From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The Edo period of an alternate Japan is ruled entirely by women in this manga. A mysterious plague has killed three out of four boys for generations, so men are carefully guarded and sheltered, while women go about the business of daily life. The Ooku was an area of Edo Castle reserved for the shogun's concubines and female relatives; here the shogun is a woman and the Ooku is entirely male. One of the few serious works of alternate history in contemporary manga, Ooku
explores the relationship between gender and culture in subtle and unexpected ways. It begins tightly focused on a single heroic character and slowly pans out from there, embracing first the court intrigue of the Ooku, then the new Shogun and Japan as a whole and finally the outside world, unaware and free of the plague. Yoshinaga is the acclaimed creator of Antique Bakery
, which has been made into both a Japanese television series and a smash hit Korean movie. Not as visually busy as many historical works, Ooku
's art has a spare, elegant aesthetic that shines with carefully chosen detail. Yoshinaga's work is wry and stately by turns, doing full justice to the book's rich tapestry of stories. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Drawing on themes found in such diverse works as Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale (1985), Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man comic-book series, and James Clavell’s Shogun (1975), Ôoku envisions an alternate history in which a plague decimates the male population of eighteenth-century Japan. Mizuno is a healthy young man who grants his seed to the poor women of his village, who would never be able to afford the courtesans that provide such a favor. But he must leave his good deeds and his true love behind when he is inducted into the Inner Chamber, the female shogun’s private “stash” of healthy men. Fending off the aggressive advances of the other concubines and proving his intelligence and fencing skills, Mizuno is maneuvered into the position of the secret swain, whose duty to the new and contemptuous shogun is both a sacred and deadly one. Opting for slow-building intrigue and character development, Ôoku explores themes of commoditization and gender with intelligence, and the graceful, uncluttered art creates an elegant world of privilege and duty. An exceptionally strong beginning to a very intriguing manga series. --Jesse Karp