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It says something for how persuasive Koukyuu no Karasu’s good points are that it keeps doing the things it does that annoy me and I’m still on-board.  The pacing is still cattywampus, almost every episode has too much crammed into it, and Shouxue’s push-button magic solving problems remains the ultimate cheat code.  Yet it works.  And damn well, too.  Why?  Because the characters are interesting people and their interactions are well-drawn.  Because the situations it depicts are almost always compelling in some way.  And because the sense of place is immersive, largely thanks to the art design and music.

Masks are quite the topic at the moment of course, even here where they’re still widely accepted and relatively non-politicized.  But this is a somewhat different take – a cursed mask (or at least haunted) flogged by an antiques seller at a banquet.  When one puts on this mask a man is visible.  And when that man hears the playing of a five-stringed lute (a rare thing in Japan  – in RL a Chinese lute called a pipa), he turns towards the wearer and reveals a rather harrowing visage.  It’s obviously possessed by this man, so when Gaojun hears the tale his immediate impulse is to buy it and present it to the Raven Consort for her usual interventions.

The politics of the court is also a major factor here.  Gaojun is visited by the chancellor, Yu Yongde (Sugisaki Ryou).  Yongde (this show is getting almost as bad as Kingdom in trying to keep track of all the Chinese names with the Japanese soundtrack) and the Emperor have some obvious tension between them, and there’s a good reason.  The Yu are apparently a powerful potential rival clan, and Gaojun has married Yongde’s granddaughter expressly so that she won’t marry someone else and produce a male heir, a potential rival for the throne.  But this lies heavily on Gaojun’s shoulders, for what one imagines are any number of reasons.

Once Yongde expresses concern about the Raven Consort’s influence, the Emperor cuts the interview short.  There’s a lot to unpack here, given the complicated tangle of political and emotional threads involved.  Gaojun will, at some point, be expected to produce an heir with at least one of his consorts.  He’s depriving the granddaughter of a chance at happiness.  And there’s obviously only one consort that really interests him, the one he’s forbidden to mate with.  This alone would be enough for a full episode (at least), but on top of it you have the recurring thread involving the Owl, who’s arrived at the Inner Palace.  That too would seem deserving of dedicated episodes (and that will likely happen eventually) but here it’s just more content piled on top of content.

The mask story didn’t need to be rushed because of all that other stuff – it’s plenty to fill the episode – but that’s Raven in the Inner Palace for you.  The engagement between Shouxue and Gaojun when he brings the mask to her is really entertaining.  She calls him a fool (which clearly annoys certain people) but in the end can’t let the opportunity to help a soul in pain pass her by.  The clue to the ghost’s identity comes in the fact that a troupe called the Red Sparrow were playing at the banquet when the ghost turned towards the wearer.  They’ve left town, but Wen Ying used to be a member.  He’s not much help, but eventually Gaojun secures a five-string lute from the treasure house, along with someone to play it.

That lutist is Yao Zuoqiu, and this is yet another case of Koukyuu getting a huge name for a minor role – in this case Ohtsuka Houchuu.  Yao thinks who knows who the ghost is – Shicui, a lute player who was so dedicated to his craft that he was slowly turning into a demon through his obsession.  He hanged himself after Yao forcefully separated him from his lute, and Shouxue spins it (one imagines partly for Yao’s peace of mind) that he saved Shicui from becoming a demon, though his motives were less than pure.  A great setup like this deserves a better denouement, but it’s basically just Shouxue blowing on an ephemeral flower as usual.  I hated to see that lute burned though – it was a true thing of beauty.

Once more it’s the Owl – who I assume is responsible for the bloody scene we saw – who closes the episode.  But the exchange between Wei Qing feels compelled to remind Wen Ying of his duty.  He’s not posted to the Raven Palace to protect Shouxue but to keep watch on her – his duty is to the Emperor, and Wei Qing clearly feels Wen Ying is becoming too close to the woman he’s supposed to be keeping tabs on.  The import here is obvious – Shouxue is seen as a threat by many close and not so close to Gaojun, even those who know her well.  Her position is precarious – to an extent Gaojun may understand intellectually, but perhaps not fully accept emotionally.


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