Saiunkoku Monogatari, The Story of Saiunkoku, is a series of short novels by Yukino Sai that has been adapted into a two-season-long (78 episodes) anime, and a manga. The series is set in Saiunkoku, an ancient China-esque country divided into eight provinces named after colors, with eight noble families to match: Kou (crimson; Hong in the English versions), Ran (blue), Heki (green), Ko (yellow; not to be confused with the other Kou, which uses a different kanji), Haku (white), Koku (black), Sa (brown), and Shi (purple), the ruling family. The series follow Shuurei, a young woman - 16 at the beginning - whose family is very poor despite being a part of the Kou clan, one of the most noble of the eight clans. Shuurei has dreamed of becoming a government official since she was a child, but cannot make that dream come true because the exams that one must pass to qualify to become an official are barred to women.
Because of her family's poverty - a result of the Civil War for the throne eight years before - Shuurei and her family's retainer Seiran (who is really more a member of the family than anything else) have to work constantly to make ends meet. Shuurei herself teaches at a small temple school, does the accounting for a brothel and countless other odd jobs to earn money. So when Grand Advisor Sho, one of the most important people in the country, arrives at her house and offers her a job paying 500 gold pieces, Shuurei accepts immediately. As it turns out, this job involves temporarily entering the palace as the Emperor's consort, something Shuurei is less than happy about. The current Emperor, Shi Ryuuki, was the youngest of his brothers, but unexpectedly found himself on the throne when all the other princes killed each other in a civil war eight years before. Ryuuki, at only nineteen years old, seems to have no interest in governing, has yet to take in any consorts or produce an heir, and rumor has it that he prefers men over women. Shuurei's job is to act as a sort of tutor to Ryuuki, and turn him into a proper ruler.
Several attempted poisonings and assassinations later, Ryuuki has, under Shuurei's influence, become a good emperor, and he decides to make it his goal to make Shuurei's dream come true, and give her to opportunity to become Saiunkoku's first female official.
The court intrigues and politics are a game where you have everything to gain and everything to lose, and Shuurei is walking straight into the center of it all.
The first season of the anime was licensed in North America by Geneon in 2007, but only 2 of the 9 planned volumes (totalling 10 episodes of the 39) were released before the company folded. After nearly a year in limbo - during which time the dub and subtitle work were completed - FUNimation released and distributed the rest of the season as part of an agreement which also saw several other "orphaned" series finished. As of December 2010, Geneon's license and Funimation's distribution deal have expired and the series is out of print. The second season (episodes 40-78) was never licensed.
The manga has been licensed by Viz Media and is being released under their Shoujo Beat line. The light novels remain unlicensed.
- All Love Is Unrequited: About the only couples who succeed in making things work out are side characters: Sa Kokujun and Sa Shunki, Tei Yuushun and Sai Rin, Eigetsu and Kourin (They're not exactly together, but it's less this and more Ryuuren). The rest of them might get there someday, but in the meantime...
- The worst case is probably Ran Shuuei, who is in love with Shusui, who is in love with Shouka, who is in love with his dead wife Shokun... with whom Hyou Riou is still obsessed, causing his sister Ruka to become obsessed with looking like Shokun so that Riou will pay attention to her. And if that weren't bad enough, before he fell in love with Shusui, Shuuei was in unrequited love with his brother's wife. Phew.
- All Myths Are True: The series opens with Shuurei telling the story of the Eight Sages who helped the first Emperor found Saiunkoku, ending by saying that legend has it the Sages are still alive in secret among the people of Saiunkoku. This is absolutely true.
- Early in the series, Shuurei begins to tell Ryuuki a fairy tale about a "Rose Princess" who had magical healing powers and married a mortal human man. This one is not only also absolutely true, it's the story of her parents' marriage. Although it is probably not, as Shuurei claims, the reason roses have thorns.
- Averted in one case: When a disease begins spreading in the Sa province, the Jasenkyou, a cult in the area, spreads rumors that the cause of the illness is the gods' anger that a woman was made the province's governor. Many people believe it out of desperation, making Shuurei's attempts to solve the problem a lot more difficult than they need to be, but of course it isn't true.
- Aren't You Going To Ravish Me: Said almost exactly word for word by Shuurei to Sa Sakujun when she's sort of captured in the Sa Residence, but she's glad he's not going to (yet), rather than insulted.
- Asskicking Equals Authority: Ro Ensei, governor of the Sa Province.
- Attractive Bent Gender: Li Kouyuu (Mentioned in the novel, he was forced to participate, crossdressed as a girl, and won first place in a the annual youth beauty pageant when he was a kid. But this is top secret, don't let him know that this troper has spit it out.)
- Badass Grandpa: Sou Taifu, one of the eldest and most respected men in the Imperial Court, is a huge burly man who taught Ryuuki and Seiran their craft and shows up to basically kick everyone's asses.
- Barbie Doll Anatomy: Eigetsu and Yogetsu.
- Big Screwed-Up Family: The Sa, Kou/Hong, and Hyou clans especially, but all of the eight noble clans have at least a little of this except for the Shi family - and that's only because Ryuuki is the only known member still alive by the time the series begins, four of his five older brothers having been executed thanks to their battling over the throne, and the fifth exiled and presumed dead.
- Bishonen: The entirety of the main cast, with the possible exception of Ensei. Basically if they aren't one, they were one.
- Give him a razor and a change of clothes and Ensei becomes Bishounen All Along.
- Cast Full of Pretty Boys: The Imperial Court of Saiunkoku is full of pretty men.
- Chain of Deals: The old "single piece of straw for a fortune" legend is parodied when Ran Ryuuren starts out with money for dinner and, through a chain of random deals, ends up with a single piece of straw.
- Cherry Blossoms: How Shuurei and Ryuuki met for the first time.
- The Clan: The eight noble families of Saiunkoku, as well as the Hyou family. The Kou/Hong and Ran families especially fit the trope, and many if not all of the clans also double as Big Screwed Up Families.
- Character Development: Meeting Shuurei does wonders for Ryuuki's... management skills.
- Color-Coded for Your Convenience: The eight noble families (and the provinces they govern) are even named after colours. Clan members will usually wear clothes of their colours too, and a some will even wear matching ear studs (such as Reishin's red ones and Hakumei's green ones).
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Shuurei's sidekick, Shin Suou aka Tan-Tan. Sure, he's a slacker, a tanuki-loving borderline Cloudcuckoolander, and shows little initiative in his job unless physically pushed and pulled into it by Shuurei, but he's highly perceptive of people's character and has an excellent nose for clues enough to earn fame as one of the most successful investigators in the Inspector General's office. It is unclear, though, if he really just likes playing the fool.
- Dreadful Musician: Ran Ryuuren and his flute-playing, which seems to become more dreadful as the series progresses.
- Dub Name Change: The name of Shuurei's family is changed from Kou to Hong in the English localization to avoid confusion with the similar sounding Ko, as the short vowel/long vowel distinction which Japanese audiences could hear just fine would be lost on English ears.
- Similarly, Seiran's assumed family name is modified from Shi to Si (but still pronounced the same in both sub and dub), since the distinction between the kanji used to write his name and the kanji of the royal family's given name is lost on an English-speaking audience.
- Also Bilingual Bonus: both name changes are simply the result of reading those exact same characters in Mandarin Chinese, rather than Japanese.
- Eye Scream: Late in the series, a flashback shows how Shiba Jin came to lose his eye: when he first met the very young Ran Jyuusanhime, she insisted that she wouldn't let him come near her or the corpse of her murdered mother unless he gave her his eyes. So he stabbed one of them out. He was about to do the same to the other before she stopped him, too.
- Gambit Pileup: Pretty much everyone with a name is creating one, involved in one, or a sucker for one. Sometimes all three. Shuurei pulls off a particularly fine Xanatos Gambit against the Merchant's Guild in the second season of the anime: either give Shuurei a bargain or the emperor would make them do it for free.
- WITHOUT telling them the Emperor would force them!
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: They're all Chinese people by another name.
- Fantasy Pantheon: Immortal sages of eight colors, all with colorful personalities.
- First-Name Basis: Ryuuki asks Shuurei to call him by his name instead of "your highness", at least in private.
- Flower Motifs: The symbolic gift of a flower from the emperor carries great significance, and recurs several times throughout the series.
- Freudian Trio: Reishin, Kijin, and Yuushun appear to have been one in the backstory of the series, with Reishin as Id, Kijin as Superego, and Yuushun as Ego.
- Heterosexual Life Partners: Li Kouyuu and Ran Shuuei are always together. The yaoi fangirls were suitably displeased when they both turned out to be straight.
- Humiliation Conga: Another reason that one just shouldn't mess with the Kou/Hong family - particularly, as Senior Secretary Sai of the Ministry of Rites discovers, if one then compounds one's error by trying to target Shuurei.
- Intelligence Equals Isolation: Ryuuren often strikes people as weird because of his out-of-ordinary antics that only makes sense to him. Subverted in that he is perfectly capable of acting normal, albeit only when he is serious.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: The current character page only scratches the surface.
- Manipulative Bastard: There are more than a few of these, but the biggest is probably Grand Advisor Shou, who is explicitly referred to as such at the end of the first story arc.
- Meet Cute: Shuurei and Ryuuki's first meeting.
- Not with Them for the Money: Shuurei hates extravagance thanks to her personal experiences with poverty and want. As a result, she's unimpressed and even angry with Ryuuki's attempts to shower her with gifts, only accepting them when they can serve a practical purpose, such as when he sends her a block of ice during the heat of summer - and even then, he has to be careful.
- Papa Wolf: Kou Shoka. Normally a complete pushover, if anyone does or says anything against his daughter within range of him, he will silently end them.
- Portmanteau Series Nickname: "SaiMono"
- The Power of Love: Subverted when Shusui is mind-controlled by Hyou Ruka. Ryuuki and Juusanhime urge Shuuei (who is in love with her; see All Love Is Unrequited above) to use the Power of Love to snap her out of it, which he does... by yelling "Hey look, it's Shouka!". It works, but he is subsequently called out for having no shame.
- Rapunzel Hair: Almost all the characters.
EvenEspecially the men.
- Royally Screwed-Up: Ryuuki's entire family is loopy, starting a civil war and killing each other for the throne. Ryuuki is saner than his various deceased family members were, but is still kind of messed up.
- Scarpia Ultimatum: Given by Sa Chusho to Shuurei when he wants her to marry Sakujun. He threatens to set fire to the city and kill one of her advisors if she doesn't go through with it. She still refuses.
- Sliding Scale of Beauty: Out of the full harem of pretty men in the series, Kijin is the one who has the "Divine Beauty" status up to a thousand. Anyone (with only a few exceptions), men or women, will instantly faint, go blind, tremble, and be disabled to work for years upon seeing his face in a flash. Hence, that's why he wears a mask in public all the time.
- Spoiler Opening: Ryuuki, I am sorry but your efforts to convince people you are gay do not fool the audience one bit once you and Shuurei are revealed to be the Official Couple.
- Title Drop: Each episode of the anime has a proverb for its title, and in the first season, the proverb always gets used by someone (usually Shuurei) before the episode is over. Some of the title drops work more naturally than others; the practice is dropped in the second season.
- Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs?: Not really pointed out or used for comedy, but Shuurei seems to be holding down a truly spectacular number of part-time jobs before entering the palace. We know for a fact that she's a teacher and the accountant for a brothel, but she also apparently cleans restrooms and plays her erhu in several places, among other things. She does even more in the light novel, such as stints serving as handmaidens for rich families. Basically, she is willing to do any job that pays. Seiran seems to accompany her to most of these (with the exception of the brothel) while still acting as the family's retainer and serving in the army.