Challenges abound for Shurei as an initiate, but the rewards for the first female Official could be spectacular – and dangerous.
What They Say
Shurei and Eigetsu continue to be treated harshly as newly fledged government officials, assigned to toilet cleaning, shoe polishing, organizing piles of documents, and menial accounting work. In spite of this, they slowly earn the respect of their fellow initiates, who witness them persevere through humiliating abuse and harassment from senior officials.
Just as things start to get better, rumors emerge, alleging that Shurei's exam had been tampered with! Later, when Shurei and Eigetsu head to Kogaro to see Kocho, they're held captive by a group of thugs! Has Kocho betrayed them?
Contains episodes 16-27.
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.
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.
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 five which has a cute shot of Ryuren with Shuri and Eigetsu under his arms, all of them with relatively happy expressions. The back of the slipcover uses the artwork from the fourth volume with several of the Hong family men together with Shurei. 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. Probably too girly for most people, 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 blue hued background (for the first two volumes, as the third goes with an orange) with a simple bit of framing to it with flowers, it stands out quite a bit and has a good amount of detail and solid coloring to it. The back cover continues with the green 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 hopefully we’ll get three more with the next volume, though I’d love to see them included for the covers from the first three volumes as well..
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.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Getting back into the Story of Saiunkoku with the third volume proved to be a little awkward after a year away from it, but this collection is the way to follow it up. Whatever lingering doubts I had about getting back into it are swept away rather quickly here as the show takes advantage of twelve episodes in a row to really move things along. And as we saw from the first three volumes, Saiunkoku really does make some progress and it reminds of shows like Twelve Kingdoms in a few ways which only enamors me to it more.
This set of episodes has a good deal of quiet time in the middle, but the book ends provide for some really great material as it works through a number of changes. The opening arc in particular is fun because it brings to resolution the intrigue that’s going on as one of the ministers within the court is continuing to do his best to put Shurei in her place and to humiliate her while also using her to achieve his own ends. What’s most amusing about it is that the gentleman is pretty inept in a lot of ways and most everyone with an idea about what’s going on has figured out who is behind it. And the things that he does allows for Shurei and Eigetsu to really show their stuff when it comes down to him pushing them to be dismissed outright if they don’t defend themselves.
With the idea that they’ve been shown favoritism, spread from someone in the department that administers the National Examination tests, it gains a foothold easily in the gossip of the court and its attendants. And even among those who took the exams and are fellow initiates with the pair. But what’s surprising is that those who have taken the Exam can really believe this considering what they go through in order to pass. Setting it up so that the two have to appear before Ryuki and answer questions of the court to prove their knowledge makes an easy out for them, so naturally there are events set into motion which keep the pair from showing up. But again, the conspirator behind all of this is relatively inept and it’s so open and visible that others are able to push and nudge this into a different direction that allows Shurei and Eigetsu to clear their names.
Watching this play out is fun though since you want to see what changes it inspires and how the characters handle it. Shurei and Eigetsu are both very smart people but they’re still being overwhelmed by events and not noticing the larger things playing out. But even with that, and the additional work that they have, they start to see through things by the numbers presented to them and work out a plan to expose it and use it to their advantage. And not in a cold calculating way, but in a way that would let them shine while doing something better for the country. That comes with a cost though, something that they don’t factor into it, as their revelations will put others in a bad position within the court with their standing. That they don’t realize this and aren’t exposed to it much is part of the fun since you wonder how it will bite them later.
The outcome of the events is what sets the show in a very different path and a rather surprising one. While history was made in Saiunkoku with Shurei becoming the first woman to pass the exams and for Eigetsu to be the youngest, I would not have expected Ryuki to appoint them both to the governorship of the Sa Province upon completion of their initiate duties. Sending them together to deal with the trouble province that still has issues with the Sa clan itself, the pair is a curious choice but one that works considering all the familial and political factions that are involved from the civil war years earlier. A lot of what’s explored as the story goes on ties into Seiran’s past when he was exiled to the province only to witness his mother dying before he was taken in. There are long range plans that are explored in this, but we’re getting the tantalizing edges as we’re introduced to the cast of characters that make up this province and how they intend to seize power there.
The shift in the storyline out of the capital of Saiunkoku is actually quite welcome at this point in time. While there’s been a lot of really good material during this first full arc in the capital, it runs the risk of being too familiar and ending with situations that involve characters repeating issues. When Ryuki confesses his love to Shurei again, it’s certainly honest and true, but if he keeps doing it while she’s being standoffish, it’ll get to be problematic. Shifting her and Eigetsu along with Seiran and Ensui out to Sa Province allows the heart to grow fonder from absence, while still showing that the two are thinking about each other. This is even more apparent when Shurei meets a Sa family member who bears a striking personality resemblance to Ryuki, though with a complete one eighty in his actual actions and the way he deals with things.
The other big plus to this is that we finally get to see more of Saiunkoku. Though it’s not exactly a most fascinating world like Twelve Kingdoms is with its diversity, getting out more and dealing with other clans and the power factions that exists gives it a much larger feel. Of course, having two young people become the governors is problematic and will only incite some issues, there is precedent for it and the unraveling of this recent past helps to expand other characters. And that these characters have relations with multiple areas and numerous people only serves to tie many of them closer together. It does get to be a bit difficult to remember at times since it is such a large cast and there are so many similar names due to familial relations, but the effort is certainly worth it as the tale gets more and more complex.
The move away from singles to the box sets is a very good thing for a series of this size. The downside is that Geneon really should have put out a three disc set alongside the third volume as well in order to entice those that didn’t’ buy into the singles to begin with. Existing fans may feel a bit shafted by the lack of cohesion with the releases, but if this gets the show more sales and gives us a better chance of getting the second season, then put it in a brown paper bag if you have to and get us more Saiunkoku. This set takes the show to a logical area and then makes a massive leap in another area, but one that admittedly works in its own weird way. The series is giving Shurei a chance to shine, and she’s bringing many others with her. A lot of luck and coincidence is here as well, but also a lot of characters that care about her and work for her benefit. And since she’s working for the benefit of Saiunkoku, it all seems to work out well, though not without a great deal of risk for everyone. This is a wonderful series that benefits from having a box set like this and a marathon viewing. Definitely recommended as it recaptures what made the first two volumes so engaging.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
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.