Monday, March 12, 2012

review: Saiunkoku Monogatari

by Sai Yukino (illustrations by Kairi Yura)
Rating: 5/5
manga: 8 (ongoing);
anime: two seasons with 39 episodes each
Mature content: no
Genre: Shojou(-ish)

Like Koukaku No Regios this anime also is an adaption of "light novels", a book series for teens. So far there's 22 books - but they haven't been translated into English.

It is set in an ancient Asian country, which is divided into eight parts, governed by eight families, who are named after colours. Nine years ago there was a civil war in which all but the youngest of the sons of the ruling family were killed. So the country is left with the scars from a civil war and a very young emperor, who shows no interest at all in reigning his country.
Young Shūrei and her father are really poor, even though belonging to one of the most powerful family clans (their poverty a result of helping the commoners during the civil war). With them lives Seiran, who is a mixture between a servant and soldier and a family member. Shūrei dreams of working as a civil servant - but women aren't allowed to take the entry exam. To make ends meet, she takes up several jobs and when a high court advisor offers her a large sum for a temporary job at the palace, she immediatly agrees - without yet knowing that this job will be living at the court as a consort to the young emperor (who according to rumours prefers men over women) in order to motivate and teach him, basically to make a good ruler our of him.

At first the anime looks a lot like a reverse harem or like one of these series modeled after an otome game: a young girl surrounded by lots of good-looking men. But there's more to it.

More than the romance series it first looks like, Saiunkoku Monogatari is a fantasy and adventure series. The plot contains intrigues, power struggles, manipulations. There's some fighting and some magic here and there. I think it's a very good and entertaining mixture. There are dark moments, but in the end everything turns out alright (more or less). There's a few very funny scenes, too (usually caused by the emperors bluntness or Seiran being a meanie).
Also the female characters are actually normal, not whiny and dumb; many of them are even quite powerful. That's something rather rare and I find the absence of whiny, stupid characters with huge tits very refreshing.
All characters have their strengths and weaknesses. They're not black and white, they have some depth, while most of the time still staying clearly on the good or bad side.

Shūrei might be a bit naive sometimes - after all when the story starts she's only 16. But she's clever and frank, very hard-working (I wish I had just half of her energy) and most of all she's a very good speaker. Though sometimes it seems like she becomes too much a "legendary hero" sort of character, always full of energy, never giving up and always winning in the end.
Among my favourite characters are Seiran, Kōyū and Rin Sai-Tei. The latter doesn't have a big part in the story, but I think she's a very interesting character. Kōyū is a genius, but has a hopeless sense of direction. He has a bit of a short temper, but I really like his friendship with Shūei Ran. Seiran is absolute eye candy, an amazing fighter and always there for the ones he loves. But on the other hand he can be quite mean and absolutely ruthless and definitely has a dark past. What I think is confusing about Seiran is that I can't pierce together his past, when he came to Shūrei's family he looked a lot younger than he should have been.

Unfortunately I had a little trouble keeping some characters apart, with some names sounding very similar - that they are written with different kanji doesn't help me. In the anime the colour coding of the families (people tend to wear the colour of their clan) helped a little, but since the clothes are rather colourful it didn't help much.
I also find it very hard to judge the age of the characters. There seem to be either old or young men at the court, but maybe it only looks like that because the middle-aged men look very young (with the exception of Shūrei's father).
There are a few events that are confusing in the anime, why certain people show up and what their connection to other characters is, why people do or don't do certain things, what their motives are, etc. The manga explains things a lot better, so if you liked the anime I definitely recommend getting the manga.
But those are all minor drawbacks, nothing that really spoils the joy of reading or watching Saiunkoku Monogatari.

I really can't wait for the next manga coming out in English - and I really hope they won't stop publishing for a long time.
I wish the novels were translated and the anime available on DVD (Region 2 with English subs), too.
Saiunkoku Monogatari is not getting the attention it deserves.

TV Tropes
Free manga preview at

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