I had no idea what this show was about going into it. I had a vague notion that it had something to do with a girl getting sucked into the fantasy world of some book, but other than that I was clueless. I only started watching because it seemed to be pretty popular so I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Now that I've finally seen it, I can see why people liked it, I'm just not one of those people.
The story starts out with these two girls -- Miaka and Yui -- getting sucked in the this book called "The Universe of the Four Gods". The world inside the book is comprised of four kingdoms, each of which has an associated god. Eventually Yui leaves and Miaka becomes the priestess of the kingdom of Konan and it's god Suzaku. Miaka then has to to gather up 7 guys who are supposed to be her guardians in order to summon Suzaku who can then send her back to the real world. Along the way she falls for one of her guardians -- Tamahome. This makes Miaka questions whether she really wants to go home or if she wants to stick around the book-world to be with him. Things get all the more complicated when Yui gets sucked back into the book and becomes the priestess of a rival kingdom called Kutou and it's god Seiryuu. Kutou wants to conquer Konan, so Miaka and Yui are now rivals. The one who figures out how to summon their respective god first will gain the ability to grant their wishes and either bring peace or destruction to both worlds.
The first half of the show covers Miaka's search for the Suzaku Seven, and there is a lot of focus on building Miaka and Tamahome's relationship. The problem is that there is just so much concentration on romance that it seemed to slow down the pace of actual plot development. First there is the a love triangle between Miaka, Tamahome and Hotohori -- another one of the Suzaku Seven. Then, once Miaka settles on Tamahome as her one true love, much of the rest of the first season is dedicated to them fawning over one another. I mean, I enjoy romance in a story as much as the next red-blooded American lad, but it's like the show can't go five minutes without reminding the audience how infatuated Miaka and Tamahome are with each other. As a result, each episode seems to drag on forever because so much time is dedicated to sappy dialogue and there was less time for actual story and characters development.
The second half of the series threw me for a loop because both the pace and the overall tone shifts dramatically while the story seems to focus on two overriding themes: death and sex.
Characters -- both good and bad -- start getting knocked off left and right as if the show is on a mission to finish off as many characters as possible before the last episode. As a result, the second half actually feels rushed.
The second half also starts to sex-up the story, as Taiitsukun -- the controller of the book-world -- suddenly tells Miaka that she can't get intimate with Tamahome because it would negate her priestess powers and she wouldn't be able to summon Suzaku. And before you know it, Miaka and Tamahome not only have to keep their carnal urges under restraint, they also have to resist the mind control spells and unwarranted sexual advances of the guardians of Seiryuu. It makes for an awkward shift in the storyline that seems forced and awkward. I mean, how old is Miaka at this point anyway? Like 14?
The story makes other odd shifts in its plot and tone. For instance, during a the more dramatic scenes, the characters suddenly shift into SD form and do some comedy-relief antics. It's intended to balance the drama and release tension, but the comedy is poorly timed and ends up deflating the drama instead of balancing it.
The characters themselves are an odd mix of personalities, but most of them seem like unnecessary extras. Out of all the Suzaku Seven, the story seemed to focus most on Tamahome, Chichiri, and Tasuki. The others are just kind of there and after their introductory storyline, they don't really do much. Chiriko is probably the most pointless character out of all of them. He's supposed to be the wise one in the group, but I don't remember him ever offering any significant nuggets of wisdom, or really doing anything at all come to think of it.
The one thing that I did like about the second half though, was when Miaka's brother was trying to find out about the history of the book. That part was interesting, I only wish that it had gone further into explaining where the book originated. *sigh*
The animation quality is average. Though on the plus side, the quality didn't really drop all that much, so at least it was consistently average.
The music is also fine, but nothing extraordinary. One thing I do have to say though, is that the opening theme is extremely catchy and I still find myself humming the opening line, "Duh duh duh duh duuuuuh... Su-za-kuuuu.... Mi-ri-cu-lu-laaaaaa.... "
The show's ending actually is pretty good. It is a a good climax to the story both emotionally and in the action, so I thought it was pretty satisfying. Though the very end was kind of confusing, but maybe that will get more explanation in the sequel OAV series.
So when it's all said and done, I thought this was a very strange show. Although I can see where it would appeal to it's target shojo audience, for me the story was too slow-paced and/or disjointed in its storytelling. Of course, that's not going to stop me from watching the two OAV series, just to see how everything ends up....