Raven of the Inner Palace review: Where Chinese Hun-Po meets Japanese grace

Liu Shouxue, the titular Raven Consort. Pic credit: Bandai Namco

Raven of the Inner Palace (後宮の烏, Koukyuu no Karasu) is one of the rare titles I was looking forward to seeing adapted into an anime series.

The Koukyuu no Karasu TV anime is based on the eponymous light novel series by Kouko Shirakawa, which I was hoping would get licensed for an English-language release for years. Admittedly, a couple of fan translations have been around since the novel’s debut (2018) but they’re slow in coming and rather average, quality-wise.

Still, thank you fandom! There are too many titles we’d never get to hear about (let alone read!) if it weren’t for the diligence of the fans.

It was only in July 2022 — when the anime adaptation had already been announced — that Seven Seas Entertainment obtained a license for the light novel. Raven of the Inner Palace Volume 1 in English will be out on February 14, 2023, and I doubt that Valentine’s Day has been chosen at random.

Enter Ancient China with a Nihonjinron Twist

Koukyuu no Karasu is set in an alternate-history Ancient China and follows a rather innovative approach that revolves around Liu Shouxue (Japanese reading: Ryuu Jusetsu), the titular Raven Consort of the Inner Palace.

Shouxue is not your average consort as she isn’t required to perform nighttime duties. In fact, she’s never met the Emperor!

Of course, that’s bound to change but not in the way one would expect. Albeit the Emperor wouldn’t mind the Raven Consort becoming a real consort, things are not as they seem since not even the Emperor knows the lady’s history.

That, too, is about to change. The TV anime is presently at Episode 7 and we’ve already learned the root of the mystery.

Not desiring to spoil anything, I’ll just say that Shouxue’s mysterious powers aren’t that mysterious after all, as she’s undertaken special training by the previous Raven Consort.  

Basically, the catch is that there must always be a Stark in Winterfell… and, apparently, there must always be a Raven Consort in the Inner Palace. That is to say, Shouxue may be a consort in name but she cannot leave the Inner Palace or become a real consort.

The Emperor has, so far, been friend-zoned, and I marvel at the episode count since the series is literally at the beginning of the story with Episode 7. It is to be hoped that there’ll be at least one more season. Since the light novel is rather popular in Japan and unanimously described as “beautifully written,” hope remains that the Raven of the Inner Palace anime series won’t get rushed.

As for the mystery, Shouxue can do a thing or two on the dark side, notably deal with otherworldly conundrums.

The ancient Chinese court infamously being a nest of superstitions, poor relationships, bloody plots, and jealousy galore, the Emperor may yet come to appreciate this gift of Shouxue’s.

Raven of the Inner Palace is likely to appeal to fans of Psychic Princess

If you’re familiar with Haoliners Animation League’s Psychic Princess (通灵妃, Tongling Fei), you’re bound to like this title. There are many similarities between the two main heroines but Shouxue has an unmistakable breath of Nihonjinron (“Japaneseness”), unlike the spirited Chinese princess Qian Yunxi.

Raven of the Inner Palace’s main character, Raven Consort Liu Shouxue displays typical Japanese silent grace even when accompanied by a cheerful golden chicken (Xingxing). Pic credit: Bandai Namco

I’d argue that no one can depict Ancient China better than the Chinese but there’s no denying that Raven of the Inner Palace is doing a decent job on top of managing to maintain an air of mystery… notwithstanding that average Americans and Europeans wouldn’t notice the difference anyway given their critical lack of knowledge about Chinese history and culture.

Psychic Princess’ main character, princess Qian Yunxi shows a typical Chinese cheerful spirit frequently seen in donghua. Pic credit: Haoliners Animation

Given that Koukyuu no Karasu blends several premises rooted in the domain of fantasy, literally anything goes, so rather than looking for flaws, simply enjoy the series!

With the Fall 2022 anime season featuring so many popular titles, fears that Raven of the Inner Palace may not get the attention it deserves are not wholly unfounded. If you like stories about Ancient China and enjoy distinctive myths of the oldest surviving civilization, you will certainly enjoy this TV anime.

Pay attention to the opening as subtle details will keep you guessing. The ED theme song “Summer Snow” by krage is a perfect finish. Raven of the Inner Palace features beautiful art — truly deserving of the source novel of that caliber. Characters are peculiar and you’ll get to enjoy their unique background stories for some added layers of mystery.  

Overall, I am quite content with the quality of the adaptation; I’m just hoping the plot won’t get rushed.

*Hun-Po (魂魄) — two distinctive types of souls in Chinese philosophy stemming from Taoism.

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