Colourcloud Palace (Season One)
In the ancient kingdom of Saiunkoku, Shurei Hong, the daughter of the palace archivist, seeks a career in public administration, against the prejudices of those who think women are unsuited for the job. Fortunately, Shurei has some powerful backing in court- including the King himself.
I'm not certain I'm the ideal reviewer for this series, frankly. Even setting aside that I was obliged to watch it in the English dub- I always prefer subs, since they capture the tone and character of the original Japanese performances- Colourcloud Palace (or, if you prefer the original title, The Story of Saiunkoku) seemed to me awfully anachronistic. It's got a modern feminist sensibility, but sets its story in the distant past, and I just couldn't accept the plausibility of this sort of story in an age (even a mythical one) when the patriarchy burned even more brightly than it does today. I couldn't suspend my disbelief THAT much, especially since women have not been allowed much freedom of choice even in much more contemporary times (check out In This Corner Of The World, which deals with the life of a young woman (and her lack of choices) as recently as WWII-era Japan.)
To get into some detail:
-The leading men here are all Bishonen ("Pretty Boys").
-Most of these leading men do their utmost to protect Shurei and help her- and they AREN'T transactional about it, either. From Ryuki, the King himself (who brought her into the court as a "consort", which normally is a position with certain expectations)- to the worst scoundrel she encounters, named Sakujun Sa- EVERYONE respects her "No". (Though both Ryuki and Sakujun keep encouraging her to change her mind.)
The social structure of Sainkoku, by the way, is based around clans, which means that Shurei doesn't just enjoy the protection of the King, her father, and other members of the court- she's also protected by all THEIR relatives. The upshot of all this protection by those who love her (and respect even from those who are supposed to be her enemies) is that you seldom feel Shurei is in any REAL danger, whether of losing her virginity OR her life. There IS one (somewhat halfhearted) attempt to poison her (poison always HAS been popular in Royal Courts), and she IS kidnapped to be used as bait in someone's scheme, but the worst she normally has to endure is bullying by other court officials who feel that she has no right to take the civil service exam, much less BECOME a civil servant. (Indeed, King Ryuki overruled centuries-old precedent to get her a shot at the exam, not so much out of idealism but because he was smitten with her.)
Later in the show she's sent to be co-governor of Sa Province; the Sa clan that's traditionally held power there is the biggest bunch of ambitious backstabbers you'll ever meet. But of course the brigands they send against Shurei are quickly dispatched by Seiran Si and Ensei Ro, two more of Shurei's male "retainers", who happen to also have ties to Sa Province. (The show never really seemed a "reverse harem" per se, since only two of the male cast seem serious contenders for her interest (other than Sakujun, who's got that "bad boy" appeal I guess); the two are Ryuki (who's got the edge, being the King and all), and Seiran (who lived in Shurei's household for a number of years.)
With all the cast members AND their extended families you may feel overwhelmed trying to keep up with the characters. In my opinion, the most notable ones- for good OR ill- include these:
Eigetsu: I kind of hated this kid. He's competent but utterly boring (only 13, he's sent with Shurei to be co-governor of Sa). The main gimmick with this guy is that he has an aggressive personality hidden inside that's only brought out by alcohol.
Kokujun Sa- that wonder of wonders, a milquetoast Sa. With his neurotic guilt feelings and singular lack of ambition, he might be destined to go far- IF the reprobates in his family manage to kill each other off first.
Koyu Ri- a court official notable ONLY for having no sense of direction and for being the object of continual teasing by another court official, Shuei Ran. If he has ANY other function in the story, I must have missed it.
Ryuren Ran- brother of Shuei, this guy's mostly considered slightly daft- though there are sometimes advantages to being thought to be crazy. TERRIBLE flute player, by the way.
The story moves at a relentlessly sluggish pace (can something BE relentlessly sluggish?), which, along with its tendency to pull its punches about putting Shurei in any REAL danger, made it a chore for me to sit through.
Colourcloud Palace/Story Of Saiunkoku is a feminist story about a woman making it on her own (well, she passes the EXAM on her own, though some powerful males had to open that door for her), achieving her career dream (though really the show's even kind of ambivalent about THAT; time and time again the job of a court civil servant is shown to be a dreary slog through mountains of documents, and Shurei has to put in many all-nighters.) Career comes first, romance later- or perhaps not at all. (If you really MUST know if she ever takes the plunge, and with whom- and if it was even a good idea-try the Wiki article.)
Random thoughts, AGAIN:
-This show does have some of the supernatural in it. In particular, deceased characters sometimes come back as ghosts. Unlike The Sixth Sense, where the ghosts look just like the person at the time of death, HERE people who died elderly get to come back with the appearance of youth. I guess if you HAVE to be dead, you should get SOMETHING out of it.
-Amazon Prime didn't bother to provide good subtitles for the show at all. Yes, even on a dub I'll turn on subtitles (to get things like the spelling of names), but there was no consistency on those, and sometimes things just got embarrassing; apparently the subtitles were based on whatever the person assigned this task thought they heard. (My favorite is when "Consort Hong" gets rendered as "Concert Hong". Well, she DOES play an instrument called an ehru, but I think they're all private performances...)
It was the weirdest thing; I spent MONTHS getting through this show, even though it's NOT objectively awful at all. It's quite a pretty show, really, and NOT just the male leads. I expect there are those who will find this much more enjoyable than I did, so I really couldn't give it that bad a rating either. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: Non-explicit violence (I don't think any of the adversaries bleed, even when laid low by a sword.) Prime rates 13+, which is fine.
Version(s) Viewed: Amazon video stream
Review Status: Full (39/39)
Colourcloud Palace (Season One) © 2006 Madhouse.
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