Featured Columns

October 25, 2010

Bento Bako Weekly: The Story of Saiunkoku vol. 1

Title: The Story of Saiunkoku
Author: Original story by Sai Yukino, art by Kairi Yura
Publisher: Viz Media (Shojo Beat)
Volume: Volume 1 (ongoing), $9.99
Vintage: 2006 by Kadokawa Shoten in Japan, November 2, 2010 from Viz Media
Genre: Period romance, comedy, politics

Shurei Hong belongs to one of the most powerful noble families in the land. Unfortunately, her family is nearly destitute. Their manor is literally falling apart, they can only retain a single servant (the handsome, loyal, and talented Seiran), Shurei’s mother died years ago, and her father holds only a ceremonious position within the court at the palace in Saiunkoku. Growing up, it was Shurei’s dream to be a civil servant in the imperial court, but women are barred from such positions, so she has settled for being a teacher and handing her dreams over to the children. Her life is fairly mundane, as she works hard to put food on the table, and ease the burdens of those less fortunate than she in any way she can. That is, until the Head Minister, Lord Advisor Sho, pays her family a visit. The emperor, Ryuki Shi, spends his nights sleeping with men, and wastes his days away lounging about, refusing to govern and leaving everything up to his ministers. The Lord Sho hopes that the capable Shurei will influence the emperor and convince him to govern, and also help him to study, and possibly get him interested in women. Lured by an amazing sum of money, and also a promotion for her servant Seiran into the palace guards, Shurei agrees and is immediately moved into the inner court. Unfortunately, once there, she can’t find the emperor, and he refuses to show himself. Once she finally comes into contact with him, she almost wishes she hadn’t as the emperor becomes very clingy, following her around the palace, and insisting on sharing her bed chamber. Still, as Shurei relates tales of the world outside the palace, remembering the war of succession between Ryuki’s brothers which launched the land into chaos and wreaked havoc on the poor (and led Ryuki, the sixth and youngest son, to become the emperor), something stirs with Ryuki. Something else begins to stir within Ryuki when Shurei continually boasts about the very capable Seiran.

Ryuki, pleased to have the company of the lively and outspoken Shurei, finds comfort in the casual nature with which Shurei deals with him. He has a dark past that haunts him, and Shurei’s stories and music sooth his troubled mind. Shurei, in her innocence, sees warmth in Ryuki, but also considers him to be simple minded and childish. Their tutor, a civil servant named Koyu Ri, on the other hand, senses something is lurking beneath the emperor’s public demeanor. So does the emperor’s bodyguard, Shuei Ran, who is waiting to see if his emperor is truly worthy of his loyalty and service. Their intuition proves sharp, as we soon learn that the emperor’s childlike behavior is a facade for a very intelligent, but very lonely, young man. He quickly picks up that someone is out to get Shurei and her family, to prevent them from rising in power under the emperor’s favor. He immediately arranges for her protection, and his innocent nature becomes an excuse for his own precautions as he nearly glues himself to her side night and day.

The rocky friendship between Koyu and Shuei should prove to be very amusing.

I don’t know what all I can say about this book, other than I found it sweet, charming, and funny. I laughed out loud on multiple occasions, getting weird looks from some members of my family who were in town at the time. There’s a very nice balance between the humor (which can be over-the-top at times), and the more serious parts of the story. Shurei is a fantastic heroine. She carries the future of her family on her shoulders, she cares about her country, she wants to make significant changes and make the people’s lives better. She’s intelligent, compassionate, kind, perceptive, and beautiful. Of course, our hero isn’t exactly a slouch, either. I adore the childlike innocence he projects; it makes him all the more handsome and manly when he acts serious and shows his compassion and intelligence (oh, be still, my heart!). There is far more to Ryuki than meets the eye, though this first volume gives us just the tiniest glance. He must pretend to be a fool, but he’s exceptionally sharp and very talented. He’d make an amazing emperor if he had any real desire to rule. Unfortunately, he does not, though Shurei’s enthusiasm and the love she has for her country and its people may change his perspective. Already there’s the hint of a romance growing in his heart. But he’s not the only male in the story. I sense a reverse harem in the near future.

Kairi Yura’s art is very suitable for this story, and I like how not every male in the story is gorgeous to the point of being effeminate. Really only Emperor Ryuki has that high standard of beauty. Koyu is a tad scruffy looking (but hey, it worked for Han Solo), Shuei is handsome but not “beautiful”…though Seiran is close to Ryuki in beauty, making me think there may be something more to him, as well (as in, more than just a servant). That said…the side characters (meaning everyone other than Shurei and Ryuki at this point) seem to have quite a bit going for them, making them interesting and memorable within the story. With 20 light novels (and counting), and two 39 episode anime series, there must be something intriguing about The Story of Saiunkoku. I intend to keep reading and find out. This first volume is just an excellent taste of things to come, I’m sure.

And since we were talking about a cool heroine here…. Last week I wrote a guest piece for Daniella of All About Manga – “How Strong is That Heroine in Your Manga?” I talked about some of my favorite heroines, highlighted some strong female characters, and pointed out some weaker ones. I think I’d like to retroactively add Shurei to that list as an example of a stong female heroine. I’ll need another volume or two to declare that officially, but she seems promising!


Review copy provided by Viz Media.



  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Nancy Thistlethwaite, Kristin Bomba. Kristin Bomba said: New #manga review: The Story of Saiunkoku vol 1 from @Viz_Media https://comicattack.net/2010/10/bbwsaiunkoku/ Already love it #mangamonday […]

  2. Jade

    This looks kind of interesting. The art style is nice, but it seems like the flow might be a little jumpy from that page. Then again, it seems like a hectic scene.

    I’m always glad when reviews show some actual pages though. It helps give a better feel for the book, but I can’t think of any other reviewers who actually show pages with multiple panels. I heard a while ago that Viz was sending C&D letters to a reviewer who was posting a couple pages in reviews which takes a dump all over fair use copyright clauses, so maybe that’s why no one shows pages? It just seems like reviewing a film without being able to show anything but still frames, haha.

  3. I like showing a couple pages if I can, because the art inside isn’t always perfectly depicted by what’s on the cover. Take Tsubasa Those With Wings, which had Takaya’s old art inside, but updated, Fruits Basket-style cover art. It was a huge difference. Also to show an example of the panel layout, or the humor within, or something similar.
    I’ve never had any problem doing it. I’ve asked Digital Manga specifically and got an OK from my contact there. And every review I write gets sent to the publishers who send me their books, so I know they see what I’m doing. If I was asked to stop, I would, but I never have been.
    Typically I don’t show more than a two-page spread, and since I’m not tearing out pages to scan them in, the quality suffers a bit, so I doubt they would be used for anything.

  4. […] 4 of Rin-ne (Slightly Biased Manga) Erica Friedman on vol. 7 of Sasamekikoto (Okazu) Kristin on vol. 1 of The Story of Saiunkoku (Comic Attack) Snow Wildsmith on vol. 1 of The Story of Saiunkoku […]

  5. […] the girl who loves period romances: The Story of Saiunkoku from Viz Media is sure to be a hit (review here). With a strong heroine and an intriguing story, this is one of the strongest new titles of 2010. […]

  6. […] new series of 2010: The Story of Saiunkoku from Viz Media. I adored this one when I read it. It’s a great comedy, a great shoujo, good […]

  7. […] The Story of Saiunkoku, vol. 2, original story by Sai Yukino, art by Kairi Yura. “After realizing Ryuki has been faking his ignorance, an enraged Shurei demands to be sent home immediately. Ryuki then locks Shurei in her room, unaware he has now put his consort in great danger…” February 2011, $9.99, from Viz Media. […]

  8. […] The Story of Saiunkoku volume 3, by Sai Yukino. From Amazon: “Shurei Hong, destitute but of noble birth, has always dreamed of working as a civil servant in the imperial court of Saiunkoku, but women are barred from holding office. The emperor Ryuki, however, refuses to take command, leaving everything to his advisors. Shurei is asked to become a consort to the emperor to persuade the ne’er-do-well ruler to govern.” From Viz Media, May 2011, $9.99. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *