This manga has been on my periphery for awhile now. With my manga pile receding, I took the opportunity to peruse the bookshelves at work and with a recent reminder of this title from Patrick, I picked this up on impulse. I follow Watase's Absolute Boyfriend in Shojo Beat monthly, and while I enjoy it, it's not quite at the level where I feel compelled to buy the volumes, let alone seek out other works from the creator. But comparatively, I like Fushigi Yugi: The Mysterious Play much better. Absolute Boyfriend kind of hits the same note over and over and never really does anything all that interesting, and I also sometimes get confused with the characters, particularly the boys, who all seem to look the same with similar hairstyles. I don't have this problem with many manga, but Absolute Boyfriend is really a problem, especially when a third boy joins the storyline or the "other" love interest takes off his glasses... Now, Fushigi Yugi: The Mysterious Play is different. It's an earlier work from Watase, but I definitely prefer it to where she's gone artistically. Every character is distinct, with more personality than I've seen in Absolute Boyfriend thus far, and the art is a little fuller: more background detail, more elaborate clothing design, etc. A simplified artstyle can be great too, but I just don't think Watase pulls it off the best.
Fushigi Yugi: The Mysterious Play follows a young girl who does her best to make her mother happy by studying hard to get into an impossible school. While she's at the library with a friend one night, they stumble upon a book, The Universe of the Four Gods, which claims to grant a wish to the reader if they finish the entire volume. As they begin to read it, the two girls suddenly find themselves transported to Ancient China, where a beautiful young man saves them from a pair of hooligans before rushing off, leaving them to reappear in present day Japan without witness. Miaka and Yui can hardly stop thinking about the book until Miaka has a big fight with her mother and takes refuge at the library, where she again finds herself before the mysterious book, whose next page describes the events that she and Yui experienced together on their first adventure. Miaka quickly finds herself transported to Ancient China again and is soon given the task of seeking out seven Celestial-Warrior protectors to complete the quest that the book has layed out for her before it bestows a wish upon her. Meanwhile, she meets quite a few interesting characters as she stumbles her way through a foreign land. It's really a pretty fun premise and while it holds quite a bit of promise, I just find that there's much more manga out there that I want to read before another volume of this book, although fans of Watase will find this book superior to the one currently being serialized in Shojo Beat. C+