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MANGA REVIEW:  Urameshiya volume 1 by Makiko

MANGA REVIEW: Urameshiya volume 1 by Makiko

It's the return of the manga review! I know it's been a while. While we can't promise that these will become a regular feature at Dear Author, I will try to review a couple titles occasionally.

urameshiya

Story & Art: Makiko
Publisher: JManga
Rating: M for Mature
Length: 1/1+ volumes (14 volumes currently available in Japan)

Dear readers,

Dear Author was recently given the opportunity to look at JManga.com, a digital manga site that provides a subscription service for access to online English-language adaptations of many titles from several different publishers. The selection of titles is very diverse, maybe a bit quirky, but as someone who's read manga for long time, it's nice to see lesser known, obscure titles be the focus.

The first title I picked to review was Urameshiya, a historical manga about a woman with supernatural abilities. As an introduction to JManga's catalog, it was a good choice for me.

Urameshiya Oyou has a bad reputation around town. It's not through any fault of her own. You see, she has the ability to interact with the supernatural world. She can see ghosts. She can exorcise them. She can summon and trap them. People from all over consult her if they have a ghost problem.

As a result, however, they also find her creepy. They consider her bad luck. No one wants to spend more time around her than necessary and as the manga opens, we see Oyou get kicked out of a tavern and asked never to return because she was scaring away the other customers. Not because of anything she did, but because they simply had no desire to be around her. (Unless, of course, they need her help; then they flock to her.)

Oyou's bad luck continues after she leaves the tavern. She runs into a young man, who tries to steal her (sadly empty) wallet. But Oyou catches him in the act and prevents the theft. To make up for it, she tells the thief, Saji, to buy her sake and she'll consider his aborted crime forgiven. Attracted to the beautiful Oyou, Saji agrees.

But on the way to his home, they cross a bridge. It's a snowy evening, which makes it strange that a young woman waits there alone. Before they cross, Oyou warns Saji not to look into the other woman's eyes and to ignore her, no matter what she says or does. As expected, he finds this strange but manages to follow Oyou's instructions despite the girl attempting to get his attention. As they leave, however, a friend of Saji crosses the bridge behind them and converses with the girl.

The next morning, Saji awakes to find Oyou gone and a commotion outside his home. The friend he last saw the night before, alive and well, has been found frozen to death. Suspecting that Oyou knows the truth, he seeks her out once more and from there, the meat of our story begins.

I found myself unexpectedly intrigued by this series. Based on the description, I assumed it would be one of those episodic “person with supernatural powers runs into mysterious cases and various people with ghost problems” titles. And while it is that, it certainly did not start off the way I expected what with Oyou having a one-night stand with Saji. This genre doesn't usually have a romantic subplot so this was a pleasant surprise. In addition, none of the cases proceed quite the way you expect. Oyou sympathizes more with ghosts — no matter how vengeful — than humans, you see. In this way, it's similar to the original Petshop of Horrors manga.

There are three chapters collected in this first volume, each detailing a different case. The first, in which Oyou and Saji meet, is a variation of the yuki-onna tale. The second is about a well-to-do woman with a slight sexual problem: she has a vagina dentata. The final story is about fox spirits.

The stories on their own are nice enough, but what made them for me was the relationship between Oyou and Saji. Their relationship literally began as a one-night stand but somewhere along the way, Saji fell head over heels in love with her. Plots threads throughout the second and third chapters play on this fact, as outside parties try to split the two apart and prey on Saji's insecurities.

Yes, it's the man who's insecure in this relationship. Oyou is a very hard woman to read and she doesn't share her emotions easily. It's obvious she does share Saji's feelings but after a lifetime of people rejecting her for what she is or leaving her after growing tired of her “creepy” ways, Oyou doesn't wear her heart on her sleeve. She cares for Saji, but I think there's a part of her that doesn't trust he'll stay with her forever so she's never 100% truthful about her feelings. I thought this dynamic was appropriate for these two characters, given their respective backgrounds.

Urameshiya is set in historical Edo (aka Tokyo) during the Tokugawa era, which I enjoyed. I thought the artwork suited it well. There's a sort of old-fashioned retro feel to the style that fits a historical manga.

I liked this volume quite a bit. I wasn't sure what to expect since this is my first title from JManga but the quality is decent for a digital title. There's the occasional awkwardness in the placement of narrative text, most noticeable in the opening pages of the first chapter, but for the most part, it didn't detract from my enjoyment of the manga. I look forward to the continuing adventures of Oyou and Saji. Readers, however, take note of the rating. It's rated mature for a reason — as you'd expect of a manga where one chapter is about a woman with a vagina dentata. B

My regards,
Jia

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MANGA REVIEW: Ooku: The Inner Chambers volume 3

MANGA REVIEW: Ooku: The Inner Chambers volume 3

Story & Art: Fumi Yoshinaga
Publisher: Viz Signature
Rating: M for mature
Retail: $12.99
Length: 3/5+ volumes

Ooku: The Inner Chambers, Volume 3 by Fumi YoshinagaDear readers,

A few months ago I reviewed the first volume in this historical josei series by Fumi Yoshinaga. In it, we were introduced to an alternate history of Tokugawa era Japan where the majority of the male population was stricken with a fatal disease called the Redface Pox. Due to the lopsided gender demographics that resulted, the power hierarchy in Japan was forever changed: women held positions of authority while men, in scarce supply, were coddled and protected.

In volume 1, the last member of the direct line of the Tokugawa shogunate dies and a woman from a branch line, Yoshimune, ascends the title. In addition to instituting reforms that scandalize and shock the court, she delves into the history of the Redface Pox, kept meticulously in an archive called Chronicle of a Dying Day.

Volume 2 opens with that history, taking us back in time to just before the Redface Pox struck the population with devastating force. In that volume, we were introduced to the daughter of the last male shogun, Chie, who has been forced into a charade for the sake of maintaining peace and order. No one outside of the court knows that the last male shogun, Iemitsu, succumbed to the plague. Instead it is a combination of Chie-masquerading-as-a-boy and male retainers projecting their voices who continue the deception. A heavy burden has been placed upon Chie — denied her own name and now called Iemitsu — who, in the hopes of continuing the line, must bear a male heir.

Volume 3 continues the story of Iemitsu and Arikoto, the abbot who was brought to court to be a concubine, who have found an unlikely love despite their circumstances. But unfortunately, it is not meant to last. Despite the fact they have been lovers for a year, Iemitsu has yet to conceive. She remains certain that the inability is her fault; early on during her stay at court, Chie was raped by a retainer who didn’t know her true identity. Chie is convinced both the rape and the difficult birth of the stillborn child that resulted caused irrevocable damage to her womb. Lady Kasuga, Iemitsu’s attendant and the effective ruler of the Inner Chambers, is not so sure and brings other men to court, evicting Arikoto from his place in Iemitsu’s bed in the process.

I have to take back what I said in my review for volume 1. There is a romance here because the relationship between Arikoto and Iemitsu can’t be read in any other way. But for all their desire to remain true to their hearts despite everything thrown at them by fate, I can’t see this ending well. In fact, I’m almost 100% sure this will not end well so I still can’t recommend this title sans reservation to readers looking for a romance manga. It’s not one and it’s not meant to be, so expecting an HEA here is unreasonable.

What it excels at, however, is depicting people with realistic reactions and believable emotions in these circumstances. Arikoto and Chie try to fight fate and cling to each other as hard as they can which, considering the hand life has dealt them, is better than either could expect. I will warn readers, however, there is a lot of drama surrounding their now-starcrossed fates so if your tolerance is low for this sort of thing, the middle sections may try your patience. Or, if you like this sort of thing, you will find it riveting.

I did enjoy watching Chie come into her own, and become the Iemitsu she’d been masquerading as in truth. In this volume, we see the seeds of how the power in the shogunate switched genders. Remember, Chie’s sole purpose to bear the next male heir. I don’t think it’s a spoiler, considering what we first see in volume 1 and its female shoguns, to say that obviously didn’t happen. I really liked seeing Chie surprise the advisors with her intelligence and acumen. Her suggestions and ideas were often better than that of the advisors themselves. It makes what happens in the final pages of this volume even more momentous.

Despite the focus on the Inner Chambers and the shifting balance in the shogunate, we also see how the outside world begins to change with new gender spread. Even though the title of the series is ÅŒoku and as a result, its focus is on the shogunate’s inner workings, I do wish we could have seen more of the peasant characters and their lives. Of course, I do wonder if maybe the change in power dynamics grows more accepted when a female shogun rules openly.

While I wasn’t quite as spellbound by this volume as the previous two, I did enjoy what I read and I thought it was an excellent continuation of a stellar series. I thought it was an excellent transition into what we all know is soon to follow. I can’t wait to see what happens when a female shogun takes power openly without any masks or charades, and what it’ll mean for Iemitsu and Arikoto. B

My regards,
Jia

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