The Story of Saiunkoku, Vol. 9 by Sai Yukino and Kairi Yura
It is rare for a manga series to end leaving me wishing that it was twice as long, but that is exactly what happened as I was reading the final ninth volume of Story of Saiunkoku. The eighth volume was a natural stopping point, and this volume has some side stories that help shed some light on the histories of selected members of the supporting cast. This volume might not be totally necessary to round out Shurei’s main story, but fans of the series will enjoy visiting with the extended Hong clan and the amazingly eccentric Ryuren.
The first story, “So Began the Fairy Tale” focuses on Shurei’s father, giving greater background into the more ruthless personality behind his smiling exterior. While he’s an amazingly gentle and wonderful father, his past as an assassin gives a bit of an edge to all of his actions in the manga. Here we see the beginnings of his ability to plot as he takes action to make sure that the Hong clan isn’t endangered. “Hurricane Ryuren Strikes the Capital” flashes back to the examination period, where we see Shurei and Eigetsu start to cement their friendship with the eccentric Ryuren despite his crazy clothes, horrible flute playing, and tendency to make odd pronouncements. This story ends up serving as a meditation on the nature of friendship, even as Shurei and Egitsu’s overtures to Ryuren wind up taking them on a detour through the gambling underworld. The final story focuses on the Hong family again, with “Someday I Will Come to You (Though I Love You, How Far You Are From Me)” focusing on Shurei’s uncle Reishin Hong’s bizarre psychological hang-ups. This volume featured plenty of humor, as a series of masks duplicating the expressions of Shurei’s father are put to an unorthodox use, and the reactions Ryuren accidentally provokes from the people surrounding him are always funny.
It does make me a little sad knowing that there’s a very long light novel series containing more adventures of The Story of Saiunkoku that we’ll never see translated here, but the manga adaptation of the story was certainly fun to read. This is going to be a “keeper” series for me, as I can see myself wanting to reread this every few years. It is so unusual to find a shoujo ending where the happy ending for the heroine is a life of civil service as opposed to everything wrapping up nicely with a romantic interest. Many things combined to make this an entertaining manga – the clear art, fun supporting cast, and the blend of humor and drama made this manga very enjoyable.