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The Fall 2022 Preview Guide
Raven of the Inner Palace

How would you rate episode 1 of
Raven of the Inner Palace ?
Community score: 4.2



What is this?

Uki is an imperial concubine who has never been called to the emperor's bedchambers, and maintains a singularly unique life within the harem chambers. Seen by some as having the appearance of an old woman, and some others as a young lady, she is knowne to use mysterious magic that helps with everything from finding lost items to inflicting curses. When a circumstance makes the emperor call on her, their meeting will change history.

Raven of the Inner Palace is based on Kōko Shirakawa's novel and streams on Crunchyroll on Saturdays.


How was the first episode?

Nicholas Dupree
Rating:

Premieres that are the first half of a two-parter are always a bit tricky to cover. Sure, some introductions are big enough that they need more than one episode to make their case, but that means the first episode usually amounts to a whole lot of setup with little to no payoff. That's definitely the case here, as this episode spends its entire runtime prodding at a number of ideas and important character details, but cuts off before any of them can be fully addressed.

To be fair though, what we get here is definitely interesting enough to get me back for another episode. I was initially worried I'd be lost in the flurry of court politics, but everything here is pretty clear-cut, from our new emperor who's just reclaimed his throne from a usurping step-parent to the mysterious Raven Consort who serves as our real protagonist. While there are plenty of secrets and mysteries waiting to be overturned – including a pretty big reveal in the closing seconds – everything is explained naturally enough that it's never confusing. The picture that's painted is one of power imbalances, personal vengeance, and lingering feuds that have smoldered for generations, all given just enough depth to make you curious to learn more about it all. Similarly, the supernatural elements aren't over-explained, but rather are defined by how the characters react (or rather, don't) to their presence. We don't need any longwinded explanations about Qi or the nature of the afterlife, because everything can be intuited by what the characters say on their own. It's simple, effective writing that I appreciate after one hundred too many isekai magic systems.

Our main character, Shouxue, also took me by surprise. From all of the promotional material I figured she'd be all stoicism and mysteries, but her first appearance makes it clear those aspects are defensive affectations. She needs to be seen as ethereal and unmoving because that's what's most likely to keep her safe in the conniving hierarchy of the imperial palace, and it's especially necessary when dealing with a new emperor who just couped his way onto the throne. Outside of her role as the Raven Consort she's just as determined and confident, but also rounded out by a very teenager awkwardness that helps her feel human. There's a lot we still don't know about her – especially with that ending cliffhanger – but like the larger supernatural (and natural) mysteries, what we get is plenty to make me want more. I also rather liked the antagonistic banter she had with Gaojun during their encounters, prodding at each other with just enough venom to mean it, but not enough to really sting.

In all this is a solid, if incomplete, introduction that offers a lot of reasons to come back. If you're in the mood for a quieter sort of fantasy that still has stakes – or are just a sucker for court politics with a dash of mysticism – then this is an easy pick.


Rebecca Silverman
Rating:

There's a lot going on in this episode, which appears to be doing its best to establish not only the characters, but also the world and its mythology. That's a tricky proposition, if only because there's so much that it needs to get through while also introducing what I assume is going to be a fantasy/mystery storyline. But what it does do a fairly solid job of is being interesting and beautiful, both of which ensure that I'll be watching the next episode. The general premise is that in a China-esque kingdom, there's one consort called the Raven Consort who lives in her own palace and is never subjected to the sexual attentions of the emperor. Instead, it is her duty to fulfill requests, although she may (and in this case, does) request payment for her services. The current Raven Consort is sixteen-year-old Liu Shouxue, and it definitely seems like she would have been a lot happier had new emperor Xia Gaojun never darkened her doorstep. But he has, and he's got a ghostly mystery he'd like her to solve, something she's more or less tricked into with gifts of red bean and lotus seed buns.

The story right now is a relatively simple mystery – a ghost in a red ruquan has been haunting a single jade earring, and Gaojun wants to know why. When Shouxue tries to summon the ghost, it's clear that she's been strangled and is still suffering, which should immediately make us question the narrative that Shouxue uncovers amongst the ladies in waiting: that the woman hanged herself. That's definitely not what it looked like – the spirit looked a lot more as if she was strangled by someone wrapping a cloth around her neck rather than via noose. Shouxue seems to be intrigued by the puzzle, even if she's not entirely sure that she ought to be entertaining Gaojun in any capacity. She's also clearly hiding something about herself, namely that the myths about her tracing her heritage back to a goddess may not be anything other than true.

What the episode lacks in thrilling plotline (and there are some definite questions about the role of the Empress Dowager that are intriguing), it makes up for in gorgeous imagery, specifically any time Shouxue is on the screen. There's a delicacy to her design that's just breathtaking, and the use of her hair ornaments is very nicely done, as is that final scene of her dangling her hair in the moonlit water. This may not be perfect, but it's looking like enough to tide me over until we eventually (hopefully) get an anime adaptation of The Apothecary Diaries.


James Beckett
Rating:

What a lovely surprise! Every season we get at least one or two shows that come completely out of nowhere (at least for me) and up serving as a real breath of fresh air. Raven of the Inner Palace arrives with the one-two punch combo of being a supernatural mystery story set in some version of ancient imperial China, with a focus on the drama and schemes afoot amongst the royals and consorts of the court—both living and dead. If nothing else, it's got just enough of a spooky vibe to make for perfect Halloween viewing.

What I appreciated the most about this premiere was its confident pacing and writing. It establishes a lot of information about the complex political and supernatural puzzles at play that our heroine Shouxue, the Raven Consort herself, is going to solve on behalf of her emperor, Xia Gaojun. Despite all of the plot threads it has to set up—the possessed jade earrings, the murdered women of the royal court, Shouxue's mysterious origins—Raven of the Inner Palace never rushes itself along or shortchanges its mood or atmosphere in favor of getting to the next plot point. That's a rare quality in most any anime, these days.

Besides, even if the story has yet to fully get going, all of that mood that the show revels in is enough to keep a viewer like me glued to the screen all the same. I loved the delicate linework of the characters and the lush colors of everything onscreen. Shouxue herself is a delightful character all around, and not just because of how charming and headstrong she is; the girl simply has a perfect look for this story, and the magical secrets behind her role as the Raven Consort only make her that much more compelling as a heroine.

I usually consider myself a fan of more “boots on the ground” history, as I tend to get lost when it comes to matters of court politics and labyrinthine schemes of betrayal and succession, but I'm more than willing to step out of my comfort zone on that front if it means getting to enjoy everything else that Raven of the Inner Palace has to offer. Let the spooky times roll, I say, and let's open up the Fall with a proper ghost story.


Richard Eisenbeis
Rating:

I'll be the first to admit that Chinese fantasy stories (or in this case Chinese fantasy-inspired stories) are not really my thing. I have so little basic cultural knowledge that I don't even understand the framework of the story—the rules of reality that govern the setting. To me, experiencing Chinese fantasy is like watching a western fantasy show but being completely ignorant of the concept of wizards, magic, the feudal system, and mythic creatures. You're expected to know all these things going in through cultural osmosis if nothing else and, when it comes to Chinese fantasy, I just don't.

Luckily, the first scene was easy enough to understand—an exiled prince performed a coup and removed his evil “stepmother” (though I know that's not quite the right word) from the throne. And then the opening credits rolled with a high-speed text dump and I was lost. Gods, turtles, palaces... yeah, I don't know how any of that relates to our story—not like the episode gave me time to read it without pausing, much less digest it.

That said, by the time the final credits roll, this episode makes it clear what this series is about even to someone like me. The new emperor is trying to untangle the web of intrigue that has consumed the palace—the game of thrones that killed his mother along with so many others and kept the former empress in power. To do this, he needs someone trustworthy but unrelated to him—someone removed from the palace's schemes but able to move through the palace undetected. He finds this in the person of Shouxue.

Isolated from all but the emperor and able to wield mysterious magics, she is a captivating lead character. It's clear that, while she's been trained not to care, she cares deeply for the suffering of others and finds what has been happening at the palace as disgusting as the emperor does. The fact that she isn't afraid to go undercover and get her hands dirty makes her likable as well—despite her often off-putting attitude.

Despite clearly being out of my comfort zone with this one, I am interested enough to come back next week to see how the mystery of the jade earring is resolved. After that, however, we'll just have to wait and see.


Caitlin Moore
Rating:

As a firm leftist, I shouldn't be as drawn to stories set at court as I am. I can't help it; I was raised on a steady diet of high fantasy from the time I was a teenager. I consumed these tales of rulers and court intrigue voraciously, especially if there was a female character at the center of the story. There was a time where anime fed that appetite as much as anything, especially in the late '90s when I discovered the medium, but the shift in recent years has moved more toward an emphasis on gamic worlds with male protagonists; the few female-driven historical fantasy series have failed to grab me. The last one I can think of that really scratched that itch is Yona of the Dawn, which completed its run over seven years ago.

But I think Raven of the Inner Palace may just finally give me what I've spent over half a decade longing for: a court fantasy with an interesting female lead. Shouxue, the Raven of the Inner Court, is said to be able to do anything asked of her, but asks steep prices in return. That's how the official summary describes her; the actual character as written is a rich and layered person, who possesses both a supernatural mystique but also a humanity as well. It's true, she has mystical powers, but she also does a lot of legwork to find information to assist her in her task.

This is one of those premieres where by the end I'm shocked that it was only 25 minutes long, not because boredom made the time stretch, but because there was so much packed into the runtime without it ever feeling compressed. As a mystery, there's a lot of information conveyed both visually and through dialogue, with plenty of twists and turns and reveals in only a short period of time. Perhaps most impressively, every one of them feels properly foreshadowed, like every bit of dialogue and story element is a piece of the puzzle coming together to form an image of what truly happened.

There's a real groundedness that brings it all together. Yes, there are supernatural elements, as seen in Shouxue's powers and the appearance of a ghost. But the human elements are far more important, especially written with a high level of compassion for every character. Stories about inner courts tend to focus on intrigue, gossip, and backstabbing, but Raven of the Inner Palace presents the argument that these things take center stage because these women have been forced into a tiny world where they're forced to vie with only a few others for even a small amount of power. If this had a stronger visual presentation, it would easily have been a five-star premiere.

Raven of the Inner Palace's approach to courtly intrigue, driven by human connections with a hint of the supernatural, is almost Shakespearean. I'm sure some people will think I'm exaggerating or overstating, but remember! Shakespeare himself was a populist entertainer, weaving human stories full of subtlety that also appealed to the masses. I just hope this story will appeal to the mass of anime fans.


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