Tuesday, July 14, 2015

You Never Read the Same Story Twice -- How I Changed Since the First Time I Watched Fushigi Yuugi

When I particularly like a story, it is not unusual for me to revisit it again years later.  Some stories are just like old friends that you sometimes get a cup of coffee with when you're in town. You chat, you catch up, you reminisce. Then you part ways again, vowing to get together more often but that is really just a formality because you both know you probably won't. It is still nice to see them again, though, and you can gauge just how much they stayed the same and how much they have changed. And counter to that, you may even see how much you have changed too -- hopefully for the better. 
I hope there is hot cocoa
That is the benefit I get from rewatching an old movie or a beloved TV show or replaying a video game. Usually, while I may be familiar with plot points, I tend to get something completely different out of it since the last time I experienced it. Much like that old friend, I find I changed and see the world differently than how I once did. It is a great way to assess where I am in my personal growth. Characters I loved, I may find annoying or vise versa. Jokes I found funny aren't now but I picked up humor somewhere else. I noticed a theme I didn't notice before, etc.

Certain media, I practically make a ritual out of it. I watch Avatar: the Last Airbender at least once a year. I play Final Fantasy X every couple of years. Scrubs is another one I will watch again. There are others. Each time, I get something different out of the experience. I'll attach myself to a different character. I will notice a theme that speaks to issues I am trying to work out at that point in time and find comfort in it. I will experience nostalgia which will make me call an old friend I haven't spoken to in a while. Maybe call my parents for once. I find it cathartic.
For the record: Scrubs is probably my favorite sitcom. Although I find it gets sadder each time I watch it.
This brings me to my latest rewatching of an anime called Fushigi Yuugi, translated as the Mysterious Play. This 1990's anime is about a klutzy, gluttonous school girl named Miaka Yuuki who on a trip to the library picks up a mysterious book called the Universe of the Four Gods. The magical book drags her into the world within the pages in which she takes on the role of the Priestess of Suzaku -- a girl from another world who must gather the seven celestial warriors of Suzaku and summon the god who will grant her three wishes. At first, it seems like her wishes will come true -- literally. But then it turns out her best friend Yui Hongo also finds herself sucked into the book and becomes the Priestess of Seiryu, the god who presides over the country currently at war with Suzaku's country.

It is essentially a reverse harem anime.
Fushigi Yuugi has earned the distinction of being the first anime outside the American cut ones like Sailor Moon and Pokemon that I got heavily into. It pretty much sealed my status as an anime fan for several years after during my time in college. I took the show as Serious Business. I wrote fan fiction. I participated in the fandom. I just absolutely loved it. I watched it several times. I plastered my side of my dorm room with pictures from it. I used to heat up brown sugar pop tarts when I watched it to the point whenever I smell the sugary sweetness, I recall the FY opening or when I see the FY opening I associate it with that smell.

*CRASH* Soar High... Suzaku! Miracle La!
Then, when I began to watch other anime, I slowly became disallusioned with it. FY is anime trope heavy and I began to see how it wasn't that different from other anime. Fushigi Yuugi is unapologetically fan servicey and wish fulfillment which borders on meta -- after all Miaka's love Tamahome is just a character in a book. However, I honestly think that is the story's strength. It is just an action heavy, shojo story filled with love, adventure, and magic. As I wrote before -- there is nothing wrong with wish-fulfillment.

As I said -- fan servicey reverse harem anime. Choose one! Write self-insert fic. But I will judge you if you choose Chiriko in the lower left corner there.
Still, though, I began to see FY's flaws and sometimes problematic plot points and grew highly critical of it. Slowly, pictures of FY in my dorm room were replaced by Rurouni Kenshin and then Naruto and Fullmetal Alchemist.
Kenshin may have shades of Walker, Texas Ranger but at least Kaoru is a real person. Also, RK is another I revisit often
Years later, when I was stationed in Germany, something sparked me to purchase the DVD box set of Fushigi Yuugi. I watched it and I actually enjoyed myself. Yes, there were still plot points that bothered me but overall, I enjoyed it again. I even found that there were certain aspects of the narrative that actually were quite brilliant. The idea that once the priestess makes her three wishes, the god consumes her is pretty cool -- as is the fact that the secret is kept from both Miaka and Yui throughout most the narrative. Nakago is a pretty complex villain. Maybe I was a little unfair to Tamahome as a character. And Miaka does eventually mature by the end of the anime. She also has control over her fate when it matters (as does Yui) which is a lot more than can be said of certain female heroines in other current nuggets of pop culture (I'm looking at you, Twilight).

That brings me to this recent rewatch. And I must say, I realized how much I have changed since age 18 when I first popped the fansubbed VHS into my VCR. How much I have grown. And I still maintain that while FY can be problematic (and in some cases it shows its age in that way), the overall plot, character building, and world building are quite amazing. Each of the four countries in the book have distinct cultures. And while the characters possess anime tropes, many of them are quite compelling -- particularly Nuriko, Suboshi, Amiboshi, and Nakago. Even minor characters interest me enough that I get asking questions.

Like the Genbu seishi guarding the Shinzaho. Why does Hikitsu wear an eye patch? Does he have an eye? Why is Tomite always smirking? Is he hiding porn in his quiver? Or is it just indigestion?
Firstly, I grew to appreciate the theme a lot more. A friend of mine in college once said he loved FY because it was about love -- specifically, what love is and what love isn't. Love isn't being the Nice Guy (tm!), expecting something in return. Love is wanting your beloved to be happy even if it means letting them go. And love is not necessarily romantic love as love between friends and comrades is also a strong force. When my friend made this argument, I was a highly cynical 19-20 year old who just liked FY's fights, story, art, and characters. I couldn't care less about the love dectagon. I believe I may have mocked him for his assessment. Love is dumb. Or love like that is dumb. It's sappy too. 

I realized watching it this time, he was right. FY is about the force of love and all the forms it takes -- and also how it is often used as a disguise by envy/jealousy, anger, and resentment. When you give into those emotions,  it can poison you. And once I realized it, I felt like I was watching an entirely different show.
For instance, I find it interesting how Amiboshi acts like Miaka's Calypso and offers her that temptation to run from her problems and live contently with him. I found many similarities to FY and the Odyssey.
Also, I kind of realized how much I grew by which characters I attached myself to. I tend to do that with every story I get myself into. There is always just one character I connect to/relate to.

 When I first got into FY, I was a huge Chichiri fangirl. I stupidly spent forty bucks in an auction for a Chichiri pencil board. Long story. Chichiri has the distinction in FY to be one of the few people who did not romantically fall in love with Miaka. He is a monk so is very nonsexual. When you learn his back story -- in which his involvement in a love triangle of his own caused the death of his bff -- it is no surprise he looked at the love decagon in front of him and said, "No Thanks." He's the voice of reason for the Suzaku Seishi and often provided counsel to everyone who needed advice. He also provided quite a bit of comic relief by acting like a mysterious trickster monk.
Also, there is something just relateable about a character who hides scars behind a smiling mask -- in this case quite literally
I saw myself as Chichiri. I kind of did keep off to the side -- or I felt I was anyway. Like I felt like I was involved but wasn't at the same time. I always tried to be that good listener and provide advice for my friends. And I thought myself pretty humorous. Don't get me wrong, I still like Chichiri now but I found not as much. I actually found he could be a dick sometimes. I also got additional insight this rewatch that his scar was due to the fact that in the past -- he was the Yui. That is why he pushes Miaka to "save her". I didn't make the connection before simply because I liked Chichiri so much and disliked Yui so much. Chichiri is probably the most mature of the Suzaku warriors -- but he is the most broken. And it is because he made the same mistakes Yui did -- by giving into resentment and jealousy.

In addition to Chichiri, I also favored Suboshi. To be fair, I do find Suboshi to be a very compellingly written character. If the Shakespeare quote "I am Fortune's Fool!" is written for anyone outside Romeo, it would be Suboshi. The poor kid did what he thought he had to do. I don't think he thought what he did was wrong -- just the justice he thought was due to him. And I thought it was so ironic that he killed small children to avenge his dead twin brother -- who is not dead after all. But also, I related to Suboshi's frustration and anger. I always felt like nothing ever worked out for me even when I thought I did everything right. More ironically still -- I really wasn't doing things as right as I thought it was back then.

When I rewatched FY when I was in Germany, I found myself connecting to the emperor Suzaku Celestial Warrior Hotohori. I think a lot of this had to do with the character arc Hotohori goes through. He has in his mind that the Priestess of Suzaku would save him from loneliness and love him. However, Miaka chooses Tamahome. He tries to get her attention -- does some admittedly nice guy tactics -- but then gets shot down by Miaka saying to him, "You can't order other people how to feel" which also works as a theme in FY. Then, Hotohori realizes that Miaka is right and now he has to do what is best for his country. He moves on and dives headlong into his emperor duties and marries and has a kid.

My connection to Hotohori is really simply because I was in the military at the time. Part of being a soldier is you have to put being a soldier first above your own happiness. Additionally, I did feel rather lonely at the time. His story still was interesting because Hotohori still had this idea of what will happen in which everything will just work out for him. He had a plan but it didn't work out like he hoped it would. In Germany, I had learned that lesson. You make plans but life happens and you are forced to abandon most of them. Optimistically, things kind of work out for him -- for a little while. Life goes on and if what you expected doesn't happen, it doesn't mean that you cannot find happiness in life's little surprises.
Also, Hotohori is gorgeous and so am I, bitches.
This time -- I found myself being drawn into Nuriko's character arc more than anything. Nuriko's character is the one that probably developed the most. He starts off as a catty, clever, cross-dressing courtesan.  Once he gets passed his own issues of jealousy (envy?) over Hotohori fawning over Miaka, Nuriko is an extremely good friend. He is almost always consistently there when people need help -- probably in part due to the fact he is incredibly nosy and often seen eavesdropping so is usually only a few steps behind anyway. But still, he's always there, even when he is not physically there.
Oh haaay
The episodes leading up to Nuriko's end, he realizes just how much he loved his fellow celestial warriors -- in particular Tamahome and Miaka. And while he didn't get the guy (or girl) in the end, he understood that love takes on different forms other than romantic. He could be Tamahome's big brother. He could be Miaka's best friend. He could be an outstanding friend to the rest of the Suzaku Shichiseishi. This type of love is not less. And it is his love for them that allowed him to move the obstacles that needed to be removed. Literally, actually.
"Don't Underestimate Me"
I guess that is where I am now in my life. It is very difficult to not think about romantic love when most of your friends are married and having kids. And the guys you meet are either taken or you see why they're single (like Nuriko, I'm very picky). But even if those things would be nice to have, I have incredible love for my friends. And that love is not lesser by any means. Love itself takes on many different forms. I'm not loveless. I am loved. And I love.

I came to realize I am no longer that bitter 19 year old who felt someone owed them a favor or saw all love as sappy because I didn't have the kind I expected. I'm surprisingly less cynical than I used to be -- cautiously optimistic fits me best. Being cynical really got me no where, just made me angry. I feel like I understand what love is a lot more than I used to and because of that, I respect it more. And because I respect it more, I allow myself to experience and distribute it more easily. Sadly, I had undergone this change because I had lost someone I wish I said, "I love you" much more than I did. Life is too short, really.

What this viewing of FY showed me is how much I have grown from a jaded, angsty teenager to a cautiously optimistic adult. I've come a long way. As always, there is a room for growth. No one is perfect. And relapses happen. I stand by that. I feel content by noticing this growth within myself and empowered to continue my life long project to constantly better myself.

FY itself is not as bad as I thought it was in my backlash phase. Don't get me wrong, Fushigi Yuugi's animation has aged terribly. Dear god, the Miaka/Tamahome back and forth is rage inducing sometimes. Why is there almost as much references to rape and attempted rape as there is in Game of Thrones?

Mitsukake... thank you.

1 comment:

  1. I was re-watching FY last month, and similar to you blown away by how much more differently I read into the characters - but also appreciating how seeing these characters (not just here but in anime in general) really did lead to me understanding myself differently - like the world was a different place for me because of these characters and in the end it did me a lot of good. Similar to you I was really attached to Noriko this time (always on the Chichiri and Tasuki wagon in high school) - not just because, yeah I think his story got overlooked by the Hotohori and Tamahome drama, but like you mentioned he teaches a lot about love and the idea of love needing to be vulnerable to be full.

    Also, in retrospect, to have this gender-fluid trans and gay character just exist, without much question and concern about the need to define those things (and this happens a lot in anime in general, not just FY) - now as an adult I can see myself saying "oh yeah. These were the first stories I related to and made sense of myself and other things through. Wow." Even if the narrative was problematic at times and had a lot of issues - to be a child who just ran with it and didn't really retract or not accept these things was overall good for me, and FY is part of learning these lessons, as silly and otaku-cringe inducing as that can sound.

    So giving credit to an old show, similar to how meeting an old friend makes you realize how they helped you grow up - it is a really powerful feeling.