An anime DVD boxed set.
The more anime a person takes in, the clearer it becomes that lumping all Japanese animation into a single classification is an absolutely ridiculous notion. A majority of the anime I find myself attracted to could almost be mistaken for some of the finer American made “cartoons” save for the fact that the DVDs contain the original Japanese vocal track. Enter The Story of Saiunkoku from Geneon, distributed through Funimation. Not only is the show overflowing with Japanese sensibilities and visual charm, it’s built on a solid foundation of Asain culture so thoroughly that there’s no mistaking its origin regardless of the language track to which you find yourself listening.
Coming in at a whopping 975-minute runtime, The Story of Saiunkoku Complete Season One box set consists of 39 episodes spanning 9 discs. The packaging breaks it down into five thin pack cases housed in a charming cardboard outer slipcase. The show wears an appropriate if not slightly conservative TV 13 & Up rating due to a few adult-themes (war, good versus evil on an epic scale), some light sexual innuendo (a king everyone thinks is homosexual), and a little bit of drama.
Language options are typical sub & dub meaning both the original Japanese vocal track is present as well the choice of an English dub (either presented in Stereo) with the option of running English subtitles available with either vocal track.
Extras include textless opening and ending themes and a host of Geneon anime previews on each and every one of the nine DVDs.
The story, which has to be watched to be fully understood (or appreciated for that matter) goes something like this: Shurei, daughter of a broke aristocrat in fictional medieval country Saiunkoku has everything it takes to be a member of government except for the opportunity (because women are prohibited in this society).
Her father, a glorified librarian with a title, discovers the opportunity of a lifetime for young Shurei as the king's personal consort. Using his influence, her father is able to secure the position so that Shurei can put her motherly instincts to good use (and hopefully secure some wealth in the process) by supervising the young (19 year-old) king of the nation while injecting a little motivation and ambition into his routine.
Suspecting an arrogant and close-minded ruler, Shurei charges into the role only to discover a gentle, shy and insecure young ruler who just so happens to be of similar age. They strike up a solid relationship in no time, each forcing the other to change their view of members on such opposite sides of society’s spectrum. King Ryuki, inspired by Shurei’s knowledge, passion and ambition soon takes a more active role in the governing of his land while simultaneously providing Shurei an opportunity to put her skills to use despite the fact that women are not able to pursue such ambitions directly.
Now I’m not sure whether or not that summary captures the scope of the prose, so I will follow it by saying that those expecting wild action scenes, hilarious dialog sessions, passionate lovemaking sequences or even a quick moving plot structure will probably be disappointed. The truth is that The Story of Saiunkoku is an anime piece that requires, in fact demands, a certain level of patience and commitment from its viewer if satisfaction is to be found. In other words it relies on very few gimmicks along the way to tell its tale and makes no apologies for doing so.
The grand prose is methodic and evenly paced with character development taking the foreground of each episode. Sure there are moments sprinkled about that may earn a chuckle or build a little tension, but they serve to break the monotony of the show’s rhythmic progression rather than to act as a selling point on their own.
The visuals are an interesting blend of traits with character models absolutely rife with detail, occasionally at the expense of the backgrounds. Then just as quickly, that relationship can completely inverse with background art that is simply stunning to behold. Again though, the viewer gets a definite sense that the show’s creators deliberately avoided going too far in any single direction that could possibly detract from the story being told.
The fact that the first season consists of 39 episodes spanning nine DVDs should act as some indication to the type of pacing one is to expect. Almost like sipping hot coffee or sitting down to read the newspaper, Saiunkoku is best enjoyed at a relaxed pace and is a sort of acquired taste. Action junkies may be quick to dismiss the show once the opening narration (which is almost like something from Lord of the Rings) fades to a semi--contemporary setting where a young teacher tells the tale to her wide-eyed students and similarly diehard fans of the risqué will likely grow tired of waiting for lead character Shurei Hong and King Ryuki Shi to just hurry up and get it on.
The viewer who will get the most from this series is most likely someone who enjoys Japanese culture and politics coupled to fantastic artwork and youthful protagonists. I wouldn’t even think of suggesting that the show’s for everyone but for the few it really is for, prepare to be impressed.
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