Saturday, July 14, 2012
Review: OOKU: THE INNER CHAMBERS, VOL. 7
CARTOONIST: Fumi Yoshinaga
TRANSLATION/ENGLISH ADAPTATION: Akemi Wegmüller
LETTERER: Monlisa De Asis
ISBN: 978-1-4215-4220-1; paperback; Rated “M” for “Mature”
224pp, B&W, $12.99 U.S., $14.99 CAN
Fumi Yoshinaga is the prolific female Japanese graphic novelist and mangaka known for her comics in the shojo and shonen-ai genres. She has created such manga as The Moon and the Sandals and Antique Bakery.
Ōoku: The Inner Chambers (The Shogun’s Harem) is her current series and began publication in 2005. This alternate-Earth story is set in Japan and imagines a strange new disease, called the Redface Pox, which kills young men and boys. The male population begins to fall in the 1600s to about one-fourth of the female population. Men eventually become protected as precious “seed bearers,” and women take on the roles traditionally held by men, including the role of Shogun. This story focuses on life at Edo Castle and is set inside its Inner Chambers, a sort of harem filled with men who serve the female Shogun.
Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, Vol. 7 (Chapters 23-26) opens with the death of (Tokugawa) Lord Yoshimichi. Her demise signals that various domain lords (daimyo) are jockeying to position themselves as the next shogun. Ietsugu, the daughter of Ienobu, the previous shogun, is only five-year-old and is also sickly and not expected to live long.
Ietsugu’s protector. Manabe Akifusa, believes Lord Yoshimune, lord of the Kii domain, is plotting to be the next shogun. However, Sir Gekko-In, Ienobu’s concubine and Ietsugu’s father, and his supporters in the Inner Chambers are standing in Yoshimune’s way. Ejima Shinzaburo, Groom of the Bedchamber and Senior Chamberlain of the Inner Chambers, will be the key to whether Yoshimune’s gets her way or not.
Also, a new shogun wonders if Japan is the only place that has been stricken by the Redface Pox. If so, does a lack of men capable of being warriors make Japan vulnerable to outside attack?
The seventh volume of the Ōoku: The Inner Chambers manga arrives over a year after the sixth volume was published. Creator Fumi Yoshinaga inserts enough captions and exposition to explain the characters and situations to him readers familiar with the series get familiar with this section in the narrative. New readers will need a little more context.
Early in the series, Ōoku examined gender roles in a society where male dominance suddenly became a thing of the past, a necessity after a plague had wiped out a significant portion of the male population. In fact, the plague continues to hang over the narrative. One of the most interesting things about this series is how Yoshinaga imagines what role reversal might look like in 17th and 18th century Japan. In a sort of alternate history/science fiction way, the Redface Pox plague can be used to explain Japan’s “closed country” police which began in the mid-1600s and lasted until the arrival of the United States Navy forced the country open in 1854.
Whatever themes and philosophies Yoshinaga wishes to explore here, she does through character drama and palace intrigue. Considering that this series has depicted brutal murder and assault, I can honestly say that what is in Vol. 7 is the most intense character drama yet in this story. I’m not naïve about the world, but I was astounded by the extent to which the characters playing in Chapters 23 to 26 were willing to go to get what they wanted. There is a real-world verisimilitude here that gives me the chills. I think readers will be interested to know that Fumi Yoshinaga never holds back here. Ōoku: The Inner Chambers is drama writ out entirely in capitol letters.