Fumi Yoshinaga's Ōoku: The Inner Chambers presents an alternative version of Japan’s history. In the 1600s, a strange disease, called the Redface Pox, begins to kill young men and boys and causes the male population to fall to about one-fourth of the female population. Men eventually become protected as precious “seed bearers,” and women take on the roles traditionally held by men, including the role of Shogun. This story is largely set inside the Inner Chambers of Edo Castle, a sort of harem filled with men who serve the female Shogun.
Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, Vol. 14 (Chapters 56 to 59) opens early in the reign of Iesada Tokugawa, the thirteenth Tokugawa shogun. In the wake of the death of her monstrous father, who sexually abused her, Lord Iesada, is ready for a new consort. Enter Sir Tadasumi Satsuma, a young samurai, who acts like a courtier as he hops from one woman's bed to another.
Tadasumi learns that he is to be adopted into the family of Sir Shimazu Nariakira, the great Lord of Satsuma. That will allow him to move into the Inner Chambers and become the consort of Lord Iesada. Lord Nariakira has plans for the new shogun that require the efforts of his newly adopted son. Tadasumi becomes Lord Taneatsu, so will Taneatsu choose the side of his shogun or of his liege lord?
THE LOWDOWN: It has been a year since the release of the 13th volume of the Ōoku: The Inner Chambers manga. We get one volume a year, and this new volume was apparently originally published in 2017. Even now, it remains worthy of admiration, and may be one of the best historical manga (if not the best ever) made available to English-language audiences. And Ōoku is always worth the wait.
Ōoku: The Inner Chambers Graphic Novel Volume 14 shows that the series remains a fantastic historical manga, one of the best graphic novels being published in North America today. This manga often deals with gender roles, with Fumi Yoshinaga women characters in roles and possessing attitudes and qualities usually associated with men and, in fiction, with male characters.
Recent volumes of Ōoku have moved beyond the courtly intrigue of the Inner Chambers at Edo Castle and have expanded the narrative to include subplots involving Japan at large circa the mid to late 1850s. One subplot that has been gaining traction is the arrival of the United States Navy and the American insistence on gaining a foothold in Japan, which has largely been closed off from the world. That is all the more reason to keep reading this wonderful graphic novel series.
I READS YOU RECOMMENDS: Readers looking for excellent character and historical drama will find it in the VIZ Signature title, Ōoku: The Inner Chambers.