These may be released in Japan at the rate of only one a year but Ooku: The Inner Chambers really is some of the best literature out there (graphic novel/manga or otherwise). Years and dynasties come and go with each volume – but always at the center are the politics and lives affected by the ‘red pox’ in this alternate universe Japan.
Story: Just as the Hollander physician Aonuma had begun to find a preventative inoculation to the Red Pox that had decimated Japan’s male population, Senior Councillor Matsudaira Sadanobu came into power and outlawed Hollander studies. Aonuma’s disciples fled after his beheading and live quiet lives of country doctors. Years later, the first male Shogun, Ienari, has taken the throne but he is firmly under the control of his mother, Lord Harusada. Although Ienari has a good heart, his mother is quite a very different animal. Subtle and devisive, even her son fails to recognize her her vicious depths. Ienari wants to bring the Hollander medicine back into study and save other boys like himself – something his mother won’t allow. But when Ienari starts to have sons himself – sons that are very expendable to his mother – the Shogun realizes he will have to find a way to overthrow his mother’s callous rule.
As with all the Ooku books, it is very difficult to give a true synopsis of the story. There are so many layers and depths that all wind together into a fascinating story. While the previous volume looked like it would end with the cure of the red pox, instead a change in power destroyed all the advances and set the society back. In this volume 11, startling discoveries are going to be made and now it will all be a matter of whether or not Shogun Ienari has the will to wrest control of power from his mother.
We’ve seen some very interesting characters in the past but Lord Harusada is likely our first real sociopath. That she would end up ruling the country is interesting and certainly the slow reveal through the chapters of her machinations are quite disturbing. Author Yoshinaga really brings to fore the helplessness of everyone from councilors to peasants in the wake of one woman’s terrible power.
Because of the superb writing, Ooku is one of the best values out there for dollar spent. This is definitely not your 12 year old’s manga and is something you set aside a few hours to really lose yourself into that world. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.