Top critical review
Beautiful artwork, intelligent writing but uninteresting characters
on June 30, 2016
Bottom Line First:
Fumi Yoshinanga’s Ooku, the first installment of a Magna series is an interesting variation; a Japanese Samurai era, post-apocalyptic world where most, but not all of the male population has died off. It is beautiful to look at but the characters are stiff and the dialogue too formal. The emphasis is on the manners and styles of court life but no one ever seems to unbend. The response of the Japanese Empire to the sudden loss of males for leadership position creates some interesting role reversals as men are now mostly bought and sold for procreation and have taken over many female roles without completely losing their male characteristic. Yoshinanga deserves credit for creating a believable world and leaving the reader to grasp the philosophical implications of what could have been a hectoring tone on the unfair roles of women in modern times. I respect her artistry. I do not care about these characters. I do not plan to get more books in this series.
If you want to know who we are,
We are gentlemen of Japan:
On many a vase and jar —
On many a screen and fan,
We figure in lively paint:
Our attitude's queer and quaint —
You're wrong if you think it ain't
From The Mikado, Gilbert adn Sullivan
Each page in Ooku contains one or more beautify, finely details images of courtly life in the Japanese feudalistic times. As is common in Japanese manga, smaller cartoonish drawing are used to denote characters over reacting or being childish. Usually this convention is just part of the experience for these books, but I found the convention jarring and disruptive of the aesthetic experience. This was the more unfortunate the characters were never that interesting.
Yunoshin is quickly established as our hero. Handsome, noble in heart, a skilled swordsman and kindly about sharing his bed with women who had neither the looks nor the money to otherwise have a chance at child bearing. His goal is to become one of the Men of the Inner Chamber (the Ooku) of Edo castle, the center of Japanese government.
Once there he will be at the bottom of a pecking order and exposed to the usual jealousies, hazing and the rest. He will of course catch the eye of the new and not bound by traditions, Shogun/Empress.
And so it goes. There is much intelligence applied to this world tilted against male dominance and yet not free of it. There are some sly insinuations about what is wrong or unfair in our world regarding male and female roles. There is much about this beautiful book that bespeaks a talented writer. The whole is not greater than the parts. Characters are too remote and conversation was too stylized. I never developed any interest in these people. Authentic or not, I enjoyed looking but not reading.