One of things I’ve become aware of as I link reviews on Manga Views is that I haven’t written about some of the series I really like. This is due to my tendency to focus more on first volumes of series and now I’m realizing that I haven’t written much about some of my favorites like Basara, Hana Kimi, and Fushigi Yugi Genbu Kaiden.
I decided to reread Fushigi Yugi Genbu Kaiden. This series serves as a prequel to Fushigi Yugi, with a couple of characters having already crossed over to the earlier published series. I think that this story can stand on its own though. There were very long publishing gaps between volumes, and I was surprised at how quickly paced the story seemed when I read a bunch of volumes back to back.
When reading the first volume again I was struck with how efficiently Watase set up her heroine and backstory. In a dozen pages we learn these basic facts about Takiko:
She’s a school girl in the Taisho era with a hair-trigger temper and martial arts skills.
She’s disappointed in love, as her crush on her father’s former student is unrequited.
Takiko takes care of her terminally ill mother and hates her father, a novelist who routinely disappears to research his books.
Takiko’s father returns from a research trip to China with a transcribed document called “The Universe of Four Gods”
When Takiko’s mother dies, Takiko confronts her father about his behavior. She’s always felt like an unwanted child since she wasn’t a son. Her father essentially abandoned his family for his work, and in anger she snatches his latest book out of his hands and runs outside. When she tries to destroy it she’s transported to snowy mountaintop. Her father picks up the book and he sees that the story has changed. He’s now reading about the adventures of his daughter in a hostile world. Takiko appears before a girl who is tied to a pillar. The girl tells her to run, but when snow monsters appear Takiko grabs a stick and prepares to defend herself. The other girl decides to activate her wind powers, sending a powerful gust that destroys the monsters. The wind girl collapses from fever but Takiko manages to transport them to a hotel room in a nearby village. When she wakes up the next morning she is surprised to find out that she’s sharing a bed with a guy who accuses her of being very forward! The man is named Limdo in his male form but he switches to his female form Uruki when he uses his powers.
Takiko fills the role of priestess of Genbu, the woman charged with summoning the guardian spirit of the strange country where she now lives. Limdo is one of the seven celestial warriors that she must collect before fulfilling her final duty as a priestess. The plot of Genbu Kaiden will be very familiar to anyone who has read Fushigi Yugi or any quest-type manga. But I found it a much more satisfying read than Fushigi Yugi simply because when returning to the world she created years earlier, Watase brings better storytelling skills, pacing, and a more refined art style. Genbu Kaiden gives her a chance to improve on the story in a number of ways. Takiko is a much less annoying heroine than Miaka. She’s more capable and even though she has plenty of problems of her own to deal with she finds her own meaning in the idea of being needed by the people of the country she was abruptly transported to. Although it seems obvious that Takiko and Limdo will end up falling in love, there isn’t a huge emphasis on romance. Limdo uses his convenient gender switching to serve as a double agent with Takiko’s potential enemies, and she spends most of her journey with the celestial warrior and ex-bounty hunter Tomite searching for their destined companions.
Many of the celestial warriors are ambivalent about their fate. The populace of the country is split in opinion about the idea of the Priestess of Genbu. Some think that she’ll be their savior and others think that she heralds the destruction of the world. I always thought that Watase had a flair for action scenes, and in many ways there is so much fighting and adventuring in this manga that it doesn’t feel like a typical shoujo book. One of the things I liked about Genbu Kaiden was the greater variety of character designs for the celestial warriors. Miaka was surrounded by a harem of handsome men, and while plenty of Takiko’s warriors are cute there are some interesting oddities like Hatsui who shoots deadly quills out of his body and spends a great deal of time rolling around in a spherical cage. Naname takes the form of a doll-sized stone man and there’s even a woman warrior which is a refreshing change.
Within the major story of Takiko’s quest each celestial warrior has their own story arc. Limdo is a rejected prince, hunted by his former kingdom due to a prophecy at his birth that he would grow up to kill his father. His only companion has been his faithful retainer Soren who acts as an older brother to him. Takiko and Limdo’s romance is overshadowed by the knowledge that they will eventually part and their roles as priestess and celestial warrior don’t permit the type of relationship they both want. Tomite is able to get some resolution to his past when he meets the lost warrior and his former friend Hikitsu. Inami moves on from a life of prostitution and the warrior Urumiya carries a secret. Seeing relationships develop between the warriors is fun, as friendships start appearing between unlikely characters like Inami and Hikitsu.
Opposing armies march through Takiko’s adopted country and the populace is afflicted by famine and plague. Anyone familiar with the previous Fushigi Yugi series knows that the ending to Takiko’s story will not be happy. As the celestial warriors come together as a team and begin to fight for their country an element of melancholy hovers over all the super-powered action. The characters gradually realize that summoning the god Genbu might not be the solution to everyone’s problems.
The most frustrating thing about Genbu Kaiden is that it has been on hiatus in Japan. So there will likely be another long gap before the story is concluded and translated over here. But the first nine volumes are an effective fantasy adventure. I’m looking forward to and dreading the conclusion to the story because I think the conclusion of Takiko’s and Limdo’s romance will be bittersweet.