Title: Ōoku: The Inner Chambers
Author: Fumi Yoshinaga
Publisher: Viz Media (Viz Signature)
Volume: Volume 4 (ongoing, ten projected)
Vintage: 2008 by Hakusensha in Japan, August 2010 by Viz Media (a release rate soon to slow down, as the volumes only come out one per year in Japan, and Viz is only one published volume behind; volume 5 was listed in September’s Previews)
Genre: Historical drama, romance, political intrigue
See my reviews of volumes 1-3 here at ComicAttack.
Previously: Lady Chie (Shogun Iemitsu) and Arikoto were driven into a corner because Chie had not conceived a child through him. Arikoto was forced to remove himself from her bed chambers and convince her to take another man to her bed. Chie had a daughter with this man, Chiyo. Arikoto was able to enjoy a few months with his lady love, but they still could not conceive, and a male hair was needed. Again, Arikoto had to remove himself and send another man to Chie’s bed. Distraught, Arikoto, unable to send anymore strangers to take his place, sent his retainer and former apprentice Gyokuei to Chie’s chambers (giving birth to a girl, Tsunayoshi). In the meantime, Chie walked through Edo to observe the populace, and despaired over the conditions. She began to set in place several new laws allowing for women successors, laws regulating the use of farmland to ensure owners did not abandon their duties, and took measures to quell a stirring rebellion. Eventually, those governing in place of a male Shogun made the decision to allow for a female Shogun to rule, and Chie officially took her father’s place.
The volume kicks off with Chie taking full command. She culls the Inner Chambers, sending the very young men and the lesser able out of the palace…and into the brothels. This provides a cheap source of healthy men for the lesser off women to come to for their seed, thus ensuring the population does not die out. It is also during this time that Chie instates the tradition of executing the first man who lies with the Shogun. The male population increases slightly, but then remains stagnant. New technology increases the productivity of farmers and eases the burden on the women. Already, the role of men is shifting, as women take on all duties, while men are coddled and do nothing but sire children. Arikoto, unable to bear his torment any longer, requests to be dismissed from service in Chie’s bedchamber, and asks to be named the Senior Chamberlain, to be in charge of all that goes on within the Inner Chambers, taking over the late Kasuga’s duties. As Chie dies, she requests that Arikoto stay in the Inner Chambers and guide her daughter Chiyo, who will succeed her. Chiyo becomes Shogun, but has no interest in ruling, despite her advisor’s and Arikoto’s efforts. Soon, the Fire of Meireki tears through Edo, destroying most of the city and part of the palace. This allows for the restructuring of the city. After Chiyo’s death, her sister Tsunayoshi becomes Shogun. Bored with the men around her, Tsunayoshi begins to seek outside the Inner Chambers for male companions…including the husbands of her retainers. Feeling his position weakening, Tsunayoshi’s husband brings a young man into the Inner Chambers to entice the man-crazy Shogun and maintain a position of power. Unfortunately, the young man has his own ambitions….
Oh, I was so frustrated with Chie in this volume. Here she is, the Shogun, officially approved of and inaugurated. But she refuses to see herself and her position as anything more than a temporary replacement. She’s amazing and incredibly deft at ruling, but still believes her purpose is to continue the line and fill in for her dead father until a male Shogun is born to rule. The series maintains its position as a sort of secret telling of a time already recorded, stating that all the female heirs used male names in all the records, including the female Shoguns, as if these events truly happened but were recorded publicly as if everything remained normal (i.e. actual history). This allows Yoshinaga to use the names of real people and stage real events (like the Great Fire of Meireki).
I was a tad disappointed in this volume, which isn’t really saying much, because I have thoroughly enjoyed every Yoshinaga book I have read. However, once Arikoto leaves the picture, it’s hard to remain interested. A much older Gyokuei appears, but otherwise there is no one left from the two previous volumes, nor does the book return to Yoshimune’s rule (from volume 1). Instead, we must watch a series of weak and shallow (and fairly selfish) young women who care little about politics and ruling. I had thought the flashback would only illustrate the formation of the Inner Chambers and its laws, and not go through every Shogun between Chie and Yoshimune, but it seems that we shall see the entire run of them before getting back to the first volume’s story line. I don’t have a problem with that, because despite my complaints, Yoshinaga keeps it interesting, but I also really want to go back to reading about Yoshimune. Chie’s daughters are dull, and barely mere shadows of their mother. It’s difficult to like any of them. The man who eventually replaces Arikoto is a far cry from the great O-Man, who was humble, rarely ambitious, and did not stoop to crass manipulation. Perhaps I am simply too attached to Arikoto and Chie, both of whom I grew to love quickly, and am simply annoyed that they are being replaced. The series still maintains my interest, and I still love it, the romance, the political shenanigans, the history, etc. It remains a title I can highly recommend. Also, while Viz’s glossary of terms at the back of the book is incredibly useful, I’m about to need some character listings or family lineage trees or something to keep all these people straight.
Review copy provided by Viz Media.