Spending time after school in the local library is a great childhood experience, and one that a lot of people, myself included, recall fondly. But in the story of Fushigi Yuugi (eng: Mysterious Play), a humdrum trip to the research library is the opening of an epic adventure that doubles as a dramatic coming-of-age tale. Based largely on the 'Four Kingdoms' saga and on Chinese astrology, the story centers on two schoolgirls who flee the overwhelming pressure of Japanese high school entrance exams (equivalent in importance to British high school exams & American college applications) in favor of more conventional dangers in the fantasy book-world of 'The Universe of the Four Gods'. The very stars are brought to earth in a way, as the girls must journey throughout the kingdoms searching for the human avatars of the gods, the celestial warriors (jap: seishi).
As seekers of the seishi, the girls become divine representatives themselves, each taking on the mantle of chief priestess (jap: miko) of her respective god. With 18 volumes of manga (japanese graphic novels) and 52+12 episodes of animation though, there is more to the story than a simple missing persons search. Without giving too much away, the girls become embroiled in political and emotional drama aplenty, with kings and mages at their side and responsibility for nations weighing on their shoulders. There's a fair amount of comedy and action around to balance the tragedy and melodrama, but be warned that on the whole it's not lighthearted fare. Also, a word of caution if you're a little obsessive - this story is terribly addictive and wholly engrossing. I do know some people who only watched a couple of episodes and turned away in boredom or annoyance, but most folks come back asking for more, even at 2:00AM during finals week!
As far as availability and merchandising goes, the television series and straight-to-video mini-movies (OAVs) are all in current VHS and DVD release by Pioneer Animation and the comic version is published in magazine form and graphic novel form by Viz Communications. In Japanese, there are also illustrated novels available that focus individually on key characters in the story as well as a 'Fushigi Yuugi: The Next Generation' (not the real title...ha!) story that is enjoying a mixed reception by fans. The variety of objects both useful and frivolous bearing the likenesses of Fushigi Yuugi characters is vast and well-charted territory. There are the usual posters, pencil boards, stickers, and my favorite, playing cards, as well as dolls, keychains, pendants, hats, T-shirts...you name it, they've got it, and you can buy it, if you like. Also, several artbooks containing pictures, sketches, and comments from the author, Watase Yuu (family name first, japanese-style) are in circulation, with varying proportions of manga-art (mostly pencils, like the header picture above), cover art (vivid pens, the majority of what you might find on the 'net), and animation-art (ink & paint cel work, not as detailed as the others, but good background work and landscapes).
The jewel of this humble site is An Explanation of the Banner, in which I briefly (and humorously) describe the celestial warriors and their supporters. Someday I will do a specific page on The Mysterious Lovers, that is, the priestess-schoolgirls and their good right-hand men (Miaka, Yui, Nakago, and Tamahome). For anyone interested in anecdotes, I've included one here on How I Entered the 'Universe of the Four Gods'. And although it's rarely updated, I also have a short page of Fushigi Yuugi Links to get you started on your journey. So let the page be turned and may your wishes be granted!
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