Title: The Story of Saiunkoku
Author: Kairi Yura, original story by Sai Yukino
Publisher: Viz Media (Shojo Beat)
Volume: Volume 3 (ongoing), $9.99
Vintage: 2008 by Kadokawa Shoten in Japan, May 3, 2011 by Viz Media
Genre: Historical romance, drama, comedy
Shurei Hong’s greatest wish is to be a civil servant. Unfortunately, women are not allowed to take the civil servant exam. Even knowing that her dream can’t come true, Shurei continues to study with vigor. When Shurei was called upon to become a consort and tutor for Saiunkoku’s emperor, Ryuki, she took to the task with zeal, with the promise of a good deal of gold as payment for her services. The emperor, who at first appeared dimwitted and unsuited to rule, turned out to be exceptionally smart and talented, if rather naive. He had been pretending to be useless in the hopes that his long lost brother would return and rule instead. Ryuki was struck by Shurei’s passion and love for the people of Saiunkoku, and eventually decided that he would become a great ruler for her sake. Her job complete, Shurei left the palace to return to her everyday life, tutoring the local children and using the money she had earned to repair her dilapidated estate.
That brings us to volume 3. Shurei has not spoken to Ryuki for some time, but the young and smitten emperor sends her near daily letters and lavish (and ridiculous) gifts, hoping to please her. Shurei, wanting to distance herself from Ryuki, sends no replies. It is now the height of summer, and Shurei finds a stranger collapses in front of her home. Seiran seems to know him, and apparently dislikes him, but Shurei’s father allows Ensei to stay at their house while he attends to his business within the city. Meanwhile, Ryuki has decided to enact legislation that will allow women to take the civil servant exam. His biggest obstacle is the Minister of Finance, Minister Ko, an eccentric, but exceptionally capable man who always wears a mask to cover his entire face. As part of a scheme to help Ryuki, Koyu Ri arranges for Shurei to enter the Ministry of Finance disguised as a boy, to become Minister Ko’s personal aid for a month. With the excessive heat, the Ministry workers have been collapsing left and right, so Shurei is sent to help ease the burden, and Ensei gets dragged along. The plan is to have Shurei impress Minister Ko with her skills, though Shurei (and Ryuki) is unaware of the scheme. As Ryuki works hard to rewrite his proposal, Shurei works hard in the Ministry of Finance, her skill and tenacity impressing even the strict Minister Ko. Shurei receives help from some surprising places as she works hard at her job. Ensei gives her an encouraging pep talk, a strange man pops up randomly and insists she refer to him as “Uncle,” and Minister Ko even (awkwardly) comforts her during a thunderstorm. Elsewhere, Seiran has been roped into helping High General Raien Haku and Lord Advisor Sou hunt down a group of bandits causing trouble around the city, but someone seems to be getting there and handling the problem before them. A bonus story reveals why Shurei is so terrified of thunder storms, and how the loss of her mother affected her family.
Another excellent volume! Yura and Yukino are great at weaving together the political story lines and the romance plots. The various elements of the series flow near seamlessly, making for a very pleasant read. The art continues to be strong, and Viz includes a couple of lovely colored pages at the beginning of the volume. The parts that stand out this volume include Koyu Ri’s and Shuei Ran’s relationships with Ryuki, the mysterious aura surrounding Minister Ko, Ensei’s past ties to Seiran, and Ryuki’s adorable efforts to make Shurei’s dream come true. Koyu has a lot of faith in Ryuki, and he clearly wants to see the young emperor succeed, which may mean some harsh words and strict instructions. He has respect for Ryuki’s position as emperor, certainly more than Shuei anyway, but won’t hesitate to lecture him like a child if that’s what it takes to whip Ryuki into shape. Shuei Ran also has faith in Ryuki and wants him to succeed, but is infinitely amused by Ryuki’s naive ways, and is more encouraging of Ryuki’s pursuit of Shurei than he is of Ryuki’s attempts at ministration (like Koyu is). It’s a good balance, and it keeps a light mood around the often gloomy Ryuki. We don’t yet know why Minister Ko wears his mask, though a couple characters speculate. The current consensus is that he is so ugly no one can stand to look at him, so he must cover his face. Ensei particularly insists this must be the case, and Vice Minister (of the Treasury) Kei, who has actually seen Minister Ko’s face, certainly doesn’t help Shurei think otherwise. Minister Ko is very good at his job, but he is very strict and expects a lot from those who work under him. Fortunately, the Ministry of Finance is a tightly run, well-oiled machine, full of a small group of elite ministers who are loyal to Ko and understand his methods. Even Shurei quickly realizes that Ko carefully measures the abilities of every person under his authority and only doles out as much work as he knows they are capable of handling if they are doing their best (basically, not slacking off). Then there’s Ensei, who has some sort of past with Seiran that Seiran seems desperate to keep secret. Their relationship is unclear at this point, though it seems they once fought or trained with each other, as they are both aware of each other’s fighting abilities and style. Ensei doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with Seiran, other than thinking Seiran isn’t living the life he should be. His rugged appearance is also deceiving, as he is fully capable of all manner of jobs and appears quite intelligent. Finally, Ryuki, who works so hard in this volume for Shurei’s dream. His motivations are somewhat suspect, but he genuinely wants to make a change in the government, and he’s willing to accept Koyu’s harsh advice to make it happen. Unfortunately, he’s still rather clumsy at ruling, and he nearly destroys his chances, though the consequences of all the planning that has gone into getting the new law passed won’t be revealed in this volume.
Mafuyu, who was kicked out of her former school for fighting, was sent to Midorigaoka Academy under the condition that she doesn’t involve herself in anymore fights. In just the first volume, Mafuyu already found herself getting involved, rescuing both her homeroom teacher and childhood friend Takaomi and her new classmate Hayasaka from some thugs. Takaomi, who taught her to fight, already knows what she’s capable of, but Mafuyu just wants to live a normal life as a normal high school girl, so she desperately tries to hide her battle skills from Hayasaka, resorting to fake fainting spells and a rabbit mask to keep her secret and avoid another expulsion. As she tries to enjoy her new school life and her new friend, Takaomi ambushes both Mafuyu and Hayasaka and suggests they join a school club. Realizing Takaomi must have something in mind, they bail, and set out to find a club on their own to avoid getting caught up in their teacher’s schemes. Unfortunately, since neither of them really have any special skills, their hunt ends in failure, and they end up at Takaomi’s mercy anyway. At the end of volume 1, we saw Takaomi making a deal with the principal. The nature of this bet is revealed, and Takaomi wants Mafuyu and Hayasaka to help him by cleaning up the school…starting with the school’s bancho (gang leader). Hayasaka, always eager for a fight, is thrilled at this opportunity, but Mafuyu is less enthusiastic. Unable to reveal her true abilities, she has to do some quick thinking in order to protect Hayasaka from himself…and a group of rowdy boys led by an incredibly strong bancho named Kyotaro. With some quick footwork, Mafuyu “accidentally” handles the first battle, but another soon follows. With some help from Takaomi, Mafuyu disguises herself as a boy to handle things personally. The story shifts gears at this point and becomes more romance oriented. Mafuyu finds herself spending a day with Kyotaro. Almost like a date, they attend a movie and go to an arcade, but somehow end up in a brutal gang battle. Even with the violent outcome, Mafuyu is able to see a gentle side to Kyotaro and makes a new friend; the reader gets to see a little extra secret unfold as well. Meanwhile, Hayasaka is trying to hunt down the mysterious bunny girl who rescued him before, and he takes things to an obsessive height, hanging posters all over the school to try and draw her out. Mafuyu does her best to keep the secret and try to find a way to calm Hayasaka down, but unfortunately he figures it out on his own. Hayasaka’s eyes begin to sparkle in constant admiration, but poor Mafuyu is depressed that she seems to have lost out on a normal friendship.
I wasn’t totally sold on this series before (though I did have high hopes), but I’m getting a lot of enjoyment out of it now. It’s just so goofy and laugh-out-loud funny. It also has some gentle and bittersweet moments. When Hayasaka decides that Mafuyu is the mysterious Super Bun, instead of treating her like a normal person, he begins to treat her like some sort of superior being, which reminds Mafuyu of her time as gang leader at her old school; a lonely period of Mafuyu’s life that she had hoped to escape. She just wants a friend; she doesn’t want to be worshiped or placed on a pedestal. The story is quickly building up some romance subplots which are pretty interesting. Hayasaka is one of the first people Mafuyu has met who treats her like a girl, which makes her incredibly happy, if a little embarrassed. He’s oddly gentle with her, and even protective. Even without thinking that she’s Super Bun, he’s a little in awe of her. It’s really cute. Kyotaro looks like he’ll be another possible interest. He’s already impressed with her talent at morse code, and he has his suspicions that she’s stronger than she appears. Remarkably, he has a romantic side to him that’s amusing in a guy so tough looking (and acting…he’s inhumanly strong). I see a hilariously adorable friendship forming between them. And, of course, there’s the pervy lecher Takaomi, who still remains fairly mysterious as far as his motivations go. Overall, it’s turning out to be a delightful, amusing series. Some of the characters’ expressions can elicit a giggle, and Tsubaki’s comedic timing and dialog is fairly strong. Mafuyu’s inner dialog is almost always hilarious, as is Hayasaka’s. I’m looking forward to watching the story and characters develop.
Review copies provided by Viz Media.