The National Exams are about to hit and there’s a whole lot going on that leads up to it and beyond them.
What They Say
In order to concentrate on the National Exam, Shurei must quit all of her part-time jobs and inform them that she will be taking leave. During one of her visits, a popular entertainer named Kocho, who Shurei thinks of as an older sister, despairs over having to say goodbye to Shurei.
While visiting, Shurei is introduced to a young boy, Eigetsu To, who is destined to be a lifelong friend and ally before and after the National Exam results are posted.
This DVD comes with a box to hold the first three volumes of The Story of Saiunkoku.
Contains episodes 11-15:
There's No Medicine For Lovesickness
Discretion is the Better Part of Valor
An Unexpected Surprise
Three Years on a Rock
A Child Knows Not of his Parent's Feelings
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.
Probably too girly for most people, the front cover is an attractive character piece that features Koyu, Shuei and Shurei together in their standard outfits. Set against a blue hued background 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 though is a simple “ender” box that’s pretty thin and will hold the first three volumes of the series. When the distribution shifted to FUNimation, the idea of distributing a nine volume series was likely frowned upon, so we’re getting the remaining six volumes in two sets. The first three volumes are getting this ender box in order to give it all a hopefully uniform feel overall. It’s not the best piece in terms of quality, but the artwork is very appealing with lots of pink to it while portraying the bulk of the core cast of characters on one side and a simpler piece with Ryuki and Shurei on the other.
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)
When the Story of Saiunkoku first started coming out, it was a real treat of a show because it was, relatively speaking, so simple and appealing in its almost naïve way. The series was one that took a fairly familiar setting and familiar characters and gave it a nice twist by working through the whole women’s rights concept. Though the characters are often too similar in name, everyone had a little thing about them that made you smile and you wanted to see how this relatively lengthy series would play out. Unfortunately, getting back into the mindset after over a year between volumes is surprisingly difficult. Recapturing the magic isn’t quite so easy at this stage because the cast has been separated for the most part.
With five episodes on this volume, things do move forward fairly well and by the end of it you start to feel like you’re back into the swing of things. What’s unfortunate, in trying to recapture some of what was there before, is that the first three episodes aren’t the best ones to do that with. The opening episode in fact starts off with Shurei falling ill after helping out a child in the snow and that puts her in bed for the entire episode. We do get to see all the men coming to visit her and we’re reminded about the uncle who is secretly sponsoring her that won’t tell her about it until he’s able to reveal his relation to her. Watching everyone come to visit while she’s usually asleep allows for some moments of remembering who is who and how they all tie together, but after a year away it feels like an awkward episode.
While as an opening episode it’s not the best, the next two help to set things a little more on course but only by a little. The two part storyline introduces us to a new character that’s arrived from the outlying provinces named Eigetsu. Eigetsu is a rather cute thirteen year old young man who has found himself in a real problem. He’s lost something precious to him but he’s also lost a good deal of money. He’s ended up inside the Kogaro, a high class brothel in the red light district, where Shurei has spent some of her time working since her mother died. Shurei is naturally concerned for the young man and does her best to help him figure out what’s going on.
What’s discovered is that there’s a new group of ruffians that have started moving into the area and is causing a fair bit of trouble, trouble that Eigetsu has run afoul of. This starts a bit more exploration of how the organized underground seedy side of the city works as there are various alliances in action here that have understandings with the government and king about what each side will do and when they’ll look the other way at things. It gets a bit complicated because of Ryuki trying to figure out what’s going on with Shurei during all of this as she inevitably gets caught up in things. When the National Exams themselves become a part of it, it only becomes more intense for those involved as we learn that Eigetsu is in the city for that himself and his token was among the items stolen and threatened by the new gang.
The shift back to the story of the National Exams is quite welcome as the volume moves on since it’s the end goal that Shurei has been working towards since we first met her. With Ryuki having made the exams accessible to women in the country now, she’s eager to find out how well she’ll place within the first year of it. It’s also a key year for a number of reasons, including that of Eigetsu participating and for the big fact that it’s the first year of exams when Ryuki is king. Those that come on board during that time tend to leave a greater impression with the king since it’s his first exposure to the process formally and those who excel often find themselves in for a lengthy career and service to him. With some very high profile candidates involved in it this time, it’s even more special because of that.
The National Exams and the results from that puts Shurei on the path that she’s been seeking for some time, but it’s not exactly the path that she thought it would be. A woman like her however has had a fair bit of adversity in her life, never mind the initial time in dealing with Ryuki, so the challenges she faces aren’t exactly all that bad. It becomes amusing in a way because everyone who doesn’t know her – and some that do – can’t believe she’s putting up with it or that she even tried out for the National Exams. It’s a challenging time for a lot of peoples preconceptions that live there and that part is slowly coming out as a facet that may be covered a great deal, hopefully so.
I recall absolutely adoring this show during the first ten episodes that I had seen back in the middle of 2007. It simply connected at a time when very little else was coming out like this. That’s still the case but it’s taking a bit more time to warm back up to all of it since it’s starting mid-stride again. That said, this is really more of the same – and a strong continuation of the storyline overall – that we had seen before. With the remaining twenty-four episodes due out in two box sets, we’ll blaze through the rest of this season with ease and hopefully a lot more people will check it out than they would have in single form. There’s still another season to go and even though this volume took a bit of effort to get through, there’s a lot of really good material to see here in total and very much worth recommending.
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.