I'm the first to admit that I am not drawn to "typical" shojo anime. For those not in the know, shojo refers to manga, anime, or other materials created directly for the female market--they can encompass any genre of story and often include traditionally shonen (male) elements, but they are created with young girls in mind as the target audience. The best known example of a shojo title here in the United States is Sailor Moon. Certain stereotypical things that show up in shojo, such as a teardrop on the character signifying that the character is nervous, are just sort of silly to my brain, and they've been one reason why I've often avoided the more obvious offenders. Thankfully, Fushigi Yugi (which is also translated as Mysterious Play here in the US) is a shojo title that might just change my mind.
Fushigi Yugi starts in a typical Japanese junior high school. Miaka and Yui are best friends, and they are typical young kids...Miaka is obsessed with junk food, for example. Through a series of events, the two start reading an old book about a Chinese legend. As they read, they are suddenly physically wisked off to a new and strange land, which happens to be China of long ago. When they arrive, they are attacked by bandits, but the mysterious rogue Tamahome intervenes. He appears to be helpful, but he makes it clear that he's really into saving people for the money. As Miaka fishes for some money to make him happy, Yui is transported back to the present day. She continues to read the enchanted book--which becomes the story of Miaka--in the hopes of bringing her lost friend back to their world. As the first series of episodes progress, we see that the appearance of Miaka signifies a time of great change for the empire. She becomes friends with Hotohori, the young emperor himself. Unfortunately, there's lots of problems caused by the fact that many important things she has to do have been prophecied in the lore of the land. She starts by trying to unite several warriors that can bring peace to the land...and when their love interests start getting entangled, watch out!
Fushigi Yugi follows the convention of The Neverending Story (which I consider to be one of the best fantasy films made) in that a main character has to read through a story to complete a real-life adventure. Although that convention starts the story and continues throughout, that's where the similarity ends--and honestly, that's not a bad thing. Fushigi Yugi doesn't have a great first episode, to be honest--the dub, which is all I had access to, was grating at the beginning, and the main character wasn't really enthralling either. It followed some of the typical shojo conventions, and I was bracing myself for the worst. However, the second episode picks up, and by the end of the fourth episode, I was hooked. The show can be serious, but it is often drop-dead funny. The art style itself is good, though the frame rate is a bit low, and you can tell certain techniques they used to shave a few corners and make their budget. Though it won't win awards in that category, the story picks up nicely, and you can actually tell slight changes in characters within the first few episodes. Although young kids might find the artwork cute and the antics funny, the 13+ rating is appropriate, as there are some violent scenes as well as some very basic scatalogical humor.
This show is coming to DVD here soon, and it's quite a steal. The set contains the first 26 episodes of the series, which is the first half of the show in total. Though it will retail for $199.95, it can be found for as low as $120 online. Considering that either dubs or subs of the whole thing on VHS would run you around $190 or more, it's really a good deal. If you absolutely dislike shojo, you will still find things in this show to dislike. If you can handle a small amount of shojo stereotypes and get to the center of the story, it looks like it will be a blast. In some vague ways, such as the art style, it reminds me of Tenchi Muyo. I always thought Tenchi Muyo started great and then went downhill a little bit; it looks like Fushigi Yugi might just make the uphill climb.
Fushigi Yugi Vol. 1 -- violence (mostly mild), mild lechery -- A-