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Ôoku: The Inner Chambers, Vol. 1 Paperback – August 18, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

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.)
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From Booklist

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

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: VIZ Media LLC (August 18, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1421527472
  • ISBN-13: 978-1421527475
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 0.7 x 5.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #317,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on September 13, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I came to like Fumi Yoshinaga's stories due to her excellent story-telling abilities and yaoi content. But her art is typically considered so-so by many readers. However, the art in this book came as an unexpected delight. Her artwork in this book REALLY improved as compared to all her earlier works I'm aware of (The Moon and the Sandals, Antique Bakery, Truly Kindly, Gerard and Jacques, etc). It is more refined, less "stylized", not sketchy at all, and most of her men look genuinely pretty and pleasing to an eye. Yet, it's still a distinct "Fumi Yoshinaga", just more carefully drawn and aesthetic. The quality of this English localization is absolutely gorgeous too. This is the first VIZ Signature manga I bought, and three (!) color inserts, well-designed cover with "semi-dust jacket", thick paper, careful lettering and inking... well, that was all very surprising, so much unlike DMP, Kitty, Go! Comi or Tokyopop, or any other US manga publisher I know of, and at a such reasonable price! Archaic English used throughout the book is somewhat annoying, at least at first. But give it a try, after the first 20 pages or so, I got used to it, and it didn't bother me that much.

This is NOT YAOI, and really not even a BL/shounen-ai, though there are some mild BL scenes (e.g., one of the main male characters is kissing another young man, there's an attempted man/man rape scene, and implied male same-sex relationship between some of the Inner Chambers' inhabitants (though nothing is shown on that)). Surprisingly, no lesbian pairings are shown or even implied, which I find somewhat unrealistic: with the population being 75% female, I think such relationships are to be expected. I hope it might be shown in further volumes.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Valeria F. Silva on September 2, 2009
Format: Paperback
I love Fumi Yoshinaga's work and she always suprises me. I did not like the first manga of her that I read, Gerard & Jacques, for that reason I stayed a long time away from her works. Antique Bakery was so praised that I forced myself to read it and fell in love. After I got Flower of Life and I was fully convinced that she was one of the top manga-kas of her generation. I was very eager to read Ooku, and every nomination this work received increased my curiosity. I was very happy when VIZ announced this title.

Ooku impressed me with the mature, beautiful and neat art style. The story was really interesting, mixing history and gender discussions, the main character, Mizuno, is kind and ambitious, although a little naïve, and I felt very interest to know if he would succeed in his career at the inner chamber. For that who do not know, the inner chamber is the shogun seraglio, in a Japan where most of the man, specially the young, died in reason of a strange disease, the red pox. Women took the power and men are an expensive delicacy and necessary source of seed. Mizuno used to bed with women who wanted child for free. Only the most powerful and rich families can afford a husband, and only the shogun can have so many.

I don't know if Yoshinaga will mix real Japanese history in her series, like the contact with other countries. Does the disease affected other places or is a Japanese plague? I can hardly wait for the next volume. Ah, one problem for me, VIZ was very careful and the text is almost in archaic English. It's difficult for a foreigner - I'm Brazilian - to read it as fast as if it was in current English, but this choice give to Ooku a more elegant face. Really nice peace of work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Likecroft on October 2, 2012
Format: Paperback
I love fantasy/SF works that deal with sex and gender, and Amazon has been recommending Ooku to me for some time, but I was skeptical. It seemed too pretty, as though the focus would be more on aesthetics than thoughtful plotting, worldbuilding, and characterization.

I was wrong. Ooku *does* have gorgeous art--which, remarkably, objectifies neither male nor female characters(including in non-explicit sexual situations). But it also has wonderful restraint and evenhandedness in telling its story of an alternate-history Japan where men and women have exchanged most social roles.

To begin with, Yoshinaga offers a plausible reason for the swap--a sex-linked plague has wiped out more than 3/4 of Japan's men, leaving sons rare and carefully protected and women to fill in the roles men once occupied. No magic, no "Y: The Last Man" mystical pseudoscience, nothing complicated. Just sickness. (And it's limited only to the Japanese islands, which adds an extra depth--the rest of the world continues on with its real-world gender balance, a contrast to woman-ruled and -worked Japan.)

Yoshinaga also inverts men's and women's roles with respect for both genders. She doesn't just make women "act like" men or men "act like" women--she doesn't do what a lot of genderswap fiction I've read does, which is tell a story that reads just like a real-world-gender-balance story, except the visuals for the men and women have been swapped. Men happen to look like women, and women happen to look like men. Instead, Yoshinaga has her women act like *women* in power and her men act like men in less privileged roles. Her women aren't mustachioed or muscley or brutish (to show how "man-like" they are)--they still look and act very much like women. Neither are her men overly feminized.
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