Manga Review: Ooku 10 & 11 by Fumi Yoshinaga
Quick recap: In an alternate Shogunate Japan, a plague wipes out 80% of the men, requiring women to take over most of the jobs previously held by males. This includes being shogun (military leader, the day to day ruler of Japan, as opposed to the Emperor, who reigned but did not rule.) As part of the flip, the female shogun had a male harem named the Ooku (“Inner Chambers.”)
In Volume 10, Aonuma and the other students of Western medicine in the Ooku make great strides in devising a way to immunize boys against the redface pox. Unfortunately, their method will still kill three in one hundred from the pox itself, and one of those three is the son of a powerful lord who in grief turns into an anti-vaxxer. Meanwhile, the modernizing shogun and her reasonable chamberlain who have made the research possible find themselves blamed for a series of disasters, including famine and a volcanic eruption. When the shogun’s health takes a turn for the worse, Aonuma is finally allowed to diagnose her, but he discovers that her “disease” is not what the court physicians have said, and he has no cure for arsenic. Disaster ensues.
As is often the case in this series, hope is followed by tragedy and injustice. There is a brutal rape in this volume, though the actual act is off-page during a flashback sequence.
Volume 11 opens with the first male shogun in a century and a half, Ienari. But his mother Harusada makes it clear that he’s a puppet, and all power is to remain with her. Study of Western science is now forbidden, as are many other fun and useful things under “frugality” laws. Which would be less hated, perhaps, if the shogun’s court were not still spending money like water. After decades of succession crises because of low-fertility shogun women and a high mortality rate among their few children, Ienari is a problem because of his unusual potency, siring children left and right.
Interestingly, the changed circumstances make Ienari far more sympathetic than he is generally portrayed in Japanese historical dramas. Danger stalks the halls of the Shogun’s palace as more people become fully aware of just what kind of person Harusada is and what she’s been up to.
However, the few remaining men who had access to the Inner Chamber’s records and Western medical training at last learn of a safer vaccination method–the redface pox could be eradicated, if they were allowed to do so!
It looks like Volume 12 will be the conclusion of this series (and I am hoping it will not take the “and all the changes in history were whitewashed away by a government conspiracy so as far as you know this actually happened” line.)
As before, excellent art and effective writing. Some scenes do go for more melodrama than is necessary. Be aware that the “Explicit Content” label is there for good reason–this is not a series for children.
Recommended to alternate history fans and those looking for more mature stories in their manga.