One of my recent resolutions was to try to revive my atrophied Japanese langugage skills. I was trying to make myself study in a very painless way so instead of pulling out any of my 4 or 5 Japanese textbooks, I decided to try to read some manga in Japanese. One of the things that makes Japanese very difficult to master at the beginning is the sheer number of alphabets you need to memorize. There are two phonetic alphabets with 48 letters– one called hiragana is used for native sounds/words and the other, katakana, is used for imported words like pizza. Once you have memorized both sets of phonetic alphabets, you can move on to learning kanji, Chinese characters that have either a Chinese (onyomi) or native Japanese (kunyomi) pronounciation depending on the word that you are reading. This is why even at my best I never got much beyond the reading level of a young Japanese elementary school student. Well, my failings in my knowledge of the Japanese language are also due to my hatred of memorization and laziness 🙂
So I’m reading Fushigi Yuugi Genbu Kaiden in Japanese, or at least trying to. One nice thing about reading untranslated manga is that often the kanji will have the relevant hiragana printed right next to it. So you can sound out how the kanji would be pronounced, and if you already have a rudimentary Japanese vocabulary you can figure out what is going on, or just use a good dictionary to look things up.
Fushigi Yuugi Genbu Kaiden is a prequel story to Yuu Watase’s long running manga Fushigi Yuugi about a girl named Miaka who finds a mysterious book at the library and finds her self transported to the world in the story, the Universe of the Four Gods. In this world, which resembles ancient China, four countries are watched over by four different guardian animal gods. Only a priestess from another world has the power to summon the god, and the priestess always seems to be procted by a gang of mostly comely young men, who have magical powers and are all marked by a unique Kanji that relates to the sign they are connected to in the Chinese Zodiac. Whew! For more about Fushigi Yuugi, take a look at The World of Fushigi Yuugi
Fushigi Yuugi Genbu Kaiden is set in the 1920s. The heroine of the story is named Takiko Okuda. In some ways, she is the typical spunky Watase heroine. She loves to train at martial arts, and clobbers her classmates with her enthusiasm. All isn’t well at home though, her mother is seriously ill, and her father (a writer) has been away from home for years. Takiko has a tendency to become enraged if anyone mentions her father, as she feels that he abandoned her family. Her closest friend is Takao Osugi, who is also a friend of her father. She’s in love with Takao, but since he is much older than her and has a wife and child she can’t do anything about her feelings.
Takiko’s father suddenly returns home, but he doesn’t seem very concerned about his sick wife or his daughter, as he is frantically trying to finish translating a book from China, “The Universe of Four Gods”. Takiko’s mother dies and she is furious that her father doesn’t seem to care, she grabs the book that her father has been laboring over and tries to rip it in half. The book opens and emits a bright light. Takiko is drawn inside the book and it slams shut.
Takiko finds herself on a snow covered mountain. In front of her is a girl chained to a stone piller. The girl advises Takiko to run away quickly. Some very scary snow monsters appear, and again the girl tells Takiko to run. She seems strangely unconcerned about her own fate, even though she is chained to a piller as a sacrifice. Back on earth, Takiko’s father picks up his book and sees that the story has changed. He’s now reading about the adventures of his daughter in another world.
Takiko thinks that she’s having a bad dream, but she picks up a stick from the ground and prepares to defend the helpless girl. The girl mutters to herself that she’ll have nightmares if she lets Takiko be killed, and suddenly gusts of wind come out of nowhere and break her chains. The girl uses the power of wind to defeat the monsters, but then collapses with a high fever.
Takiko picks the girl up and starts to take her to a nearby village, but she almost collapses herself. A child suddenly appears, greets Takiko as the Priestess of Genbu, and helps her on her way. She gets a room at an inn, still mystified about not being in Japan anymore. Takiko removes the girl’s clothes and notices the character for woman on her chest (å¥³). She decides to treat the girl’s fever by removing her own clothes and getting into bed with her. I seriously wonder if body heat is a good way to treat a fever. Perhaps the good doctor over at Polite Dissent could clarify this? Theoretically, if you were trapped in a world without modern medicine, would getting into bed semi nude with your fever afflicted patient help? Or is it just an excuse for some fan service? As they sleep, the sick girl’s å¥³ mark fades away and Takiko wakes up in the morning in bed with a boy (Rimudo) who comments that she’s very daring!
As the story continues, Takiko and Rimudo (the boy with the Ranma 1/2 like tendency to gender switch) get to know each other a little better (not that way!) and she wonders what to do, as everywhere she goes in this strange new world, she is greeted as the Priestess of Genbu…
There’s a very detailed site on Genbu Kaiden mantained by a fan in Austria, it was a good crutch for me as I was working through this book. I was able to read some sentences with ease but there were several times that I got bogged down, and there is an English translation of the dialog available there, as well as summaries of the characters and some scans of some of the comic pages.