Last time we time we saw Shuurei and her friends, they were in the process of putting the Sa province to rights, but of course, their troubles are far from over. First, there’s the outbreak of a deadly plague and the emergence of the mystical Hyou family to deal with, but after that, there are even more trials and troubles to overcome. Can Shuurei become an official capable of handling whatever is thrown at her- and can Ryuuki can become a king worthy of the throne of Saiunkoku?
Everyone knows how much I loved SaiMono after its first season, and so it was that I decided to jump straight into season two, despite the lack of subtitles. Thankfully, Impz was on hand to help out with anything I didn’t understand, and so I was able to make it through all 39 episodes of a series that became increasingly complex and riddled with new characters as it went on.
SaiMono had a hardly been a series that was light on characters in its first season, but the second season seemed set to take that to new heights. As the world of Saiunkoku expanded and new threads were woven into the plot, they brought with them new characters, some mere supporting personalities, others of higher importance. Even though the result should have been to make Saiunkoku a more complex place, it also meant that the now immense cast was competing for time, with important season one characters being shoved to the sidelines for long periods of time even as the viewer grappled with the surge of new and often unremarkable faces. Why should we care about all these new officials and doctors when all we wanted was to see Seiran actually do something?
Fortunately, it wasn’t all doom and gloom on the character front; not only did Eigetsu, Shusui and to a lesser extent Shuuei get a chance to shine in their respective arcs, but a couple of the new faces actually proved to be worthy additions to the cast. In particular, we saw the introduction of Shin “Tantan” Suou, a laid back person who becomes Shuurei’s guide from innocence and naïveté to the way the real world works, and Jyuusan-hime, a daughter of the Ran clan whose inner fortitude and streetwise nature make her the perfect contrast to Shuurei.
Amidst all this, there was still enough time to ensure that Shuurei herself continued on her journey of development, although the tone this takes is a little different than it was in season one. Back then, it seemed as if Shuurei’s determination to succeed was all that was required, whilst her male friends were always there to protect her idealism and naïveté from some of the harsher realities of the world. This time around, she is forced to grow more as she is left to take more responsibility for her own actions- she may have friends in high places, but they know the best thing for her is to sort out her problems on her own. It is interesting to wonder what the ultimate result of this will be- obviously Shuurei cannot remain naïve forever if she is to survive in the world of politics, but at the same time, if that idealism and determination to make the world a better place is lost, something very fundamental about her character will be changed forever.
Although he spends much of the early part of the series sitting in his throne room and receiving information about the plot in the form of recap episodes, Ryuuki also gets a chance to grow up a little in the latter part of the series. Although we’ve already seen him go from a ruler who felt too unworthy to even bother with his duties to someone who is trying his best for Shuurei’s sake, there is still some way to go for our young emperor. As long as his actions are motivated purely by his interest in Shuurei, he can never grasp the bigger picture and make the kind of decisions required of him (including taking a wife, of course). Ultimately, though, does he have the strength to become a better ruler, or should he just step down and let someone else take his place?
With all these character concerns, it is no surprise that the story of SaiMono started to become more complex, diverging as it did onto all sorts of threads covering everything from art theft to Shuurei’s future as an official. Unfortunately, unlike last season, these episodes started to suffer from the ever-present danger of catching up to the novels, with the pacing slowing down a little too much in places (the plague arc became an extended ER episode for some weeks) and recap episodes appearing a little too often. And with the novels still ongoing, it was impossible to wrap everything up in this series- all we can hope for is an OVA or two once the next few novels are released, because there are certainly plenty of dangling threads that it would be nice to see resolved eventually.
Visually, SaiMono seems to have earned a slightly bigger budget injection for this season, so whilst the animation still isn’t entirely consistent, the beauty of the character designs shines through even more than it does in the first season. Aside from a new ED, the music is basically the same as it was in season one (even the OP is reused)- a selection of period style themes that fit the tone of the series well but tend to become repetitive when listened to on their own.
Thanks to the increasing complexity of the world of Saiunkoku, the second season of SaiMono is slower paced and perhaps a little ‘colder’ than its predecessor, covering so many characters and story threads that it lacks the intimacy of the first season. Nonetheless, if you enjoyed the first thirty-nine episodes, watching this batch is highly recommended- it’s no Twelve Kingdoms, but it still makes for worthy viewing.