Saiunkoku is the worst type of anime- it's not so obviously bad that you stop watching it right away, but rather that you get pretty far into it so you want to see how it all ends while at the same time just wanting it to be done so you can delete it from your computer and free up 10 gb. At the end of this 78 episode long series (including the first season) that's pretty much all I was thinking. I dont regret watching it, but I dodn't exactly enjoy it that much.
Before we move on- there will be spoilers, though I will try to make them vague, if that makes sense.
I could see why some people would think Saiunoku was a good anime, especially if somebody hadn't seen that many animes. The story in Saiunkoku DOES have some interesting premises. There is a romance between the MC, Shuurei (cool name) and the Emporor, Ryuuki. However the romance ultimately dissapoints. For political reasons, the ambitious Shuurei doesn't want to get married, and Ryuuki really wants to marry her. They end the relationship exactly where it started like 60 episodes ago. No progress at all. The story left you begging for something interesting to happen, like the emperor getting married and having a side affair with Shuurei, or them having secret love to protect her career. Hey, anything would have been better than doing nothing with the relationship for 60 episodes.
The ending isn't exactly gratifying either. It ends after another arc, which doesn't feel too much more important than previous arcs, come to a close. It's a closing of a chapter followed by a sudden ending of the series, where you see that everything will be as it's always been. Cool, but boring.
The animation here is subpar, too. It's not bad, but many characters look stale, they are like bishie cardboard cutouts. A lot of people look alike in this anime. And there are so many scenes where nothing moves but a mouth, or where somebody's face looks messed up from the angle.
The sound is nothing special. The Opening, which has been the same for the entire almost 80 episode series (cheap guys... really cheap.) is a nice song, but I dodn't care for the rest of the music, it was boring at best in my humbe opinion. Mediocre.
The concepts for characters were good, but a lot of them were never developed enough. That's not to say character development didn't happen at all, because it definately did. I will give that to them. Shuurei is a cool character, it's nice to have a female with a one track mind who won't get distracted from her work. However, by the end we are begging for her to admit her love for somebody, anybody, even if it isnt Ryuuki. I'm not asking for it to happen in an OOC way, just something. The male supporting cast was interesting, though mostly static. There were some lovable characters, and seeing some return after a stint of missing did make me happy. That;s why characters is the highest ranking element in this anime.
Overall, having some good basic ideas and characters wasn't enough to save Saiunkoku from it's epic mediocrity. And there were a little bit too many really "out there" plot elements that never were really explained or explored enough. Whatever. The anime wasn't good enough to make me read the light novels to find out, but I will google it. 15 GB freed on my hard drive, because Saiunkoku has no rewatch value.
TTLDR: take it easy all. I wouldn't waste your time watching this, it's not terrible, but you'd be better of watching something more gripping.
The plot through season 2 of Saiunkoku Monotagari progressed at the same general pace as the first season, slowly, but deep and full of subtleties unnoticeable at first glance. These subtleties definitely increase this anime’s re-watch value. Furthermore, if you can be patient through some of the lower-tempo parts of the series, you are rewarded with a few intricately placed plot twists created by cunning characters and complimented by a thoroughly thought provoking dialogue. The story is filled with political ideals and connotations which invigorate the intellectual side of any human, which is a very big supplement to the characters and the dialogue. The politics are essentially the baseline of the entire plot.
The story itself brings a beautiful concept to a normal monotonous world. The morals of our Protagonist, Shurei Kou, extends and reaches out to all those who care for her. There are moments that will create a sudden sense of sorrow and empathy, as the story unfolds and the characters lives are at stake. Yet, there are moments that are warm and full of compassion that fill the heart with joy. There are plenty of comic reliefs to ease the tension, which is a nice change of pace at times. There is little real romance in this anime, and for the better. The series already has too much going on. If it added a large romance in the story then it would be far too slow to bear.
Sound & Animation
The music through most of the series was very tranquil and soothing, especially when Shurei plays the ehru. However, there were instances that called for a more suspensful impression, and it was achieved through a very foreboding musical background. It may require a very perceptive ear, but there is some sort of music playing softly in the background during almost every scene, creating whatever atmosphere it is intended to create, mysterious, menacing, ambient, romantic, etc.
The animation was fun to watch, but nothing super special. The romatic cloudy scenes where Ryuki is dreaming of Shurei, is obviously cliche. There were a few scenes filled with shadowing and excellent spacing of character to background that dazzled me, but those were few and far between. The colors used, and the contrast between color placement was very well chosen. The backgrounds, especially the sunsets in the mountainous areas were beautiful. Overall, the animation never seemed sub-par and was always pleasing to look at.
The characters were very well developed. The story showed the emotions of and resolve of many characters. Among them are, Shurei, Ryuki, Seiran, Shuei, Koyu, Eigetsu, and more. The story showed past trials, family issues, ambitions, regrets, etc. of many of the characters in the story, without overdoing any particular character. The dialogue and relationships between the characters are by far the best part of the anime.
For instance: Watching Seiran as he struggles with Shurei's dangerous habits, he pushes himself to be more responsible for his own duties, with that he finds himself using his wits to find a way to keep Shurei safe, as he is unable to.
Or Eigetsu, as he struggles with his ambitions trying to make the most of the life that he has been given.
Even Shuei, whose family is forcing him to make a difficult decision which cannot be stated here to keep from spoiling it, but he fights with himself and the anime shows his past and what keeps him moving foward to make his ultimate decision.
There are many more situations where the person viewing this anime will gradually come to genuinely feel for the characters' sorrows, joys, misunderstandings, and best of all, embarrassments.
Overall, I give this anime an 8.5. It's deep, inspirational, political, and hearwarming story combined with excellent character development, ongoing atmospheric sounds, and wonderfully pleasing soft animation is a must see for anyone who doesn't mind a deep and intellectually political anime that has a good old fashion moral.
Cont. of S1 review:
The lack of mystical undertones in terms of spirituality and magic doesn't disrupt the worldbuilding process. It's only after these themes are introduced that the story starts to lose its grip on the world.
Suddenly strange things are being introduced, new characters with powers, places that house magic. Things thaat should not be trifled with. But where did all of this come from? Where was the build up to it in season 1?
Don't get me wrong I still love this show, the reconstuction of the goverment, the reformation of society, all of this would have been amazing on its own. There truly was no need to add those extra elements when the first season hardly acknowledges they exist other than in the prologue itself.