So, now that we've got a decent chunk of fiction under our belts, some general trends and stylistic alterations from the previous canon can be noted (er... for some clans, anyway).
So. I'm gonna break this down by Clan, because that's where the story's narrative focus clearly resides.
Well, with one exception: On a purely technical, story by story level, the execution on the writing has been generally excellent. There are choices I haven't liked, but those choices have been worked with well.
The Good: Slimy slimy Yasuki have had more actual page space than HIDA SMASH. The Crab are being portrayed not simply as guys who beat monsters with metal clubs, but as people who play the political game (with.... mixed degrees of skill, but at least they play!). The Crab actually have a decent number of characters below the kuge social tier who we've gotten to see in action (whether they live or die), giving us a window on their rank and file. The scuzzy dealings with the Mantis reflect the combination of pragmatism and desperation that I like in the Crab.
The Bad: Right now, there's been little motion forward on actual Crab plots. We know things are bad, we know they ran into the Naga and screwed that up for everyone, but... thus far, apart from the peasant story, the Crab have felt like they've been enabling the stories of others- the Unicorn got more POV work on the Naga angle, and the Yasuki plotline has served mostly to give the Mantis a foot in the door. The Crab haven't really felt like the stars of their stories most of the time. Even in the peasant story, the Crab samurai is a heroic but minor figure in terms of focus. Only Dark Hands of Heaven and "Kuni Yori Makes a Mess" have felt centered on Crab samurai.
The Different From Last Time: The Mantis angle is certainly a change. Also, we've gotten to meet Yori and Kisada before things go to ****.
The Good: I certainly believe they're as overwhelmed by circumstances as the narrative demands. They're certainly taking it on the chin- and the fact that they try to continue to act like things are fine is wonderful, because it's very, very Crane. We have a decent mix of characters in terms of being sympathetic or unsympathetic.
The Bad: They still exist In all seriousness, if I have a criticism of the new story's treatment of the Crane, it's that their story's kind of "busy." The murder of Doji Satsume, the quasi-war with the Lion, getting mugged by the Mantis, the tsunami fallout, the Kachiko/Hotaru romance- they're kinda being pulled like taffy, which, with the fictions being infrequent compared to the prior incarnation's average, puts a lot of narrative load on Hotaru, since she's in nearly every story they get. It makes it hard for her to be anything but in over her head and grimly resolute. She's barely even gotten to act starry-eyed over Kachiko.
The Different From Last Time: Back-footing the Crane on such a basic material level before things get truly out of hand is a nice change. While I live in Crane-loathing dread of their inevitable recovery arc, and I really hate the idea of having to sit through a Crane hero story (because we had a miserable glut of those from the prior canon), the Crane are at least set up for a narrative arc that the prior story had some issues with coming out of the gate.
The Good: They're shown as actually part of the Empire this time- Dragon samurai at various courts, the Agasha Ruby Champion, the Lion having a sort of protocol for when they find the Dragon trespassing, their treaty with the Unicorn, Scorpion infiltrators existing within Dragon lands... all good stuff. Their behavior as Dragon is also something fans of the old lore will recognize, even with the changes. The Togashi inform, but do not dominate their portrayal.
The Bad: The stench of plot device superheroism lingers over the Dragon, and will do so until they wrong-foot themselves. The implications of shadiness with the Pure Land Sect gives me hope here- if nothing else, they're coming off as less obnoxiously perfect in their decision-making. Maybe we can dodge Heaven's Net this time!
The Different From Last Time: The population crisis is a new one, and it makes their march down into the Empire seem riskier than their over the top heroics last time. And they certainly seem to actually be interfacing with the Empire- and not just in their march down from the mountains. Having their population replacement agreement with the Unicorn is a huge change.
The Good: The characters in the Lion clan have been wonderfully done- the good, the bad, the simply getting by- all have really felt like humans in a way the old lore didn't always manage with the Lion. Toturi and Kaede is hands down the best love story thus far, and I, a Phoenix fan, am LOVING Kaede as a Lion. Their conflict with the Unicorn blends Lion aggression and warmongering with culturally acceptable grievance.
The Bad: The disconnect between Toturi and the rest of the Lion seems a bit pronounced- while it's interesting, it also occasionally makes him feel like he's not really part of the clan he's leading. That's not bad in and of itself, but it is one of the few areas where the execution in the new story is a bit shaky. Also, the overall balance seems to be less that the Lion as a whole are nuanced, and more that the Lion clan are warmongering jerks while Toturi and his lovely wife are cool people. There's a bit of nuance with the Matsu who was betrothed to Shono, but for the most part, the Lion clan feels less mixed than the other clans with comparable numbers of appearances.
The Different From Last Time: Toturi's arc is certainly taking a couple of different turns- even if there's room for the same destination, poor fellow.
The Good: The Kaito are lovely. The Isawa are no longer the default wizard-types- even when Isawa are prominent in stories, they're more mystical than magical, and I love it. The clan's portrayal is complex- the old hubris that so utterly dominated their prior incarnation is there, but it's less toxic. The characters we meet the Phoenix though are phenomenal- Tsukune, Kosori, Tadaka- all are fascinating, flawed, but not evil (er.... not yet, anyway. Tadaka.). Their stories feel more like things that matter to human beings, despite the mysticism- because the stories have made the importance of the mystical to the everyday far clearer than the old lore ever pulled off. Their stories are nicely focused on their troubles- if the Crane are being pulled in too many different directions by their narrative, it's because Hotaru has to carry everything- the Phoenix, with more of an ensemble feel, can navigate such tensions better- and they have fewer of them.
The Bad: We really don't know anybody in the rank and file. Sure, Tsukune and Kosori both rose to leadership from relatively low-ranking spots, but the fact remains, we haven't got any Phoenix characters who aren't either leading families, on the Council, or directly associated with those who are. That Olympian perspective can work for some stories, but having people whose lives are less likely to be safe can inject a sense of risk into the stories. Also, while it's clearly not done, the initial meishodo question was wrapped up a little too quickly for my money- I think there was more to be gleaned from the tension between the Phoneix and the Unicorn before the Imperial decree.
The Different From Last Time: The Void is more overtly dangerous this time. I LIKE IT! And the Kaito stepping onto the scene as monks with an actual Phoenix flavor (I love the Henshin, but they're meant to be a weird subsect, not the rank and file of the Asako!). The Elemental imbalance back-foots them in a more subtle way than what the Crane are going through, but also gives them something to do. The Phoenix feel more like they matter in the wider empire. Their strife with the Unicorn is actually tragic and multi-sided instead of a good argument for eradicating the Phoenix from the perspective of modern readers. The Elemental Council is disintegrating ahead of schedule. Ujimitsu is already dead, and Tsukune is taking the reins. Better all around, really, with apologies to Ujimistu's fans. This is the treatment of the Phoenix we've needed for a long, long time.
The Good: The conflict between Shoju's caution and Kachiko's ambition is delightful. The Scorpion's plots are clearly becoming more and more cannibalistic as a result, and it makes the mustache-twirling and "all according to plan"-ing a lot easier to put up with. The Scorpion's current riding-high status is being shown going to their heads, as opposed to being something we simply have word of god on.
The Bad: Right now, it seems like only the Scorpion can confound the Scorpion. This, like Dragon Plot Device Superheroics, is something those of us who recall the old lore can be leery of. Hopefully they'll wreck themselves thoroughly and expose some capacity to be wrong-footed by the other clans instead of needing to punch themselves in the face to lose.
The Different From Last Time: With Shadow magic being spun as part of the Void this time, there's a nice erosion of a monopoly that never seemed to do the Phoenix much good in the old lore. Far more dissension in the upper ranks. The shinobi/ninja distinction from the novella is a delight.
The Good: The meishodo conflict is neat and well-handled. There's diversity of characters on display, from Shono, who seems inclined to be a proper Rokugani, to Altansarnai whose devotion to Unicorn culture has led her to erode her clan's position in the eyes of the wider empire, to Shahai, whose myopic selfishness blots out the friggin' sun. No Unicorn character has been badly presented, thus far, although the clan as a whole... well. See "The Bad," below. Their sense of priority has also been fun to watch- they're mad at the Phoenix, but busy with the Lion for the time being.
The Bad: There's just no forgiving their treatment of the timeline- the fact that they were blindsided by the Ikoma/Altansarnai marriage's fallout is simply inexcusable no matter what logical contortions one brings to bear. I suppose the ignorance was meant to add some facets to Altansarnai's choice to break off the engagement, but it's a clumsy way to handle it. The Unicorn don't feel like they've been back for centuries- they feel like they've been back for maybe 50-100 years. Hopefully, we'll move on sufficiently to sweep that under the rug. Heaven knows we did it all the time in the old lore. Also, the focus on Altansarnai's family tree at the core of the Unicorn narrative can be a bit.... grating. Like the Phoenix, there are areas of the clan we don;t have characters to focus on. Additionally, like the Crane, right now the Unicorn are a bit busy. Tangled up with the Lion, the Phoenix, the Naga...
The Different From Last Time: The Unicorn are actually doing stuff in the plot! There are meaningful sides to take! I can name more than two Unicorn characters from this timeframe!