Charles's Reviews > Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, Vol. 1

Ōoku by Fumi Yoshinaga
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May 29, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: manga-graphic-novels, reviewed, stat_2
Read from March 31 to May 26, 2012

** spoiler alert ** Stuff I Read – Ooku The Inner Chambers Vol 1 Review

I picked this up quite a while ago and paged through it and then rather set it down and forgot about it. It definitely is a bit of a strange read, to be sure, and it does a lot of interesting things that manga normally doesn’t do the greatest job in doing. For instance, I realized that as I was trying to determine the genre of this manga that it’s genre is sort of a nebulous thing, and that, with manga at least, is strange. It is, I guess, an alternative historical romance of sorts, but even that, odd description that it is, hardly does it justice. Instead we have a very strange work, and on top of struggling to know exactly how to categorize the book I’m also at a bit of a loss as to what the real goal of it is. I don’t mean this as it fails to entertain, because it is a good volume, and entertaining and funny and sweet and intelligent. But I’m not sure where the hell it’s going. There are more volumes to this series, and yet much of the plot is wrapped up nicely in the first volume that I wonder how slow a burn it will be to get into any larger plot.

But first, the premise. This series operates under the idea that sometime in Japan there was a deadly plague that killed off about three quarters of the male population, and continues through to when the story takes place, so that many males die very young. Those that remain are treated a bit as women in most other places of the world have been treated, as breeding stock that has to be protected and treated largely as property. It’s an interesting idea, because it reverses the roles that are most prevalent and common. It’s refreshing, to say the least, as there are more powerful women and the men have become much more feminine. It brings up the idea that a large part of gender identity is gained through training, and I like that message, at the very least. The main character, a male, to help his family, gives himself to the imperial harem, basically, as a way to earn money. All the while he is in love with a woman he can’t have. So he enters this harem, the Inner Chambers, unaware of the nature of it.

For inside is a very decadent and rather corrupt place, where men vie for power and engage in strange politics to try and get ahead. It’s rather strange but, again, refreshing to see the reversal of roles here, and there is something hilarious about a lot of what goes on in the harem. But everything makes sense, and is presented in an intelligent manner. The main character is likable and noble, out of place in the company of the corrupt majority in the Inner Chambers. But he does well, and is soon rising through the ranks. All this while a new Empress comes to power and throws the system into turmoil. What happens next is rather predictable but still fun and well done. And through some good deeds of the Empress the main character eventually is freed and gets to marry the woman that he loved. It’s all very sweet and nice, but after that the story keeps going, though fairly oddly, as the focus of the story shifts to the Empress.

That is where the confusion begins, because with the shift to her being the main character I felt a bit lost, as the series had established one character only to (I assume, at least) completely take him off the board. So I’m unsure where to look. The Empress is well done, too, but I just don’t know where the series is headed, because she seems to wrap up many of her problems straight away. And then at the end we start to learn that people don’t remember what the world was like before the plague, that it is something of a mystery, and for me I was a bit confused because that mystery didn’t exist before the last pages of the volume. And if that is going to be the case, then it seems odd to me that the readers were told everything at the beginning of the volume. It took me a bit to get used to.

And I guess that if the series goes off in that direction it will probably be interesting, though I’m not sure what will happen to the rather intriguing politics of the Inner Chamber, which is what kept things going through this volume. I suppose I’m saying that I want to know what the focus will be, what the conflict will be. The main conflict of the volume was done and wrapped and satisfying but then only this vague new conflict was introduced and it just failed to grasp me quite as much as I would have liked. I will definitely be checking out the further volumes, but I’m not in the greatest hurry to do so. I have a stack of other things to read first. This was quite good, though, and earn an 8.5/10.
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03/31/2012 page 20
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