PAGES:   208
  RELEASE DATE:   08/18/2009
  REVIEW DATE:   08/16/2009

An alternate history is given feudal Japan by Fumi Yoshinaga’s endless imagination in Ooku. It is the name of the innermost chambers of Edo castle, the castle of the Shogun. A plague had hit Japan and decimated the male population to only a fourth of the nation’s people. Considered too fragile and their seed to precious, the men were given lives of leisure while the women took on the roles of administration, military, labor and more. The manga begins with the outbreak of the plague and then the eventual change over the generations to finally rest on the life of those under a new shogun’s rule. Mizuno is a man from an impoverished samurai family. Although he loves the great lady O-Nobu, she is from a wealthy merchant class and will never be his or he hers. He goes into service in the inner chambers in Ooku, at Edo palace, to serve the new female shogun. He his accosted with the grim reality of being a fish in a bowl, no more than a caged pet. But when the shogun chooses him as her first concubine, he finds out something far more fearful, he is slated to die. A ritual held for many years, the first man chosen by the shogun will be executed in ten days following his service to her that night. Life has been short for Mizuno and bleak. Is there any chance for a happy ending?

Ooku is a fascinating study of “what if”. What if the population of Japan was changed so that females had to rule it during the pivotal years of the Tokugawa rule? What if a new female shogun disliked the system and began to question it? And what would she find in both allies and enemies when she began to make changes? And how would it alter the lives of those she rules? Most of this is in the first volume of a most promising new series by the critically acclaimed author of Antique Bakery. She gives a larger scope of a nation’s struggle to survive against the backdrop of personal character studies and the drama of daily life in and outside of the palace walls.

The manga is wonderfully presented in a matte black cover with full color art on the inside flaps and a few striking color pages as well. The majority is naturally in black and white and features Fumi Yoshinaga’s whimsical illustrative style and a new side to her artistry as she renders eye-catching formal dress in the palace, brining to life feudal times in Japan.

A fascinating alternate history of Japan during the Tokugawa rule. What would happen if the women had to run the country?

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