Friday, July 6, 2012

Manga Review: The Story of Saiunkoku (volume one)

As if I needed even more series on my "to-buy" list, I actually did catch the first few episodes of the anime adaptation about a year ago (both the anime and the manga are adapted from a series of light novels, interestingly enough the manga-ka here is apparently the same person who illustrates said light novels) and it caught my interest but at that point the anime was long out of print and way out of my price range. So, with that and no legal streaming option, I haven't gone back to it but I had heard good things about the manga, tried out some of it in a bookstore and when I cam across the first volume in a used bookstore a few days later it seemed like the universe was egging me on to read it.

The Story of Saiunkoku (volume one) original story by Sai Yukino, art by Kairi Yura
Summary: While Shurei Hong may hail from one of the highest noble families in the country of Saiunkoku her family has fallen on hard times and she is constantly running around taking various jobs to make ends meet. So when she is offered a high-paying job from one of her father's associates at the royal palace she jumps at the chance, only to discover that the job is to become a consort to the young emperor and try to teach him and make him fit to rule. Although, as hard-headed as Shurie is, none of that will even matter if she can't find the man himself.

The Good: Politics+attractive looking characters is enough to make me look into a series (I'm sorry for being shallow) and thankfully all of the characters here are quite shrewd and the machinations of the court are quite interesting to watch. Shurie is headstrong and clever which makes her quite a likable lead; I'm sure some will complain she is too perfect but her own small flaws were presented quite well in this volume as well. None of the male characters stood out to me quite as much as she did but I'm sure that even more page time they'll have a chance for character development as well. 

The Bad: I dare potential readers to look up the character list on wikipedia, it's quite impressive and, even though I'm experienced with keeping dozens of characters in any given work straight, given that many of the characters have similar sounding (to my western ears) names and the character designs aren't as distinct as they could be this does become a bit of a problem. I can only imagine that for future volumes I will need to keep that list open to keep everyone straight which isn't a great sign. And speaking of future volumes, the story is paced a bit slowly and I've heard that the manga series (in Japan) still hasn't progressed beyond where the first anime season (which was 39 episodes) left off which does make me a bit worried considering the series has been running for six years now. That was the reason I had held off on reading the manga for so long, while I am fine with a long running series I do like ones that plan to end before a decade is up. 

The Art: As mentioned earlier, it appears that Yura did the art for the light novels as well (ie, the original designs that would have been used as the basis for the anime designs as well) so there are no jarring differences and the character designs are quite detailed. It's often light on the backgrounds, preferring to have some toning or objects behind the characters (well, behind their talking heads) but that's rather common in manga so I didn't even notice it until I looked through the manga a second time. All in all it's a very good looking series and makes me wonder if there's an artbook or two for the franchise.

It's not my top priority but I will try to remember to purchase more volumes of this in the future and it has reminded me that I really want to hunt down more of the anime, perhaps later this summer if I don't have a lot of shows to watch.    

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