The anime adaptation series, produced by Madhouse and directed by Jun Shishido, was broadcast on the Japanese television network NHK on Saturday mornings. The first season began airing on April 8, 2006, and completed its run on February 24, 2007, airing a total of 39 episodes. The second season, titled Saiunkoku Monogatari Second Series began airing on April 7, 2007 and consists of another 39 episodes, ending its run on March 8, 2008.
Produced by Madhouse and directed by Jun Shishido, the anime adaptation of The Story of Saiunkoku premiered in Japan on NHK on April 8, 2006. The first season ran for 39 episodes until its conclusion on February 24, 2007. The second season, referred to as Saiunkoku Monogatari 2nd Series, premiered on April 7, 2007 and ran for another 39 episodes until its conclusion on March 8, 2008.
In May 2007, Geneon Entertainment announced it had acquired the license to releases the anime in North America with English language options. In September 2007, after only two volumes had been released, Geneon closed its North America operations. In July 2008, Funimation announced that it will distribute several Geneon titles, including The Story of Saiunkoku.
The series uses three pieces of theme music. “Hajimari no Kaze” by Ayaka Hirahara is used for the opening theme for both the first and second seasons. For the ending theme, “Saikō no Kataomoi” by Sachi Tainaka is used for the first season, while “Asu e” by Teruya Miho is used for the second season.
is the daughter and only child of Shōka Hong. She is sixteen years old when the story begins. As a descendant of the direct line, she has the title hime, which means ‘Princess’ or ‘Lady’. Despite the high social status of her family, Shūrei grew up in relatively impoverished circumstances. Her father’s job brought little income, and much of the wealth of their family home was given to the needy during the devastating war for the imperial succession eight years ago. Without domestic servants, Shūrei became adept at household chores such as needlework, cooking and cleaning, traits unusual in a lady of her theoretical rank. She has also held a number of odd jobs to earn money, such as professional erhu player, accountant at Kōchō’s brothel in the Red Light District, and teacher at the local temple. When she is taken to the imperial palace, she becomes the concubine of the Emperor, who only likes males, as the rumors say. Slowly, a relationship begins to form.
Shūrei is the first woman in the history of Saiunkoku to have taken and passed the Imperial Exams with the third highest score, allowing her to obtain the “Tanka” spot. Along with Eigetsu, she was appointed by the Emperor as the new governor of the Sa Province. Shūrei later accepts a position as an official in the Censorate or Inspector in the capital.
is the reigning emperor of Saiunkoku, Ryūki Shi is nineteen years old when the story begins. As the youngest of the previous Emperor’s six sons, each from a different mother, he had been an unlikely candidate to ascend to the throne. In childhood, Ryūki was badly treated by his mother and most of his half-brothers, who would beat him and lock him in a storage house for days in a row. Second Prince Seien was the only member of the family who showed kindness to him. Ryūki often took refuge in the garden or the imperial archives; in the latter location, he first encountered Shōka Hong, who tutored the young prince and encouraged War General Sou-Taifu to teach him swordsmanship.
Ryūki ultimately rose to the throne due to his father’s dying wish, after Seien was exiled for treason and the other four princes killed each other over the succession. Secretly hoping for many years that Seien would return and take his place as Emperor, Ryūki play-acted as a stupid Emperor and avoided any involvement in politics or government, wandering the palace for hours so no one would be able to find him. He even spread rumors that he preferred the company of men to fuel speculation he could not produce an heir.
His avoidance of responsibility comes to an end when he meets Shūrei, who tells him of her dreams of making a better life for the nation’s people. Charmed by her earnest and nurturing personality, he decides to undertake the task of becoming a respectable Emperor. Ryūki’s devotion to Shūrei reveals a capacity for subterfuge and cunning that may have helped him survive the fight for the succession. He initially pretended to be ignorant so that he could study along with Shūrei. Although he has an extreme fear of darkness and solitude because of his childhood experiences, he uses that fear as an excuse to sleep in her room at the palace. When someone tries to poison Shūrei, Ryūki conceals the plot from her and even takes the poison in her place, as part of his plan to identify the culprit. After she returns home, he passes a law allowing women to take the official exams, which brings Shūrei back to the palace and enables her to pursue her dreams.
Ryūki’s romantic pursuit of Shūrei has been complicated by his lack of experience in courting women, as well as Shūrei’s initial belief that he was homosexual and therefore more interested in Seiran. Even after discovering Seiran’s true identity, Ryūki harbors some jealousy that Seiran spends more time with Shūrei and is a closer confidant of hers. After she leaves the palace, Ryūki sends her many absurd gifts such as boiled eggs, blocks of ice, and even a straw voodoo doll. Before sending Shūrei to Sa province as co-governor, Ryūki privately tells her that she is the only woman he wants to marry.
Ryūki eventually tells Shūrei that he cannot wait for her forever because part of his responsibilities as the Emperor requires him to marry. As a result, he extracts a promise from her that he can convince her to marry before a specified time, she will become his consort. After years of convincing Shūrei, he finally succeeded and Shūrei finally accepted Ryūki’s marriage proposal. Shūrei eventually dies soon after she gives birth to her and Ryūki’s daughter.
is a young man in his early twenties and is the sole remaining retainer in the personal household of Shōka Hong, who took him in thirteen years ago. Since then, Seiran has repaid that kindness by protecting Shōka’s family, performing repairs on the house, and taking small outside jobs to earn money. He is a very skilled fighter and swordsman, and despite his amiable disposition, can be ruthless to those who endanger those he loves. He has known Shūrei since her childhood and is very protective of her, but prefers to watch and help from the shadows.
Seiran is later revealed to be Seien Shi, Ryuuki’s second-eldest brother, who had been known as the “flower” of the royal princes due to his physical and intellectual superiority as well as for his kind heart. Ryuuki deeply admires and cares for him, recalling that Seien had been the only brother who had shown him kindness as a boy, and the possibility of Seien’s return is one of the reasons why Ryuuki does not take his responsibilities as a king seriously. Because of Seien’s qualities, his maternal relatives conspired to make him the next Emperor. The plot failed, resulting in Seien’s exile along with his mother, Lady Suzuran, who was later killed by assassins sent by the other imperial concubines to kill them both. Left alone in the distant Sa province, he joined Satsujinzoku, a murderous band of thieves who nicknamed him “The Little Whirlwind”. Ensei Ro joined the group as well, and the two destroyed the band from within. Afterward, Shouka found the young prince in the wilderness and took him in, giving him the new personal name ‘Seiran’, as well as the surname ‘Shi’, which was homophonous with his original surname.
Seiran has since embraced this new persona and does not discuss his past, although some characters become quietly aware of his former identity. Though he claims to be 21 years old, he is actually 26 years old at the start of the series.