I’m reminded each time a mew Ooku manga is released at just how glad I am to see this professionally translated by Viz. This wonderfully layered, heartbreaking tale of a feudal Japan changed by the appearance of a pox targeting men truly is a marvel of storytelling. From political machinations to social commentary, author Yoshinaga doesn’t pull punches. Life truly isn’t fair – especially in feudal courts. Because so much of Ooku is reminiscent of the stories of British Kings/queens of the renaissance era (Henry, Elizabeth, Mary, etc.), there is a lot of appeal for those fascinated with history, Japanese or otherwise.
Story: The Shogun is aging and her power weakening. When several natural disasters happen one after the other in the capital, desperate and hungry people look for a scapegoat. Tanuma, senior Councillor to the shogun, ends up as the easy target. Her efforts supporting the Hollander ‘half breed’ Aonuma have succeeded and an inoculation for the red plague succeeded. But her efforts to alleviate starvation through the draining of swamps did not come soon enough to feed the people devastated from flood, earthquakes, and the eruption of a nearby volcano. At the same time, Hiraga Gennai, the woman masquerading as a man, will be assaulted by a jealous lover’s goons. Though he escapes with his life, an assailant suffering from a disease will pass it along to the unsuspecting Gennai and she will have to face her mortality.
As with all the Ooku volumes, there is quite a bit going on throughout. Politics of the court greatly change and just as Bloody Mary began a great purge of protestants upon the death of Henry the VIII’s son, so too will we see a similar situation at the end of this volume.
Ooku is definitely a novel for adults – not so much for explicit content, of which there isn’t much, but rather for the very detailed and intricate storytelling. So much is built upon so little – subtlety and machinations, greed and good, survival and plain dumb chance. The choice to use old English to give a feel for the world makes it a more difficult read but also a much more rewarding one.
It really is very obvious why this title has won so many awards. And also the huge difference a professional translator makes. Highly recommended.
Reviewed from an ARC.