Fushigi Yugi OVA 2 Anime Review
Fushigi Yuugi Dai-ni-bu
Mysterious Play Part Two
US Release By
6 episodes, 25 minutes each
1997-05-25 - 1998-08-25
Several months have passed since the events in the first OVA series and life is starting to return to normal for Miaka and Tamahome. As a price for living with Miaka in the real world, Tamahome has lost all his powers as a celestial warrior and all memory of his prior life in the Universe of the Four Gods, but he has re-established a strong relationship with Miaka in his re-incarnated form (now named Taka) and the two are living happily as normal high school students. But their newfound peace and stability will not last. Tenko, the corrupt god sealed away by Yui, has returned and is gathering power in an attempt to conquer Earth and the Four Gods universe as well. In order to defeat him, Miaka and Taka are pulled back into the Universe of the Four Gods, where they rejoin their old companions from the Suzaku 7 (both living and spirits of the dead) and are tasked with finding the seven memory crystals, which will return Tamahome's memories of his former life and powers as a champion of Suzaku. But time is short, as Tenko and his servants are also seeking the crystals, and if they find them first, it will mean the end of Tamahome's existence and an unstoppable Tenko rising to power as the ruler of both worlds.
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Now that's how to make a sequel. The second OVA uses pretty much the same concept as the original TV series, complete with the same cast, same fantasy universe, and same style of mystical adventure with lovable characters and sappy, over-emphasized romance. The series starts out entertaining, if formulaic, but quickly evolves and gives us a proper deep and dynamic central plot, with more than a few good twists and turns, and a satisfying end. It seems a little disrespectful to the drama in the TV series to bring the deceased cast members back temporarily as corporeal spirits, but it's hard to complain too much since fans get to see the full Suzaku Seven--a great cast--reunited and doing their thing as a team again. It also looks significantly better than any of the previous incarnations, and it even does a good job of spreading the action between Earth and the Universe of the Four Gods. The relatively short length doesn't allow for quite the epic story of the TV series, nor does it have room for much humor, but about the only real complaint is that Miaka, sadly, remains a damsel in distress incapable of doing anything useful.
Unlike the first OVA, this second outing actually looks and feels like a true sequel: A legitimate extension of the original story that develops character relationships (especially the one between our two leads, Miaka and Tamahome), has a strong enough story to stand on its own, and significant events that actually alter the course of the characters in both worlds. It's solid and entertaining, and should be a blast for any fan of the original show, plus the open-ended conclusion leaves room for another sequel.
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I'll start this off with the first thing that came into my mind when the end credits hit the screen: "Now that's how to make a sequel." The second OVA uses pretty much the same concept as the original TV series, complete with the same cast (virtually all of the main good guys and the main villain have already made an appearance), same fantasy universe, and same style of mystical adventure with lovable characters and sappy, over-emphasized romance. However, unlike the first OVA, this isn't an attempt to squeeze a few more dollars out of fans by throwing the characters back on screen with a hopelessly jumbled mess of a plot and events that do almost nothing to expand the series' storyline. This actually looks and feels like a true sequel: A legitimate extension of the original story that develops character relationships (especially the one between our two leads, Miaka and Tamahome), has a strong enough story to stand on its own, and significant events that actually alter the course of the characters in both worlds.
At first it didn't seem like this had much to offer. The series starts out with a pretty simple premise: An old nemesis is back, he wants to take over the world (or worlds), his servants are causing problems, and to fight them the good guys have to team up and go on a quest to find some magical items (in this case the seven memory crystals). On top of that, the first few episodes use the simple "problem of the week" formula, where they deal with one independent issue per episode and get a crystal at the end for a reward. Hardly epic, and with such a short series, it ran the risk of becoming stale real fast. But even as I saw this I realized something. Anyone with first grade math skills can see there are not enough episodes to use this formula for the whole thing (six episodes, seven crystals), and sure enough the story quickly evolves and gives us a proper deep and dynamic central plot, with more than a few twists and turns I didn't see coming. Furthermore, even the first few episodes were still pretty fun. There is such a thing as good filler when you have a great cast and interesting events, especially when they are connected to events from the prior series, such as an attempt to reunite the spirit Nuriko with his estranged older brother and provide closure for Hotohori's spirit and his now-widowed wife and infant son.
Speaking of which, all of the main characters that made up the Suzaku 7 are back for this OVA, including the spirits of the dead ones, and almost all of them are voiced by the original actors (only Tasuki has a new one). I've got mixed feelings about including the spirits on the team. I mean sure, I love to see the old gang together again, but the spirits of the deceased ones don't merely show up occasionally to give out advice like Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars sequels. They are full fledged team members who can fight in battle, manipulate objects, and use spells. I mean really, one would hardly notice they are dead at all (when Miaka first sees them, even she doesn't). Now this isn't really a logic issue since they exist in a fantasy world in a book, which is free to make the results of death totally different from ours. But I feel it really detracts from the significance of their deaths, as well as the significance of the survivors, when death or survival has so few consequences or even significant changes for a character's role in a story. Most fans of the original series probably won't mind, or at worst consider it acceptable tradeoff for the sake of having the original Suzaku 7 back as a team, but I felt it was disrespectful to the drama and intent of the original series, in which their deaths were very significant and had major emotional impact on the others (and quite a few viewers based on comments I've seen from major fans).
Still, once you get past that inconvenient aspect, there is no denying that this OVA has a great cast. Miaka and her companions were a joy to watch in the original series, and they are just as good this time around. They haven't really changed that much, but they still have great chemistry and are aided by the fact that a lot of the episodes have events specifically centered around them and problems left unresolved from the prior TV series and OVA. In addition to the ones already mentioned, there is also the rivalry between Chichiri and his former friend that left him with a scarred face. This was never dealt with on a large scale before, so it was nice to see it not only included and better explained this time around, but also have it be a major theme of a full episode, including a satisfactory resolution.
The only real problem I had was Miaka's uselessness. To be frank, it's getting old. I was willing to overlook it the first time around since it made logical sense: Miaka was a normal teenage girl thrust into a dangerous place with no warning or preparation, so it was reasonable that she has no useful combat or survival skills. The creators could have found a way around this by having her find some magic items (she actually did have one, which I'll get too in a bit), or powers, or something to that effect, but they had every right not too. I could even sort of forgive it the second time because Miaka probably thought she was done with the Universe of the Four Gods for good. But after two incidents in which she gets sucked into a violent world where she's attacked by kidnappers, rapists, and killers on a regular basis, you would think she would show some initiative and go learn some useful skill or trade to improve her chances for survival. But no, she's content with relying on the Suzaku 7 for everything, and they are content with keeping it that way.
Well, I'm not. It's just not satisfying to keep the central character as a helpless damsel in distress for that long. And what happened to the sword Hotohori gave her back in episode 30 or so of the TV series? The one time she used it was the one time she ever did anything useful for the team, and yet we never get to see it in use again. No training or practice was required. All she had to do was hang on to the dang thing. Oh well, at least we do get to see some major developments in her relationship with Tamahome. Their quest isn't just about restoring Tamahome's memory, but also taking their relationship far beyond what they have been through so far. Of course this involves the series ramming the "love conquers all and allows people to do anything" theme even farther down our throats than before, but still, it was nice to see the series as doing more with them than restore or maintain the status quo.
Another thing worth noting is that this is a very well presented series. The animation seems significantly better this time around. The cities and backgrounds are similarly more detailed and realistic. Also, the show features a decent array of environments. Obviously not as many as the much longer TV series, but way more than I expected for something so short. We get a nice trip through lavish cities and the Konan royal palace as well dark caves, enemy-infested plains, and some sort of alternate dimensional plane settings that are hard to describe, as well as a slew of nice shots all around the city where Miaka lives. I enjoyed that the action and events are spread between both worlds, rather than focusing primarily on one or the other.
We even get some great nostalgic moments whenever the group finds one of the memory crystals, as Tamahome goes into a flashback showing events from the TV series and playing the original show's opening theme song. At first I was disappointed that they didn't simply use it as the theme for the OVA as well, but now I think it was good to keep it confined to the parts where they refer back to it. It increased the nostalgia value and helps us reconnect with the prior events. Plus the music the OVA does have, while not nearly as good as the original beginning and ending themes, is good enough to stand on its own.
One last thing to mention is that while the cast, setting, style, and theme of the show is virtually identical to the TV series, which for the most part is a good thing, the massive difference in length prevents it from reaching the same level of quality. Like the prior OVA, this one insists on bringing back every significant character, despite the fact that they were meant for a 52-episode TV show, not an OVA of 3 or 6 episodes. The result is predictable and inevitable: There is not enough time for sufficient focus on all of them and some are somewhat neglected, such as Mitsukake (even in the TV series he didn't get to do much), Yui, Keisuke and Tetsuya. Really a shame since the last three were some of my favorites from the first series. Also, the adventure this time around isn't quite as epic or large scale, with virtually no new significant character introductions. Again there just isn't time for it. No way around that.
Less time also means there is a lot less zany humor and random jokes mixed in with the serious drama. In this case I don't think it hurt the quality, though. Fushigi Yûgi is one of those rare series that is a true master of both comedy and serious adventure, and can work as one or the other regardless of which gets the most focus. It's worth adding that the OVA has a perfectly satisfactory conclusion, with a touching, emotional ending that not only significantly develops and alters the overall plot of the franchise but also leaves the door wide open for another sequel (which there is).
Overall, Fushigi Yûgi OVA 2 doesn't bring anything new to the table, but it gives us what the first OVA should have: A solid, enjoyable, legitimate continuation of the original series. As such, it should be a blast for any fan of the original show, and a good way to make up for the first OVA's deficiencies. With such an open-ended conclusion it will be interesting to see if the final chapter in the franchise will live up to these standards. The possibility is certainly there, and this OVA shows there may be some life left for the final act of this mysterious play.
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The most obvious similar series would be Inuyasha. The similarities between the two are many: Both involve a modern teenage girl who wears a school uniform most of the time getting transported into to a fantasy version of a real setting and time period in history (In Inuyasha's case, Feudal Japan rather than ancient China) where they go on quests with a group of oddball warriors.
Notes and Trivia
After each episode, there is a segment called "Mysterious Playing Around", where some scenes from the episode are altered into "outtakes" with comedic outcomes. I found these to be pretty funny and a good way to make up for reduced amount of humor in the show compared to the original series.
There is one more sequel, a 4-episode OVA called Fushigi Yûgi: Eikoden.
Voice actor David Hayter returns in the role of Tamahome. Perhaps the most well known of his many roles is that of Solid Snake in the Metal Gear Solid video game series.
US DVD Review
Pioneer (now Geneon) had a spiffy box set that combined this and the prior three-episode OVA series in a stylish black package that matches the two earlier TV series box sets. It includes Japanese and English stereo audio and an English subtitle track.
By far the most explicit and sleazy series in the franchise, this one has some brutal violence, a fair amount of nudity (including a laughable scene where a female assassin shows up in Tamahome's house naked for no reason), and a sex scene (albiet done with still shots and not revealing too much).
Violence: 3 - Surprisingly bloody for this type of show, but consistent with the previous two in the franchise,
Nudity: 3 - A pretty high amount of nudity for a series this short,
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - The sex in this series is more than just implied, but it's not too detailed,
Language: 1 - Contains the first word of profanity I've heard in the entire franchise so far, but it's just one word.
Formerly available in North America from Geneon (formerly Pioneer) on bilingual DVD in a 3-disc box set that also includes the first OVA series (but not the third, Eikoden).
It's currently out of print, but Amazon actually had it in stock at last check, as well as reasonably-priced used copies listed: Fushigi Yugi - The Mysterious Play: OVA Box