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February 2, 2011

Bento Bako Lite: Gente 2, Ōoku: The Inner Chambers 5

It’s a handsome men double feature today, with two fan favorites, Natsume Ono and Fumi Yoshinaga. First up is the Ristorante Paradiso sequel, Gente. We’ll follow that up with the newest volume of Yoshinaga’s re-write of Japanese history, Ōoku: The Inner Chambers.

Title: Gente: The People of Ristorante Paradiso
Author: Natsume Ono
Publisher: Viz Media (Viz Signature)
Volume: Volume 2, $12.99
Vintage: 2008 by Ohta Publishing Company, December 2010 by Viz Media
Genre: Slice of life, romance

[Volume 1 review.]

Gente sidles a little closer to romance this volume. The series continues its mostly non-linear slice-of-life style, though some patterns are emerging, some recurring relationships. There are more flashbacks here for the staff of Casetta dell’Orso, giving us a window into their present personalities. Awkward Claudio and expert chef Furio get the spotlight first, with a flash back that shows their first meeting, back when Claudio clumsily tried to get by as a waiter for a large hotel restaurant. As Claudio struggled to fit in, Furio calmly climbed the ranks. Some advice from a beautiful, mysterious woman helped Claudio find a place more suited to his personality. Rather than try to conform to a specific place, Claudio learned to find a place that fit with himself, which eventually led him to Casetta dell’Orso, where he is once again able to work alongside the kind and talented Furio. This is followed by a lovely story about Teo and Vanna. Teo is ambitionless and uninspired, having lost his motivation to become a good chef. Under Vanna’s strict guidance, he slowly regains his drive. His story of inferiority and loss is heartbreaking, but Vanna is like a ray of light into his life. For her part, Vanna lives with the guilt of being too busy to have had much involvement in the lives of her daughters. While Vanna appears to be a pillar of strength for Teo to cling to, his need for guidance and approval eventually becomes too much for her. Teo will have to grow up to earn this woman’s heart. Another story about love follows, as Olga’s friend Gabriella takes a stray, brokenhearted young woman under her wing. In trying to find a way to make the woman happy, Gabriella thinks about Olga’s life, the life of a happily married woman. Thinking about Olga’s happiness makes Gabriella remember the ristorante, so she takes the young woman to find happiness of a different kind – the kind that comes from a good atmosphere, pleasant company, and a belly filled with good food. The final chapter is a bit disjointed, and surprisingly confusing to follow. It’s about the various women who have come into the lives of our handsome waiters, some bringing happiness, others bringing trouble. It jumps around a lot from man to man, but most everything involves the ristorante in some way. Specifically its increase in female customers. And, what looks like, a very specific, familiar young lady. Another gentle, pleasant, and satisfying volume from Ono. Ono, by the way, will be appearing at this year’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival in May. If you’re planning on going and want to meet Ono-san, you’ll have to pre-register for her panels and signings.

Title: Ōoku: The Inner Chambers
Author: Fumi Yoshinaga
Publisher: Viz Media (Viz Signature)
Volume: Volume 5 (ongoing), $12.99
Vintage: 2009 by Hakusensha in Japan, December 2010 by Viz Media
Genre: Period drama, romance, historical

[Volume 4 review.]

Volume 5 continues with the reign of the fifth Tokugawa shogun, the boy crazy daughter of Gyokuei and Iemitsu, Tsunayoshi. My previous fears that I would find nothing to interest me with Chie and Arikoto out of the picture are completely brushed aside in this volume. Tsunayoshi, despite being so boy crazy that she seeks other women’s husbands for her pleasure, is surprisingly adept at ruling. So is Emonnosuke, the new Senior Chamberlain of the Inner Chambers. Having weaseled his way into the position, the capable man takes full control. He doesn’t garner the immense respect Arikoto once did, but he is cunning enough to make things go his way. To push young Lady Matsu’s (Tsunayoshi’s heir) father O-Den out of the way, Emonnosuke convinces the shogun to build her child’s father a separate palace, which soon becomes obvious is only a way to get rid of a nuisance, and not as great an honor as O-Den initially thought. To counter his machinations, Gyokuei works to bring in a new man to distract his daughter, but even this man, Ōsuke, was sidled in by the Senior Chamberlain in an attempt to bring the royal court’s power into the shogunate. Gyokuei and Emonnosuke continue on in this fashion, but Emonnosuke only continues to rise in power. Meanwhile, the shogun suffers a devastating loss and loses all drive to rule the country. Games and festivals are held to provide Tsunayoshi with a menu of virile men to choose from, and the cost of maintaining the Inner Chambers skyrockets. Desperate for another heir, Tsunayoshi feels herself becoming like a whore, taking in man after man in a futile attempt to get pregnant. In an attempt to please her aging father, Tsunayoshi’s last real act of personal governance is to enact the Edicts on Compassion for Living Things. As Tsunayoshi struggles to rule her country in her later years, her popularity is dealt a heavy blow when she decrees a daimyo (land holding lord) in a fight be punished, but does not punish the opposing side. In an act of revenge forty-seven samurai rise up and attack the family that had caused their lord’s punishment, a real life event known as the Ako Incident. Yoshimune, still many years before she becomes shogun, makes her first appearance at court when she pays a visit to Tsunayoshi at the end of the volume.

I want so badly to write an essay on feminism and male/female role reversals in this series, I just need to make the time. Or have a good excuse to make the time. This is such a thought provoking series. Of particular note is Yoshinaga’s multiple inclusions of women in power who rule by law rather than force. This is, of course, a popular notion that if women were in power, there would be no war. And indeed, under the female shoguns’ rule, there has been a great deal of peace, innovation, and prosperity. It’s mentioned by characters in the story that if the Forty-Seven Ronin had been female, the Ako Incident would never have happened; that only men could be filled with so much rage and blood lust. Again, as women continue to take over, men are becoming more languid. Where once daughters were sold out to help the family (either through prostitution or marriage), now the sons are. Women grow jealous of the harem of prime men hidden away inside the shogun’s castle. Men looking to escape a life of being handed from woman to woman join the Inner Chambers. Tsunayoshi isn’t as wrapped up in birthing the next generation of Tokugawa, as her mother Lady Chie was, nor is she as competent a ruler. She is happy with her single daughter, though when that child is lost, she does desperately try for another, though it is partly to please her father. Where Chie would certainly consider herself worthless, Tsunayoshi does not see it as a loss of her own value. Her grasp of governing is far better than her sister’s, who essentially refused to govern at all, but she grows tired of it after a time, exhausted with trying to be too many things. Viz has been spitting these out pretty quickly, and are now caught up with the Japanese volumes. Unfortunately, Yoshinaga is only putting out one a year, so the quick publishing schedule we’ve seen so far is about to drop off sharply. We likely won’t see another volume of Ōoku until the tail end of 2011, or maybe even 2012. We’ve been spoiled, and it’s going to be a long, hard wait for the next volume.


A copy of Ōoku: The Inner Chambers vol. 5 was provided by the publisher for review.



  1. […] Manga) AstroNerdBoy on vol. 1 of Fairy Tail (AstroNerdBoy’s Anime and Manga Blog) Kristin on vol. 2 of Gente and vol. 5 of Ooku: The Inner Chamber (Comic Attack) David Welsh on vol. 1 of Kamisama Kiss (The Manga Curmudgeon) Nicola on vol. 3 of […]

  2. JRB

    One of the things I find interesting about Ooku is how closely Yoshinaga keeps to the historical record; legislation and events and even the general personality of the shoguns (the Edicts on Compassion for Living Things were in fact enacted by the real Tsunayoshi, for example). The correlation is so closely maintained that the series could be considered alternate-history science fiction.

  3. Kristin

    When I wrote my review of the previous volume of Ooku, I mentioned exactly that as one of the reasons I enjoy the series. She points out that male names were used in the records, and that people like Arikoto didn’t exist in the records at all. She’s writing the story as if it’s the real version of history that’s been hidden away for all these years. Her use of real people and real events makes the series that much better.

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