Fushigi Yuugi: Genbu Kaiden by Yuu Watase

Back in sixth grade, the entire class almost religiously watched the anime Fushigi Yuugi every Friday night and then talk about it in groups come school day. The classroom would be filled with lively chatter about what happened in a recent episode, most especially when my best friend at that time would bring along merchandise such as posters, action figures and copies of the English translated manga itself she tirelessly looked for so she can share them with me. At first it started with the girls but pretty soon the boys joined in, mostly because the anime is scandalous in itself, featuring semi-nude and acceptably sensual scenarios that are not that aggresively sexual.

It's a love story about the star-crossed lovers Miaka and Tamahome that got the girls hooked while it's an action-adventure fantasy that the boys could enjoy. Three years ago, I re-watched the anime again and the nostalgic charm was still there. I was compelled to read the manga and also pick up the other spin-off series and I was glad I did because Yuu Watase creates really riveting female-centered stories. Though the very first Fushigi Yuugi is my first love, the third and final installment of the series Genbu Kaiden was ultimately the greatest love of my life, shoujo manga-wise.

I could compare the first FY to a high school boyfriend. He was your sweetheart and you grew up together but he will always belong in the past. Genbu Kaiden is the man you eventually settle down with and marry, and together you are partners celebrating and honoring your sacred union no matter the difficulties of every day life and obligation. This is resonant in the deeply contrasting ways Yuu Watase wrote the love stories between Miaka and Tamahome, and Takiko and Rimudo; the former was the definitive young love that often consumes itself and burns quickly while the latter is the kind of love that knows there are worlds outside its scope that are just as meaningful and so the lovers become mature enough to accept their relationship should not be codependent and they don't end up entiterly losing themselves in each other. They have other important relationships outside one another, and decisions to make where their love for each other sometimes don't have to be the only priority.

Takiko is the very first maiden to be whisked away during the 1920's in Japan, transported by the magical Book of the Four Gods into ancient China. According to an old legend, a woman from another world will appear as a prophecy foretold where she will become the priestess of a certain country, a representative of one of the four gods, depending on the geography she will make her appearance in. In the first FY, high schoolers Miaka Yuuki and her best friend Yui Hongo took the mantle as priestesses for Suzaku and Seiryuu of the South and East Kingdoms respectively. For Takiko, she became priestess for the West, representing Genbu. The storyline for this manga follows the same formula as its predecessors Fushigi Yuugi and Ayashi no Ceres where the young, impressionable maiden gathers the seven warriors of the god they are aiming to summon. The story dictates that the priestess is allowed a wish if she successfully gathers all warriors and summons the god. It's a premise as predictable and universal as any hero's journey, only this time making the hero in question a heroine and she always develops romantic feelings for one of her warriors, almost always the first one she encountered the moment she gets transported. The central conflict lies in how they endure the varied tests and threats to their blooming romance.

The same thing happens to Takiko in this manga, much like Miaka was with Tamahome. The glaring difference, however, is the characterization and development of their individual arcs and as a couple's relationship. I would like to believe that Watase has learned from her mistakes with handling Miaka and Tamahome's love story which was essentially a really flawed and superfluous one.

"I'm sorry but I don't have magical powers of my own that you can absorb from my body. That light you see is simply my heart's way of expressing how devoted I am in becoming the priestess. And nothing will take that away from me."

As a supposed prequel to the original FY but written much later on, Genbu Kaiden retains a freshness and vitality to it most likely because of its lead character Takiko. Unlike the unassuming Aya, clumsy and fickle Miaka and the vengeful Yui, Takiko was instantly likable and admirable in her courage and purity of the spirit. I think it's her family situation that enabled her to deal with things more maturely. Her mother has consumption while her father has always been neglectful of her, always buried in his work. Her unrequited love for a childhood friend remained unfulfilled after he married another woman, leaving Takiko generally all alone and ignored. After her mother fully succumbs to her illness and dies, Takiko's father returns but was more concerned with publishing his latest translation on an old story about the Four Gods of Ancient China than attend to the funeral arrangements. Angry and betrayed, Takiko takes away the copy of the book from her father and boldly questions him if he wished she was a son and if she was indeed male, perhaps he may have paid attention to her; even love her. Her father acquiesces that this was true which forever devastated Takiko beyond words so she tries to rip the book in two but ends up getting magically transported within its pages.

In ancient China, she encounters a strange man who can control the winds and even turn physiologically into a woman. She then meets one of the bounty hunters looking for this person and was caught up between their rivalry immediately. Later on, she discovers the purpose of her coming to this land; about being a prietess foretold to save the kingdom from destruction and ruin. Unlike Miaka who agreed so she can wish herself home or Yui who wanted to take revenge, Takiko readily accepted the prophesy as her calling because of the most heartbreaking motivation ever: SHE WANTED TO FEEL NEEDED AND BE OF USE TO PEOPLE. She cared for her sick mother as a young girl and never felt like her father wanted her (which she had confirmed before coming to China) and was relieved--joyous, even--to feel like she can help people if she took the role of the priestess, not fully aware of the consequences and repercussions of such a role. It's all because Takiko's inherent brokenness lies in her desperation to give love and hopefully, mercifully, receive a piece of it in return.

In spite of such a sad and seemingly defective trait, this is actually what makes Takiko such a well-developed and compelling heroine to root for. This girl is unafraid to pick up a weapon and fight. She has some training in kendo so she is capable enough to hold herself during duels which is great to see because she never has to be a helpless damsel in distress all the time. Most of all, what I believe is the most amazing thing about Takiko is her compassion that enables her to identify with people's suffering and spiritually heal them. In Genbu Kaiden, people consider the priestess prophesy to be a bad omen. Anyone they discovered to be one of the potential seven warriors of Genbu was shunned, ostracized, exploited or driven away from their homes. This is the greatest challenge of Takiko's journey in finding them: some of these warriors already hate Takiko because of her priestess role and would never join her cause…until Takiko finds a way to touch their soul and make them believe they have a place in the world, that they do belong and they matter.

I get so choked up in every encounter she has with a Genbu warrior who all have tragic tales to tell about being outcasts and victims of their fates. Reading Takiko reaching out to them and earning their trust and devotion is so wondrously thrilling and emotionally resonant, further strengthening my admiration for Takiko. She is a person who knew rejection so well and has become loving and patient because of it. Each Genbu warrior knew rejection themselves firsthand; either through their own families or at the hands of their own clan/community. Takiko finds them and saves them, gives their lives meaning and urges them to fight not for glory or reward but merely for the sake of their countrymen even though many of them despise the Genbu warriors for what they are.

Takiko is never discouraged. She continues to thrive and serve her role faithfully…even if it meant never having a proper relationship with Rimudo, the first warrior she encountered and who gradually captured her heart and made it soar heights she never would have fathomed possible. Much like Takiko, Rimudo has upsetting daddy issues; his own father is having him hunt down to be killed all because of the prophesy that guarantees Rimudo will be his undoing. This is what initially drew the two together other than the usual physical attraction. Rimudo likes Takiko's ferociousness in accomplishing her tasks and the passion imbued in every selfless act of hers. Takiko likes Rimudo because he is burdened with a tragedy he constantly tries to overcome, and surprises her every time he puts aside his self-interest to lend her a hand in her calvary. Pretty soon these feelings deepened until they could no longer hide from their respective masks and costumes as renegade crowned prince on-the-run and savior priestess for long and they professed their love as they make a promise every day to stay in love even if duty and the upcomig civil wars have to be prioritized. I love the fact that they are both of independent will; they don't get so obsessed with each other that nothing else matters. Takiko and Rimudo were never selfish people that sometimes when they do get a little selfish, I encourage it because both deserve some kind of happiness as young lovers.

Genbu Kaiden is understandably not a happy ending in the romance side of things, at least not in a conventional sense. Takiko and Rimudo may love each other so much but have accepted that they could never be together at least not in body. The priestess after all has to be virginal. They could never be wholly together in heart and spirit either because Takiko is steadfast in fulfilling her role as priestess of Genbu and securing peace for the country. And, because Rimudo loves her for her unique courage, he decides to fight by her side for the good of all even if it meant losing her in an ultimate twist: if you have seen FY anime before then you know the price of summoning Genbu. Once Takiko discovers it, she never wavered from her obligation. She readily accepts its steep price and gives herself to the fate awaiting her to save her friends and the country and its people she has learned to love and be fiercely protective of.

Overall, Genbu Kaiden is intricate, heartfelt and engrossing with well-rounded characterizations composed of sensible conflicts and small yet satisfying resolutions in between. It has an empowered lead female character who is unafraid to define her relationships and not the other way around. It has an elegantly resonant and moving love story as its centerpiece but in spite of its love-story trappings, Genbu Kaiden is also a story about rejection and acceptance both from self and others as well as the transformative powers of friendship and community.

You can start reading the manga HERE and I hope this review will convince you. It's such a spellbinding tale about love in all its beautiful and often painfully cathartic forms. I guarantee that you will fall in love with Takiko as a person and root for her and Rimudo because they are inspiring individuals who luckily happen to be a romantic couple. The other Genbu warriors are also endearing and special in their own ways and their separate relationships with Takiko enhance the magic and poignancy of the narrative.



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