Podcast: Shojo & Tell – The Story of Saiunkoku [With Transcript]

Let’s put some shine on this buried treasure.

In the foreground, Shurei faces the viewer and holds a fan. She is surrounded by flowers. In the background, Ryuki and Seiran watch her affectionately.

I was beyond delighted when Ashley (@AshMcD00) invited me on to Shojo & Tell to talk about one of my favorite series: The Story of Saiunkoku, a.k.a. “the shoujo gem that time forgot.” Hear us gush about Shurei, marvel at wild plot twists, discuss the manga’s feminist undercurrents, and pick our favorite pretty boys.

You can listen to the episode or keep reading for the full transcript.

Transcript: Shojo & Tell, “The Story of Saiunkoku”

ASHLEY: Welcome to Shojo and Tell, where we discuss shoujo manga and tell who’s hot and who’s not, talk about themes, and just generally geek out. Today, May 15, 2022, we’ll be Shojo-and-Telling you about the series The Story of Saiunkoku. The art is by Kairi Yura, and the story is by Sai Yukino. I’m your host, Ashley McDonnell, and I’m joined by Dee, creator of the Josei Next Door blog and a writer at Anime Feminist. Hello, Dee!

DEE: Hello, Ashley! It’s very exciting to be here.

ASHLEY: Oh my gosh, I know. I’ve been the slow one on this. Everybody’s like, “Why has Dee not been on yet?” And I’m like, “That’s a great question. It’s because I’m bad.”

DEE: [crosstalk] People have been asking? I feel famous now! I’m so glad you said that.

[Chuckling]

DEE: That’s very exciting! I just assumed I wasn’t very good at podcasting.

ASHLEY: No, I think the opposite is true, from what I have heard of you!

DEE: Ooh, this is exciting, then. Thank you. Now I’ve got an ego boost to start the show.

ASHLEY: Yes, that’s right. Is there anything else that I missed that you want to say about yourself?

DEE: I think you covered the basics: Josei Next Door, I work at Anime Feminist. I’m one of the managing editors, so, you know, big head honcho type, sort of. [Chuckles]

ASHLEY: Yes. [Chuckles]

DEE: You can hang out with me on Twitter @joseinextdoor. So, if you would like to… I’m mostly just posting bad jokes and yelling about Pokémon. But if that sounds fun for you, then you should head on over there. It’ll be great.

ASHLEY: I mean, my partner knows Pokémon, so he just wants to hear that all day. [Chuckles]

DEE: Excellent.

ASHLEY: All right. So, yeah, we’re gonna talk about The Story of Saiunkoku. This beginning section will be an attempt at being spoiler free. It’s kind of hard to talk about some things without spoiling anything, but we’ll do our best for anybody who has not read or watched the anime. So, Dee, would you like to give a plot synopsis?

DEE: Sure, I can do that. Okay, so The Story of Saiunkoku, as the name suggests, takes place in the land of Saiunkoku, which is a fantastical version of dynastic China. They never really specify because it’s a fantasy series, but it’s probably around 1000 AD, probably in the Song Dynasty, is the vibe I get from it.

The story follows Shurei, a young woman from a well-to-do but poor family who has always wanted to be a public official, but can’t because women aren’t allowed to take the civil service exams. In the early going of the story, she is approached by a high-ranking official, Lord Sa, who gives her the task of turning the nation’s new emperor into a responsible leader. The job pays really well, so she accepts because she needs to get some work done on the house and maybe have rice for dinner. And so she enters the emperor’s inner court, officially as a consort, but unofficially as his political tutor.

So, Shurei and Emperor Ryuki meet, and the story sort of spirals out from there as Shurei learns about Ryuki and the politics of the court and her place within it. And again, like you said, it’s hard to talk about without spoiling too much, because the story really does build on itself in a very gradual but very natural and well-told way. 

But just for folks at home, Shurei does not remain a consort for very long. That’s sort of the entry point of the story. The overall story is much more focused on her dream of becoming a civil servant and what needs to happen to make that happen. So, it’s more about her career goals—you know, while she’s hanging out with a lot of very pretty boys and thwarting some political schemes along the way, naturally. Naturally: it’s a shoujo!

ASHLEY: Naturally! Duh. Yeah, I was like, it definitely does the shoujo thing where it has an initial premise and then after two volumes that premise is not necessarily the focus anymore, and you’re like, “Okay, we’re still here for the ride.” [Chuckles]

DEE: Yeah, yeah. I think a lot of that comes from… Because it is adapted from light novels, I think that you can very clearly feel the arcs in the manga where maybe the end of a volume… and then you get a different story. And so, the first volume really does feel like setup for what the main story is, which is Shurei trying to realize her dream of breaking the ol’ glass ceiling and joining the court.

ASHLEY: Also, the explanation that she just wants to buy some rice and fix up her house. I’m like, “Relatable.”

DEE: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Shurei’s a very relatable protagonist! She’s one of the reasons I love this story so much.

ASHLEY: Yeah! So, I wanted to get a clearer sense of what level of familiarity you had with this series. Is this like the 50 millionth time you’ve read it, have you watched the anime, and all this stuff.

DEE: Yeah, this is actually only the second time I’ve read it. I’ve watched the anime a few times prior, as well. I probably… I prefer the anime, but that’s not the manga’s fault. It’s just that the anime… it’s really well done and there’s just more of it, so you get more of the story than the manga covers—because again, they’re based on ongoing light novels and so it’s not officially complete, although I think they find a good stopping point in both versions. 

So yeah, this is my second time coming to the manga, but it is a story that I have revisited a lot and it’s very, very, very close to my heart. So, yeah, a fair bit of familiarity with it, I would say.

ASHLEY: Okay, and I will admit to listeners that this is the first time I have read it, and I have not watched the anime. I’m very bad.

DEE: No, that actually… that makes me happy. I’m glad that this was an excuse to get you into it. So, that’s great.

ASHLEY: I know! I was like, “How did I miss this, though?” It was never on my radar, even.

DEE: I call it “the shoujo gem that time forgot” because the anime came out right as the bottom dropped out of the industry in the mid-aughts. So, Geneon was bringing it out and then Geneon went under. And then there was a whole license reshuffle and we never got season 2. 

And then the manga came out at about the same time, but the manga industry wasn’t as vibrant at that point either. It had also kind of dipped, and so, Viz released it on their Shojo Beat label, which makes it pretty easy to find, which is nice, but I just don’t think it got a lot of hype because of the economic situation when it came out, which is very unfortunate. 

And also, it’s not a romance-forward series, which a lot of people, I think, look for, so maybe that put some people off because it’s more of a political drama, right?

ASHLEY: Yeah. No, totally. But that’s why I’m like, “I should have read it sooner.”

[Chuckling]

DEE: Yeah, I think it’s kind of an under-the-radar one just because of when it came out. It didn’t ping on a lot of people’s radars. But the people I know who did find it, love it!

ASHLEY: That’s the sense I get from the response we got from being like, “We’re doing this!” People were like, “What a time! I remember this! Yay, I love it!” [Chuckles]

DEE: Yeah, it has a small but passionate following, I would say, and I would definitely count myself as one of those people. I am constantly asking Seven Seas to bring over the light novels.

ASHLEY: Okay! [Laughs] Nice. Well, yeah, we got a question from @sewingrose11 on Twitter, who asked, “Do you feel the sense of longing that we’re not getting the light novels in English as well?”

DEE: Oh, very much I feel that. Very much, I feel that sense of longing. Every day, I’m like, “Come on, guys! Just bring them over. I know there’s like a million volumes, but come on, you can do it!” 

There’s kind of been an uptick in fantastical Chinese court dramas in the light novel world recently, stuff like The Apothecary Diaries and Culinary Chronicles. So, maybe if those do well, it’ll encourage them to bring over some classics? Fingers crossed!

ASHLEY: Yeah, my thing about this question, like “We’re not going to get the light novels,” I wouldn’t say “never,” though. I think light novels are only just starting to have their time here.

DEE: At this point, I feel like anything is possible. There’s been so many series where I’m like, “Oh, we’re never gonna get that in English,” and then, lo and behold, we did, so I’ll just keep holding out hope forever.

ASHLEY: I’m just like, the hope is still there. Hope springs eternal.

DEE: That’s right.

ASHLEY: It’s good. [Chuckles]

Okay, so, yeah, would you like to elaborate on why this is one of your favorite series and you’re so desperate for those light novels?

DEE: Well, I’m desperate for the light novels because I would just like to spend more time with these characters and see where Shurei’s story goes, because from the manga… again, not to spoil too much, but her journey is really just beginning by the time we get to the end of the manga. And the anime… again, I haven’t been able to see season 2 because it never got an English release and by the… Anyway, we don’t need to get into a conversation about fansubs!

ASHLEY: [Chuckles]

DEE: But the anime gets a little deeper into her story and goes more into what happens after… redacted for spoilers!

ASHLEY: Redacted. [Chuckles]

DEE: So that’s one of the reasons I really want the light novels, is I would like to spend more time with these characters, see how they grow and change, and impact and change the world, honestly. I feel like that’s where the story is going a little bit. 

The reason I love it so much is… Again, Shurei’s a huge part of it. She is just a terrific main character. She… I don’t even know how to describe her, because she’s observant and really competent and smart, but she also gets really angry at people and tells them off to their faces. She’s a very layered character. I can’t describe her in a couple of sentences. And I feel that way about a lot of the cast. I think that they’re well-written people with a lot of internal contradictions who grow over the course of the story in ways that are really satisfying to watch.

I also think it has a good sense of humor. It can be quite silly when it wants to be. I like the political intrigue elements, and I like that the romance isn’t a huge part of it because I’m not a… As much as I like shoujo, I tend to lean towards the shoujo where romance isn’t the end-all-be-all, central, big, dramatic focus of it. You know, your Basaras, your Ouran Highs, as some very dramatically different examples of the kind of shoujo I love.

ASHLEY: Yes! [Chuckles]

DEE: So I like that about this too. I think it gives the relationships room to breathe and grow naturally as the characters weave in and out of each other’s lives. So I appreciate that a lot. And it’s a very endearing cast. So, I think those are the main reasons why I love this series.

ASHLEY: Yeah, I largely agree with those things. Reading the summaries somewhat turned off my partner. He was like, “Oh, Ryuki…” They emphasize that Ryuki sleeps with men initially but then [chuckles] gets a crush on Shurei and everything, and he’s like, “What is this?” And I was like, “No…”

DEE: I love that Ryuki is canon bisexual! Can you name me a story where the love interest in manga… where the love interest is canon bisexual? That is so uncommon. And the series is generally very chill about it. They’re like, “Yeah, he sleeps with men. He also sleeps with women. That’s what he does.” [Chuckles]

ASHLEY: I know! I think it’s just from the Wikipedia summary you get the sense that he was gay but then he was turned straight. And I’m like, “No, he’s just bi.”

DEE: Oh yeah, that is not the… I mean, it’s ultimately a moot point because he does fall in love with… spoilers? I feel like it’s not a spoiler.

ASHLEY: It’s not a spoiler.

DEE: He falls in love with Shurei pretty quick, and so he sort of stops really necessarily paying attention to other people because of that. But it doesn’t change the fact that he is canon bisexual, explicitly bisexual. 

What is he called? “A double-edged sword,” I think, was the terminology of the time period, which I thought was a neat way of explaining it in explicit terms but still grounding it in the historical timeline, where the word “bisexual” probably wouldn’t have existed. So, they’re like, “Here’s a slang term they used for bi folks back in Dynastic China days.”

ASHLEY: [Chuckles] Yeah! No, I thought that was good, yeah. And I also really like Shurei. And I think part of the complication with her is that she has many sides, but in a story where… I don’t want to spoil who is what, but they all have such duplicitousness about them that she doesn’t, really, so it feels refreshing.

DEE: She’s a lot more straightforward, that’s true. I also like that her… I feel like she acts differently with different people, which is, again, very true to life. Your relationships with different people impact how you behave. So, she maybe goes off on Ryuki a little bit more than she does her dad or her surrogate brother, who she has a lot more patience for.

ASHLEY: [Chuckles] Only when her dad tries to serve her tea is she like, “No, absolutely not. Get away from me.”

DEE: [crosstalk] “No, absolutely not.” Yeah, and she will be blunt when she needs to be. She knows when to be polite and navigate those etiquette spaces, but also, when she doesn’t have to navigate them, she has the subtlety of a brick, and I do love that about her. She will tell you what she thinks. 

And again—not to get too deep in the weeds here, because I’m sure we’re gonna get into themes—the other thing I love about the series is it actively and directly discusses sexism in a way that I think is very nuanced and relatable, that I don’t think you see as much. So, it’s a story of a woman trying to enter a traditional man’s sphere, and I think it handles it really well, in a way that is both painful at times but also affirming and inspiring, and I really like that about it, too.

ASHLEY: Yes, I felt all of those emotions. I was like, “Stop! I’ve done this! I don’t want to…”

DEE: [Chuckles]

ASHLEY: “I don’t want this!” But also, it’s good! I’m [like] “Yay, she’s gonna succeed, yay!” [Laughs]

Okay, so, hopefully, if you haven’t read The Story of Saiunkoku before, we sold you on it. So, if you want to read it, from what I saw it was pretty easily accessible. Shojo Beat still appeared to be publishing it in print as well, or places still had stock of it, so you can get it in print. It’s also available digitally. Oops, I forgot to check if the anime is anywhere legally.

DEE: It technically is available on… As of the recording of this, it is available—the first season—on RetroCrush and, I think, Amazon Prime. It is listed, for some reason, under the title Colourcloud Palace.

ASHLEY: Oh, yeah!

DEE: And it is only the dub. So, if you’re looking for it, you have to look up “Colourcloud Palace,” and “colour” is spelled the British way, just to make it a little bit harder for Americans to find it.

ASHLEY: [crosstalk] Just to make it more fun!

DEE: Yeah! Just to bury it deeper down in the algorithm. The dub is fine. The sub has a cast of all-stars, so it’s hard to compete, but I guess it’s better than nothing. As soon as the sub comes out, we’re gonna do a watchalong of it at AniFem for Chatty AF, our podcast, so, come on, guys! Bring that sub over! Let’s do it.

ASHLEY: Yeah, like, “Let’s do it, we got it ready!”

Okay, so now we’re gonna spoil all the things because there’s a lot of things to spoil, honestly. So, if you don’t want to know about those things, stop this episode now. 

And here we go! We’re going to talk about some more characters because there are a lot of them and they all, again, have five different identities to unravel!

[Laughter]

ASHLEY: So that’s fun. And I apologize in advance that I’m definitely gonna mess up their names. I’m gonna mix up who I’m talking about because half of them have names that are very similar to each other, and I’m like, oh no!

DEE: If I get confused, I’ll ask for clarification. So, we’ll get through it. It’ll be alright.

ASHLEY: Yes. I’m just like, I remember some subtweets about me mispronouncing the Basara protag a while ago, so, you know, just subtweet me again, everybody. [Chuckles]

DEE: It happens when you’re talking, right? I mean, pobody’s nerfect.

[Chuckling]

ASHLEY: Exactly. Okay, so we talked a lot about Shurei already, but we haven’t really talked about Ryuki. [Chuckles] Oh, Ryuki.

DEE: Ryuki is also a character with layers. What do you think about him? Because this is your first time through. So I’m curious, first time through, what are your thoughts on Ryuki?

ASHLEY: He did grate on me. I was like, you are too silly.

[Chuckling]

ASHLEY: I like his whole thing where he’s pretending to be a fool, and actually he’s not. He’s just like, “I really wanted my brother to come… I wanted them to un-exile him and him to have to be king instead of me.” Good ploy there.

DEE: Yeah. Well, and he has so much trauma surrounding the court. With Ryuki, I always kind of have to remind myself—because he definitely has that element of being sort of privileged and pampered because he is the emperor, but also, he’s an abuse survivor and it’s a huge part of his character. And his survival strategy of not seeming dangerous was almost certainly one of the reasons he survived to adulthood in that very cutthroat political landscape. 

So, he’s sad, which is… If you want to get me to love your anime boy, make him sad! [Chuckles]

ASHLEY: I know! I feel like I wanted that to carry through more.

DEE: Yeah.

ASHLEY: It’s very emphasized in the first two volumes, when it’s setting up Shurei and Ryuki’s relationship. But then after that, it kind of becomes The Shurei Show and he’s always just there, pining and trying to find a way to be in her life, which is always silly, and then his only serious moments come more from, like, “People are trying to prevent Shurei from being a civil servant, and I’m not gonna stand by and let that happen.”

DEE: Yeah. No, I agree. I wish we did get a little bit more of his internal character struggles outside of his relationship with Shurei as the story goes. But you know, I mean, part of that is just Shurei’s the main character, so it’s kinda…

ASHLEY: Which, fine, great, I love it. [Chuckles]

DEE: Yeah. What did you think of the way he handles having a crush on her but also supporting her dreams? [Chuckles]

ASHLEY: Oh, yes, yes. This is a part where I could see why you’d really want to know more about how this goes because I’m like, so far, yeah, he’s doing a great job, mostly. He’s doing a great job being like, “Her dreams come before my wishes,” where it is somewhat clear that she doesn’t focus on him as much as he focuses on her and adores her and everything, and his recognition that he could force her to come, but then he would destroy everything that he likes about her. 

And I’m like, yes! Most manga do not acknowledge that! They just do the terrible thing and then don’t really overtly say that. It’s nice.

DEE: Yeah. I like that Ryuki… he definitely has to fight through that impulse to be like, “I want to keep her with me all the time and just have her be here.” And he even has that thought at the beginning, like, “If I pass this law, she’ll like me more!” as opposed to “I should pass this law to let women take the exams because they deserve to take the exams.” His motives aren’t 100% pure.

ASHLEY: I feel like overall the narrative kind of is—overall, not just in this situation—like motives don’t matter as much as end results! [Chuckles] You know?

DEE: How do you mean? What’s another example?

ASHLEY: Like, morally… Because they’re all so conniving in everything.

DEE: Oh yeah.

ASHLEY: They’re not trying to do the morally upstanding, high-road thing ever. They’re like, “This is a means to an end. And if the end is good, it’s good.”

DEE: Yeah, I think that’s why Shurei and Eigetsu are such a… like, “We’ll shake the foundations of this government.” I like to joke that the end of this series is a full-on proletariat revolution led by Shurei and Eigetsu.

ASHLEY: [Laughs] Yes, yes!

DEE: But yeah, you’re right: there’s a lot of court intrigue and machinations and clans jockeying for power. And Ryuki grew up in that landscape. 

So, my point was, I totally agree with you that… I really love how he acknowledges that it’s important to honor Shurei’s agency, but I also like that the series doesn’t let him be a perfect human being, right? He still kind of has to fight through that desire to just… “I’m the emperor; she could just be my girlfriend if I ordered it” kind of deal, and then be like, “No, no, no. Don’t do that. That’s wrong!” Good job, Ryuki. I’m proud of you.

ASHLEY: “That’s too far.” Exactly, yeah. But it makes sense for him to think it. You always gotta think the bad thing and then not do it, right?

DEE: Yeah. And especially when we look at… I like the way the series… Because it takes place in Fantasy China, but there’s not a ton of actual magic. The fantastical elements are very background level. There’s some immortals kicking around, and later in the series, past where the manga goes, there’s a few other magical (“supernatural” is maybe the word I should use)… that drop in very suddenly into the story. But it’s pretty grounded in just day-to-day living in a world that is similar to but not exactly like Dynastic China. 

And so I like that the series… I feel like it acknowledges those historical roots by having the characters have these thoughts like “Oh, well, women should be in the home,” and then they’re having to unlearn those behaviors. Which, listen, there’s plenty of people in our current day who think the same thing, but it would have been just accepted fact in that historical period. So, I do like the way that it acknowledges that and then goes, “But that’s not the story we’re telling. We’re telling the progressive version of that story.”

ASHLEY: Yeah, totally. There was one point early on where I was a bit confused because I thought it implied at one point that women used to be able to take the exam but then they changed the law, and I was like, “But then why is it so vehemently opposed?” And then I was like, “Maybe I read that wrong.” [Chuckles]

DEE: I don’t remember that. You could be right and I may have just missed it. But if that was the case, I think it was so long ago that it’s like “We don’t do things that way anymore” kind of deal.

ASHLEY: Yeah, they had a whole revolution after the previous emperor and they’re like, “We’re a totally different country now. It’s all wild and everything over here.”

DEE: Yeah, they’re very much coming off of years of political unrest. So, as Shurei’s—

ASHLEY: Don’t rock the boat!

DEE: Yeah. As Shurei’s particular traumas would love to tell us: the hard times in the city.

ASHLEY: [Chuckles] Yeah, Hard Times in the City. That’s the real name of this manga.

DEE: [Chuckles] I mean, that’s one of the other things I like about it, though, is: right from the start it’s like, yeah, there was all this political unrest, and at the high level… I mean, it’s the Game of Thrones idea of— I shouldn’t talk about Game of Thrones because it sucks and this is so much better. I’m still angry at the end of Game of Thrones. It’s been years and I’m still angry. But that idea—

ASHLEY: I’ve always been angry.

DEE: But that idea of, you know, when the nobles are fighting, it’s the commoners who suffer the most. And Shurei, because her dad has been cut off from the main family, she was very much on the ground for that. 

And so, she and Ryuki have very different experiences of what that moment looked like, and it motivates her entire life, right? Like, “I want to make sure that people have food and medicine and have the ability to make their own choices.” That’s her whole thing. Which, again, proletariat revolution, Shurei. Let’s do it. [Chuckles]

ASHLEY: Let’s do it! Yes, yes, yes. And… All right, this was a thought I had before and then I forgot it and now I remember again, in response to the question of Ryuki being contradictory about his desire to be with Shurei but also trying to help her and her dreams when those things don’t mesh. 

It feels like he is kind of in her position from the beginning, where she’s like, “I keep dreaming about this thing that I know is literally impossible, but I still really want to do it.” And then he’s like, “Okay, I’ll make that dream come true. But now my dream is like, ‘I’m gonna wait for you,’ even though I know that’s impossible, question mark, question mark?”

DEE: Might be on-hold forever and ever? Yeah. I mean, eventually she’ll retire, probably. And then they can get married.

[Chuckling]

ASHLEY: They can be like 50 years old and married finally.

DEE: That’s right. And in the meantime, they can just have little garden trysts because that’s their thing.

ASHLEY: Yes, yes! Totally. They’re really doing it correctly.

DEE: Mm-hm!

ASHLEY: [Chuckles] Okay, well, we have some other characters to talk about, which is… Seiran is the guard of Shurei but also Ryuki’s brother, but we don’t acknowledge that anymore.

DEE: Yeah, he’s basically Shurei’s adoptive brother at this point, right? I mean, Shoka and her mom, whose name I always forget, took him in. So I think of him as like Shurei’s older brother for the most part.

ASHLEY: Okay, okay. That makes sense. I definitely like him. To me… I’d written a question later here that’s like: which character did the best at forging a new identity or staying the same? And for me, it’s so interesting that they all have 50 million identities going around and Seiran is the one who’s like, “I definitely just don’t acknowledge that I used to be a prince, and I will not respond to Ryuki keep calling me brother,” and he knows that and catches himself. “I shut that down entirely.” [Chuckles]

DEE: “Your brother is dead.” Wink! [Chuckles]

ASHLEY: “Your brother is dead.” Wink! “Get on with it.” [Chuckles]

DEE: “Yeah, come on. We have to continue living this fiction forever.” Yeah, I feel bad for Seiran. One thing I do think the manga does… And I’ll try not to spend too much time talking about the anime since this is a manga podcast. 

One thing I think the manga does a little better than the anime is: the anime kind of scrubs off his sharper edges, and so I do like that you see a little bit more of him as this kind of quiet manipulator, except when he’s with Ensei and then he just lets loose and is very harsh, which is another… Again, characters interact differently with different people in this series, which gives them a lot of facets and layers, which I really like. 

But in the anime, they kind of sand off his edges to the point where sometimes I forget he’s a character, and then he shows up on screen and I’m like, “Oh, yeah! Seiran’s here too, isn’t he?” [Chuckles] But I think that’s the way Seiran would want it, because he’s very much about flying under the radar, right?

ASHLEY: Yeah! He just shows up when you need him. He’s like, “Oh, you need me to beat up some bad guys? Here I am! I’m very pretty still, too,” and you’re like, oh, that’s good. [Chuckles]

DEE: He’s so grateful to Shurei’s family. He just wants them to be happy. That’s like his only goal in life. Which I think is why for me he’s not an especially interesting character, because he doesn’t have a ton of personal goals.

ASHLEY: No.

DEE: But he sweet boy. I just don’t have a lot to add. You said you did like him, though?

ASHLEY: I like him. I think he’s like the prettiest. I know that that’s supposed to be debatable in this manga. There’s lots of pretty men, but I’m like, “No. Seiran.” [Chuckles]

DEE: It’s Seiran. He’s the one you would like to look at the most.

ASHLEY: Yes, yes. I’m like, give me a nice print of Seiran.

[Chuckling]

ASHLEY: Yes. So then there’s also Ran, who is a general of the guard who… I think he’s the one that I struggle to be like “Why are you here?” the most with, honestly.

DEE: Yeah, Ran kind of… I mean, he and Seiran both to a point are kind of like plot characters. The Ran clan…. And that’s the other thing. You kind of see it towards the end: the Ran clan has a lot of power in the community. And I suspect—because, again, I haven’t read the novels—the deeper you get into all the factions and different families and clans and all that politicking, I suspect he becomes a much more important character because of that bridge. 

But yeah, his thing is very much like… I don’t know. I always feel like he’s hiding his claws. Does that make sense? He’s like, “No, I just want to go down to the red-light district and have sex with some pretty ladies.” But he’s also running this extensive intelligence network with said pretty ladies. He has a lot of connections in the city, which I think makes him an interesting character. 

And I do like his interactions with Koyu. I think the two of them together are quite fun.

ASHLEY: No, I definitely ship Koyu and Ran. [Chuckles]

DEE: Oh, I could see it, yeah. No, I’m… [Chuckles] I like that ship.

ASHLEY: [Chuckles] That’s definitely my OTP here, you know? [Laughs]

DEE: Excellent.

ASHLEY: Excellent.

DEE: The womanizer and the woman-hater. They’re perfect for each other.

ASHLEY: [crosstalk] Yes, yes, yes! They’re perfect for each other! You see it!

[Chuckling]

ASHLEY: Okay. I do really like Koyu, though.

DEE: I do too. Even though he’s a self-professed woman hater, I like how you get into the series and it’s like, oh, he was just traumatized by marriage proposals; he doesn’t actually have anything against women specifically. Yeah, Koyu’s one of my boys. I do like Koyu quite a bit and his terrible sense of direction.

ASHLEY: Yes, his terrible sense of direction! His crotchetiness, but he’s just a tsun, so I’m like, “Yes, okay, tell me more, you tsun.”

[Laughter]

DEE: I had not thought of him that way before, but you are correct, yeah.

ASHLEY: I definitely put him in the same… When I think of him, I think of Tasuki from Fushigi Yugi or something.

DEE: I could see that a little bit, yeah: kind of a blustery, grumpy exterior, but secretly deep down on the inside, squishy. [Chuckles] Heart of gold.

ASHLEY: [crosstalk] Yeah, say they hate women but really trying to help the main character, who’s a woman, you know?

DEE: Constantly? Yeah. He’s one of the few… Again, I suspect with some of the other characters we would get more of their story as we go, but we do get a little bit more with him and his family situation. Because, like a lot of characters in this, he is adopted and has that whole thing with Shurei’s uncle, Reishin. They have that whole arc where he is trying to figure out if Reishin actually gives a damn about him.

ASHLEY: It was sad! I was like, “Of course he does!”

DEE: Yeah, I find it interesting that both Shoka and Reishin express love by giving their children freedom, basically. Shoka’s like, “Yeah, I want Shurei to…” Which, we’ll have to talk about Shoka at some point. [Chuckles]

ASHLEY: Yeah, he’s next.

DEE: Oh, perfect, perfect. You know, he’s like, “Shurei should live the life she wants. I’m not gonna force her to marry anybody.” And then Reishin effectively does the same thing with Koyu, like, “You should go live your life. If you want to go sell dim sum, yeah, go sell dim sum, man!” [Chuckles] “Go be free!” But they say it in such completely different ways that Koyu hears, like, “Screw off,” basically. “I don’t give a damn.”

ASHLEY: I know. Yeah. Koyu probably also has an issue with it because he is adopted, right?

DEE: Oh yeah.

ASHLEY: There’s an extra layer there, for sure.

DEE: Yeah, I think you see that with a lot of the kids in this. Like Kourin early on—who sure does make some mistakes, Kourin does.

ASHLEY: Oh boy.

DEE: [Chuckles] [ironic] Just a little poisoning to show her love for her adopted dad.

ASHLEY: [ironic] Just a lot of poisoning.

DEE: [Chuckles] But I think you see that with a lot of them, where that’s that sense of… and, Seiran, too, a point… that sense of “I’m so grateful, I need to show you my gratitude towards you taking me in when my own family turned me out.” But also that insecurity of “But do you actually care about me? Because I’m not by blood your son.” 

So I do like the way they finish that arc up, where he goes to Shoka and Shoka’s like, “Oh God, my brother’s an idiot. Okay, here’s what he meant.”

[Laughter]

DEE: “You’re good. He loves you. He’s just really bad at saying it!”

ASHLEY: It also comes off weird to the children, too, because the stereotype of parents is that they’re trying to control you and everything, right? And so for them to just be like, “Go do whatever!” it’s like, “Okay… Are you hippies? We didn’t have hippies yet, you know?” So they’re confused. [Chuckles]

DEE: Yeah, I think there’s a really interesting contrast in the story between that sort of historical setting, where it very much would have been a “honor your parents, do what they do want you to do, carry on the clan and the family name,” especially for these higher-up noble families… that sort of expectation, versus the way the actual individual characters act, which is a lot more modern.Which I think is, again, a very fun way to do a historical fantasy, is to bring those elements in. 

But yeah, it throws Koyu, right? It throws people off when they’re like, “No, you have the freedom to choose because I want you to be happy.” He doesn’t know how to deal with that.

ASHLEY: Except for the talk where they were gonna make him marry Shurei, and I’m like, “Oh, no, I don’t want that.”

DEE: Yeah. I did like [how] Shoka was basically like, “Yeah, I’m not gonna make her do that, so… I don’t know what you want from me, bruv.”

[Laughter]

DEE: “Good luck, I guess?” Yeah, I have no idea how that—

ASHLEY: [crosstalk] [Laughs] Poor Koyu.

DEE: Yeah, I don’t think Koyu wants to marry Shurei. That’s my personal thought right now. Maybe this eventually becomes a harem situation, but right now it’s like a bunch of pretty-boy friends.

ASHLEY: Yeah, no, well, because Koyu wants to be with Ran. Like, that’s just…

DEE: [deadpan] Of course, obviously, yeah. Definitely. No, you’re right. How could I forget?

ASHLEY: How could you forget? [Chuckles] Okay, so, Shoka, he’s here. He sure is a dad! He’s less than 40? That’s garbage.

DEE: [Laughs] He’s pushing 40. He’s like 39, right?

ASHLEY: Okay.

DEE: They had kids young back in the day. Listen, listen, killing people for a living ages you.

ASHLEY: Yes, yes. Okay, I was just like, “Oh! He is much younger than I assumed he was.”

DEE: Mm-hm. Yeah, sometimes I have to check myself with the ages of the characters, like, oh, no, they’re all actually probably fairly young because they would have been having kids in their late teens, early 20s.” So, even with a 16-year-old daughter he’s not that old.

ASHLEY: Okay, well, good for him.

[Chuckling]

ASHLEY: He’s also murdered a lot of people apparently.

DEE: Yes. He’s also one of the best dads in manga and anime history, I would argue!

ASHLEY: See, this is— Look at this. He is an assassin, but he’s also the best dad, and that’s what you get from this manga, right?

DEE: Yeah! You get complex characters with layers, lots of sides.

ASHLEY: Layers!

DEE: He’s a retired assassin. He got out of the game. [Laughs]

ASHLEY: Okay. All right. He had to do some assassin-y things in volume 2. That’s all I’m saying.

DEE: He did, he did. Some mild assassin work. You know what? Just when you think you’re out, they pull you back in. [Chuckles]

ASHLEY: Exactly.

DEE: What were your thoughts on Shoka? Did you like him? Were you confused about him? Where did you fall?

ASHLEY: [Chuckles]

DEE: I love Shoka. So I will start with that.

ASHLEY: [Laughs] You’re like, “I love him. He’s the best dad ever.” Okay, cool. Definitely, not knowing a lot of things going into it, I was like, “He’s an assassin?!” [Laughs]

DEE: That moment is buckwild. That moment, yeah, threw me for a loop the first time I watched the series, too. I’m like, “Wait, what? Wait, what? Happy Chill Dad is a killer? What?”

ASHLEY: I know. I was like, “This is…” I was so confused, yeah. So then from there, I kept looking at him and I was like, “But he’s an assassin!”

[Laughter]

ASHLEY: I got over that, and then I was like, “Oh, but he is such a good dad to everybody!” And does that make it okay? I guess so. I accept it. I like him a lot. Yeah. I don’t know.

DEE: Well, and he sort of has some moments, too, where he says, “I did some pretty terrible things. And to me, I did them for the right reasons; it was for the betterment of the country. But also, I’m not gonna pretend like they weren’t heinous acts that I would like to get away from. I don’t want that life anymore.” Yeah, layers. 

His scenes with Ryuki… I didn’t remember them hitting like that in the anime, so maybe the manga gave more space to them, but his scenes with Ryuki when Ryuki’s a little sad, traumatized, abused lad are so good. They’re just so good. I’m so glad… You realize that he’s like this connecting thread between so many of the characters who would have been just miserable without him there. Wonderful dad.

I think one of the moments for me, where I… Because I already loved him because he’s, again, very nice and supportive, but will mess you up if you mess with his kids. Watch out! Do not mess with his kids!

ASHLEY: He will cut you.

DEE: He will cut you, quite literally. But the moment when Shurei as a younger girl goes to work at Kochou’s brothel… and Shurei thinks it’s a big secret and her dad immediately finds out and goes to Kochou and is like, “Hey, I know she’s going to be working for you. I would like you to look after her because there’s going to be stuff that… You know, she’s a girl; I’m not. There’s going to be stuff I’m not going to be able to help her with. I would really appreciate it if you could look after her for me.” And she ends up stepping into that mother figure partly for that. 

But I just thought that was such a nice moment of… (A) The story is very sex-worker–positive and non-judgmental, which I think is pretty cool. And (B), as a single dad, realizing, “Oh, this is a respected”—I guess “powerful”; Kochou is powerful—“powerful lady who can maybe be something for my daughter that maybe I can’t be.” And so, going to her and specifically asking her to look after her, I thought was just a very sweet and self-aware moment with him. 

And pretty much anytime he’s sad about— Again, sadboys. Any time he’s sad about his wife, I’m like, “I want to hug you, Shoka!”

ASHLEY: Yeah! [Laughs] That’s fair. Yeah, no, he’s definitely… It definitely feels like he’s like, “I was an assassin and now I definitely don’t want that,” so he sacrifices a lot of things to kind of bury that away and be like, “Now I just take care of children.” The repentance is strong here. [Chuckles]

DEE: Now he’s a librarian.

ASHLEY: Yes. Now he’s a librarian.

DEE: Like all librarians, former assassins. So, yeah, that’s just what you do.

ASHLEY: Yes, yes, yes, that’s just how it goes. And you just take in every orphan you can find, and when the hard times come, you’re just like, “I give away all my money.” And I’m like, that’s cool. Yeah.

DEE: Strip my trees bare to feed my neighbors.

ASHLEY: Yes!

DEE: He’s a good dad.

ASHLEY: He’s a good dad! Yeah, no, definitely that moment where he went to Kochou, I was just like, “Everything in this manga just throws me for a loop in the best way.” I love it!

DEE: It does. Again, because I’ve read/seen it so many times, sometimes I forget that the plot twists are kind of like “Wait, what?” And the one with Shoka is very much like a jaw-hits-the-floor “Excuse?” moment.

ASHLEY: That was definitely the biggest one for me. I was like, “Yo, okay, this has set the bar now. I understand.” Going forward, nothing is as shocking.

DEE: This is true.

ASHLEY: Going forward, I was more like, “Oh, I’m silly for not having seen this twist coming. Of course, obviously. After that Shoka thing…”

[Chuckling]

DEE: Yeah, I think most of the plot twists in this make sense in retrospect, even if you don’t see them coming. You’re like, “Oh, yeah, of course it was that guy because of this, this, and this that happened,” or something like that. But the Shoka one, I don’t think you could have seen that coming!

ASHLEY: No. No. I was so shocked. [Chuckles]

Yeah, but, so, Kochou. Is she like the second best character in your…? [Chuckles]

DEE: Probably, right? I mean, what do you think of Kochou?

ASHLEY: I definitely was like… Okay, again, this manga… I guess it was an interesting moment for thinking about Shurei, where it shows a lot of lack of judgmentalness on her part, because for the most part she seems pretty straight-laced in everything. She’s like, “You’re breaking the law! Gambling is not a respectable way to make money,” all those types of things. 

But she never has any of those thoughts, seemingly, about Kochou or that line of work. We don’t get much insight into it, but I was just like, “Oh, yeah, she really respects it,” and they have that whole makeup discussion, and I was like, “You know, I never wear makeup and I hate makeup, and y’all making me be like, okay, I get it for the first time ever!” [Chuckles]

DEE: I’m so glad you brought that scene up, because of all the moments in Saiunkoku, I think that is the one that stands out to me the sharpest as far as… I watched it in college, and, like you, I don’t wear makeup, I have no interest in it. It’s time and money I don’t want to spend, you know?

ASHLEY: Yes! Thank you, you get it.

DEE: And I definitely had some of that internalized misogyny going on in college of “Ah, I’m not like other girls! I’m not into that kind of stuff” BS that you need to work through. And I was young college for what it’s worth, like 19 when I watched this series.

ASHLEY: You’re like sophomore year and below everybody. [Chuckles]

DEE: Yeah. But that scene really hit me like, “Oh! That’s actually… That’s totally valid.” The idea of it as armor that you wear because if you cry then you’ll ruin your makeup, so it’s a reminder to not cry and stay strong. No, that scene has always resonated with me even though I don’t wear makeup and still do not. It wasn’t like I watched that scene and then went, “I should wear makeup now.” No, I’m still not into it. 

But I think this series does a really good job with positive femininity in some ways, and I think that moment is a really resonant one, again, especially because this series is… you know, we’re going on like 10, 15 years… Oh God! We’re going on 20 years. We’re going on 20! Let’s say 15 for now.

ASHLEY: Yeah, like, [humming cautiously] mm? Okay. [Chuckles]

DEE: Especially from when the light novels were written. So I think in some ways it was kind of ahead of its time, which is another thing that I appreciate about it. So, yeah, I love that moment with Kochou. Also, she’s a crime boss, which is cool!

ASHLEY: Yes, she’s one of the syndicate bosses, and I was like, “Oh, okay, of course.” [Chuckles]

DEE: And the only one who can beat Ryuren the Gambler. So, she’s hardcore, the legendary Kochou. 

I also love the scene where Shurei’s been trying so hard, she’s like, “I have to stay strong. I can’t cry in front of anybody else. I need to be tough while I’m at the court,” and then she has a moment alone with Kochou and is like, “Huh. I’m gonna cry in front of you now. That’s gonna happen.” And she’s kind of taken on this mother figure role for her, which is such an unexpected character for that job, right? 

Like you were saying, Shurei’s not judgmental. There’s definitely moments where she’s like, “I’m not sure gambling is respectable.” Or she has that moment early with Ryuki where she’s like, “I’m not going to sleep with you because for me, I don’t want to sleep with somebody unless I have romantic feelings for them.” And she kind of explains that and then goes like, “But it’s cool if you want to sleep with people. No judgment on others. That’s just me.”

ASHLEY: Right. Her personal things where she has her morals, she’s like, “I don’t need to impose them on everyone. That’s fine.”

DEE: There’s very much a line she draws in terms of “Are you hurting other people?” Because she gets on Ryuki early for, like, “You’re ignoring the country and you’re the emperor, and that’s bad! And I am going to judge you for that.” But she definitely draws that line of “Is this hurting someone? No? Okay. It’s not for me, but you do you.”

ASHLEY: Now I’m like, what would happen if she knew her dad was an assassin? [Chuckles]

DEE: Oh boy. I wonder if that ever happens. I’m sure they’d have a long conversation about it.

ASHLEY: [Chuckles] They’d have to sit down and have a nice talk.

DEE: Maybe she’d just fall over dead from a heart attack because she couldn’t picture it. He’d tell her and she’d just laugh and be like, “Oh, Dad, you’re so funny.”

ASHLEY: Oh, that’s true. She wouldn’t believe it, and then he’d be like, “Okay, well, I told her, so I was truthful.”

DEE: “It’s not my fault if she didn’t believe it.”

ASHLEY: Yes, yes. Exactly. Oh my goodness. 

Yeah. I was gonna say I like how positive femininity this series is for not even having a lot of female characters.

DEE: It doesn’t, which kind of makes sense because she’s working in this political sphere where almost everybody is a man. But I feel like it gets good mileage out of the few female characters that are in it, and you definitely get to see some different ways of living, you know what I mean?

ASHLEY: [crosstalk] Yeah. Yeah, totally.

DEE: Which is nice. And admittedly, it dates itself a little bit. There’s sometimes reading parts of it where they’ll be talking about, like, “Be proud of being a woman; do things that a man can’t do” kind of stuff, and I’m like, “Oh, that’s a little gender essentialist, a little, but I get what you’re going for. I understand what you mean. You’re talking about not feeling like you have to completely let go of the feminine aspects of yourself.” 

And Shurei having that conversation where she’s like, “I don’t want to give up those parts of myself that maybe don’t fit in this quote-unquote ‘manly’ sphere of politics. I want to still keep those parts of me and approach politics with those aspects of myself.” I think that’s a very valuable and important moment in the series.

ASHLEY: Yeah. When I read those things, I was definitely like, oh, that makes sense to me that she’s like, “I don’t want to do the exact same thing that all the men before me have been doing,” right? “Technically, because they treat me differently because I’m a woman, I have a different perspective than them, so I should do something else.” And I was like, “That’s fair. I agree.”

DEE: Oh yeah. No, I totally agree with it. It’s one of those things where to me it’s sometimes a language thing where they use words like “man” and “woman,” like “Oh, well, all men are like this and all women are like that,” and I’m like, “Okay, well, you’re talking more about feminine and masculine characteristics, so I get what you’re going for.” 

And I do think with this one, I think it does a nice job of, yeah, again, positive femininity and being like, no, you can exist in a sphere that is on a stage—I think is how Kochou says it—that maybe traditionally was one that was masculine, that only men were on, but that doesn’t mean you have to fit exactly into that box that they fit in. Bring yourself to this; do things, see things from a different perspective. Which both Shurei and Eigetsu, I think, both do in ways that are different but really fascinating, and continue towards my theory that they will eventually topple the empire. [Chuckles] Topple the monarchy!

ASHLEY: Topple the patriarchy… [Laughs]

DEE: Yeah, and the patriarchy. All of the above. Class—

ASHLEY: All the “archies”!

DEE: Class and gender revolution from Eigetsu and Shurei.

ASHLEY: [Chuckles] Okay, I think Eigetsu is the last character that we should dive deep into here. And I… Why does Yogetsu exist?

DEE: So, I do know the answer for that, but it’s in the anime. I will say, that’s one of those sort of…

ASHLEY: There is an answer?

DEE: Yeah, it’s a supernatural element to the series.

ASHLEY: [understanding] Ohhh.

DEE: I blanked on it earlier when we were talking about it. It eventually gets addressed. At this point it’s a weird thing about Eigetsu. I know it’s in the anime, but I can’t remember exactly where. You do get more of Eigetsu’s backstory and you find out, like, “Why is Yogetsu?” basically.

ASHLEY: Yeah, that’s my question.

DEE: Yeah, it’s not just a weird plot thing. It ties into his whole story arc and character and stuff. But the manga just never got there, so it sort of is just like an odd little bit of fantasticalness for Eigetsu: gets really strong and angry when he drinks alcohol. Which, hey, you know, some people do get really strong and angry when they drink alcohol, so… [Chuckles]

ASHLEY: I mean, fair enough. Yeah, it just became a way for him to lose his tablet, find his tablet… You know, like, whatever.

DEE: Yeah, the tablet and ring shuffle that goes on in the back half of the series.

[Chuckling]

ASHLEY: Yes, for sure. But yeah, otherwise what do you think of Eigetsu?

DEE: I like him as… To me, again, he’s one of those characters where, because I know a little bit more about him—he and Shurei by the end of this are co-governors, so he gets more time in the anime, so I know a little bit more about him because of that. 

I like him. I don’t feel like we get quite enough of him in the manga for him to leave much of an impression. I like that he is pretty emphatically not a romantic interest for Shurei. They are friends, they are coworkers and study buddies, and that’s great.

And I also like that he provides… To me, he’s an interesting counterpoint to Shurei because he’s a boy, but he’s also lived in poverty even deeper than Shurei’s out in the provinces. Adopted, lived at a temple, has no sponsor, doesn’t know anything about court etiquette, so accidentally pisses off a bunch of people. 

So I think he shows a different aspect to the way privilege works in this government system, because theoretically it’s a meritocracy, right? Everybody gets to take the exam and if you do well on the exam, then you can work your way up, which was very unique to… maybe not unique, because I don’t know every culture in the world. But for that medieval time period, that element of “in theory, you could work your way up the ranks through hard work and intelligence” was pretty unusual. 

So it’s a very interesting facet of dynastic China—in theory. In practice, you had to have access to the materials, and books weren’t that easy to get a hold of. If you lived out in the provinces, you were dirt poor, probably, and probably illiterate.

ASHLEY: Yeah. It was like getting taught at that time to even then be able to take the exam is super rare.

DEE: Yeah. If you lived in a town, there might be a tutor, like [how] Shurei tutored some of the kids in the city. You might have some people like that who would just do… But it wasn’t like they had a public education system. So it very much favored the wealthy and the privileged. 

Which, Shurei does have that. She doesn’t have money, but she does have family connections, even if she’s not entirely aware of them. And Eigetsu’s not a girl, but he doesn’t have any of those connections on the nobility side of things. 

So I think having the two of them together to really poke holes in the idea that this is a meritocracy is like a quiet critique that the series does that I really like, because I think you can apply it to modern-day bootstrap mentality too, like “Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” “Okay, yeah, I’ll just get past the debilitating poverty and the sexism and whatever else.”

So, to me, that’s one of the things that’s… I think Eigetsu’s more interesting from a thematic point at this point in the story than as a character, if that makes sense.

ASHLEY: Right, yeah. I was gonna be like, I think that goes into… It was interesting to see them when the sexism is confronted directly—and not just sexism, because Eigetsu’s getting it, too, like ageism, even, you know?

DEE: Yeah, that too, because he’s also very young.

ASHLEY: Yeah. And they’re like, “Well, how dare somebody so young be the best person here? That’s garbage.”

DEE: “This upstart.” Yeah.

ASHLEY: Yes, yes. No respect, basically.

DEE: “Won’t marry any of our daughters? How dare he?”

ASHLEY: Yes, yes! Doesn’t know proper etiquette and everything. So, it almost feels like the meritocracy… or the thing where… I don’t know what I’m trying to say now. It’s like they confront the sexism directly, but the way that they have to do that is that they’re like, yeah, you have to do it the way… like if you give an inch, they’ll take everything.

DEE: Yeah, they’ll immediately see you as weak and walk all over you. Yeah.

ASHLEY: Yeah. So there becomes a contradiction there, where it’s like, okay, you need to do it differently and show your worth and everything, but to do that, again, you always have to be like 10,000 times better. You have to take the highest road possible in a way that all the other characters didn’t have to.

DEE: Oh yeah, absolutely. Shurei can’t just pass the exam; she has to pass in the top 20. She can’t just be good enough; she has to be one of the best to even be considered. And then people still think she cheated. 

I love the layers of that in Shurei’s story, where the people around her… I think at one point her dad basically says, “Ignore the haters,” which is fair advice. It’s not easy, but it’s fair. But people will be like, “Well, if you just keep at it, eventually they’ll acknowledge you.” And Shurei has to go through so many extra steps to get people to finally just back off of her. She has to take an exam in front of everybody, basically, to prove that she knows her stuff. And it’s frustrating to watch that scene where she gets pelted with mud and then yelled at for…

ASHLEY: Yes!

DEE: And then she just has to stand there and not say anything because she knows that if she complains, even though it’s unfair, they’ll think that she’s weak and can’t take it and look down on her even more for it. 

God, that moment makes you angry in a way that cuts to my core, anyway. I don’t know about you.

ASHLEY: I was very upset during that.

[Chuckling]

ASHLEY: Just because there’s also so many people within that scene. Eigetsu, I think, eventually shows up and Koyu’s there, Minister Ro is there, Minister Sai is there, and they’re all just like, “Yep, that happened. Clean it up.” And I’m just like, “What? Koyu, you heard these people be terrible.” And I was just so upset, viscerally upset in that moment!

DEE: It’s so upsetting in that moment. I think that’s around the time where… But then you also get some moments with some of the men in the court who she’s been hanging out with, like Koyu, in other scenes where they’ll be like, “I know I can’t publicly support her because then people will just say that it’s favoritism. I cannot do that because that would also hurt her.” And so, everybody’s very much trying to tap-dance around it. 

I do like that the series, though… it sort of acknowledges that at a certain point there’s not a lot that Shurei can do except just put her head down and just keep trying, but at the same time, there’s some really good conversations about [how] she and Eigetsu have so much stacked against them that they need that private support, the private allies, like Ryuki helping them get to the meeting on time or… There’s a really good conversation with Reishin, who is… a character. [Chuckles]

ASHLEY: He sure is a character.

DEE: Reishin’s so much. But there is one really good scene with him where somebody said something to him like “I didn’t think you were into picking favorites,” and he’s like, “I’m not. But if you plant a sapling in barren soil, it’s gonna wither no matter how sturdy the tree is.” It’s some metaphor to that effect, right? And his point is “We need to give them some kind of structural support so they have a chance.” 

And again, there’s so much nuance built into this story that it’s deceptively intelligent behind some of the wild political plots and really enjoyable character writing, in the way it handles Shurei having to fight all this sexism—and Eigetsu, the classism, to maybe a lesser extent—in the court.

ASHLEY: Yeah. No, I definitely think around this time, one of my favorite quotes was from Ran, and he was talking to Ryuki, who… I think they were both like… they saw Shurei get picked on and Ryuki wanted to jump in and be like, “This is so unfair!” and everything. “It’s so unjust!” 

And Ran was like, “You can’t say that, right? If she cries, whatever. It’s whatever.” So what he said was “You should be protecting her pride and her life right now, not her feelings,” and I was like, “Yo!”

DEE: Yeah! Yeah, that’s a very good line. And it ties into later, when Shurei and Ryuki have one of their little garden meetings where they can just be themselves in front of each other. It’s towards the end of that volume, I think. She says, “Thank you for not treating me differently. I feel like I can stand on equal footing with you guys instead of earlier when everybody was protecting me like I was a princess. I’m not that anymore. I’m growing up. I’m taking on this role.” So she ends up appreciating that in the long run, but oof, it is hard to watch in the moment. 

And Ryuki’s impulse is very understandable, right? You want to help people when you see them being treated unjustly. But if you just jump in, then it’s saviorism. Ryuki can’t be a savior; he just has to be an ally in the background. So it’s complicated.

ASHLEY: It is definitely complicated. I used to play hockey on men’s teams, and so I definitely… There was one year where… I was a goalie so there were too many goalies on the age-level team that I was supposed to be on, so they didn’t give us a tryout. They were just like, “Okay, you’re a girl; you’re gonna go play with the younger kids.” And everybody tried to be like, “That’s so unfair!” but, like, systems, so I played with them. 

And then my team was the best, and then of course, it was like, “Oh, well, you cheated by having a goalie who’s older.” And I’m like, “You guys don’t get to play it both ways.” [Laughs]

DEE: Yeah. “You put me here, jerks!”

ASHLEY: Yeah, yeah, like what the heck are you talking about? [Laughs] I didn’t want this. Yeah, so every time I had to watch these scenes, I was like, “No! No!” This is what it reminded me of. [Chuckles]

DEE: It just clicked in my head: you wrote the article for Anime Feminist about My Hero Academia and ice hockey, right?

ASHLEY: Yes, I did.

DEE: Yes, yes! That was a great article! So, no, you totally… you probably felt Shurei into your bones, yeah!

ASHLEY: I know. I was like, “Stop! I can’t.” [Chuckles] “So triggered right now.” [Chuckles]

DEE: Yeah, there are definitely moments in the back half of this where it’s like, “Whew! I might need a minute.” But I do think it does a good job of… It pushes right up to that edge, but then there’s still that overall sense of inspiration and hope.

ASHLEY: And nothing so irrevocably bad happens to her. So it’s okay.

DEE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. There’s a very brief moment where she’s threatened with assault in the brothel, which… I hate that scene. It doesn’t need to be there. But otherwise, it’s bullying. It is very relatable because it is the kind of stuff that a lot of women who enter traditionally male fields run up against. So, the series knew what it was talking about.

ASHLEY: And again, it’s still hopeful in the end because she does succeed, so I was like, “Okay, it’s good in the end! Yay.”

DEE: Yeah. And maybe it’s a little optimistic to be like, “And then everybody backed off.” But…

ASHLEY: [Chuckles] I mean, of course! But…

DEE: You know, I’m happy with it.  I’ll take a little… I mean, it’s fiction. I’ll take a little aspirational fantasy.

ASHLEY: Yeah, we can’t dwell on everything, you know. Then we’re not gonna get anywhere. [Chuckles]

DEE: Yeah. We gotta get to the next plot point here, so…

ASHLEY: Yes, there are so many plot points apparently.

DEE: [Chuckles] But yeah, no, it… The moment when she sort of defends herself in front of everybody is also one of my favorite scenes because… I forget the exact quote, although I did have to screencap and tweet it because I loved it so much when I was rewatching the anime. 

But it’s when Ryuki basically says, “Why do you, as a woman, want to be a public official?” And Shurei’s like, “If you’re asking me specifically why, as a woman, want to do it, I don’t have an answer for you. I—me, personally—want to help the people in this country in whatever way I am capable.”

ASHLEY: [crosstalk] Yeah, you tell him!

DEE: And I loved that moment because it’s a very polite way of being like, “You wouldn’t ask a man that question!”

ASHLEY: [Laughs]

DEE: But it’s such a good moment of, again, highlighting the kinds of questions that women do run up against in these fields and then having Shurei, who in other scenes has been like, “I am myself, and there are feminine aspects to me and I’m going to embrace those, but I’m doing this as me, Shurei, a person who wants to help people, not as The Token Woman.” 

So, yeah, that’s another scene that has really stuck with me and I feel in my bones a little bit, and I’m like, “Yeah, get ‘em, Shurei! Get ‘em!” Very motivational, the series is for me.

ASHLEY: I know. Now, whenever I hit something and I’m like, “I want to be whiny and complain,” I’m going to be like, “Just channel Shurei.”

[Chuckling]

DEE: Yeah. Hey, it’s okay to cry sometimes. It’s just time and place, right?

ASHLEY: Time and place, you gotta do it, yeah.

DEE: And Shurei is allowed to be emotionally vulnerable, which I like about this series. She’s not just tough and gritty and hard-nosed and never gets frazzled. She gets upset, which makes her a very—well, I keep coming back to [this]—a very well-rounded protagonist.

ASHLEY: [Chuckles]

DEE: The writing in this series is so good!

ASHLEY: On an unrelated—still Shurei, really good… It’s one of those vulnerable moments, actually, though, where she’s with Ensei.

DEE: Mm-hm. Oh, I love Ensei. We didn’t get a chance to talk about Ensei. I love Ensei.

ASHLEY: That’s true. We didn’t even mention his name yet! Oh, Ensei, who has a Kenshin scar. [Chuckles]

DEE: I love his Kenshin scar. You said Seiran’s the most beautiful boy to you; I like Ensei. I think Ensei’s very attractive. They did sort of whitewash him in the manga, which makes me a little annoyed. He’s tanner. He’s darker skinned in the anime. But when Ensei shaved his beard, I was like, “Oh! Hi, Ensei!” [Chuckles]

ASHLEY: Yeah, I was about to say: beard Ensei or clean Ensei?

DEE: No, beard Ensei, that’s too scruffy. That’s too scruffy for me. Maybe if he trimmed it, it might not be too bad, but it is, like, all over the place.

ASHLEY: Yeah, he’s just like, “I’m a wild beast!”

DEE: When he shaved I was like, “Oh, hi! You’re adorable! Hello, Ensei.”

ASHLEY: No, I agree with that assessment. Yeah, he was. He was very good.

DEE: But he also has a very good… I like his… He kind of has that brotherly relationship both with Seiran and Shurei but in very different ways, where he’s the only person who can get under Seiran’s skin but he’s also somebody Shurei can talk to and be more open with because he’s not directly related to her family, so she can sort of tell him things that she’d feel bad telling her dad or Seiran because it would also hurt them. 

Yeah, Ensei’s great. Sorry, I just wanted to get that out there. What scene were you talking about, though?

ASHLEY: Oh, yeah! So, I guess it’s when they’re going to visit Shurei’s mom’s grave. And she feels bad because Shurei used to be very, very sickly all the time, but then after her mom died, she has the immune system of a seemingly fairly normal person. [crosstalk] Relatively.

DEE: [crosstalk] Fairly healthy, yeah. She seems healthy.

ASHLEY: [crosstalk] No, no, “normal” doesn’t exist.

DEE: Yeah, yeah. She seems healthy, right?

ASHLEY: Yeah, yeah.

DEE: No, I know what you mean. She seems healthy, yeah.

ASHLEY: So then, they’re at her grave and Shurei’s getting upset and crying and she’s just like, “I just feel like I basically stole my mom’s life force, and I’ve never been able to admit that to anybody. But Ensei, I don’t know you that well.” And I was just like, “No, I’m immediately crying!”

DEE: Aw. Yeah, that’s a really… Yeah. That’s a good moment. Shurei’s got that survivor’s guilt. I have always sort of suspected that there was some supernatural element to that, even though I don’t think it’s… even in the continuation that I’ve seen, I don’t think it’s ever explicitly stated, but the fact that Shurei was super sick and then her mom, who’d always been healthy, dies and then Shurei’s fine, I’m like, “I think something probably did happen here.”

ASHLEY: It’s not like she killed her mom, though, in the way that she thinks about it.

DEE: [crosstalk] No, no, no, no, no. No, absolutely not.

ASHLEY: It’s like her mom is protecting her.

DEE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s always the sense I’ve gotten from it. But no, Shurei has wicked survivor’s guilt. And again, it’s another moment in the series where you get to see a different element of her, a different aspect of her that she wouldn’t necessarily show to Seiran or Ryuki. But she’s able to open up to Ensei in a way that she can’t [to] those guys.

ASHLEY: Yeah, she’s like, “You don’t know me that well, so it’s okay to tell you.”

[Chuckling]

DEE: Yeah. You didn’t know my mom, so it won’t hurt— You know, she couldn’t say that to her dad. Obviously, that would devastate him to think that his daughter blamed herself for her mom’s death. There’s certain things you can’t say to the people you care the most about because they’re too close to it. 

And so, having somebody else you can talk to about… Ensei’s her therapist, is what I’m trying to say! [Chuckles] Ensei maybe isn’t a licensed governor, but he is a licensed therapist.

ASHLEY: [Laughs] Oh, my goodness. Ensei’s so funny. Ensei’s also the one who overtly calls her Princess. [Chuckles] And I think that she doesn’t actually acknowledge it; she’s just like, “Whatever, Ensei.” [Chuckles]

DEE: Yeah, it ends up just kind of being a little cute nickname he has for her. “Hi, Princess!” Well, she saved him, so…

ASHLEY: Yeah. [Laughs]

DEE: She’s his princess. She fed him food.

ASHLEY: Of course. [Laughs] She feeds everybody food.

DEE: Oh, yeah. I feel like that’s—

ASHLEY: And then she’s like, “I don’t have rice!”

DEE: That’s sort of a quiet undercurrent in the story, the sharing of food and the way Shurei… Even though the family doesn’t have money, if somebody shows up who needs a place to stay or a meal to eat, she will invite them over and feed them without any hesitation, and her dad is the same way. Again, they stripped their garden bare to help their neighbors.

ASHLEY: Right. Definitely, I would say the core of the manga is really about, like, “How do you nurture a person, a thing, a growing thing, in a way that’s going to help it thrive and be its own thing?”

DEE: Yeah, no, I think that’s very true, which is why there’s so much of the story that’s about family but then also about governance, which is the nurturing of an entire country. So, no, I think that’s a very good point. I think that’s at the heart of the series, is maybe the question it’s asking and responding to in lots of different ways.

ASHLEY: Yeah, so I think that we touched on a lot of things that we have written down here. And the one other note that I wanted to make was that I definitely tried to research what other people had said about this manga—or series, even. Obviously I’m not gonna limit it to the manga, because there’s at least three different iterations of the story. And I was like, “There’s so much richness here. Surely, there should be so many essays!” 

And of course, the things that came up were, like, Anime Feminist articles written by you or the staff that were…

DEE: “The shoujo gem that time forgot.” I’m not kidding. [Chuckles]

ASHLEY: Yeah, yeah, yeah! So, the two things that you all have written are the one where it was like, “You don’t have to be a combatant in shoujo to be really cool.”

DEE: Yeah, I touched on Shurei in that one.

ASHLEY: Yeah. And then the really feminist shoujo. And I was like, okay. And then I just started trying to read reviews of this. And the one that I ended up on, they were like, “This is a josei because it doesn’t focus on romance.” And I was like, “Okay, what? You don’t get to…”

DEE: [Groans]

ASHLEY: [Chuckles]

DEE: How dare you? That’s not how demographic labels work, one.

ASHLEY: One. Exactly. There’s so many layers to these comments that I have issues with, where it’s like… The demographic labels are just made-up things by magazines. It ran in two shoujo magazines; it’s a shoujo.

DEE: Yeah, it was marketed at girls. Therefore, shoujo.

ASHLEY: Therefore. I’m like, romance is a genre; shoujo is a demographic label!

DEE: Exactly.

ASHLEY: Also, this thing where people… They’re like, “I don’t read shoujo. Shoujo is gross. So anything that I like must not be shoujo.” I don’t know if I can deal with it. [Chuckles]

DEE: No, that is very frustrating. Yeah.

ASHLEY: You don’t get to just do that. So, that’s all I’m saying. Sure, this doesn’t follow the normal, what you assume is a stereotypical shoujo arc, but it is definitely a shoujo manga. Yay. End rant. Okay.

DEE: Hard agree. No notes.

ASHLEY: Hard agree!

DEE: No notes.

[Laughter]

ASHLEY: Okay, so, I don’t think we need to do a full-blown shipping corner, but I do think that we need to touch on some key questions here, like: do you like Shurei and Ryuki as a couple?

DEE: I do. I think they’re cute. I do, yeah. If they were to get together in the manga where they are in their lives right now, I would be like, “Oh, you kind of rushed that,” but I can see a future where they are together. I think they very clearly care about each other, maybe in different ways, because Shurei has a lot of other stuff she’s focused on right now. I think they balance each other out well. 

I think Shurei can be… Again, she’s a little different with everybody. And especially those garden scenes with Ryuki. I think that there’s… I don’t even know how to describe it. He brings out this sort of relaxed gentleness in her that you don’t necessarily see with other people, in that she’s able to be very honest with him but also kind of let down her hair a little bit and open up to him about her own life. 

Like, she tells him about the stripped-bare garden and her mom dying, and pretty early in the story. And he in response tells her about his childhood, and she has to reckon with the fact that “Oh, I thought he was just this pampered little rich boy, but actually, he’s been through a lot, too!” So I think they balance each other out well. 

Again, I like that this is… If the endgame of this story is that the two of them get together—which, it’d be surprising if it wasn’t, but I truly don’t know—I can see a future where the two of them are together, but I think they both have some growing, in different ways, to go before they get to that point. And so I like that the series doesn’t rush it, and Shurei goes, “You know, I do care about you. I do love you. I don’t think it’s the same way you love me. And also, I got stuff to do. And I can’t be with you and do that, and so, that can’t be our relationship right now.” And he being like, “Okay, yeah, I’ll wait. Let me know if that changes.” 

Yeah, I like them together. I think, again, Ryuki is immature in some ways, but I think he’s a sweet boy doing his best, and so I could… Yeah, I like them together. So, yeah, I ship it.

ASHLEY: You ship it. I actually think, not only is she… yeah, all the garden scenes with him, she’s very vulnerable, but also, after that, even when he’s more overtly, purposely being silly and trying to gain her affections and everything and she’s more grumpy towards him, she’s not that way towards anybody else. 

So that’s where I was like… Because at first… Well, not at first. At first, obviously it’s like, okay, Ryuki and Shurei are supposed to be pretending to be a couple right now. But then after that, I was like, “Okay. Are more of these men going to be vying for her affection?” Again, when I didn’t know so much in volume 3, I was like, “I don’t know! Maybe.” But then, realizing that she only interacts with Ryuki in these very particular ways and everybody else, she has variations but relatively is more centered in everything, I was like, “Okay, no. Only Ryuki.”

DEE: It’s very emotionally intimate. And I mean, they kiss a couple of times, mostly because Ryuki sort of steals them and Shurei’s not quite sure how to feel about that. But there’s an intimacy where they can just… You know, Ryuki even says, like, “No matter how high you rise in the ranks and how our relationship changes publicly, privately please still call me Ryuki. See me as a person, not as the emperor.” 

And yeah, I like that about their relationship. I like that she gets grumpy about his absolutely absurd gifts, but she also sort of appreciates them because she knows he cares and he’s trying. And she will; she’ll call him out, which Ryuki appreciates. He intentionally didn’t surround himself with yes-men. He picked Koyu and Shuuei Ran because he knew they would tell him if he was screwing up. So that’s something he respects and admires about Shurei, which also makes him a great character and a good love interest. 

So, Ryuki is a good boy. That’s my assessment there.

ASHLEY: Okay. I mean, that’s fair. Are there any of the other men who you’d be like, “I would also like them to see if they could be with Shurei”?

DEE: Probably not. I think she and Koyu have an interesting dynamic in terms of being intellectual equals and following the same path and also being involved with the Hong clan’s nonsense. But I really just see them as friends. I say “just.” I shouldn’t say “just.” Friends are important. 

Yeah, I really don’t. I feel like Seiran is so much a brother-figure to her that I can’t… Also, he’s like ten years older than her, and at their current ages that’s a lot. So I can’t really—

ASHLEY: Yeah, he kind of raised her in a way.

DEE: Yeah. So no, I don’t really think… I mean, she and Ensei have kind of a fun relationship, but again, to me it feels very brotherly. He’s also quite a bit older than her. Yeah, I don’t really think there’s anyone else who I’m like, “Oh, yeah, I could see Shurei with them.” 

I mean, I ship Shurei with the proletariat uprising, I guess!

[Laughter]

DEE: If that counts as a…

ASHLEY: [Obscured by crosstalk] OTP here!

DEE: It’s Ryuki or that.

[Laughter]

ASHLEY: Anything less is not good enough here.

DEE: Yeah. And there are days when I almost feel like the series— Well, I guess… We had a final Twitter question about the ships too, didn’t we? Or did I make that up?

ASHLEY: Oh, yeah. So, @sewingrose11 on Twitter also asked, “What would be your ideal ending for Shurei romance-wise? Would you prefer she end up single?”

DEE: Yeah, that was the question. Which made me think about…

ASHLEY: Yeah, proletariat… [Chuckles]

DEE: Well, it made me think about how I want this series to end, and so much of it is… Again, despite taking place in this imperial court system with, not a monarchy, but basically a monarchy… It’s hereditary, right? Like “the bloodline continues” kind of deal. So much of that is in contrast with the series’s main themes about individuality and freedom and working for the people, not just because it’s your gods-given right but because that’s your job, that’s your duty.

ASHLEY: Yeah, not in a way where in America we’ve destroyed community. It’s like, “No. Individualism in service of your community.”

DEE: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And that element of “responsibility to your constituents,” I guess. So, to me, honestly, if I were writing the end of this series, we would eventually angle to a point where things had changed so much that the imperial family was no longer needed and it basically became functionally a democracy or a republic, and then Ryuki and Shurei could be together because they don’t have to worry about those class divides and Shurei being forced to be cloistered indoors forever, right? 

She doesn’t want to be a member of the inner court. That’s their big stopping point, is: she can’t do the things she wants to do as the empress because of the way the system currently works. So I think the system would have to change for the two of them to get together, and it would be surprising to me if the series ended with “And then Ryuki got over her and married somebody else. The end.”

ASHLEY: Yeah. I also don’t want her to be single, even if it wasn’t [that] she married Ryuki. No, I don’t want her to be alone, you know?

DEE: I mean, I think being single is perfectly fine and Shurei does not seem particularly interested in a spouse or a boyfriend at this point in her life, which is cool.

ASHLEY: Right. But I think she would want to have a family.

DEE: I think she genuinely cares for Ryuki, so I think there is a part of her that does like the idea of being with him, but again, it’s just that it does not work. It’s incompatible with everything else in their lives because of their positions and genders and whatever else. 

So, my perfect ending is that they abolish the monarchy! [Chuckles] And then they get together. So, that’s the ending I would like for Shurei: she becomes the president of Saiunkoku.

ASHLEY: [Chuckles] Yeah, definitely, the saddest ending is just like, “Oh, she gets to be the civil servant, but yeah, nothing really changes, so Ryuki just lords over the land forever and she dies alone.” Like, no, that’s terrible.

DEE: And I guess he also dies alone because he said he’d wait for her forever, so…

ASHLEY: Yeah, yeah, yeah! So, eh? [Chuckles]

DEE: I mean, I assume they’ll keep meeting in the garden. And that’s the thing: they could just have an unofficial relationship on the side.

ASHLEY: It’s true. I’m like, she could get a family if that’s what she wanted.

DEE: Until Shurei gets to a point where she’s ready to maybe settle down a little bit more and then they can talk about it. But until then, just keep smooching in the garden.

ASHLEY: [Chuckles] Yeah.

DEE: Yeah. But that is my ship. Do you have any other ship? Obviously Koyu/Ran. Very important.

ASHLEY: I really do like Koyu [chuckles] and Ran. But also, I would be intrigued to see Koyu with… When that was proposed by the Hong clan, I was like, “Huh. I didn’t see that coming, but I’m intrigued!” [Chuckles]

DEE: To me, it feels like the kind of political relationship that would work… It’s not like they would be over-the-moon in love with each other, but they would get along with each other and forward…

ASHLEY: Right, they would respect each other.

DEE: They would respect each other and forward each other’s goals. So it would not be a pulse-pounding romance, but they would have a good relationship if that was what ended up happening in the story.

ASHLEY: Yeah, so I’d be fine with it. [Chuckles]

DEE: Yeah. Shurei wouldn’t, though, because then she has to stay at home, and she doesn’t want to stay at home!

ASHLEY: I mean, yeah, this is the problem. [Chuckles] That’s why her just having a side relationship… beautiful men…

DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah, the emperor is her side piece.

[Laughter]

ASHLEY: Yes. That’s the conclusion we’ve reached here. [Chuckles]

DEE: That’s bragging rights right there.

ASHLEY: Ideal ending: emperor is sidepiece.

[Laughter]

DEE: So romantic.

ASHLEY: So romantic, yes, I know. Oh, yay, shoujo romance!

[Chuckling]

ASHLEY: All right, well, do you have any final thoughts or did we do it? We did The Story of Saiunkoku.

DEE: Yeah, I think we covered the highlights. This was a very positive episode. I’m glad. It sounds like you really enjoyed it, which makes me very happy, because when you said you’d never read it, I was like, “Oh, no, what if she hates it? Oh, no!”

ASHLEY: No! I mean, that definitely happens sometimes, and even then I try to be like, “I’m gonna try to be nice because that’s what I wanted this podcast to be.” [Chuckles]

DEE: Yeah. So I’m glad you had a good time with it. I’m glad it wasn’t a slog. 

Thank you for inviting me on. It was really nice to be able to revisit the story and also talk about it, because I have a lot of thoughts about this series that I’ve never really been able to let out anywhere, so this was wonderful. Thank you for bringing me on to chat about this one.

ASHLEY: Yes, I’m glad that you came on for it because, yeah, it’s a really good series. I’m like, “Ugh, I could have been a better person if I read it like ten years ago!”

[Chuckling]

DEE: That’s how we should have ended the no-spoilers section: “Read this manga, it will change your life.”

ASHLEY: “It will change your life!” I know. My gosh! Everything that you thought you understood, you’ll see it so much more clearly and you’ll be like, “Oh my gosh!” [Chuckles]

DEE: “I understand everything now.”

ASHLEY: I understand the world now. Yeah, I understand politics. I understand everything! [Chuckles]

DEE: I understand assassin librarians… everything.

ASHLEY: I know. Everything is clear to me now.

[Chuckling]

ASHLEY: Yeah, no. Yeah, that’s it. Okay. Well, everybody, thanks for this new Shojo and Tell. Comments, questions, constructive criticism, concerns, need to gush about your OTP, tell us your preferred ending for Shurei romance-wise? Email shojoandtell@gmail.com or leave a comment on the episode’s YouTube page. We’re @ShojoAndTell on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram. 

Dee, where can people find you and your work on the internet?

DEE: They can find my work on my blog, the Josei Next Door. I do keep links to… Most of my articles are on other websites at this point, but I do keep links to them there. And then, you can also, again, hang out with me on Twitter @joseinextdoor

I’m in and out of Anime Feminist writing reviews and recommendations and whatnot, so you should check out that site, too, because we have lots of great contributors and they work hard and they have really good thoughts! [Chuckles] So, check out Anime Feminist, too, while you’re looking me up.

ASHLEY: Yeah, they think hard and they write good. [Chuckles]

DEE: Lot of marginalized progressive perspectives that you can’t get anywhere else on the anime internet, so come check us out.

ASHLEY: The anime internet is largely a disappointment to me. Hence I made a podcast of my own because I was like, “This upsets me.”

DEE: Yeah, you gotta be the change you want to see in the world. I get it.

ASHLEY: I know! Exactly. 

Are you excited every time you see a new episode from us? If so, please consider leaving a rating on Apple Podcasts. This will help the show reach more hearts—or at least ears. 

Thanks again for listening. We’ll be back next time for the first half of Love Com, which I’ll be discussing with my friend Loyola. I’m not joking this time: we’re seriously finally gonna do Love Com!

DEE: Oh, that’ll be fun! Lovely Complex is a fun series.

ASHLEY: I know. My friend is like, “This is my favorite series ever,” and I was like, “Cool. Tell me more. Let me record your thoughts.”

DEE: [crosstalk] Oh, that’ll be terrific, then. Have you read it before or watched it before?

ASHLEY: I have not! I’m very bad.

DEE: Okay! No, that’s good. It’ll be another new experience for you. Manga’s long, I think, so have fun.

ASHLEY: I know. That’s why we’re only doing half of it. [Laughs]

DEE: Okay. Dive into it, for sure.

ASHLEY: Yes. Everybody stay tuned. Until then, bye.

[Outro music]

DEE: Dah-dah dah dah-dah-dah. [The first six notes of the “Seven Note Vaudeville Fanfare”]

ASHLEY: Dah-dahweh! [The last three notes of the “Seven Note Vaudeville Fanfare”]

[Laughter]

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