I really like this show but it sure is an odd one. The way it jumps between threads mid-episode is a very unusual narrative style for anime, though maybe it’s a LN thing. That said, as much as I generally dislike modern LN adaptations I’ve seen a lot of them by now, and Koukyuu no Karasu is still an outlier. The vibe I get is that for whatever reason, the amount of content in any given episode is never quite appropriate for the length (usually though not always too much), though just why that would be I have no idea.
Our little Ishida Akira preview last week is fleshed out here, in typical Koukyuu fashion. He’s Hou Shougetsu, though in Shouxue’s dreams he’s “The Owl”. He’s intent on coming to the Inner Palace to kill her, though just why that should be we’re not yet told. As for Shouxue she’s having fevered dreams because every new moon, Niao Lian breaks free of her bodily form and soars across the night, subjecting the Raven Consort to horrible physical pain. Gaojun is nosing around trying to figure out what she’s hiding from him (that’s it), and discovers that old Gyoei was a friend of Shouxue’s predecessor, Li Niang.
The Li Niang flashback segues very nicely into the present, where the Raven Consort has indeed taken Yi Shiha under her protection, and is guiding him in writing skills. This was a shrewd and very proactive bit of manoeuvring by the Emperor, because this development is profoundly beneficial for her social development. Most of all though it’s a win-win for everybody – the vulnerable Yi Shiha is in the care of a kind and powerful patron, and Shouxue has another companion to put a crack in the circle of loneliness she’s erected around herself.
The mystery of the week comes in the person of An Huilan (who I would never have guessed was Kugimiya Rie – yet another big name in a small role). She turns up in the dead of night asking the Raven Consort to help put the soul of her old mistress Wanlin to rest. She hears Wanlin’s voice every time a drop of water falls, and tells Shouxue that Wanlin was the Magpie Consort and drowned herself one night (causing Huilan to be deposed to the washhouse). That followed the execution of the young bookseller she was in love with, who’d snuck into the Magpie Palace (very likely to try and convince Wanlin to run away with him).
The denouement of this subplot is handled rather deftly. It’s slowly revealed – through her own testimony – that An Huilan is truly the one at fault here. She was ambitious and saw Wanlin as a useful means of furthering those ambitions, and her manipulations led directly to Wanlin’s suicide. The kicker? An Huilan is the real ghost, and the voice she’s hearing is her own. In fact, though Shouxue says she died that morning, I get the sense that her first visit was an astral projection even if she was still alive, because she looked much healthier than she did at the lake (as a ghost).
This is really the first time we’ve seen Shouxue abjectly fail in helping a “client” – though it’s also the first time the request was for the client themselves. All she can do is seal the ghost in the water in hopes that she can move on, but that seal is later broken – by Shougetsu, the Owl, who’s arrived at the Inner Palace to stir up trouble. Also of note (another signature whipsaw tonal shift) is the developing role of Yi Shiya as a go-between for Gaujun and Shouxue, a role he clearly takes delight in. His earnestness in fact makes her feel too guilty to blow off Gaojun’s messages, which is one of the most amusing developments of the entire series.