Story of Saiunkoku Part 3 (of 3) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Release Date: Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Sa Province pushes Shurei and Eigetsu in some tough directions which is forcing them to really adapt to the situations at hand.

What They Say
Before reporting to their assigned posts, Shurei and Eigetsu remain in Kinka to contend with the deadly Murderous Blades. However, during their well-meaning endeavor the tyrannical Sa Clan initiates a lockdown of the capital city Koren. Shurei and Eigetsu must reach Koren at all costs, otherwise they risk forfeiting their posts as governor of Sa province.

In order to recover a special ornament crucial to fulfilling her post, Shurei accepts a dubious invitation to a Sa Clan ceremony, where fatal consequences await her.

Contains episodes 28-39.

The Review!
Audio:
The bilingual presentation for this series is done with a basic stereo mix for each track that's encoded at a simple 192 kbps. The show is pretty much all dialogue outside of the opening and closing sequences so it isn't exactly hampered by this level. The bulk of dialogue is done with a centered feeling to it and there is very little to note in terms of directionality in general, though there are a few good moments of noticeable placement. Both language tracks are clean and clear however and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. With five episodes across a dual layered disc, Geneon has again produced a great looking release that's helped by relatively minimal animation. The show is certainly bright and pretty but with no real action scenes and mostly dialogue, it doesn't have to expend a lot of its bandwidth to look as intended. With a bitrate in the steady eights, the end results are crisp and vibrant looking colors with solid backgrounds. There is some edge cross coloration showing up in a few areas and the numerous pans and zooms early on cause some aliasing, but it's fairly minimal overall and is likely to detract only on large displays.

Packaging:
After the first three volumes were released in singles, FUNimation and Geneon have shifted this release to being done as box sets. The remaining six volumes are being split into two box sets, though they’re all looking to retain the original look and feel of the singles, just shifted to thinpaks and a basic slipcover box. The slipcover uses the artwork from disc nine which has Shurei and the two main men in her life from the start with Ryuki and Seiran. The back of the slipcover uses the artwork from the eighth volume with several the dark image of Shurei and Sakujun together that has a tinge of fear to it. The cover is given over mostly to the artwork but it does provide a small summary along the bottom and a good mention of the number of episodes on the disc. The basic technical information is kept to the bottom of the slipcover.

Thankfully, though they’re just in thinpak cases, the covers for the individual volumes are laid out the same as the singles we got from Geneon for the first three volumes and what we saw in the second box set. The front covers are made up of the various groupings of the characters, not always with Shurei as well which is nice, in their usual fairly elaborate and well designed costumes. Set against a either blue, pale red or black backgrounds with a simple bit of framing to it with flowers, they stand out quite a bit and there is a good amount of detail and solid coloring to it. The back cover continues with the flowery feel as it mixes in some artwork of the palace buildings. The text is a mixture of whites and purples along with some black to thankfully make the summary easier to read. The layout is fairly standard with a few shots from the show and a clean layout of the episode numbers and titles as well as the discs basic features and extras. The bottom portion is rounded out by the production credits in white against pink and a simple technical listing but no full on proper grid as we've seen on some of their other releases. Geneon's designs continue to lack any sort of uniformity between series.

No insert is included with this release. What we do get is a postcard sized insert with each volume that has the cover artwork on one side while the other has a different piece of original Japanese cover artwork. These look really great and are wonderful to have and I’m beyond glad that they did include them for this last set as well. I’d love to have seen them include postcards for the covers from the first three volumes as well but alas.

Menu:
Part of a growing trend for the anime industry in general, Geneon has once again for the oversimplified approach with its menus. The static menu has similar traits to the cover in that it uses light colors such as the blues for the backgrounds while the foreground is made up of character artwork and various pink flowers. Similar to several other shows they have out at the moment, there is no music associated with the menu at all which feels very out of place. The navigation is straightforward and simple with standard four selections. Access times are quick and the disc properly read our players' language presets and played accordingly.

Extras:
There are a couple of minor extras included this time around as we get a clean version of the new ending sequence as well as a clean version of the final ending from the last episode.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The first season of the Story of Saiunkoku draws to a close with this set as we get the last twelve episodes, bringing us up through episode thirty-nine. The series has gone through a definite set of three acts with this season and this third act really does provide for a good number of changes. With so many shows, the characters don’t change much nor do their situations really change, but here is a series where things that were set at the beginning are no longer the same. Sometimes by a wide margin.

That said, this particular arc hasn’t exactly wowed me completely and certainly not like the first opening arc did. The introduction of the cast early on and the setting with Ryuki had me engaged and interested as the little nuggets and truths started to come out. As Shurei worked her way into the palace and then eventually moved towards becoming an official in the second arc, there was a lot to like as she navigated both love and politics and social pressures fairly well. The growing cast kept it interesting and you could see rather easily how so much of what was being laid out would have impact later on. The results of her becoming an official weren’t a surprise really since it was one of few options, but sending her to the Sa Province in order to learn and work – with the flow bud from Ryuki no less – was ideal for giving her a chance to spread her wings and really show what she can do.

Unfortunately, I found a lot of the Sa Province material to be fairly mundane and dull. The overall idea is sound as Shuri and Eigetsu head off to the province to be sworn in and they have to do it in a certain amount of time. With the province having fallen sway to numerous issues and a very crafty Sa clan, there are plenty of obstacles along the way and things we learn about all the characters. Yet it also started to seem needlessly complicated at times as there were so many characters and relationships introduced, and I have to admit that having the clan and the province named the same led to some confusion at times as well. With so many family relations already going on with the Hong family itself, introducing another big expansive family felt like overkill to some extent. Especially since so much of it ties back to Enjun and what happened when he was young.

There is a lot to like about this set of episodes however. The growth and changes that Kokujun goes through as he tries to reach the provincial capital and deal with his family issues is quite well done, even if he does spend a fair bit of time in prison. After what happened with him in the last set, seeing him moving and operating in this regard was a positive. What surprised me more was that I found Sakujun fairly interesting this time around as he continues to try and get Shurei to fall in love with him. He readily admits that he’d move on when he tires of her, but at the same time he seems to admit to himself that he doubts it would ever happen because of how she is. The way he’s drawn to her confuses Shurei to no end and the seeds that he does manage to plant in her mind make it worse. Of course, he’s somewhat of a twisted guy considering the family upbringing he’s had, so the way this storyline resolves puts Shurei in a very strange place where she’s not sure how to feel about what’s happened. It all does fit well into the world of feudal/familial politics that one would find at this time.

The various character stories that intersect throughout this set are certainly fun but what it does it really provide a view of how bad off this province is. With ten years of improper leadership and then the various issues with the Sa clan and the way they’ve positioned themselves into the rank and file of the government, it’s little surprise that things are as bad as they are. So watching Shurei and Eigetsu navigate all of this, not without difficulty at that, is quite a lot of fun. The things that they’ve learned from their time in the capital and along the way here, along with the relationships that they’ve built up, Like Shurei, the province of Sa is going to be quite different by the time things are done and watching these first steps is quite fascinating, even if it does all come together rather easily. But with the relationships and trusts that Shurei has forged over time, it’s something that she can accomplish with Eigetsu and others. It does all wrap up rather neatly, but considering the second season is entirely up in the air, I’m rather glad that it did. I still want more though!

In Summary:
The Story of Saiunkoku was a real surprise when the singles first started coming out and one of the titles I lamented the most when Geneon dropped everything. Thankfully, working with FUNimation has gotten us the remaining volumes of the series quickly and affordably, hopefully enough so that they’ll pursue the next season. The appeal of this show is pretty wide if you can get past some of the initial aspects where it feels girlish. The series is one that doesn’t devolve to cute-isms that we see in series like Fushigi Yugi. It’s more in tune to Twelve Kingdoms, but with more femininity to it. This set caps off the first season perfectly while still providing a whole lot more to look forward to. It’s complete in itself but there’s still so much open that it leaves you wanting more, but satisfied. This is one of those series that a lot of people pass over the first time around, especially when it was a nine volume single release, that deserves more than a second look. Very recommended.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Closing, Special Ending Clean Closing

Review Equipment
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A-
Packaging Rating: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Geneon Entertainment (USA), Inc.
MSRP: 59.98
Running time: 300
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Story of Saiunkoku