Saturday, June 21, 2014

YALSA top ten GNs 2010: Ōoku: The Inner Chambers

Ōoku: The Inner Chambers (Volume 1)
Written and illustrated by Fumi Yoshinaga
Published by Viz (2009)

I complained in my review of A Bride's Story that I found it incredibly boring when it would spend pages just showing characters doing everyday menial tasks. So when I started reading this and saw drawings of people dusting and doing other chores I really wasn't convinced that I'd find it interesting.

But the world that Yoshinaga has created is fascinating. A disease has ravaged feudal Japan, killing 75% of all males. Females take over basically every role that men used to take, and men are reduced to little more than sex objects in order that the population might continue to survive. The main character of the first book, Mizuno, is a man who refuses to be married off by his parents, but instead enters the service of the shogun, joining what is basically a male harem.

And like a harem, there's very little sex going on (in part because the current shogun is a seven year old girl), but lots of politics, intrigue, menial tasks, and dressing in fancy clothes (and, okay, there's some gay sex). Only men are allowed into the inner chambers, and so they have to take care of everything: cooking, cleaning, sewing, and so forth. When men are such a sought after commodity the hundreds of men the shogun has in her service doing basically nothing is an indication of her power.

A lot of the content of this comic is based around ideas of elaborate social structures, prestige, status, and old cultural traditions. I'm not sure how aware Japanese readers would have been of this, but my reaction is generally "this is stupid" when I hear that there are people who do not have enough status to be seen by the shogun. Bah! Aristocrats! Still, you don't have to be knowledgeable of Japanese culture to understand this section, it's all fairly well explained in the comic itself.

Thankfully, part way through the volume a new character is introduced who seems to share at least some of my opinions regarding that sort of thing. Then an incredibly interesting plot line comes to light when some characters from Europe are briefly featured. The reader immediately has to wonder if this plague that killed so many Japanese males was isolated to the island and the rest of the world has carried on as if nothing unusual has happened (since the story happens during the sakoku period, this seems at least possible).

I'm really not sure where this series is heading (or even what characters will be featured), and while I wasn't totally on board with the fist volume I am willing to check out the next couple in order to see what happens. I hope that the mysteries that the first volume eventually raised become the focal point, as that's where my interest really lies.

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