I’m always happy to see a new volume of this series, which features one of the most sympathetic heroines of shoujo manga. Here we see that while Shurei might pass her civil service exams, her troubles are just beginning. This volume picks up in the middle of a gang fight in a brothel, as Shurei and the young scholar Eigetsu fight the Blue Scarf Gang that has been running around stealing and ransoming examination tokens. Eigetsu turns out to be an unwitting master at drunken boxing, because when he gets splashed by alcohol he turns into the deranged fighter Yogetsu, making him a desirable recruit for anyone in the underworld needing a strong ally.
Ryuki shows his strong promise as a leader when he turns up to extract his future civil servants from gang fighting, striking an amiable deal with the underworld syndicates that control the black market in his city. Now Shurei and Eigetsu are ready to tackle their exams, and they pass while setting records. Eigetsu is the youngest student ever to pass first, Shurei passes in third place, and the eccentric Ryuren Ran passes in second place. Egitsu and Shurei are singled out for the type of harsh hazing that only lifetime bureaucrats would be fiendish enough to survive. While being able to take the exams as a woman was Shurei’s ambition for so long, now she has new tasks to endure if she’s going to fulfill her dream of being a civil servant. One of the things that makes Shurei such a pleasant heroine to root for is that even though she’s suffering, she isn’t held up as a model of saintly behavior. She has a temper and she rants about the horrible treatment she has to endure plenty of times before deciding to stick it out just a bit longer. Ryuki continues to do what he can to protect her, although his role is limited to just watching over Shurei without intervening. Seeing him watch Shurei work out her own problems shows how much he’s evolved as a character since the start of the series, when his previous impulsive tendencies would probably have botched Shurei’s attempts at carving her own path. He’s happy for her success, but ambivalent about her eventual role in government because it will naturally set her at a greater distance from him. Seeing these paradoxical feelings develop as Shurei and Ryuki grow as adults is part of what makes Story of Saiunkoku so entertaining.