I spend a lot of time reading manga. I would say that it’s one of my favorite things to read. There are some unique and inventive stories being put out there in the graphic form. It’s amazing the variety of things to read. From slice of life to Sci-Fi, from boys-oriented (shōnen) to girls-oriented (shoujo) and porn, there’s something out there for everybody.
In, I believe it was 2008 or 2009, Craig and I were going through the Kinokuniya book store in Japantown. We often will walk through the manga section to see if there was anything new that we would be interested in. While we were walking around we found a new series that sounded quite interesting. That series was “Ooku: the Inner Chambers”.
So, what is this Ooku you speak of? What is it about?
It’s a what-if version of history. It takes place during the Tokugawa shogunate (which is the beginning of the Edo period). An illness has swept through Japan. It only affects the male population. It decimated the male population leaving women to pick up the traditional male roles from farming to being heads of state. They take on mens’ names in addition to their roles. Ooku is the tale of what the Tokugawa shogunate would be like were they run by women.
Since the male population has been greatly decreased men then take on the traditional female roles in the court including being concubines, cooks, doing all the sewing. All the political machinations are done by women. They take on male names to keep up appearances to the world at large, which is still largely male dominated.
So, what do I think?
I really enjoy this story, but there is a lot of middle English in it. You don’t need to be fully conversant in Shakespearean English to understand it. It’s pretty easy to follow. The art is really good and I find that Fumi Yoshinaga is capable of creating some wonderful characters that you can easily become emotionally invested in. The story is unique and interesting. It also teaches you a bit of what it was like to be in a daimyo’s house. From the maze of halls and chambers to navigating which retainer keeps which alliances, I think that I’ve gained a real understanding for how complicated that household can be.
It’s a well-drawn manga. The art is nice to look at. It’s consistent. You can see that care went in to the illustration. The art also lives up to the quality of the story. I don’t feel like I’m conversant enough with this artist/writer to be able to really give an in-depth talk about her art style.
The only downside to the story is that it can drag in parts. Some stories are less engaging than others. That being said, it’s no different than any other long story. There are lulls in-between the more interesting parts. After all, a story can’t be all action. Each story needs a time of rest.
I am more surprised that there is not only a movie based on the series, but there’s a live-action drama. I’m curious enough to seek them out and watch them.
Is it worth reading?
Yes! I have no idea how much more emphatically I can say that. I highly recommend this series. It’s been consistently been among the top manga at the Comic Con panel. It won an Eisner in 2008. It won the Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize in 2009 and the Shogakukan Manga Award. The story is interesting. The concept is also interesting. What would the world be like if it had to be run by women? Would it be any different? Would it be the same? How would it be different? I love that Ooku asks these questions boldly. Unafraid of the answers.
I think the story can have a more universal appeal. Many of the characters are relatable. The writer makes it easy to share their triumphs as well as their sadness. While the language can be a bit of a challenge, it isn’t so much of one that makes it unreadable to people who may not know Shakespearean English.
It’s a series I enjoy. It’s one that I would highly recommend to pretty much anybody. While the situation and setting are extraordinary, the characters aren’t. They’re relatable. They’re well fleshed out.
I don’t think I could gush about this series more. I highly recommend it. Go and pick it up, order it on Amazon. If you can find it, pick it up. There are 9 volumes now available. Volume 10 should be available soon.
Go, pick up, read, enjoy! That’s my recommendation.