A manga by Fumi Yoshinaga, 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.
As Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, Vol. 16 (Chapters 64 to 67) opens, young Tokugawa Iemochi is the new Shogun (XIV). Her consort, Prince Kazu, has just arrived, but “senior chamberlain” Tokiyama has discovered that the prince is really princess. It seems that Kazu's sister, Chikako, long thought to be dead, has disguised herself as her brother and has arrived in the Inner Chambers as the Shogun's new consort. Even Prince Kazu's mother, Lady Kangyo-In, is in disguise, as the “prince's” attendant, “Niwata.”
So what is Lord Iemochi to do? If she reveals that she has been deceived in such a manner, that will embarrass her before Emperor Komei, at a time when the Shogunate in Edo has already been weakened in the eyes of the Emperor in Kyoto. Facing imperial obstruction, royal deception, and the further incursion of foreigners (“the Barbarians”) into Japan, Iemochi and her closest advisors have no choice but to play this most dangerous game set before them.
[This volume includes “End Notes.”]
THE LOWDOWN: Three volumes of the Ōoku: The Inner Chambers manga have been published in about thirteen months' time. That's a good thing, as sometimes there can be a year's wait between volumes.
Ōoku: The Inner Chambers Graphic Novel Volume 16 is as good as Vol. 15, which was a fantastic entry in this series. Vol. 16 offers a heart-breaking and galling tale of a girl basically banished from her family for the same “imperfection” her younger brother would later have, although he was not at all marginalized for it. Gender and class conflicts abound in these chapters that are so skillfully executed by Fumi Yoshinaga. I don't think that I have ever seen a depiction of royal snobbery that is as sour and as intense as it is here in any other comic book that I have read.
Akemi Wegmüller continues her exquisite and sumptuous translation and English adaptation of Fumi Yoshinaga's lavish narrative. Monaliza De Asis' lettering is also quite a bejeweled work itself. That is why you and I, dear readers, will keep visiting the Inner Chambers... even if we have to wait a long time between visits.
I READS YOU RECOMMENDS: Readers looking for excellent character and historical drama will find it in the VIZ Signature edition of Ōoku: The Inner Chambers.