Story of Saiunkoku 4

September 3, 2011

Kairi Yura / Sai Yukino – Viz – 2011 – 7+ volumes

This story continues on its way pleasantly, with the right balance of light plot movement and character development. It’s more of a… romance, I suppose, at this point than it is a fantasy series, since the setting is somewhat secondary compared to the characters. But the romance is fairly secondary at this point, too. Mostly, it’s just about the characters and their motivations, and I feel like I’ll never get tired of the little stories that keep unfolding. I’m not even annoyed by the ever-increasing cast, which is unusual for me.

There are a few bombshells dropped in this volume, so it’s not quite as it sounds when I say there’s light plot movement. The true identity of Ensei is revealed, and I was fairly surprised by it. He’s not at all who I thought he was, and I loved that the identity that was essentially the exact opposite of what I expected worked that well. I can’t say too much about this, since I’d spoil the volume, but I liked that he surreptitiously guided people into position all the way to the end of the volume, and the climax of his story was a lot of fun.

There’s also a lot more information on Kijin Ko, the Minister of Finance that Shurei has been working for. We get to see under the mask. I was wrong about this too, but in this case I’m a little disappointed since I feel the real reason he wears the mask is exaggerated for comic relief. Whatever. He’s an interesting guy, though, and I enjoyed all the political conversations he had with various characters here.

There’s also a little side story about Shurei and her mother, a side story about the two sons of an old friend of Shoka’s, more information about the new law allowing women to take the civil service exam, and yet another meandering story about the Emperor’s growing feelings for Shurei, and what he’s doing to try and win her over. All of these stories are interesting, and this is what I mean when I say the plot moves slowly. They’re all fairly important storylines, and it’s interesting that they all seem to resolve themselves in one way or another before the plot moves on to something else. I never found myself frustrated when the story focused too much on a side character rather than Shurei, though admittedly that’s because all the stories still involve Shurei. I think the origin of the series as a novel is most apparent here, but it’s interesting to me that the adaptation is well-written enough that all of this still comes across rather seamlessly, and with not a whole lot of talking heads, in the manga.

The huge cast doesn’t bother me as much as it normally does, but I do begin to forget character names after awhile (especially those of the Emperor’s two aides, I can never remember them), and I was beginning to get antsy when Shoka began talking about his old friend out of nowhere, then the story introduced his sons. They don’t really have much bearing on the plot, so I’m not quite sure why they were included at all. But they were still pretty charming, and I loved the way they eventually made the whole storyline here wrap around Shurei, so maybe they were necessary.

It felt like one of the novels “concluded” in the second-to-last chapter of this volume. The original novel series was 18 volumes long, and I’ve only noticed two of these “conclusions” so far. Are we really only at the beginning of the third novel, in terms of the plot of The Story of Saiunkoku? I’m definitely still interested in all that’s going on, but that… seems so long. And I almost feel like I might begin to lose my grasp on things if many more characters or complicated politics are introduced. That’s definitely its charm, and it makes me happy that I can still pick up volumes randomly and am able to jump right in, but… again, there’s only so much of that I can personally take.

But right now, this was another enjoyable volume, and I love that this is simultaneously an easy, enjoyable read, but also has a lot of “meat” on it in terms of plot. It’s definitely worth looking at if you like more substance to your shoujo manga, and I’m happy that it’s maintained its quality through the first four volumes.

But I do wonder: the “conclusion” to the first novel ended the first part of the story, which was essentially a romantic comedy. This story segment had a lot of character and setting development. I wonder if the next part will also be completely different, in terms of tone? I’m very curious.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

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