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REVIEW: Ooku: The Inner Chambers volume 2

Ooku cover imageStory & Art: Fumi Yoshinaga
Publisher: Viz Signature
Rating: M for mature
Retail: $12.99
Length: 2/5+ volumes

Dear readers,

A few months ago, I read the first volume in this wonderful series by Fumi Yoshinaga. The premise is deceptively simple: What would happen if a plague wiped out the majority of the male population in Tokugawa era Japan? How would that affect Japanese society and culture? The answer proved to be thoroughly engrossing and fascinating.

At the end of the previous volume, we were introduced to the newest shogun to ascend the title, Yoshimune. Unlike her predecessors, Yoshimune has very strong opinions about how the country should be run, particularly with regards to its financial sector. She’s strict and frugal, and I thought she was an absolutely awesome interpretation of one of the Japan’s most beloved historical figures. Volume 1 ended with Yoshimune delving into the history of the Redface Pox and how it changed the course of Japan forever.

Volume 2 opens several decades before, when the Redface Pox was beginning to spread through Japan and before Yoshimune assumed the title of shogun. In this early pages, we witness the death of Iemitsu, the third Tokugawa shogun, at the hands of the plague. For a bit of historical context, such an event would have catastrophic had it happened in reality. As being only the third shogun, it was his task to continue solidifying Tokugawa rule. His death in such a precarious time would have been disastrous.

In the pages of ÅŒoku, this is a fact that hangs over everyone. You see, Iemitsu had no interest in women much to the dismay of his nursemaid-turned-attendant, Lady Kasuga, and left no heir. With the death of the last male shogun and no claimant to the title, the country was left without a ruler. Considering the chaos that consumed Japan while the Tokugawa clan fought to gain control of the country, everyone dreads what would happen if the general populace were to find out what had happened.

Several years after Iemitsu’s death, the monk Arikoto travels to Edo castle to present himself to the shogun before assuming his new role as an abbot. Unfortunately, he soon finds himself held hostage in the castle, barred from leaving. And it is here that he learns the truth: Iemitsu died six years ago, a fact that was kept secret from everyone and the person who sits in his place now is his illegitimate daughter. It is a masquerade carried out for one purpose alone — for Iemitsu’s daughter to live long enough to conceive and give birth to a male heir, who will then be a legitimate bearer of the shogun title. The reason why Arikoto has been barred from leaving the castle is because Lady Kasuga intends for him to enter the Ooku and become a member of the meager harem to encourage Iemitsu’s daughter to carry out her duty.

If I thought the first volume was amazing, the second volume matches that and goes beyond. Desperate times lead to desperate actions and while I have no doubts that Lady Kasuga’s motives for taking Iemitsu’s daughter and having her assume the identity of her father were less than stellar, it doesn’t change the fact that it was one way to keep the country under orderly rule. Japan was already in chaos due to the Redface Pox. Society was already facing upheaval because of the large numbers of men dying; to add the destruction of shogunate rule after such a short period of time would have been more than the country could have beared.

At the same time, we also see how such measures completely destroyed the people involved in its schemes. Despite being of noble birth, Arikoto wanted nothing more than to be a monk so he could bring succor and peace to the general populace. But even more so, my heart wrenches for Iemitsu’s daughter — in order to fulfill Lady Kasuga’s plan, she’s had to throw away her femininity and be forced to assume that of a man. She doesn’t even have her own name anymore; people call her Iemitsu, which is sure to be damaging. No one cares for her as a person either. They only care for the fact that one day she will hopefully bear them a son who can bring back the order they’re used to having.

Much of the plot in this volume delves into the ways people cope. Arikoto bears it as best he can, with the gentle strength that is his trademark. But there is doubt that deep inside, he is bitter and angry at what has happened to him, particularly when it becomes apparent that his noble family has abandoned him to this fate. Along those lines, Iemitsu is angry and bad-tempered, unleashing it upon everyone around her. But deep inside, she is deeply hurt and wounded and terribly sad. It is a love story that may not fit the traditional definition as such, but it is one nonetheless.

In this volume, we also learn the origins of the customs we were introduced in the previous one, such as why the ÅŒoku exists and why the secret swain meets the fate he does. It was interesting to see how such things get altered from their actual origin to the ritualized practice we saw demonstrated in volume 1. The origin of the secret swain, for example, was horrifying and yet all too believable for me and to see how its roots led to the practice subverted by Yoshimune was a sad one.

I still recommend this series to fans of historical and political manga as well as to readers interested in stories that comment on gender dynamics. The first volume set a high bar and it pleases me to say that this one meets that standard and exceeds it. A-

My regards,
Jia

This book can be purchased at Amazon.

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

19 Comments

  1. Tweets that mention REVIEW: Ooku: The Inner Chambers volume 2 | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary -- Topsy.com
    Jan 21, 2010 @ 15:02:11

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Erotic Romance, dearauthor. dearauthor said: New post: REVIEW: Ooku: The Inner Chambers volume 2 http://bit.ly/782rgQ [...]

  2. Keishon
    Jan 21, 2010 @ 15:03:47

    I read the first one based on your review of it (grade) and am pleased to say I enjoyed it. Plan to continue reading this series so thank you for reviewing these.

  3. Jia
    Jan 21, 2010 @ 15:18:49

    @Keishon: Glad you enjoyed the first volume. I look forward to hearing what you think about this one.

  4. mezza
    Jan 22, 2010 @ 02:36:00

    I also read the first volume based on your review and loved it as well, I will be reading on. I love the complexity of the story and how the personal is political.

  5. Estara
    Jan 22, 2010 @ 14:28:17

    Another manga review! Yay. Fumi Yoshinaga has become an auto-buy for me with her recent works, but I have to be in the right mindset to appreciate her.

    I’ve heard excellent things about recent release All My Darling Daughters as well – which seems to be one manga completely focussing on female connections and family.

  6. Jia
    Jan 22, 2010 @ 14:32:26

    @Estara: I just looked up All My Darling Daughters and that looks good! I’ll check it out.

  7. Estara
    Jan 22, 2010 @ 18:26:08

    @Jia: And hopefully write a review! ^^ *makes puppy eyes*

    Oh and kudos for the Otoyomegatari icon!

  8. Jia
    Jan 22, 2010 @ 19:05:01

    @Estara: I’ll do my best! And Otoyomegatari is my new discovery. I kind of love it a lot. (I’m just trying to stick with licensed manga for DA.)

  9. Estara
    Jan 22, 2010 @ 19:29:34

    @Jia: Understandable ^^. I’m just so happy to see someone at DearAuthor take up Jan’s mantle, because I think there are so many lovely shoujo and josei romances out there, romance readers are missing out if they don’t already read graphic novels or manga/manhwa.

    Which doesn’t mean that there aren’t any great US comics romances… they’re just a lot more rare.

  10. BlueRose
    Jan 23, 2010 @ 00:28:38

    Have you read A Brothers Price by Wen Spencer – is the same principle – a disease wipes out most of the males and the only ones left are highly prized and protected, and its a really interesting twist on the whole social dynamic. And a romance :)

  11. Estara
    Jan 23, 2010 @ 10:36:42

    @BlueRose: Seconding that. Although I liked her science fiction paranormals in the Elfhome series better: Tinker and Wolf Who Rules.

  12. 8mph Ansible
    Jan 24, 2010 @ 03:05:06

    Yo!

    Just wanted to say ‘thank you’ for the review/recommendation. Came across this book a few days ago and couldn’t decide between this and picking up the next VizBig volume of Rurouni Kenshin. It seemed good from what snippets I flipped through and read but wasn’t sure whether or not I’d be disappointed if I actually read it.

    This and the volume 1 has insured me that the series is worth picking up once I’m off work.

    -Ani8

  13. Jia
    Jan 24, 2010 @ 08:40:08

    @Estara: It’ll be a little tricky since shoujo romance actually isn’t the main manga genre I read (that’s mostly shounen/seinen) but I’ll do my best.

    @BlueRose: You know, I think I have that book somewhere. I should dig it out.

    @8mph Ansible: Glad you found something you like!

  14. Keishon
    Jan 24, 2010 @ 15:36:07

    Ye gods, I started reading All My Darling Daughters yesterday and threw it aside. Curious to know what you think of that one, Jia.

  15. Jia
    Jan 24, 2010 @ 15:48:26

    @Keishon: Ah, conflicting opinions! I’m going to have to track this down and take a stab at it.

  16. Best sellers and classroom choices « MangaBlog
    Jan 25, 2010 @ 06:29:57

    [...] Connie on One Piece 1-3 (Omnibus) Connie on vol. 31 of One Piece (Slightly Biased Manga) Jia on vol. 2 of Ooku: The Inner Chamber (Dear Author) Kate Dacey on vol. 1 of Raiders (The Manga Critic) Sean Gaffney on vol. 4 of Sunshine [...]

  17. The Source
    Mar 01, 2010 @ 15:46:59

    Your reviews are very detailed and helpful..ty.

    I was hoping you may answer a question for me since it would appear as if you have a greater understanding of the books.I’ve seen info on a movie that is being made in 2010 called “Ooku” which is based on this collection…(I know the movie isnt out yet..so no one knows with certainity,but if it is based on the novels..then I dont think they will stray too much..I hope)Does the main lead end up with Tokugawa Yoshimune or is it another on of those..where he ends up with the girl from his childhood….or no one at all? I hope you may have some insight on this..I’ve looked online for any clue..but found nothing…and I’d really like to know before even contemplating seeing the film.

    Sorry if this isnt Book related,but you appeared to be my best chance for learning what it is I am searching for…so I thought I’d ask…

  18. Jia
    Mar 01, 2010 @ 16:13:43

    @The Source: There are indeed making a movie adaptation of Ooku but as far as I can tell, it only covers the first volume.

    As for your question:
    The male lead of the first volume ends up with the girl from his childhood.

    This is all covered in volume 1. Volume 2 (and onward) deals with the past and how society changed with the coming of the Redface Pox.

  19. tua mãe
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 21:49:11

    otaku loser.

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