Saturday, June 27, 2015

Manga Review: Saiunkoku Monogatari

Left to Right: Seiran Shi, Ryuuki Shi (the Emperor), and Shuurei Hong
Perhaps one of the greatest things that can happen to an avid reader such as myself, is being recommended a good book. About one month ago, I decided to pick up the manga series, Trinity Blood. I am still in the process of reading it (I'm on volume 10) but while I added the volumes I had read to my account, I noticed that Goodreads had a list of manga it was suggesting based on my choice. One of those manga was Saiunkoku Monogatari, or, if we go by its English name, The Story of Saiunkoku. 

The story is set in the fictional kingdom of Saiunkoku, where according to legend, a great hero saved this land from chaos with the help of the Eight Sages. Each sage represented a different color. Saiunkoku's eight provinces were then named after these Eight Sages and each noble clan from each province took on the name of the color as a surname as well. Shuurei Hong is a descendant from a noble clan whose father works as an Imperial Archivist. However, Shuurei must work odd jobs in order to make ends meet. One day, she is approached by an royal advisor who asks her to become a Royal Consort for 6 months for a hefty sum. Shuurei hesitates, but the noble quickly makes it clear that her only duty would be to get the young Emperor in line. At 19 years old, the Emperor refuses to complete his duties and does not study seriously. This has caused a huge burden on his advisors. Furthermore, the Emperor is gay, so Shuurei would not have to worry about nighttime visits. 

How is that not an interesting premise? I was insanely curious to see what would happen with Shuurei and with the Emperor. Shuurei is a strong and smart girl who takes on the challenge head on. Her interactions with the Emperor were interesting and while it started out as a love story (because Shuurei's family has a very loyal servant named Seiran who is very protective of her. He doesn't stop her from becoming a consort but he doesn't exactly seem pleased about it either), it quickly becomes something more. I think I became even more interested once we moved away from the Emperor and started to look into the politics at play behind the scenes. There are many individuals vying for power and the very first instance in which you see this is actually during the 6 months Shuurei is a consort. 

Kouyou Ri and Genera Suuei Ran
receiving the flowers from the Emperor
that indicates his trust in them.
 The artwork in this story is absolutely stunning. I can not tell you how many times I stopped to admire the "pretty pictures." The manga is full of beautiful men, but Shuurei is never overshadowed by them. She is the main character of this story and we promptly follow her journey into this world of royalty and politics. As someone who has always dreamed of becoming a civil servant despite being a woman, she is ecstatic when she learns that the new Emperor has proposed to allow women to take the exam. This twist in events really makes the entire story much more interesting because now, as a reader, you're seeing what it's like for the first woman to enter the political power play of a kingdom that looked down on women as incapable to lead/rule. Shuurei keeps her head up and remains proud of being a woman, never letting her sex stop her from taking the exam and surviving the grueling post-examination period.

While Shuurei has many "protectors" she doesn't necessarily rely on them, in fact, there is a scene where Seiran tries to comfort her and she literally pushes him away, saying that she must learn to be strong on her own and not rely on him to "make everything ok." Seeing as this manga, while based on a fictional kingdom, mirrors the dress and set-up of Chinese Empires, I found it pretty awesome that the author decided to delve into the idea of powerful women among the nobility that refused to back down. And it's not only Shuurei, there is a prostitute by the name of Kochou, who wields a significant amount of political power in the underground. She never stands down to any man and while she is a prostitute, she does not let her profession define her; if anything, she is the one to tell Shuurei that she must embrace being a woman and not let her sex stop her from achieving her dreams as a civil servant. One of my favorite scenes is actually when Kochou gives Shuurei make-up and teaches her how to apply it. She tells Shuurei that she should apply make-up when going to court because it's a woman's armor. Kochou explains that when a woman wears make-up she cannot cry because if she does, the make-up will be smeared and ruined. In this way, she teaches Shuurei that she must never allow herself to show weakness and to be proud to be a woman.

Kou Houju and Hong Reishin, powerful
nobles in the court.
Overall, I really liked this manga. It was absolutely amazing. However, there is something that really bothers me - it doesn't end properly. Nope, at the end of the 8th volume (the 9th volume is a collection of short stories that doesn't continue the main storyline), there are indications that there is something more to come. Shuurei is to go on a journey, one that is sure to be wrought with danger and more political power play. However, the manga ends and doesn't tell us what happens to Shuurei from here. After some research on the internet, I found out of course, that the manga does not cover the entire storyline. The light novel collection is 18 volumes long, meaning that is chronicles a much longer length of time than the manga series. I found this quite disheartening as the light novels are entirely in Japanese. How am I supposed to finish this amazing story and learn about what happens to Shuurei?! I've looked up the series and I can buy it through Ebay but I'm second guessing weather or not I want to buy it since again - IT'S ENTIRELY IN JAPANESE! I mean, I can read Japanese, but not that well at all and this is a light novel that is sure to use many characters that I have never seen before. *sigh*

On the plus side, the anime series does complete the story from the light novels. If I remember correctly, there are 2 seasons. I haven't watched the anime, but I hear there is an English dub? I personally prefer subs, but I don't know if I'll pick it up. I already have a huge list of anime to watch so I don't know if I'll watch it at all. However, it's definitely something I will consider especially if I don't end up buying the light novel series. I really loved this series however and I definitely see myself attempting to complete the story in one way or another. I definitely recommend it and can only hope that someday, someday, it's made into a drama because it would be AMAZING as a period drama :)

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