Patron Pick Fall 2022: Koukyuu no Karasu – 08

Koukyuu no Karasu is a bit of a mixed bag for me, but in the final analysis it’s proving itself to be a really good series.  The reason, simply put, is that the positives it brings comfortably outweigh the negatives.  The storytelling is often (usually) somewhat awkward, and this whole business of Shouxue’s push-button magic powers resolving every arc is lazy writing.  Not to mention, the pacing is kind of weird too – enormous amounts of meaningful content can be crammed into tiny amounts of screen time.

Still, it works.  It tells interesting stories about interesting people, often people who seem to be worth caring about.  The recurring plot is engaging.  The music is lovely and the casting is excellent (and the budget must be decent if all the big names cast in small roles are any indication).  Better still, an episode like this one – where the pacing is on-point and the mystery of the week especially compelling – provides an indication of what Raven of the Inner Palace is capable of at its best.  It seems to do well with relatively “small” stories more focused on individual pain than matters of overarching import.

The focus here is Yi Shiha (Hirata Mana), the child eunuch who’s briefly popped up a couple of times before.  After a brief interlude where a court lady comes begging the Raven Consort to bring someone back from the dead (a teaser of events to come, obviously), the boy turns up asking for her help regarding a ghost he’s seen.  It’s a boy about his own age, from the same province (Hadan, which as far as I can tell is completely fictional).  But Shouxue is distracted by the fact that Yi Shiha is obviously in physical distress – the result of a caning he received, which clearly pisses Shouxue off.

After the Raven Consort treats his wounds, Yi Shiha tells her about the ghost, and about the hard life he leads as a new eunuch.  The mistreatment of eunuchs is a grim subject Koukyuu has touched on before.  Sexual abuse, beatings, abandonment – it’s not a pretty (or historically inaccurate) picture.  The ones we’ve met all have sad backstories, and Yi Shiha is no exception – sold off as a eunuch by his poor rural family to help make ends meet.  What’s done to these boys upon entrance to the palace is horrible enough – to be mistreated on top of that is really gilding the lily.  But that, sadly, was often how it went.

Shouxue has always been likeable, even if she does act way too much like a modern anime teenager for this setting.  But she’s never been more admirable than she is here, a raven gone into tigress mode at the mistreatment of an innocent.  During her investigation she intervenes as Yi Shiha is being beaten yet again, and by dint of an infinitesimally-veiled threat (“I know your name”) effectively forbids any repeats.  But by wading into these waters she reveals her ignorance of court politics, and inadvertently gets little Yi Shiha banned from the Feiyan Palace – and the fate of an abandoned eunuch in training could hardly be more grim.

What the Raven Consort recognizes here is that the boy – like Gaojun – is driven in his actions by kindness and empathy.  Her investigation reveals the name of the ghost, Yuisha (Minami Mayu), and the identity of a now-grown friend Shi Ken (Hatanaka Tasaku).  He relates the story behind the boy on the bridge holding the blue feather.  Yuisha fell in love with the Swallow Princess (yes, eunuchs could and did fall in love, and even – if they retained the physical means – have sex) after gifting him a blue feather.  Eventually he became so desperate to impress her that he started trapping birds to harvest their feathers.  And one – a blue swallow – died.  Killing birds was a capital offense, and –  against the wishes of Shi Ken – Yuisha confessed and was executed (never revealing Shi Ken’s role in these events).

This is a tragic story for everyone involved – most obviously Yuisha, who died and was bound to Earth by regret over his actions.  But also Shi Ken, who lived with survivor’s guilt for his entire life.  And Yi Shiha, whose own life was upended after acting to help a soul in need.  Shouxue is integral in helping these three, living in dead.  She allows Yuisha to move on with the help of the feather Shi Ken saved, and at least attempts to give Shi Ken the closure he needs to live on.  As for Yi Shiha, it’s complicated – his life in the Swallow Palace is over, and no master will accept him after his exile.

Gaojun is the key to what happens next.  Shouxue wants him to intervene on the boy’s behalf, but his ability to do so is limited.  He urges her to take responsibility for Yi Shiha herself as she was responsible for what happened – as he did with Wei Qing.  But even more, to pass along her knowledge to him and in doing so, to show her love for him.  This is another opportunity for Shouxue to grow emotionally, which is central to Gaojun’s thinking.  But in the end it’s probably the emotional appeal of Wen Ying for her to be for Yi Shiha what he never had himself in his darkest hour – a shield and a giver of love – that almost surely will convince Shouxue to take the boy into the Raven Palace.