Nobuo TobitaKouji IshiiHiroko KonishiTomoko Kawakami
Fushigi Yuugi - OVA I
Medium: OVA, series
Year: 1996
Director: Hajime Kamegaki
Original creator: Yuu Watase
Studio: Bandai Visual, MOVIC, Pierrot
Actor: Hikaru Midorikawa, Kae Araki, Juurouta Kosugi, Nobutoshi Hayashi, Tomokazu Seki, Yumi Touma, Akemi Satou, Atsuko Mine, Atsuko Tanaka, Chika Sakamoto, Hiroko Konishi, Hisako Kyouda, Katsuya Shiga, Ken Narita, Kouji Ishii, Kyoko Hikami, Midori Nakazawa, Nobuaki Fukuda, Nobuo Tobita, Ryuzaburo Otomo, Shinichiro Miki, Takehito Koyasu, Tohru Furusawa, Tomoko Kawakami, Yuji Ueda
Keywords: Fushigi Yuugi, anime, fantasy, reverse-harem
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 3 episodes
Website category: Anime 1990s
Review date: 13 August 2014
It made Tomoko abandon any idea of continuing with the other two Fushigi Yuugi OVAs, but I thought it was rather good, underneath. There are some interesting ideas here. Unfortunately its final episode spoils everything and its omake comedy bonus bits are so unfunny that they diminish your opinion of the entire franchise.
Firstly, the main story. I'd been looking forward to seeing how the OVAs tackled this, because I thought the Fushigi Yuugi TV series was unsequelisable. That had a huge, world-shaking plot, after which there's no way back. It finished. The gods more or less had their Ragnarok. Most of the heroes died. The countries went to war and one got annihilated. Obviously it wouldn't be impossible for a particularly cheap writer to bludgeon, cheat and reset-button their way back to an earlier status quo, but I'm talking about writing a proper sequel, not just self-plagiarism. Could these OVAs find a way?
Answer: yes, although ironically it started out just as plot polyfilla. The anime's finale had differed from the manga, so to continue with Yuu Watase's story (as they wanted to), the producers needed to drag the anime's plot back in step. Hence this first OVA series.
Nonetheless, I admire what they came up with. They're embracing the fact that everything's changed. No one's in denial. Fushigi Yuugi's two worlds (reality vs. the book) are separated by different time rates, i.e. weeks might pass inside the book for just a few real-world hours. What would be the book-world equivalent of even a few days for us, then? Generations? Similarly, certain characters only exist due to reincarnation and/or spirits, in ways that even now aren't completely clear to me and could easily have ramifications of a kind this OVA explores.
Episode one is set-up, then episode two digs deep into a freaky Twilight Zone idea. I was fascinated. It's intriguing, not to mention disturbing and scary. It shows us paradoxes that look impossible and make you think you must have misunderstood something, or else you've uncovered the biggest plot inconsistency in all anime. (How many years have passed? One or fifty?) Episode two also gives us the best character of this OVA, i.e. Kaen, the girl who loves Nakago.
Yui meanwhile grows sinister green eyes and I was looking forward to seeing the explanation behind all this... until the explanation came. Oh. Well, that was good while it lasted. It's the flattest, least interesting explanation possible. It makes perfect sense and it's fairly evil, in its way, but there's nothing challenging about it.
Episode one is okay. Episode two is creepy and mind-bending. Episode three, though, is a mess. The story throws in another god, a new supervillain, resurrected heroes and yet another splitting-up for Miaka and Tamahome. All in twenty minutes or so. It doesn't work. Theoretically it's a strong plot, but unfortunately it's being shovelled us too fast to seem meaningful, or in some cases even plausible. I didn't believe in the Miaka-Tamahome tragedy for a millisecond, despite the episode trying really, really hard to sell it to us, because the breakneck pacing had made it too offhand. You can't pull tragedy out of nowhere in twenty seconds and expect the audience to buy it. It needs setting up. Episode three doesn't understand that.
Had they done this as a six-episode series, like OVA II, it would have probably been great. Had they been able to think up a satisfying continuation for episode two, it would definitely have been great. As it is, though, it's disappointing.
Oh, and I don't like Tasuki. Admittedly the point of the character is to be loud and kind of annoying, but for me he achieves the latter just a bit too completely.
I was amused by Miaka putting on her school uniform to return to the book-world, though. This is logical in the rules of the Fushigi Yuugi universe, but there's potential for kinkiness if she kept doing that year after year. What if Dorothy had to do the same to return to Oz, for instance? "I was only eleven back then, so no bra."
Then we have the terrible omake comedy segments. ("Omake" means "bonus", "freebie", etc.)
All the Fushigi Yuugi characters, alive or dead, are in the real world and going in two buses to a hot spring resort. No, there's no explanation of how they got there. It's just out-of-continuity silliness, c.f. the fourth wall breaking and the notion of the characters being their own anime voice actors. They banter and squabble in a way that should theoretically be funny, but isn't. In fact, it diminished my opinion of the cast, if this was the funniest the production team could be with them. A good ensemble cast should dazzle and sparkle. This lot plod. The only place I laughed was where the omake was taking the piss, with "Tamahome!" "Miaka!" "Tamahome!" "Miaka!"
Oh, and the third omake segment takes us into Carry On territory in a country that's for women only. In fairness, surprisingly, this is true to the manga. It never made it into the TV series, so it's here instead. However here it just means cheap gags, although admittedly it's amusing to see the cast in drag. I should also note that the production team confound expectations by avoiding hot spring nudity, but this is explained if you remember the target audience. Fushigi Yuugi is shoujo manga. Its assumption is that girls want to see hot boys, not other girls with their clothes off.
NOTE: it might be funnier in the English dub. That's conceivable.
Is this a good OVA series? No, it's a cock up. The production team drop multiple balls with a clang that could wake the dead. However there are two excellent (unrelated) stories in here, one in episodes 1-2 and the other in episode 3. Admittedly the first story ends in an ugly anticlimax and the second story is being steamrollered by its running time, but there's still a lot of potential in there and I like the ideas being explored. They've found a way to sequelise the unsequelisable. That's worth a look, surely, if you don't mind the fact that it's fundamentally a different beast to the original series and isn't even really aiming to reproduce all the things people loved about it.
As for the omakes, I won't tell you not to watch them. They're only five minutes and you might laugh. However you'd be advised at least to put some distance between them and the main episodes, which aren't improved by being put back-to-back with ham-handed, unfunny cartoons.