Tale of Saiunkoku (epidodes 14-26)

April 14, 2010

Plum Blossoms (top-left: morning, top-right: evening, bottom: by moonlight)

This post covers episodes 14-26 of Tale of Saiunkoku season one. Since this review covers the middle third of the season, it should be considered to contain spoilers, especially for the first third. If you want a spoiler-free introduction to the series, please read my review of episodes 1 – 13 instead.

Now that Shurei has passed the civil servant exam, she finds her dream to work as a bureaucrat challenged by those jealous of her performance on the exam. Shurei and Eigetsu, are harassed by senior officials, and given jobs unsuited to their excellent performance on the exam, such as cleaning toilets and polishing shoes. Despite their unfair treatment, the young bureaucrats struggle to do the best job they can, only to find themselves caught up in a conspiracy, and this time Shurei isn’t the only Hong clan member targeted.

Shurei and Eigetsu work through the night.

As befitting the middle third of a story, these episodes show Shurei coming into her own, and struggling to overcome adversity in the career she has chosen. The romantic possibilities of the reverse harem also become more evident, and Ryuki isn’t alone in making his interest in Shurei apparent. Furthermore, now that the setting has been established, and Shurei’s plot advanced, the show can take the time to develop secondary characters (such as Koyu Ri) in greater detail.

During this middle third, the show introduces a supernatural element. It is difficult to know what to say about it, since it is such a small part of everything that has happened. To me the introduction of this element is jarring, it seems out of place. Perhaps it was necessary to introduce it because it will be utilized in the final third.

Final thoughts: Shurei’s story really develops in this second third. While the first third gave the impression that her story would be that of the underdog princess who gets a chance to present herself to the king, this middle third makes clear that her story is that of her struggles to succeed in a career of her choosing. Whereas various romantic plot lines twist their way through the story, ultimately that story is one of Shurei’s service as a bureaucrat in the service of the empire of Saiunkoku. I found that a refreshing change from most shows available, and look forward to completing the first season.

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