Hi everyone, today we’re reviewing The Story of Saiunkoku Volumes 1 and 2. The manga series just finished recently last year and in the past one of my school friends had recommended it to me. It slipped my mind until I glimpsed it on the library shelves and decided to grab two volumes for a spin. To be honest, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.
“Long ago, amidst the chaos when demons and spirits ran rampant… there came a young man who set forth on an endless journey. He fought the monstrous beings to protect the people, hoping to bring peace and security to the land… but there were always those who needed his help. And so his journey continued on. Then one day there appeared before him eight great sages, whose hearts had been moved by his quest…”
The story takes place during the fictional empire of Saiunkoku. The land is divided into eight different noble colours: Ran (Indigo), Hong (Crimson), Heki (Jade), Ko (Saffron), Haku (White), Koku (Black), Sa (Brown) and Shi (Violet). The people live in poverty because of the political uncertainty and instability within the royal family. Shurei Hong is a descendent of a noble family that has decided not to partake in the conflict of choosing a political heir. They too live in poverty but only because of the Hong family’s immense generosity to the villagers and common folk.
The bits of history tell us that after a tenuous period of conflict, the sixth son has come into power. His name is Shi Ryuki, a passive and flippant man who seems to take an interest in men instead of women. Due to his lack of motivation, the Emperor’s Grand Advisor asks Shurei to be the emperor’s royal consort to help him learn how to rule as a good emperor. Shurei, having lived in poverty all her life (and is rather hilariously stingy) agrees. Shurei is accompanied by Seiran Shi, her servant whom her father found as a boy and raised in the household. He becomes Ryuki’s bodyguard. We also meet Koyu Ri, a hotheaded character assigned to the emperor who at first dislikes Ryuki because of his apathetic attitude to governance, as well as Shuei Ran, Koyu Ri’s close friend and another imperial official and some other older officials.
BEWARE SPOILERS BELOW
Overall I found the volumes really slow paced until the end of the first arc when the plot to kill Shurei is discovered and Ryuki reveals himself to be an intelligent and capable fighter. The other characters are all pretty separated, but that’s also due to the fact that they reside within the imperial grounds and the palace is huge. I found the names of the characters rather confusing at times, except for Shurei and Ryuki who we see very often. The story bounces back and forth between the different officials and their thoughts on Ryuki as the new emperor.
Character-wise, Ryuki and Seiran really stand out to me so far. They are linked because it’s later hinted that Seiran was really Prince Seien who was the second of the royal princes who had been exiled. Upon returning to the palace as Shurei’s servant, he is content with his new life and maintains, even to Ryuki, that he is not Ryuki’s elder brother, though he dotes on Ryuki the most. It is also interesting to get a bit of depth to Ryuki’s personality, his reputation for carelessness and promiscuity p men as a social defence mechanism to combat the social pressures of his family and expectations of the court.
The main protagonist, Shurei Hong, can be seen as a down-to-earth, earnest and hardworking poor girl however I feel as if her moments of depth where she speaks of her past story to Ryuki are inconsistent in relation to the clumsy and often outspoken side of her. While I know that characters in manga and anime are exaggerated to provide comedic relief, I don’t think Shurei’s personality is very three-dimensional to the point where contradictions can exist, or at least, not in the first two volumes anyway.
For shojo readers who are interested in feudal era stories or historical political drama, I think you’ll really enjoy Saiunokoku. I wouldn’t label it a reverse harem just because ancient palaces were dominated by men and there was a only a small handful of women able to move freely within the court, one of whom being the Emperor’s significant others. Definitely shojo with usual comedy and romance; it’s kind of like a slice of life in ancient times. Slice of life of an emperor’s consort? (LOL) Perhaps fantasy, I haven’t seen any mention of magic except of legends and superstition which are typical of stories in these settings.
I appreciate the depth of patriotism and righteousness behind the inner workings of the court that dominate the story however I feel that the theme might be a bit overdone and there needs to be new elements or angles to the story to attract its viewers. Fans of ancient Korean dramas that take place in the palace like Dong Yi or Dae Jang Geum should like this story.
Hopefully I have introduced some of you to a new favourite because I do have many friends who like this series very much. Please like or follow for new reviews and rants that come daily! Thank you so much for reading and I will speak to you guys soon!
What are you pondering?