January Books 8) Ōoku: The Inner Chambers vol.2, by Fumi Yoshinaga

Having greatly enjoyed the first volume of this manga series, I am glad to say that I thought the second kept up the standard. It is the start of what may be an extended flashback to the 1630s, shortly after the plague that killed most of Japan's men.

The young noble monk Arikoto, presenting his respects to the shōgun, is detained and learns to his horror that he is to become one of the shōgun's catamites; but of course, the shōgun is actually a young woman, her father having died though this has been kept secret. It is an intense tale of sexual violence, secrecy, and intrigue, and of flawed human beings overcoming awful personal histories. I will be interested to see where Yoshinaga takes it in future volumes.

I am slightly disappointed that this revolutionary situation isn't used to examine the broader societal impact of the altered post-plague sexual politics; of course the title of the series is explicitly "Ōoku: The Inner Chambers" so I guess we will continue with the focus on the ruling household. Perhaps the shōgun Yoshimune, introduced in the first volume, will use the knowledge gained from the flashbacks to show us the rest of Japan. Even so, it seems to me odd that the feminisation of the ruling elite is accepted by all (including, so far, the author) as a matter of deep shame, that must be covered up at all costs.

On the other hand, I have been genuinely shocked to see complaints in other reviews about the use of archaic English to translate certain Japanese forms of address. I know little of Japanese, but I know enough to realise that this is a Big Deal, and therefore a big challenge in terms of catching nuance for an English translation. Faced with this problem, the translator, Akemi Wegmüller, has done a fantastic job. It really annoys me when people get this wrong, but she has got it completely right.

I did not take careful note, and an open to correction on this point, but I think that this volume of Ōoku fails the Bechdel test. Arikoto is the central character, and in most of the scenes where he is not present, he is the topic of conversation. But I may be wrong.

1 thought on “January Books 8) Ōoku: The Inner Chambers vol.2, by Fumi Yoshinaga

  1. Good to see your name in the report and great analysis. I feel I let the side down by not crunching any numbers but the uncertainty turned me off. The Antrim reboot makes much more sense. Shame they didn’t split Loughries though!

    Conal.

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