN: Right? There’s so much… It shouldn’t be this easy of a decision. It shouldn’t be a decision at all. She makes it so quickly. He asks her to marry him and she’s like, “Yes! Sure, let’s do it! Family? Friends? Electricity? Who cares?”
DEE: I was just gonna say, I think that’s something that’s… And I’m generally saying this. I don’t one-hundred-percent remember, because I was not super-invested in their relationship the other times I watched this show. I don’t really remember how this gets handled going forward. But I’ll be curious to see if they don’t pull back on that a little bit.
Because the sense you get from these episodes is that it’s very much a spur-of-the-moment. Miaka’s like, “Well, of course I don’t want to say goodbye to Tamahome, so, yeah! I’ll do this.” And then they get to Touran, the capital city of Hokkan, and she kind of has this moment where she remembers: “Oh, snow. That’s something we get in the winter. Oh, wait. I’m not gonna get that anymore.” And she seems a little upset about that.
And so whether or not the show will really go through with that or if it is a 15-year-old decision very much making this decision in the spur of the moment or not. Again, I genuinely don’t remember how it progresses, so…
CAITLIN: I… do remember.
DEE: Okay. So. Maybe not great.
VRAI: Imagine how cool it would have been if this… If it had decided to take this decision that is very believable for a 15-year-old in love and very isolated and then reminded the audience that, “Oh, she’s in a bubble because she’s the weird priestess from another world, but she’s not just in another time, she’s in another country with different gender roles and different mentalities from birth onward and all of that cultural shit.”
DEE: Well, and also just the idea that… it’s very common, I think, in stories, for the woman to give up everything to be with the guy she loves. And that’s not good.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Oh, yeah. This is definitely a pretty bog-standard [unintelligible] romance.
CAITLIN: And it doesn’t tend to go the other way around, either.
DEE: It’s very rare for it to go the other way around. Yeah. Not that it’s healthy. It’s not really great either way. I mean, sometimes you do have to go… To me, it was kind of funny watching those episodes, ’cause I did chuckle at the idea of, “Oh, we’re in a long-distance relationship and one of us has to move to the other person’s town.” It’s a very fantastical version of that, but that is kind of the conversation they’re having.
And it’s tough, kids. They’re actually having to look at this in terms of practical—looking at the practicalities of the future of their relationship at this point. So, I don’t like the way they’re handling it, but it’s interesting that the story is willing to go there. “Okay, if we’re really gonna be together, how are we gonna do that?”
CAITLIN: Right. And Yui does turn around and say to Tamahome, “You’re just a character in a book.”
DEE: Yeah. Tamahome’s identity crisis begins!
CAITLIN: Yeah, which freaks him out. And that is something that the story actually does recognize, is the fact that the Suzaku Warriors… don’t… exist.
DEE: [tearfully] They exist in our hearts, Caitlin.
CAITLIN: [laughs] Yeah, they exist in our hearts. But, you know, you can’t just get married on the astral plane.
DEE: Says who?
CAITLIN: I’m sorry, that’s a bit of weird, old internet history right there.
VRAI: Good pull. Good pull. Look up “Snape Wives,” everybody.
CAITLIN: Oh, it didn’t just start with Snape Wives. Fushi… Final Fantasy House is another good one. Anyway.
So, you know, it sort of looks at: do these characters actually exist? And Tamahome—Yui is using that as a defense mechanism of, “This doesn’t really matter because you’re not real. This is all just in a book.”
But at the same time, what’s happening to them is happening to them. The trauma that’s happening to them is happening to them. The pain that’s happening to them is happening to them. Even if they’re in a book, it’s really happening. It’s honestly kind of an interesting philosophical discussion that we’ll save for later, ’cause the series gets into it more.
VRAI: Oh, okay.
CAITLIN: In future episodes. But, yeah. These episodes are sort of the start of that? So, yeah.
VRAI: That’s good, ’cause I didn’t remember if it brought this whole meta element up to do anything with it or if it was just another arbitrary relationship roadblock. So that’s good.
CAITLIN: Yeah, it’s kinda both.
DEE: It can be both.
VRAI: Fushigi Yugi: Why not both?
DEE: Endless taglines. We got the blu-ray boxsets. We’re ready for ya. Whoever wants to produce those.
VRAI: We’re on it.
CAITLIN: Come on, Discotek. [laughs]
VRAI: On the subject of Yui, that’s probably a good a time as any to talk about how it’s going with the Seryuu Warriors this run of episodes.
DEE: I feel really bad for Yui this time around. As… Okay, so this was the point in the original, when I was watching as a kid, where I was just done with Yui. I was like, “Yui, quit it. Stop.” Which is… It’s cruel, but I was 13, so I was like, “I don’t get why you’re so upset and intent on defeating your friend who you clearly know didn’t really do anything wrong.”
And this watchthrough, I sympathize with her a lot, because you get the sense from that conversation with Tamahome that she feels like she has no other choice; like she’s trapped and she just has to keep doing this thing.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah, she’s gone past the point of no return.
VRAI: Nakago is beyond monstrous this run of episodes.
DEE: Nakago’s the worst…
CAITLIN: Oh, my God.
DEE: He’s terrible. I. Feel. So bad. For Ashitare. [pained laughter]
CAITLIN: Yeah, poor Ashitare. He’s just thrown away like garbage by this dude. Also, Soi.
DEE: Yeah. I’ll start to feel real bad for Soi as we go. For sure.
VRAI: I did want to… Because you mentioned, I think, Caitlin, you mentioned early on that part of the reason is Fushigi Yugi is an early reverse-harem is editorial mandate. But the villain—the villain warrior can be a lady, though. Thanks, editors.
DEE: Well, and that could have been… I mean, I don’t want to assume, but that could have been a situation where the series was successful enough that Watase was able to convince them to let her include some more female characters, in the same way that Fullmetal Alchemist didn’t get to have female characters until a little bit later because it was a success. And then they were like, “Okay, Arakawa. I guess we’ll trust you.”
So… I don’t know if that was one of those situations where it was like, “I can include another woman? Sweet!” But, yeah. There are… And I mean, you know, Nuriko… Well, we’ll talk about Nuriko. Nuriko’s complicated. But yeah.
VRAI: Yeah, Nuri— [cuts self off; makes a few angry “mm” noises]
DEE: [chuckles] Okay.
VRAI: I will give… Miaka and the Holy Sword is a genuinely cool scene.
DEE: God, yes! I love that scene. It’s kind of sad that one Seiryuu Warrior takes out all of her warriors in one hit, but Miaka’s response to that… She—this is another one of those arcs where she steps up in—you almost wish it would happen more, but she does step up in key moments. She decides she’s gonna fight and defend everyone.
And then gets yelled at. Tamahome yells at her for saving his ass. And I get it. You’re worried. But come on, dude.
Tell her she looked cool.
VRAI: Yeah. You know who told her she did a good job? Nuriko.
DEE: True story. In fact, all the other warriors were into it, and Tamahome was like, “I’m so scared.” And I get it. Your entire family was murdered three episodes ago. I get it. You’re very concerned.
CAITLIN: You’re traumatized.
DEE: Yeah. And not really dealing with it, which can’t be good for you.
CAITLIN: Yeah. He does not get enough time to properly grieve.
DEE: I mean, I don’t know how long they were on that boat, but I’m still gonna maintain that he’s not really dealing with it.
VRAI: Right. What is the proper grieving time frame for “your entire family is dead”?
DEE: Probably more than a month, I’m gonna say. [laughs]
CAITLIN: Probably a very long time. But it also varies from person to person, ’cause everyone grieves differently.
DEE: That’s also very true. Yeah, no, Miaka with the sword is very cool. And then when she realizes that fighting the Genbu Warriors is getting them absolutely nowhere, and steps forward and goes, “Look. What do you need me to do to prove to you that I deserve this? That we can have the shinzaho.” And they’re like, “We’re gonna freeze you solid and see what happens.” And she’s like, “Do it.” [laughs] You gotta give Miaka credit for being determined.
DEE: And spunky, yeah. She’s feisty.
VRAI: Yeah. I’ll give that to her.
CAITLIN: But she also gets punished for it. A lot.
DEE: Not so much in this stretch of episodes, I don’t think. I think in this stretch, she—
CAITLIN: Yeah, not in this stretch of episodes.
DEE: She is cool and she’s—and they get the shinzaho because she’s willing to risk herself and fight for it.
CAITLIN: Well, the episode preview shows that next episode…
DEE: Well, yeahh, if you watched the episode preview, that might not make a good… Yeah. Well, we’ll get there eventually.
VRAI: What are you talking about? There were no more episodes. This is the end of the series.
DEE: That would be such a bummer ending to the series though.
VRAI: It was a bummer for me. [laughs]
DEE: I mean, it was a bummer for all of us.
CAITLIN: It was.
DEE: But I liked… The stuff at the Genbu warriors is fun. If you… I do recommend people read Genbu Kaiden because it’s a marked improvement on the original, and you get to hang out with Hikitsu and Tomite some more, and they’re good boys. They’re good boys.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] They’re all good boys.
VRAI: Please take this opportunity to go a little into Genbu Kaiden if you like. Because, as somebody who hasn’t read it, this section is fine from a metaphorical perspective. I get what it’s doing about the bond between Miaka and her warriors and how they serve that. But I didn’t care about these dudes at all.
DEE: No, and you’re not… [crosstalk] Nobody really did.
CAITLIN: They don’t come across well in this episode. They’re pretty one-dimensional. First they’re like, “Rawr! Angry ghost gonna kill you!” And then they’re like, “Okay, here’s your shinzaho.”
But in the Genbu Kaiden manga, they’re much more thoroughly rounded characters. By the way, I just want to jump in to episode 34… made really great use of the inappropriately peppy theme song coming in.
DEE: Yes! That fakeout is one of my favorite gags. Just ever.
CAITLIN: And you can only do it once.
DEE: Yeah. So, I think most of the people listening to this are probably watching it, too. But on the off chance you aren’t, they get the shinzaho and the [imitates ending theme] “ba-da-pa-pa” comes in and Miaka’s like, “Yeah! We can summon Suzaku!” And the music starts building and then one of the Genbu guys is like, “Just so you know, you need a second shinzaho to make that work.” And the music just smash-cuts off, and they’re like, “Wait. What?”
VRAI: It’s a good joke.
DEE: It’s a very good gag. And then Tamahome just breaks. [laughs]
CAITLIN: Yeah. He literally just shatters.
VRAI: And it’s good. ‘Cause Tamahome has become one of those characters that I understand what he’s going through objectively, but I’m done with him right now.
DEE: [crosstalk] I like him more this time around than I ever have.
VRAI: [crosstalk] I like Miaka too much. I like Nuriko too much. He’s way down the bottom tier of having time for his logical shenanigans.
Right now, he’s a character that I objectively understand everything he does and where he’s at emotionally. I get it. He’s grieving, and he’s scared to lose Miaka, and that’s causing him to lash out because he’s a dumb teen. And be reckless and be short-tempered and very focused on the goal.
But, as the narrative goes, I’m much more invested right now in why Miaka’s upset and everything to do with Nuriko, and it’s pushed him far down to the point where I don’t know that I have sympathy to spare for you, right now.
DEE: Well, and I don’t think they—again, I don’t think they are doing a particularly good job of reminding the audience of what he’s been through recently. And I don’t know if it’s a matter of the narrative assuming, “Oh, you know, and we don’t need to keep mentioning it,” or if the narrative genuinely is like, “He’s over it.” ‘Cause he’s not. Clearly.
But I think that makes it harder to get invested in what’s going on with Tamahome. And then his response to it is kind of: “Well now I’m going to devote my entire life to Miaka,” and…
CAITLIN: Well, she’s the only family he has left.
DEE: Yeah. And it’s totally understandable—
CAITLIN: And his life has always been all about his family.
DEE: Yeah. So, it’s very understandable from the perspective of the character’s backstory and what’s been going on with him. But, again, I don’t know if the series is doing a particularly good job of making that more explicit. And also pointing out that it’s not a particularly healthy thing for him to be doing right now.
It’s kind of a short-term coping mechanism that you would hope he would be able to move past, and not dedicate his entire existence to this one person.
VRAI: Yeah. Even when Nuriko gives him good advice about being more responsible, it’s couched in shitty gender essentialism, like, “You need to be more of a man or someone will take her from you.”
DEE: Oh, God! The gender essentialism is much worse in the manga, even.
DEE: There’s a whole arc, Vrai, that does not make it into the anime. Wisely—wisely, I would say.
CAITLIN: Well, it briefly makes it into the OAVs as a gag.
DEE: It does. Which is about all the time we want to deal with it. It’s… So, there’s an arc before they get to Hokkan where their ship crashes and they end up on The Island of the Amazon Woman.
CAITLIN: [half-groaning] The Island of Women.
DEE: And no men are allowed, so they all have to dress up… They all have to disguise themselves as women. And it’s a lot of “har-har, man in a dress” jokes, and then there’s a lot of, like… The women are all pretty evil. They just treat the men as breeding studs or slaves and they just pluck out their eyes and it’s pretty rough.
VRAI: [enraged groans]
CAITLIN: Yeah, they just chain them up and pluck out their eyes, and… It’s death by snu-snu, basically.
VRAI: I blocked this out of my brain. Good for me.
DEE: Yeah, it’s the manga. It’s not a good arc. And there’s a lot of lines throughout of, like… Tasuki refuses to fight these women who are trying to kill him ’cause he will not fight women, ever. Tamahome has a line that is just stupid, where it’s like, “I got away from them! Good thing men are good runners!”
VRAI: [through pained laughter] What the fuck does that mean?
DEE: [through laughter] I’m like, “How? Is that a… is that a stereotype? I didn’t even… Are you just making up stereotypes, Tamahome?”
CAITLIN: Is that a thing?
VRAI: Well, you know, women are slowed down by their birthin’ hips. You know.
DEE: Yes. That’s true.
CAITLIN: All those babies up in there.
DEE: And their swinging, pendulous breasts.
[Everybody cracks up]
DEE: They get in the way.
CAITLIN: They got distracted by the feeling of their nipples against the fabric.
DEE: According to a lot of male novelists, yes.
VRAI: Yeah. You know, you start breasting boobily down the stairs. And that’s your whole day.
DEE: Yeah, you can’t… It chafes, and you can’t deal with it. So…
CAITLIN: [through laughter] I mean, I’ve had days like that.
DEE: Apparently so do guys, though. I mean, guys also have nipples. Anime might tell you otherwise, but…
[Everybody takes a beat to quiet their laughter]
DEE: Yeah. So, there’s a lot of shitty gender essentialism in this bit. And it kind of makes me sad, because when I read comments from Watase, you definitely get the sense that she is frustrated by the gender norms of the time, but does not know how to address or approach that.
So it comes out in comments about, like, when they ask her… In this 1995 interview I found—I think I shared this with you guys—there’s a comment where they ask her, “If you were reincarnated, what would you want to be reincarnated as?” And she says, “A good-looking boy in a school uniform, so I could pick up girls. And I’d grow up to be a manga artist for boys.”
And I’m like… Yeah, okay. There’s clearly… And she talks a lot about how she wanted to be a shounen manga artist and was basically told, “No,” and so… [crosstalk] It’s kind of sad.
CAITLIN: Which, Rumiko Takahashi had been working for years.
DEE: She had, but I think she was very much an exception to the rule. I don’t think there was much beyond that at that point. There’s a lot more female shounen and… [fumbles for the right word] ohhh, my God, I blanked—seinen manga artists now. But I think that was a lot less common back then. I think Takahashi was kind of an exception to the rule.
VRAI: Well, Watase’s bullshit with gender kind of reminds me of Poppy Z Bright, who is a trans male author of vampire novels. And he wrote some books in the ‘90s before he transitioned that has a lot to do with body horror and women who… Like, rules for vampirism where being pregnant will kill you 100% of the time.
And you can tell he’s working out his personal body dysphoria a lot through these novels. But it ends up being like, “Oh, you wrote a novel where all of the women are completely unimportant objects who get raped and then die from pregnancy. Whoops.”
DEE: Yeah, no, I mean, it does not excuse the shitty things that happen in some of her stories, and especially in some of her earlier stories, but it does—it strikes me as… it’s an interesting layer to it. Internalized gender norms and misogyny are a hell of a drug, basically.
And so, reading over some of her old interviews… And she kind of—I hadn’t really thought about it until this week, but she kind of punishes femininity in an interesting way, sometimes.
CAITLIN: She does.
DEE: Not female characters, necessarily, but more traditional feminine behaviors.
CAITLIN: Yeah, and this is why I say Fushigi Yugi is… You can see a lot of Watase’s anxieties reflected in the series, I think. Through stuff like gender norms and gender relations, and how those are handled. Being forced into a rivalry with your best friend and it goes sour. Like, I wonder if she has had something like that happen in her life.
DEE: Well, and there’s a lot with the parents telling them, “Oh, you have to compete. You’re both going to the same school. This is how it works.” And the frustrations of that coming out in the story.
VRAI: I know that one of the things that can be appealing, at least better early on, about Fushigi Yugi is that emotional rawness of being frustrated at these things. But now, as the story starts to get into the part of the story where you expect it to do something with those things, I don’t think she’s processed these feelings she has in a way that can make the story hit home, as opposed to it being—
DEE: [crosstalk] No, it’s still kind of that snapshot I mentioned last week, as opposed to actual commentary on these things that are not great or frustrating or part of growing up as a teenager at that point of time.
CAITLIN: It’s very raw. And that’s a strength and a weakness. And right now it’s more weakness than strength.
VRAI: Yeah, and I think the cost of that rawness, at least, for her, is you’ve reinforced these things instead of taking your frustration and doing something about it.
DEE: Yeah. Whether intentionally or no—and I think we’ll get into that more in the second half here when we kind of start talking about everything with Nuriko. One… okay, I think we’re probably about ready for that. In terms of other more positive or just more pleasant things.—
CAITLIN: Keisuke’s a good boy.
DEE: Keisuke is a good boy. He’s very concerned for his sister and just wants her out of that damn book.
CAITLIN: Yeah, ’cause he’s worried that she’s gonna get terribly hurt. Which… The thing with the hair is probably one of the biggest asspulls I’ve ever seen.
DEE: It is. In the manga it makes more sense, ’cause there’s a ribbon involved. They knew about this connection.
CAITLIN: Yeah, but… Oh, he happens to find a hair, and when Miaka wants to cut off that condition, she just grabs some bangs and burns it and that takes care of it. Whereas I feel like if… She would have to shave her head. [crosstalk; laughing] To fix that connection.
DEE: That would make more sense.
CAITLIN: Which would be hilarious.
VRAI: Also, the introduction of this other asshole, because Keisuke needs somebody to talk to.
CAITLIN: Oh, yeah. Tetsuya. [crosstalk] He’s a good boy.
DEE: Tetsuya. His friend who I cannot see without getting that song stuck in my hand. He wears his sunglasses at night, you guys.
CAITLIN: While driving.
DEE: While driving. [crosstalk] Well, that will eventually happen. It’s pretty great.
CAITLIN: That made me really upset.
DEE: It’s safe. It’s very safe. [chuckles] Tetsuya’s all right. He doesn’t really get to do much, but he’s all right.
VRAI: Yeah, no, he just blatantly exists because we need… Like, the character cannot exist in a vacuum and needs to dialogue about his worries, I guess.
DEE: Yeah, well, and this way, Keisuke can research while Tetsuya reads the book. So, they can be multitasking, too.
CAITLIN: Yeah, all the stuff about the Genbu Priestess.
DEE: Who was apparently murdered by her father, so we’re told.
VRAI: So, is that a thing that gets retconned in Genbu Kaiden?
DEE: Not retconned, but it gets addressed. It’s absolutely explained and it is part of the narrative, and I don’t want to say anything more than that. The stuff that is said in the original Fushigi Yugi does not get retconned in Genbu Kaiden. It just doesn’t happen the way you’d 100% expect.
CAITLIN: It handles it pretty well. And Genbu Kaiden is a much more polished narrative, because, you know, it’s, God, how many years later?
DEE: At least ten. Maybe closer to fifteen.
CAITLIN: Yeah. But Genbu Kaiden is interesting because you start reading it and you know what happens to Tokiko, the main character…
CAITLIN: Takiko. Thank you. You know what happens to Takiko and you know it’s gonna be a really awful, sad ending, so you’re sort of prepared for it but you also don’t know how it’s gonna go.
DEE: Mm-hm. And it surprises you along the way. It doesn’t happen exactly the way expect.
CAITLIN: It does.
DEE: I recommend it. I think it would be fun to do a one-shot podcast book club on it at some point once we’re done with this.
VRAI: Yeah, if I could find a way to get hold of it, I’d do that.
DEE: That would be the trick is getting you some copies of the volumes. ‘Cause I think Caitlin and I just have it.
CAITLIN: No, I’ve checked it out at the library.
DEE: Oh. Oh, okay.
CAITLIN: But they don’t have all the volumes.
VRAI: Yeah, but we can check. Maybe if the readers are interested, they can leave feedback, and we’ll think about—check in with that at a later date.
DEE: Yeah, for sure.
CAITLIN: Maybe someday.
VRAI: Oh, there is one more good thing that I wanted to give the episode props for. In a show that is very much about… At least this run of episodes is about stupid emotional decisions that lead you to do bad things, it does cap off with a pretty good and mature—having Mitsukake have a pretty good speech about how grief is okay and it’s hard, and if you don’t deal with it right away that’s fine.
DEE: And it’s okay to grieve. But then there is that hard practicality of, like, “I wish we had time to just be sad for a while, but we don’t. We have to keep going.” And, so, balancing that sense of “Yeah, it’s 100% okay to be sad, but—”
CAITLIN: “But we have to keep moving.”
DEE: —“but we can’t be paralyzed,” basically. You have to take that tiny step.
CAITLIN: And I think that’s… The episodes leading up to Nuriko’s death were a fucking trash fire of gender dynamics and gender norms and ‘90s ideas of… ‘90s misconceptions of how gender and sexuality work. But I think that whole episode was really well-done.
DEE: It’s… I mean, even in the context of—God, this is really hard for me to talk about. In the context of everything that comes before it, it’s hard to talk about… It’s hard to look at it and say, “It did things well.” But it’s really affecting and I still think it’s one of the better death scenes I’ve ever seen in anime in terms of…
CAITLIN: I mean, I was crying genuine tears.
DEE: Me too. And I’ve seen this like six times, and I was still crying.
CAITLIN: [emotional laughter] Yeah, exactly. No matter how many times I watch it, it really… It hurts! It hurts.
DEE: It really does. And it’s one of those… It’s a very… It’s a noble death. Nuriko is loyal and fierce and stubborn, and it’s the kind of “noble, on-the-battlefield” kind of death that you see in a lot of epic stories. And it’s… It’s a good send-off for them, I think. And it’s devastating. Everyone is devastated.
CAITLIN: There is a very real sense of loss. And there is a very real sense of “This is what’s happening now. We messed up and now things are so much harder and scarier than they ever were.”
DEE: And really just on that raw, immediate level of “This was somebody we loved and they’re gone.”
DEE: So, that sense of Nuriko as a beloved member of the team. And, God, Tasuki, noble beacon of light amidst The Badlands of these twelve episodes…
CAITLIN: [crosstalk; emotional] Oh, honey. Oh, baby.
VRAI: [emotional] He’s good. He’s good and I ship them so unironically now. [pained laughter] Like, fuck.
CAITLIN: That’s gonna be a rarepair right there.
VRAI: [through pained laughter] But they’re so good! They’re so good! And he’s the only one who’s shitty but in a way that is clearly part of that give-and-take dynamic, and just loves… agggh!
DEE: I do. I don’t ship them, but I love their relationship and their friendship. And, again, it’s that rawness, which is not always necessarily a good thing, but it is very affecting even now. And it’s difficult to divorce that kind of gut-punch emotional reaction I have to, again, what I think is an extremely well-done death sequence with these more emotional—no, sorry: more intellectual issues of how much this arc gets wrong and fucks up.
VRAI: Yeah, so, shall we get into it, I guess?
DEE and CAITLIN: [a bit reluctantly] Yeah.
VRAI: There is one more… As more of a general note, I’ve been… ‘Cause I knew getting into… This is the point where I stopped reading the manga, more or less. Partly because that was just what was available for the flipped volumes, but also because I was super upset, as a kid, that Nuriko died.
And so I didn’t—I remembered vaguely that they died, and I remembered the “dead sister” shit—the bullshit explanation “dead sister” shit—and also that Nuriko turned out to be in love with Miaka. But I didn’t remember how bullshit it was. To the point where I wish I could go back and add a retrospective issue for… I think if somebody hasn’t seen this before—like, trans people—I would almost warn them off of this entirely because it hurts so bad to love this character so much and then to have things end up this way.
It’s so affecting, more so than the usual shitty representation, because you have all these episodes of such a great character? And to have it turn at the last moment and then kill them off. And to specifically frame these issues of… the characters were—like, other members of the team gave Nuriko shit for… and then start giving them props for cool things they were doing all along. Like, nothing changes except that Nuriko starts presenting more masculinely. That’s shitty.
CAITLIN: “Oh, I feel like I’m talking to big brother.” That—it’s not any different from how Nuriko talked to you before, just now you’re respecting them more because they’re presenting masculine.
VRAI: Right, and the other thing—
DEE: [crosstalk] Well. Sort of. So, this is why the pronouns are difficult with Nuriko, is because the narrative feels like it’s trying to erase that sort of genderfluid, trans, queerness—I’m not 100% sure what word we should use because, again, the narrative is a mess, so it’s hard to know exactly how to talk about it—but Nuriko appearance-wise starts presenting more masculine, but continues to use feminine speech patterns and continues to refer to themselves as “atashi” throughout all of this.
During their fight with Ashitare, they slip into masculine speech patterns a little bit. Like, they refer to Ashitare as “omae,” which is a more gruff way of saying “you,” and the sentence structure is… So, folks who don’t know Japanese, gender presentation is kind of built into a lot of the language, especially in terms of casual speech. The particles you use, the way you end your sentences, personal pronouns, especially—that one’s fairly more well-known—and that’s kind of what I’m talking about here.
So, Nuriko’s speech patterns when fighting Ashitare get more aggressive and masculine-coded, but they keep referring to themselves as “atashi” throughout all of that. And then, once the fight is over, they switch back to those more feminine speech patterns. So…
CAITLIN: And… Well, I’ve been watching the dub because that is what I watched growing up and that’s sort of what I have the most emotional connection with, even though it is ridiculous a lot of the time. And so… you know, Nuriko’s voiced by a woman, and English doesn’t have as strongly gendered speech patterns. It does, but it’s not as, like…
DEE: [crosstalk] Immediately noticeable.
CAITLIN: Clearly encoded.
CAITLIN: But Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, who is lovely, and probably one of the better actors in this show, she… She’s got a lower voice already and she dropped her voice for this stretch of episodes.
CAITLIN: I mean, not super noticeably… Well, noticeably, but not super obviously. So, yeah. That’s sort of interesting. It’s kind of like how Tamahome turned into Solid Snake for a while when he was evil.
VRAI: I struggle with the… As I rewatch this series and remember more of the details of the character, I struggled with the pronouns. Because I think “them” is good for where Nuriko ended up and what a better writer could do with their character arc, and this issue of, “You feinted. You went hard in this certain manner of presentation and would’ve ended up in a more fluid center of the spectrum” kind of presentation if they hadn’t fucking killed them off.
But, at the same time, part of me regrets not using “she” for the earlier stuff especially, because other characters take such pains to erase Nuriko’s chosen presentation, chosen set of pronouns. And there are also clear indications that she wanted to become a cis woman, at least when she was in certain headspaces.
And I know it was connected to this issue of “that’s what will make me worthy to Hotohori” and there’s all sorts of things—but we can’t get into that too much, because Nuriko is a cool older sibling for Miaka, our protagonist, and we’re never in their head. It’s difficult…
And the fact that the most interesting gender-fluidity stuff for Nuriko here at the end is tied up into: [annoyed] “I got over my tragedy and now I’m a man again, and would’ve continued on that trend if I hadn’t died!” Because that’s such a shitty stereotype, that trans people are broken.
DEE: Yeah. That’s a shitty stereotype that comes up with most queer identities. This idea that there has to be some reason, some trauma in your backstory that makes you that way. And it’s shitty. It’s bad. I don’t have anything else to add to that. It sucks.
CAITLIN: And it’s… There’s this very ‘90s conflation of gender orientation.
VRAI: Bisexuals! How do they even fucking work?
CAITLIN: What?! Bisexuals don’t exist!
DEE: Well, I mean, arguably, Nuriko is bisexual, it’s just that when Nuriko decides that they like somebody of a particular gender, they immediately switch their own gender, which is not how it works for most people. [pained laughter]
CAITLIN: Yeah. But… So I’ve been reading Baby and Me, which is another ‘90s manga, and there’s a side character whose dad is very feminine-presenting, but heterosexual. And stays at home and cooks and cleans and does all of the traditionally feminine functions. But in this manga, he says that he is not gay because he has “the soul of a man” and gay men have “the souls of women.”
CAITLIN: Which… Baby and Me was published around the same time as Fushigi Yugi. It’s very ‘90s. So, that’s sort of illustrative of: That’s just sort of how they thought of it. And now we know that’s completely wrong. That’s horrible and it doesn’t excuse it. But it’s also—it’s a product of its time.
VRAI: Well, yes and no, because the anime immediately lost points with me when it pulled out the term “newhalf,” which I… I spent a lot of this series gritting my teeth through people calling Nuriko an okama, because I assumed “newhalf” was a more recent term. It was the chosen term of the Japanese trans community until maybe five, ten years ago, and I thought that it was from the late ‘90s.
But, no. It’s from the ‘70s or ‘80s. And if you pulled out this term for a single one-off gag, you fucking knew better and you were just being shitty on purpose. And I lost all of the benefit of the doubt that I had for: “Oh, it’s from the ‘90s!” [groans angrily]
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] I wonder if that was in the manga. I wonder if that line was added in the anime. I don’t know, ’cause I haven’t read the manga in Japanese.
DEE: Yeah, me neither. I know the term “newhalf” is not used in that scene in the manga, but I don’t know if that was because they chose to translate it in a different way, or if it wasn’t there at all. I don’t know.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I mean in the anime, they don’t say “newhalf” either. In the anime they say “crossdresser.”
DEE: Oh, in the dub?
CAITLIN: Yeah. “In the dub,” I should say.
VRAI: It was just this moment of… It still sucks when stereotypes happen and it’s like, “Oh, you just have no idea of the people that you’re othering for the sake of a shit joke.” But it’s: “Oh, you did the bare minimum of research and then you chose to be a fucking asshole.” And then I was just really angry at it from that point on.
It feels like the structure of this arc is “We need to dig a bunch into Nuriko because they’re gonna die, so we need to get into all the backstory and all the secret feelings that they were harboring.” I don’t necessarily hate that they have feelings for Miaka. I like them better as a friendship, but fine, whatever. I hate the way it was revealed and tied to Nuriko’s gender so specifically.
CAITLIN: It’s awful.
DEE: It’s played up a lot more in the anime, too. That weird, shitty fantasy of them in the real world as a cis couple—
VRAI: [crosstalk] Oh, God!
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Oh yeah! That was weird!
DEE: —which is bad for a lot of reasons. Because, one, I think it’s… even as poorly as Nuriko was written, I think that scene is untrue to the character that Watase was going for in terms of the person Nuriko ends up being. But it’s like this whole—and it also plays up this element of, “Oh, Nuriko secretly really wanted to be Miaka’s romantic partner.”
And in the anime, you really don’t get that sense. There’s this sense of, “Yeah, I love her, but I want the two of you to be happy, and I love all of you, too.” It’s much more this sense of: “I found this community that I really care about and I’m proud and comfortable with you guys.” As opposed to just, “Oh, I’m part of Miaka’s harem!”
VRAI: Right. Like, [dramatically] “Ohhh, the true tragedy of Nuriko’s death is that they didn’t get a chance to be a cis dude and be Miaka’s boyfriend.” Fuck you.
CAITLIN: [deadpan] They did not get to make out with Miaka. The tragedy.
DEE: And I don’t know how to talk about this without spoiling stuff or making it sound like they collect the Dragon Balls and bring Nuriko back to life—which, they’re pretty explicit about that’s not how this universe works; when people die, they die—but we really haven’t… seen the end of Nuriko, exactly. There’s a little bit more of Nuriko’s story in the OVAs. But that’s all I can say with it.
VRAI: Which I have a different set of “hrrmms” with, but we’ll get to it.
DEE: Absolutely. And, I don’t—God, I feel like I’m trying to brush aside your concerns, and I’m not.
VRAI: No, I know.
DEE: You’re absolutely 100% right. And there’s a lot in this arc that I can’t excuse. I don’t want to even try to defend. But there’s also a lot in Nuriko’s character that resonates with me? And so it’s really difficult for me to toe that line of the personal importance that some of what happened here was for me and then the more broader, harmful elements of it. Because it is. It’s hurtful and bad and there’s no excusing that.
VRAI: Right. Well, and it’s… I think it’s fair to say that it wouldn’t have been so deeply, personally painful for me if I didn’t love Nuriko. Like, a lot. I want a universe where their character is more respectfully handled and they get to explore this issue of: “I first felt compelled to…”
Like, even if we have to take the shitty dead sister stuff, I think you could salvage something out of: “I felt compelled to present this way but then I realized that I felt it, but now I feel the need to swing the other way, but I don’t have to do that either.”
DEE: Yeah, and I think it’s an interesting conversation in terms of a character who was growing up in Dynastic China, where, obviously, there were trans people, but it wasn’t like you could get online and find out about other trans people.
So I think the idea of a trans or genderfluid character growing up in this society where the only way they really knew how to express that was through a female figure in their lives who was important to them… I think that’s a very interesting narrative thread. That’s not what the story does. But it is… Kind of zipping into the light novels a little bit, ’cause y’all know I love to bring in my esoteric Fushigi Yugi knowledge…
VRAI: This is why we love you.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yaaay!
DEE: They kind of go this route with Nuriko’s light novel, because it’s kind of—it takes place right before they join the harem. And they are in this little village and the overarching plot doesn’t matter so I’m not gonna get super deep into that. But they have no interest in joining the harem. They don’t know jack about the emperor. They don’t care.
They meet… While they’re spending time in this village with a distance relative, they meet this girl who they end up having a really—it’s like a rivalry and then they end up becoming very close. And the girl dies, because Fushigi Yugi is littered with dead women, but this girl that they met had this backstory where Hotohori, as a child, had helped her out, so she wanted to meet him and thank him for that, and so she wanted to be part of his harem. So, when she dies, Nuriko has this feeling, like, “I’ll do that in your place.”
So, there’s definitely this kind of ongoing arc with Nuriko of taking on the characteristics or the desires of these important women surrounding them. But in the light novel, one of the good things is they get to the palace, they meet Hotohori, and they fall in love with him for real. They fall in love with Hotohori for real.
So it’s not just like a: “Oh, I’m going to pretend to be gay for this other person,” it’s like, “No, I initially came here for this person, but I do have these feelings.” They are drawn to the fact that Hotohori seems kind and lonely. And we’ve talked about how Hotohori is trash. [laughs] Nuriko may not have the best taste in men, but…
CAITLIN: I mean, they were vulnerable.
VRAI: They are a fixer. They want to fix people.
DEE: Yeah, and I think Nuriko recognized a shared sense of isolation and loneliness in Hotohori that they, themselves, feel, and I think that’s sort of where that bond and that wanting to help them came from.
So, anyway, the point of that story is that narrative of a queer person not knowing how to express that in a society where you wouldn’t necessarily have access to an understanding of being trans or being gay or anything like that. I think that could be very interesting. I think it sucks that the anime does not do that.
DEE: The anime doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do. Sorry, Vrai. Go.
VRAI: No, no, just… That idea that Nuriko doesn’t have their own identity outside of helping other people, doing what other people want for them, is very interesting. I wish it had gone into that.
DEE: And it feels like it almost wants to. There’s this sense at the end of, “Well, this is the person I want to be. This is who I want to be, is with you guys.” But I don’t think it’s handled very well.
CAITLIN: There’s a really good show hiding somewhere in Fushigi Yugi. There’s a really good show hiding in there.
DEE: Crunchyroll, give me 39 episodes and a lot of money and I’ll fix it for you! I’ll do the remake! I really want to!
VRAI: Right. The thing—where I—and also, that one line in isolation that makes me really mad in context… The line that Nuriko wasn’t a man or a woman, they were just Nuriko… That’s nice in theory, by itself. But then you put it into the context of, “No. Fuck you. You were shitty to them for 32 episodes in varying ways. Fuck you.”
And I’d be more inclined to categorize Nuriko as “yes, the anime and the manga handled them poorly, but there are still some interesting ideas you could salvage out of this character” if they didn’t die. Like the fact that they do all this and then Nuriko dies makes it impossible to be like, “Yes, invest your heart and soul in this character because you’re going to see your representation dead again.”
DEE: Yeah. I was not aware of the “bury your gays” trope at the age of thirteen. So, I did not—and I think in a universe where that isn’t a trope, this is a very good, noble… This isn’t… Nuriko doesn’t die because society destroys them for being queer. Nuriko doesn’t die as punishment for being queer. It’s… Again, you can’t separate things from context, so I don’t even know why I’m talking about this.
CAITLIN: I mean, there’s room to talk about it with some nuance. Yes, this exists in this context, but also, this is…
VRAI: It’s just a case of sometimes the context is bigger than what you wanted to do with a story.
CAITLIN: Yeah. You can see what it’s going for, but this is… The context changes that. I don’t know. I think there’s room for both. And, yeah, outside of the context of “bury your gays,” it’s just a really powerful episode—and I don’t think “bury your gays” was something anyone had in mind when they worked on this episode.
VRAI: [skeptical] Ahhh… Song of Wind and Trees. The oeuvre “dead gays” manga. [laughs]
CAITLIN: I mean… Yeah. I’m not saying it didn’t exist at the time, but it’s easy to… I’m saying this ’cause, confession: I have written a story that culminated in sad, dead gays. And I wasn’t thinking about it as a “bury your gays” thing. I was thinking about it like, “I’m gonna write a tragedy.” Like, from the outset: “This is gonna be a sad romance.” And then decided to make both of the characters male because of Reasons.
You can do it without having that context in mind, and just thinking of it as something that’s tragic. But, at the same time, that context exists. And what you meant doesn’t… It does and does not matter. You know what I mean?
VRAI: Yeah. I’ve enjoyed stories that included… I enjoy The Adventure Zone, and I felt that when it had some dead gays—which it does, spoilers—it built it up very well in a way that was narratively justified. I think Fushigi Yugi is something different, where it not only had dead gays who were gays incidentally and then died, and that still played into a larger harmful trope.
Nuriko might not die directly because they’re queer, but they’re treated so badly because they’re queer and then they die nobly and speaking masculinely… Like, their brave moment is them really committing to this masculine presentation, and that is what I think… in some ways, with the framing, adds nobility to their death. Yes, it’s a great, noble death episode in isolation, but it can’t exist in isolation. It’s part of the series.
CAITLIN: Yeah. No, it’s true.
DEE: No, you’re right.
VRAI: Yeah. ‘Cause I do want to give that episode credit. It’s very well done. And I like a lot of the reactions of the rest of the cast, and there are some good lines that, if they didn’t have the context of the rest of the series around it, I’d be like, “Yeah, cool.” But I can’t. Boy, I’m gonna have a harder time being nice to this series going forward. [pained laughter]
DEE: Oh, and the next six episodes are a nightmare.
VRAI: Yeah. We’ve now entered the time where I no longer know what’s going on. So, I’m totally with a newbie viewer.
DEE: Yeah. To give you an idea… Clearly I love this show too much. And I’ve seen it five or six times. I think this is number six. I’ve only seen the next six episodes maybe three of those times? I skip them when I watch the show. We’re gonna get through it, and our listeners… Guys, if you get started, and you’re like, “Nope!” we’ll walk you through it and you can join us on the other side.
CAITLIN: We’ll tell you when it’s good enough.
DEE: We’ll pull you through this. It’s 12 rough episodes. And this arc that we had here, as we’ve talked about, has a lot of bad in it. I think there is some good mixed in with that. The six after that, there’s less of that. [pained laughter] It’s… Yeah. It’s tough. This has been… It’s a rough stretch, because it feels like they keep trying to explain and then backtrack and then go, “Oh, Nuriko’s really a man,” and then, “No, Nuriko’s both,” and it… it’s such a fucking mess. And it’s hurtful, you’re right. And it’s not…
VRAI: I am sort of interested in the fact that the manga translation they use “he” and “him” for Nuriko, right? Yeah?
DEE: No. The manga uses “she.” Throughout all of this.
VRAI: Really? Okay, ’cause I was talking with one of our contributors, who mentioned an interview with a translator where they regretted not using “she” and “her.” Maybe they were talking about the dub.
CAITLIN: So what it was was, they used “he” for most of the series. They switched to “she” for this storyline, and the translator wrote a whole column in the back of the volume about how this is… ‘Cause this was the time when it took—like, there were two chapters being translated a month for a while, ’cause it was running in a magazine. So, things changed during the course of the publication. Public perception of things changed.
And this was honestly one of my first exposures to this idea that you refer to trans people by the pronouns they want. And saying, “Nuriko lived as a woman, referred to themselves as a woman for this entire series, and we’re gonna respect that. In the Japanese, they don’t have pronouns, but we can do that in English. We’re gonna choose to respect her in her final moments by using female pronouns. We’re gonna have those characters do that.”
And honestly that was… I remember reading that so clearly, ’cause that was the first time that I had it that laid out for me. Because it was… you know, I was not hateful, but I was a little bit ignorant at the time.
VRAI: Sure. I mean, I don’t think especially younger people know how far and how fast trans activism has come in the last five years alone.
CAITLIN: Yeah! Until fairly recently it was more-or-less a curiosity.
VRAI: To put it in perspective for you guys, there was a short—the press has gone under, but in 2013, I published a short story in an anthology and my author bio used gendered pronouns because I didn’t think you could do that in a professional context. That was three years ago.
CAITLIN: Yeah. So, that was honestly a fairly formative experience for me.
DEE: Yeah. I mean, again, as much of a fucking mess as a lot of this is, I kind of had that same… that line you brought up, Vrai, about “wasn’t a man or a woman, Nuriko was just Nuriko” was kind of a revelation for me that you could just be yourself and fuck labels. And I… That’s stuck with me, like, a lot. There were times in high school where it would be like, “Hi, I’m Dee. Please don’t treat me like a girl. That’s weird.”
And I don’t… I don’t know how to… It’s complicated. But it was just that idea that, like… especially in the early aughts where there was very much that sense of “girls were like this and guys were like this,” and, you know, those social constructs around it. So, then you had this character who was kind of existing in this grey area, and this idea of: they were themselves. They were their name. And I was like, “Yeah. That. That right there. That’s good. That’s what I like.”
VRAI: And you know what? To briefly give that some credit, this is so much more nuanced and better than: What’s fucking up, Persona 4? You didn’t think I was coming for you, but I was coming for you.
DEE: [cracks up]
CAITLIN: I was waiting.
DEE: The surprise Persona 4 jump. Get ’em! I don’t have any emotional connection to this. Get ’em, Vrai!
VRAI: Well, the brief thing about Persona 4 is it thought it was doing a feminist thing but it co-opted the language of the trans experience to do a spooky “gotcha,” and I fucking hate it. It wanted to do a thing about a woman in a male-dominated workforce but it definitely co-opted, “She thinks she wants to be a man and has to do that to do this.” And I hate it, because I thought I had a cool gender nonconforming or trans dude anime character. I hate it.
DEE: Again, it’s frustrating. There’s so much in this series that is a mess. And it’s, again, reconciling that… How much of it has not aged well and how much of it was not good at the time, probably, for a lot of people. With, nevertheless, having this… impact, I guess, is difficult. And I don’t want to… I don’t want to try to mitigate it or minimize it, because I don’t think we should. I think it deserves to get dragged, and I’m glad that you talked about that on Twitter, especially, Vrai.
VRAI: And, like I said, the fact that they die… Like, I would warn trans people off of watching this show in a way that I wouldn’t if they lived and the writing just stumbled a lot around this issue.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I mean, it’s obviously something that has been very powerful for all of us in some way or another and really did affect us personally in some way or another, in both good and bad ways. It’s not… I don’t think it can be boiled down to “this is bad.” I mean, there is a lot of stuff that can be boiled down to “this is bad,” but…
VRAI: Yeah, I see what you mean. In spite of it all, Nuriko is still a character I love. Sorry. Go on.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Nuriko is a character we all love. Nuriko is a character that affected us deeply, and their story affected us deeply and made impressions on us when we were growing up. [choked up] And I’m honestly getting a little fucked up right now, ’cause I’m really sad, and I’m gonna miss them for the rest of the series, even though I can go back and watch those episodes any time. It’s not the same.
VRAI: There’s just characters that evoke, you guys. Shut up.
CAITLIN: [tearfully] Fushigi Yugi: You will feel an emotion.
DEE: You will have an emotion.
CAITLIN: I’m having a lot of emotions right now.
DEE: I’ve honestly been kind of a mess the past couple of days just thinking about talking about all of this. Because I think at a certain point, it gets—it is inevitably going to get very personal and that can be very difficult, especially when those personal reactions can be very different.
Yeah, this has been a rough one, [through pained laughter] I think, for all of us, a little bit. But we’ve gone over an hour and I think at this point we’re all just having emotions.
VRAI: Yeah, I think… So, next week, it will just be salt with no emotions. Only anger.
CAITLIN: Yeahhh, there’s not—
DEE: Next week, I’m gon’ get drunk—
DEE: [through laughter] —because that’s the only way I can get through these episodes that we’re about to get to. I’m gonna watch ‘em drunk, and then I need to be in the same mindset for the podcast, so…
CAITLIN: [through laughter] Should we do an evening recording for that, then?
DEE: That might not be a bad plan, yeah.
VRAI: Just really get that salt going.
CAITLIN: I’ll get a bottle of wine. I’ll join you.
DEE: Okay, good. Yeah, and listeners: I am not kidding. Really, we should have had this note at the end of the last podcast. This 12-episode stretch is rough. And when we get to the end of it, we’re going to go back to a more serious but still fun adventure fantasy story. We will come out the other side.
But if you start to watch this next stretch and you’re like, “Nope, can’t do it, this isn’t—no,” I don’t blame you. I will not judge you. Come to us. We’ll give you a quick recap. Let you know what happened. And then you can just pick up at the end of ‘em. We’re willing to do that for you, our dear, dear listeners.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I think it’s really unfortunate that I chose this time to write a whole bunch about how Fushigi Yugi still holds a lot of power, because we’re getting to the point where it’s just unforgivably bad.
[Everybody makes pained “Mmm” noises]
DEE: So, you have that to look forward to.
VRAI: So, the next run of episodes is six. I believe we are doing six episodes next time. Yeah, I have it starred here. It is 35 through 40. And, in the meantime, I guess that’s about us ready to wrap up, huh?
DEE: Yeah. Take us out of this whirlpool of feelings.
VRAI: All right. I’ll read us back to safety. So, if you liked this podcast, you can always support us on Patreon at patreon.com/animefeminist. A dollar a month really does help. It helps us pay our editor for the podcasts, which we can get to you weekly now. It helps us pay our contributors a fair amount. It helps us pay our editors. So it might not seem like a lot, but it really does help. Ten people giving a dollar means more than one person giving $10, if you follow me.
You can also follow us on Twitter, @animefeminist, on Facebook, @animefem, and we… By the way, if you would like to pitch to us, we’re always open for pitches on anime or particularly on manga, we would love to hear from you guys.
And I think that’s it. Thank you guys so much for joining me for this very rough, rough run of episodes.