Story of Saiunkoku 5

March 21, 2012

Kairi Yura / Sai Yukino – Viz – 2011 – 8+ volumes

This story is, if nothing else, not afraid to take its time. I do appreciate this, and I love fantasy manga that are content with a slow pace. World-building takes time, and it’s something that needs to be done right in the very best series.

Having said that, this volume opens with a story about Shurei being ill, where all the characters convene to dote on her and swap memories. I suppose after all the excitement of last volume, a break is necessary. But the series already has so much of this mixed in with the regular stories that a whole chapter where absolutely nothing happens feels quite excessive.

And by the end of the volume, Shurei has still not taken the civil service exam. I was pretty disappointed with that. The story has set up something of a romance between Shurei and Ryuki, and as it stands now, not only is Shurei completely uninterested in Ryuki, there haven’t really been any opportunities for the two of them to get together, nor does it appear to be possible even if Shurei passes the exam. I’m not sure how this will be dealt with. Now, I don’t demand romance in everything, and I would be perfectly fine if this didn’t include it. But the first volume set this series up to be a fantasy romance, and I quite liked it. That element has been absent ever since, and I find that I’m missing it. Worse still, it seems like it’s not coming back. Except… there are still signs, like the fact Ryuki dotes on Shurei. Either do it or don’t, but I’m annoyed by the approach so far.

The storyline in this volume involves a mysterious boy named Eigetsu and the pleasure quarters in town. I really enjoyed these parts, especially Kocho, the head courtesan and overseer of the pleasure quarters. Shurei is acquainted with her through her job as a financial adviser for Kocho’s establishment, and Kocho is a woman who was born to take charge of situations. The storyline goes that Eigetsu, a young boy, wanders in from out of town and is brought to Kocho’s brothel. He doesn’t have any money on him, and Shurei endeavors to help him out. But it turns out that the boy may have a split personality, and may also have gotten on the bad side of a local gang that is now out to get him. Shurei’s harem of good-looking and well-positioned gentlemen step in to help her once she’s taken Eigetsu’s case, and Kocho’s no slouch in that department, either.

Maybe it’s the fact I took a break after so long, but I find I am less enamored with this series than I once was. Perhaps it’s the romance element I mentioned before, but I think another part of the problem is Shurei’s harem. They all appear in every story, and are always ready to help Shurei, either openly or in secret. It’s a little annoying, especially when Shurei’s being positioned as a strong female and a groundbreaker for women’s rights. Perhaps this volume is particularly unkind, too, but the stories like this, where Shurei can’t solve problems without the help of six powerful government officials, seem to override the whole “first female to take the civil service exam” thing. Kocho helps, and she stands on her own, but… I mean, I normally wouldn’t notice any feminist overtones like this, but I guess the harem really bothers me.

I feel bad putting down this book so much, but I really do like this series, and it’s disappointing to see a volume like this. Perhaps Eigetsu’s story is leading up to something exciting and related to Shurei’s quest next time (he’s almost certainly taking the civil service exam). I do hope that the focus turns back to Shurei and her goals in volume 6, because she, along with the wonderful setting, are what originally endeared me to the series.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

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