Title: The Story of Saiunkoku
Author: Kairi Yura (art) and Sai Yukino (original story)
Publisher: Viz Media (Shojo Beat)
Volume: Volume 8 (ongoing), $9.99
Vintage: 2011 by Kadokawa Shoten, October 2012 by Viz Media
Genre: Historical drama, romance
Eigetsu and Shurei are working hard at Kogaro on their report for the upcoming inquest that will decide their future. The Hong Clan, meanwhile, is still causing mayhem throughout the city by shutting down every business with ties to the Clan while Reishin (the Clan head) is under house arrest for accusations involving Shurei’s exam results. The documents are delivered to the Palace safely by Seiran, and go right into the hands of Treasury Minister Ko. As the time of the inquest nears, Shurei arms herself with the battle gear of a woman – the makeup Kocho gave her as a gift for passing her exam. With Seiran at her side, she heads toward the Palace, but her opponents in the Court will not let her in so easily. Minister of Rites Sai is growing desperate, and has bribed the Palace guards to deny Shurei entry. While Ryuki tries to get a confession out of Sai before the Court, Reishin ponders the future of the civil servants carefully trained by Official Ro, and works to convince Ro to take on a promotion. Minister Sai tries to pass the blame on to everyone around him, even as Minister Ko reveals the information Shurei and Eigetsu so carefully compiled that illustrates the true depths of Sai’s corruption. Fed up with the accusations against him, Sai reaches for the last thing he can think of, of demands that Minister Ko remove his mask to prove his identity. The sight of Ko’s face sends Sai into a stupor, and he confesses everything. While Shurei’s former friends (the working villagers she had spent time with before becoming a civil servant, as well as the newly arrived Ensei) do their best to get her past the guards and into the Palace proper, Reishin arrives and strips away Sai’s lands and power, and even reveals the imitation ring of the Sa Clan Sai has been carrying. Shurei finally arrives as things are wrapping up, but Sai has one final demand and ploy up his sleeve – Shurei will be required to take an oral exam in front of all the ministers and officials of the Court, once and for all proving that she belongs among their ranks. Finally, the evaluation period for the new civil servants ends, and it’s time for their official assignments. Given the unrest in Sa Province, special care must be taken in choosing a governor who can carry out the Emperor’s will while the Sa Clan squabbles over their next heir. Everyone from Ryuki down to Koyu and Shuei agrees – Shurei and Eigetsu are the perfect choice as joint governors over Sa Province, and Ensei will be at their side to guide them. A rather amusing bonus chapter pits our favorite men against each other in a cross-dressing contest to win a prize for Shurei.
Shurei’s dreams are at last coming true. Not only is she going to become a civil servant in service to the Emperor and her country, she’ll be governing an entire province. It’s more than she could have imagined. She won’t be alone, of course. Eigetsu will be governing beside her, Ensei will be assisting, and Seiran will even be there to guard them. She has also thoroughly impressed the entire Court with her hard work and her display during her inquest, though now she has the chance to prove herself even more. In the shadows, she still has the support of Ryuki, Koyu, Shuei, Minister Ko, Reishin, and (now) Minister Ro. Even so, she’s doing most everything on her own power. They can’t, and don’t, interfere with her, but that doesn’t mean they don’t give her a little push in the right direction now and again (like when Minister Ko slipped specific documents into Shurei and Eigetsu’s regular work, but even then it took their own skill to notice the information, pick it out, and put it together). Shurei remains one of the strongest heroines I’ve ever seen in manga. Don’t let the “makeup is a woman’s battle armor” bit fool you. Shurei is quick to realize that wearing makeup doesn’t change who she is, and that denying that feminine part of her would be denying a part of herself, which she refuses to do. She is a woman, and she will act like a woman, not a man. She will fit in as herself, not conform to the men around her. A powerful statement from someone who realizes she is looked down on purely for being a woman, but that’s exactly why she refuses to hide who she is. It’s easy to forget that this series is also a romance story, but Ryuki is happy to remind us when he finally confesses his true feelings to Shurei. Not unexpectedly, Shurei has no desire to be Empress, she has her own path she wants to walk. And Ryuki isn’t demanding anything of her, other than a request to view him as a man and not the Emperor when they are in private, one request Shurei is happy to fulfill.
review copy provided by Viz Media.