June is really proving to be quite the month for manga collecting! Another really full week is ahead of us, fellow otaku, so loosen those purse strings and get ready for excitements such as new Soul Eater, Higurashi, 20th Century Boys, NGE: Campus Apocalypse, and of course, Full Metal Alchemist. There are even some great reprints in store, like the Phoenix Wright manga, or Tenjo Tenge, and the first omnibus version of Negima. Suffice to say that it seems like this week’s grand theme for manga is fantasy and the unreal. Well, more unreal than what’s standard for manga, anyway.
But because there is a new volume of Arata out this week, I think it’s time to shine the spotlight on the queen of fantasy, Yuu Watase. She’s already famous in the shoujo world for her fantasy epics, the most famous of which is Fushigi Yuugi (or “The Mysterious Play”), which tells the story of two schoolgirls who fall into a magical book that writes itself as they progress through the world within. That sounds all fine, dandy, and fun until the girls get split up: Miaka ends up in the land of Suzaku, where she finds out she has been chosen to become the legendary priestess who will find her seven guardian warriors and summon the god, Suzaku, to make any wish come true; the other girl, Yui, isn’t so lucky, for she ends up in the land of Seiryu, where there is a similar legend, and a group of men who attack her, a humiliation that Nagato, one of the Seiryu guardians, uses to convince Yui to betray her one-time best friend and become the Seiryu priestess for his own selfish purposes. It’s probably also unhelpful that when Yui discovers that Miaka has begun a blossoming romance with Tamahome, the Suzaku guardian who rescued them when they first appeared inside the book’s world, she becomes wildly jealous, feeling as though Miaka has abandoned her, and is more than ready to do whatever Nagato wants if it means eventually having Tamahome for herself! What unfolds is a lushly illustrated fantasy story that tells the fates of these two girls and the ones who would die to protect them. Sometimes the romantic plot can be a little grating and over-the-top, but the actual meat and potatoes of the story is pretty engaging, with lots of action and great characters. It’s definitely a must for any girl in middle school, and far more beneficial to young brain cells than the likes of Twilight.
But never fear dudes and lady-bros! If you wouldn’t be caught dead reading a mushy fantasy romance like Fushigi Yuugi, Watase-san’s got you covered. Her current work-in-progress, Arata, is actually a shounen manga and includes all the things that made Fushigi Yuugi fun, but with much more of a boyish edge. It’s the story of two boys who are both named Arata, but come from different worlds: one of them lives in a fantasy kingdom, where he has been falsely accused of murdering the princess, and the other comes from modern-day Tokyo, though he is a lonely boy that is often picked on at school, even when he enters a new high school. Both these boys don’t think their lives could get any worse until they magically find themselves occupying the other’s shoes. It’s a bit of a culture shock for both as they grow used to their new surroundings, but it is soon clear that if something isn’t done, the fate of the princess and her kingdom is doomed. Watase may be a bit out of her element in the shounen genre, but that doesn’t stop her from creating yet another interesting mythos with plenty of hooks to keep you reading. The artwork might be a bit of a shock if you’re used to her intricate shoujo stuff as well, but it has its own charm, even if it’s not as recognizable as the art she’s already famous for.
And famous she is! If you decide you’d like to check out some of her other awesome works, there’s a good selection being printed in English, such as her first big hit, Ceres: Celestial Legend, Absolute Boyfriend, or Alice 19th. There’s even a really cool prequel series to Fushigi Yuugi called Fushigi Yuugi: Genbu Kaiden, which tells the story of the Genbu priestess and the creation of the magical book, The Universe of the Four Gods, which Yui and Miaka fall into in the original storyline. Genbu Kaiden is definitely worth checking out, even if you weren’t super enthused by klutzy Miaka or jealous Yui, for Takiko is a butt-kicking girl who is a lot easier to like than the other two. The romantic plot also has a bit more tension, which makes for another interesting element to the story. It’s almost as if Watase-san retooled Fushigi Yuugi by fixing some of the things that might not have appealed so well in the original story. And the art’s even better too! Maaan, it’s people like her — how do they ever do it!?