Crunchyroll, which has long underpaid its employees, has currently declared its intent to recast the English dub of Mob Psycho 100 rather than even consider meeting with SAG-AFTRA representatives to discuss unionizing their dubs—this would help actors gain access to things like health insurance, and help make up for lack of residuals. People continue to pressure Crunchyroll to change their stance on social media; we encourage readers who are able to take part.
Content considerations: Violence/murder; possible suicide; depiction of a strangled ghost.
What’s it about? In this fantastical version of dynastic China, legends tell of a “Raven Consort” with mysterious powers who grants favors—for a price. When she accepts the new emperor’s task to find the owner of a jade earring, it sends the young consort and the emperor down interweaving paths as they seek out the truth in a court where rumor is king and the ghosts of the past are more than just metaphor.
We’re barely into the fall season and already the anime gods have seen fit to drop three DeeCore shows into my lap. Despite a dry summer, the harvest season still brings us a bounty!
After the lighter comedic outings of Boss Tamer and Tanukigo, we’re treated to a more serious historical fantasy based on the light novels by Shirakawa Kouko. China-inspired fantasies have seen a resurgence in shoujo/josei fiction as of late, although this is the first one to get a recent adaptation. If this marks the beginning of a new anime trend, then it’s off to a strong start.
This is a thoughtful and creative production, if not an exceptionally lavish one. Raven is primarily a story of mystery and intrigue, which means it’s very dialogue-heavy, as Raven Consort Shouxue interviews ladies-in-waiting and Emperor Gaojun discusses politics with his attendant. This could have led to a lot of dull, motionless framing, but fortunately Director Miyawaki Chizuru brings her experience as a key animator, leading to a premiere that’s full of grounding touches as well as stylistic panache.
The Rumor Shadows are especially noteworthy, both from an aesthetic and thematic perspective. When a character repeats a story told to them by another, the series depicts the story using shadow puppetry. It brings the tales to life, cleanly splitting reality from legend and showing how rumors oversimplify and contort, turning people into archetypes. This premiere spends a lot of time exploring the nature of rumor and how it clashes with reality, so it’s wise of the adaptation to highlight those divides in its visuals.
Perhaps more impressive, though, are the day-to-day details. Gaojun tucks his sleeve aside when reaching for a cup of tea; Shouxue chats with ladies-in-waiting while they’re performing a variety of chores; Gaojun’s mother arranges flowers while arguing with her young son. The world feels lived in; its characters like they have interests outside of the central plot. It’s a subtle bit of world-building that’s much more effective than the static info-dumps that are sadly common in LN adaptations, and I hope the series can keep it up over the cour.
On the plot side of things, this is a “Part 1,” so there’s a lot of breadcrumbs without a ton of payoff yet. It’s also pretty well stuffed with court intrigue, dynastic history, literal ghosts, and a lot of table-setting for our two main characters. We don’t have time to talk about all of it, so let’s just focus on the cast for now.
There’s a lot of potential with Emperor Gaojun and Raven Consort Shouxue, particularly in the way their stories parallel each other. Both are young people carrying loaded legacies (and gossip) on their shoulders who are largely isolated from the rest of the court; both are trapped in prisons built by past generations; and both try to act more cool and crafty than they actually are.
That said, I’m not entirely sold on them as characters yet. They’re fine on their own—particularly in the quiet moments when they consider their solitary lives—but together they fall into the dynamic of “cunning boy who gets the better of the prickly girl,” which always feels a little too Taming of the Shrew for my tastes. Whether they become romantic or political partners (or both), the series needs to be careful to balance the power dynamic so Shouxue’s allowed to show emotion without getting infantilized along the way.
I’m sifting through my notes and realizing I could ramble about potential themes for another 600 words, but for the AniFem audience, let’s just touch on one last point: Raven’s rather critical depiction of the inner court. At first blush, this might look like a series about women back-stabbing each other for power, and certainly that’s part of it. But I’d argue it’s more nuanced than that, taking the time to show why this level of callous competition is occurring in the first place.
There’s something quietly devastating in the casual remarks about how ladies-in-waiting are routinely framed for noble crimes, or how “even death becomes entertainment” because their world is so small by design. Characters strive to find slivers of joy, freedom, or power within what is effectively a prison that denies them control over much of their lives. I’m curious to see how Raven continues to address that sense of oppression—and if it can reconcile its sympathetic emperor with its critical undercurrent.
There’s a lot of ways Raven of the Inner Palace could go wrong and just as many ways it could go right. I won’t pretend it’s gonna nail its progressive potential (Shouxue is probably not going to lead a feminist uprising against the court authorities), but this is a promising premiere both visually and narratively. At the very least, it should be interesting to watch the series tease out its mysteries, separate rumor from truth, and develop its cast and their relationships to one another.
And, I mean, come on. How often do we get a shoujo/josei historical fantasy political drama these days? Barring a faceplant of truly epic proportions, there’s no universe where I’m not eagerly awaiting new episodes of this one.