Saturday, February 16, 2013

Saiunkoku Monogatari

My appetite for animated Chinese-inspired period dramas has been whetted by Twelve Kingdoms. Hence I'm dragging my roommates into (re)watching Saiungoku Monogatari, which roommate C dragged me into watching back during freshman year of college. But that was years ago, so I've basically forgotten everything except:
  1. Very pretty fake China!
  2. The girl wants to be a government official
  3. Emporer Tamaki (from Ouran)
  4. Pretty boys (see above image) whose names I can't remember
  5. Political intrigue (???)
It turns out that is a pretty good summation for a hefty portion of Saiunkoku, but it's still an extremely fun anime to watch. It is extremely girly shit, yes, but as with every type of genre, girly shit can be really awesome sometimes.

Here is the basic premise: Saiunkoku (colored cloud kingdom) is fake-ancient-China-land where there are eight provinces (color coded) and eight major noble clans (also color coded). Our protagonist Kou Shuurei the daughter of the impoverished but noble Kou household.

Intelligent, kind, hardworking, and other adjectives that describe shoujo heroines, her dream in life is to become a government official in order to improve the lives of the people around her. Unfortunately, as in most patriarchal societies pre-feminist social movements, women are forbidden from serving in the government in as any kind of civil servant.

Her fortunes change when Shou Taishi, one of the three Grand Ministers who serve as advisers to the Emporer (Taishi is a title, btw), comes to her with a job offer. He will pay her 500 gold pieces for her to become an imperial concubine for a month and turn the emperor from a useless piece of shit into, you know, something actually halfway respectable.

Sou Taifu, Shou Taishi, and Sa Taiho. Have fun keeping track of their names. THEY ARE ACTUALLY QUITE PLOT-RELEVANT DESPITE NOT BEING PRETTY BOYS at the moment
"Isn't that just prostitution, Alice" you may say, but this is shoujo and therefore of course it is nothing as terrible as that. Besides, the emperor is this pretty boy with ridiculously nice hair who is basically Tamaki in terms of social competence, wealth, and relative ignorance about some of the more common sense aspects of life. Also there's this rumor that he's gay anyway, so Shuurei is more or less safe. Supposedly.

Nope, not fooling anyone.
Thus Shuurei begins to find herself drawn into the most unrealistically beautiful government ever. In addition to the pretty boy emperor, we are also introduced to pretty boy civil ministers and pretty boy military officers and pretty boy high level nobility and pretty boy missing imperial princes and so on and so forth. Shuurei quickly gains an impressively large collection of men who are variously devoted and/or at least highly supportive of her and her still-impossible career goals. 

This isn't even the complete list of dudes, and I'm still only on episode 20 
Having all of these guys on her side turns out to be a very good thing, because by episode 7, there have already been several assassination attempts, a kidnapping, an elite ninja squad, a conspiracy to overthrow the emperor and to put up a new puppet ruler in his place, and an unexpected asshole immortal mastermind manipulating the head conspirator. Whew, no wonder I forgot everything after I watched it the first time around. This plot shit is fantastic and comes out of nowhere, considering how lighthearted and upbeat and humorous a lot of the rest of the series is.

Anyway, after the first story arc, Shuurei leaves as Imperial Concubine since her job is done. Following that there's a few episodes about trying to pass a law to change the system so that women can take the Imperial Exam, while background plot about political/social unrest in one of the provinces in Saiunkoku is unfolding. Then once Shuurei does manage to pass, there is a ton of drama and intrigue regarding how she accepted as the first female official, as well as a look into corruption already existing in the system. 

Basically, despite all of the shoujo bubbles and the pretty, pretty boys, this series is not really a ridiculous romance first and foremost. It's fantastic! I'd recommend it to anyone who appreciates period drama intrigue and shit and can stomach a bit of girliness (or better yet, embrace it!)

And because what would a blog post on this blog be without a single gif, let me conclude with the Chief Minister of Saiunkoku's Ministry of Revenue enjoying a cup of tea:

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