Good Soil Makes a Good Crop: The Story of Saiunkoku and the myth of meritocracy

The Summer of Saiunkoku continues, this time in article form!

Shurei in formal dress stands with her back to the viewer, one hand extended to a blossoming cherry tree branch.

Once upon a time, a poor little girl named Hong Shurei did not dream of marrying a prince. Instead, Shurei saw the struggles of the people around her and dreamed of becoming a civil servant—an impossible dream, for women were banned from public office. Yet when the law changed to allow her entry, Shurei soon learned her dream was not without its nightmares, for deep-seated prejudices loomed everywhere she looked, and these were not the sort of monsters one could draw a sword and slay.

Despite its fantastical shoujo setting, The Story of Saiunkoku is no traditional fairy tale, and Shurei’s journey is much closer to unjust reality than escapist fiction. This allows the series to explore systemic oppression, workplace harassment, and the importance of structural support, especially in systems that claim to be merit-based. Through its young, marginalized civil servants, Saiunkoku provides an intersectional critique of the “bootstrap” mentality, highlighting how oppression creates hurdles that often require more than just “hard work” to clear.

Cllick here for the full article on Anime Feminist!

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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.

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You Don’t Have to Kick Ass to Be Kickass: Shoujo fantasy and the value of the noncombatant hero

HItomi stands atop the Escaflowne mecha, holding aloft her glowing pink pendant

Over the decades, the number of fantastical stories starring female characters has slowly but significantly risen. As that number has gone up, so too have the number of lady action heroes. Girls and women are no longer relegated to the roles of “white mage” or “brainiac”; they can sling spells, slay vampires, and punch supervillains in the face right alongside the menfolk.

And this is a good thing… for the most part. But the ability to enact violence shouldn’t be the only way we measure someone’s value. It’s important to showcase a variety of roles—not just soldiers, but politicians, doctors, mediators, artists, caretakers, and so on—to highlight the different ways of doing good or being a hero. This is as true of fantastical escapist fiction as it is grounded slice-of-life stories.

So, how do we tell these stories without falling back into the old gendered stereotypes of “man fight, woman heal”? One subgenre in particular provides us with a useful template: shoujo fantasy, which features a number of action-packed tales with protagonists as diverse as their worlds.

Click here for the full article on Anime Feminist!

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