Original versus Prequel...
Warning - spoilers. If you're new to FYGK and are looking for a story summary, click here The following is intended for those who've read some of the series.
I'd say most Fushigi Yuugi Genbu Kaiden fans watched or read the original Fushigi Yuugi series years before. Psh. Most? We ALL know the old cast. We remember Tamahome, Tasuki, Nuriko and ChiChiri (no da!). We were there when Amiboshi fell, when Nyan Nyan first popped into the air, and when Miaka palmed a certain cross-dresser's chest and discovered he was male. Whether you liked Fushigi Yuugi or not (a more uncertain assumption), there was enough there for you to take a chance on it's prequel.
So what makes them different? What makes Fushigi Yuugi Genbu Kaiden more than the dim ghost of a best-selling series?
Let's start with something tangible... the art! Wow has Yuu Watase changed technique from 1992. The original Fushigi Yuugi sported a style reminiscent of Naoko Takeuchi, creator of Sailor Moon. The two mangakas were, and still are, in communication.
Fushigi Yuugi characters were drawn with longer, more angled faces and wider-spaced eyes. They could often be distinguished only by hair color and length.
After creating series' like Ayashi no Ceres and Alice 19th, Watase was able to branch away from her standard character template. Her style will always be immediately recognizable, but the variety and command she has over it has grown tremendously.
Another difference is the story itself. Miaka and Yui had it easy. Genbu Kaiden takes places two hundred years earlier in the Universe of the Four Gods. Takiko becomes a priestess in an era where her seishi are hated for their powers, and their demon god is seen as a plight and curse. She is hunted from DAY ONE by assassins and finds little refuge in the populace she's supposed to protect. Her journey is not one of laughter or cute, side-story plot arcs.
Like the story, the characters are dark and troubled. Takiko's seishi - Uruki, Tomite, Hatsui, Namame, Hikitsu, Inami and Uruimya - all have painful pasts and jaded views of their cold province.
Uruki is a wanted man responsible for a thousand deaths. Hatsui is found trapped in a dungeon with memories as self-inflicted torture. Namame joins Takiko's ranks only after the death of Anru, his longtime companion. Inami is discovered working in a brothel, again joining through the death of a friend, and Uruimya are actually two brothers, seperated and puppeted by enemy strings.
Of course I'm glossing over much of their trials. There's so much more suffering our main characters endure in their quest to summon Genbu.
The canon relationship of both series' is another stark contrast. Takiko and Rimudo have some romantic tension in the beginning, but their feelings are slow-building and subtle. Miaka falls in love with Tamahome immediately, and soon he's running around crying her name in anguished worry every time she's in danger. This difference highlights the more mature audience Watase is writing for with Genbu Kaiden, as well as the depth of her two heroines.
Which leads to the biggest difference between these two series', that of Miaka and Takiko themselves. Miaka enters the book and is immediately beloved and protected by Konan. She often seems helpless and needs to be rescued. Takiko travels to the Universe of the Four Gods only after her mother dies, and her father admits he wished she'd never been born. Landing in a province of perpetual winter, Takiko uses a naginata (or other spear-ish type weapons) to defend herself on a regular basis. When she starts getting sick with tuberculosis, the same disease that killed her mother, Takiko keeps it to herself to shield the people around her. Everything she does is for others and her selflessness, compassion, and determination are what motivate the Genbu seishi to join her.
I loved Fushigi Yuugi when I was younger, but Fushigi Yuugi Genbu Kaiden has kept me hooked far into adulthood. It is a triumph of Yuu Watase's and hopefully will be made into an anime one day.