Episode Title: A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With a Single Step
Refers To: Shuurei’s lifelong dream of being a government official has to start somewhere. Her first step towards this dream is to work for Minister Kou in the Outer Court, and to study for the National exams at home even though she can’t yet take the exams. The episode title could also be interpreted as Ryuuki taking one step towards being closer with Shuurei by passing his law allowing women to take said exams.
There’s been a small timeskip of 10 days since the previous episode ended, during which Shuurei has very happily been working for Minister Kou. He seems to delight in giving her long lists of tasks to do, but Shuurei always accepts them with a smile. Perhaps he’s trying to overwhelm her and test her limits. However this is Shuurei we’re talking about, so naturally she takes it all in stride and does her best to show what “Shuu” is capable of.
One day Minister Kou (full name Kijin Kou; the kanji for his last name is different than Shuurei’s though) asks “Shuu” what he would do if there was a surplus in the budget, and of course Shuurei has an answer ready almost immediately. Her suggestions focus on supporting the people of Kiyo, which makes sense when you consider that Shuurei lived through the famine eight years ago and saw how much the common people suffered. After spending six months in the Imperial Court she’s lived on both sides of the fence, so she wants to make life better for those who have less. So admirable ~
Shuurei and Ensei get sent to Koro temple to return some papers together. They can see that the temple staff are incredibly overworked and are overheating from the weather, so it’s no wonder that they’re underperforming parts of their duties. Ensei and Shuurei spend a few minutes discussing Minister Kou, giving a small insight into his past and as to why he might choose to wear a mask. (Oh look, disappearing papers! xD )
Once on the way back from the Koro Temple Shuurei has a near miss with Ryuuki, but thankfully she is able to hide from him in time. Suddenly a stranger comes up behind Shuurei and offers to carry the papers (which turn into books?) for her while she returns to Minister Kou. He seems to know a lot about “Shuu” but he doesn’t give her any hints about his identity. His only request is that she call him “Uncle.” But why??? O.o It looks like Minister Kou isn’t the only oddball around the Outer Court.
Shuurei returns to Minister Kou’s office only to find him asleep on a couch. She starts touching his hair… Wait what?? Shuurei don’t be weird!
The sky quickly darkens and it feels only moments before lightning starts to flash and rain pours from the clouds overhead. Shuurei, who has a history of fearing thunderstorms, starts freaking out and calling for Seiran before literally throwing herself at Minister Kou. He is naturally a little disconcerted and surprised, and clearly doesn’t know how to deal with this kid who has thrown themself at him. Should he comfort Shuu? Touch his back? He ends up gently patting Shuu’s hairbun, just in time for the clouds to clear…. And be spotted in this awkward position by both Ensei and Minister Kou’s permanent assistant Yuri. Well shit. xD Awk-waaaard! Shuurei is incredibly embarrassed and immediately retreats.
Ensei doesn’t hesitate to repeat the story for Shouka and Seiran that night over dinner, and the three of them try to encourage Shuurei to see the silver lining in the incident. Later when Ensei brings Shuurei some onigiri as a snack, they talk about the regional exams. Ensei shares that he missed taking the exams once before, but Shuurei encourages him to try again. The two also talk about Shuurei’s dream to become a court official and how it seems to be so close now that she’s temporarily working in the Outer Courts, but yet it’s still far away because of the gender restriction.
Meanwhile Ryuuki is still very hard at work assembling a proper legal bill to be brought up in the Imperial Court. Kouyuu teases Ryuuki about creating the bill for his own selfish reasons (trying to woo Shuurei to his side), but Ryuuki correctly points out that the idea of only men being able to work in the Imperial Court is old and outdated. Women are capable of great things too! So allowing women to bring their knowledge and skills to the table can only benefit the Imperial Court.
And now for the great reveal… the mysterious man who approached Shuurei earlier is none other than Reishin Kou. He really IS Shuurei’s uncle in that Shouka is his older brother. Reishin and Kijin Kou are also friends. Between the two Kijin is definitely the more traditional man, convinced that it will take time to change old preconceptions that women aren’t cut out for politics, plus special programs would have to be created so women could take the exams. Reishin on the other hand points out how well Shuurei is functioning right alongside all of her male peers and colleagues and feels that special routes for women aren’t necessary. Kijin teases Reishin about taking Shuurei as his wife, which Reishin immediately opposes. We also learn during this scene that Reishin is the one who makes Kijin’s very eclectic collection of masks. I also thought it was interesting how we never get to see the top half of Kijin’s face, only his nose and mouth. (Maybe the animation staff was worried they wouldn’t make him handsome enough??)
Yuri later finds Kouyuu wandering the halls, lost yet again, and offers to become Shuu’s sponsor if it would help allow Shuu to take the regional exams. Kouyuu tells Yuri to wait and see when Shuu does become an official, saying that Shuu’s sponsorship would be taken care of at that time.
Later that night Seiran busts Ensei for sneaking out at night to beat up some bandits, and Ensei teases Seiran about getting married to Shuurei. His theory is that taking that path would allow Shuurei to continue her studies plus people would get off her back about getting married. And I mean, Seiran ACTS all outraged and stuff, but don’t think I don’t notice those little blush marks on his cheeks. ;D (Ah, my ship, be still my heart~ ) In return Seiran threatens to tell General Haku about Ensei sneaking out at night to fight bandits and Ensei immediately retracts his words. Moments later Ensei’s up over a wall and gone.
It occurred to me that many characters in Saiunkoku Monogatari are selfless, not just Shuurei. There’s Seiran, who loves Shuurei and Shouka and does his best to support and protect them because they took him in when he was exiled. There’s Kouyuu, who is grateful to Reishin and his wife (though she hasn’t been mentioned in the anime yet) for taking him in, and that’s why he tries his best as a government official. We have Ryuuki who passed his bill not only for Shuurei’s sake but for the best interests of the Imperial Court. There’s also Shushui, who has a crush on Shouka and does her best to serve him as her master whenever she can (giving him embroidery she’s made, drinking his gross tea without complaint).
Overall Saiunkoku is a show which rides on the backs of its characters. The plot is unique, if a bit slow sometimes, but everything happens because of Saiunkoku‘s cast of characters and the bonds and relationships between them. In my personal opinion, Saiunkoku Monogatari stands leagues above many other shows from its time if only for that reason.
hajimari no kaze yo todoke MESSE-JI (MESSAGE)
haruka na tabiji no sono saki de matteru.
Wind of beginnings, deliver this message
At the end of your faraway journey, I will wait for you