Story of Saiunkoku Volume 7 by Sai Yukino and Kairi Yura
One of the things that struck me while reading this latest volume of Story of Saiunkoku is how skilled the creators of this manga are at ratcheting up the dramatic tension. A long storyline centered on the travails and hazing of new bureaucrats in a historic fantasy country resembling China doesn’t seem like it would be a great setting for swashbuckling action and extremes of emotion, but that’s one of the things that Story of Saiunkoku does so well. Shurei and Eigetsu continue to suffer a workload that goes way beyond the norm for new civil servants in their positions, as they are singled out for being female and young respectively. Their uncomplaining attitude towards their unfair situation is beginning to win them allies, as some of their colleagues admit that having female civil servants around might be a good thing, and one of their fellow rookies even takes time out of his own schedule to help them out. I knew that something crazy was going to happen by the end of the volume when I saw that Shurei’s surrogate mother/brothel owner/crimeboss Kocho acting docile and subservient to an official that had targeted Shurei. I knew that Kocho was going to act in Shurei’s best interests and force a confrontation, and that’s what ended up happening.
One of the nice things about Story of Saiunkoku is that each volume seems to be able to cram in an incredible amount of intrigue and personal development in each volume. With such a large cast, it is impossible for every character to be featured in each volume, but the manga does take the time to focus on character development. I was happy to see that uptight directionally challenged Koyu got his chance in the spotlight in this volume, as he wonders exactly what his place is in his adopted family of the Hong clan. He struggles a bit to understand the attitude of his adopted father (Shurei’s uncle) but then realizes exactly how much he is valued and cared for.
There were plenty of great moments in this volume. Kocho was heroic as only a crime boss/madam can be. Eigetsu’s drunken violent alter ego Yogetsu came out to smack down his and Shurei’s enemies. Shurei and the Emperor Ryuki had a great scene towards the end of the volume where she commented to him that he used her as bait to draw out some hidden plots and said “Thank you for treating me as an official in your government.” Sometimes after a series gets past the five volume mark, I start to experience a bit of fatigue if the story isn’t truly engaging. That’s never a problem with Story of Saiunkoku, which always seems to balance just the right amounts of humor, excitement, and character growth in each volume.
Review copy provided by the publisher.