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Ooku: The Inner Chambers – Volume 6

Okay, so here’s the thing…

I started in on the sixth volume of Ooku: The Inner Chambers without bothering to re-read either the previous volumes in the series or my thoughts on those five books. As a result, I spent most of my reading time trying to remember who the various characters were and what their struggles were supposed to signify. I know that this makes me sound like a bit of a scatterbrain but Volume 6 does not feature any self-contained story lines, instead it concludes storylines from the previous volumes and lays the foundation for a storyline that will (hopefully) feature in Volume 7 if and when Viz Media get round to translating it. Given that characters in Ooku frequently change names and physical appearances with the passage of time and the somewhat interstitial nature of this volume’s narrative, I think that my disorientation is at least understandable, if not forgivable. I mention this because, as I struggled to make sense of the images and words that swam before my eyes, it suddenly occurred to me that I might have been reading this series in completely the wrong manner.  Let me explain…

Ooku: The Inner Chambers – Volume 5

At the end of volume one of Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ooku: The Inner Chambers, the Shogun Yoshimune asks an elderly monk to explain to her “the logic of the present custom” of using male honorifics and titles to refer to female nobles.  After all, if women run the country while men are expected to do little other than provide an heir, why should women continue to pay lip service to the idea that men are running the show?  The monk’s answer is to read to the Shogun from a book entitled Chronicle of a Dying Day.

Ooku: The Inner Chambers – Volume 4

With the opening volumes of Ooku: The Inner Chambers, Fumi Yoshinaga attempts to answer the question of why it is that a culture’s values do not automatically keep step with its demographics.  For example, why would a version of Edo-period Japan in which 75% of the male population had been wiped out by a terrible disease continue to pay lip-service to the idea that men are still running the show?  Alternatively, why would a society in which women shoulder the same political, social and economic responsibilities as men continue to tolerate sexist attitudes and language in the way that our society does?

Ooku: The Inner Chambers – Volume 3

Volume One of Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ooku: The Inner Chambers posed a question of both its world and ours.  That question was why there is such a thing as gender inequality when gender inequality is so manifestly absurd.  Yoshinaga asks this question by having her characters delve into the past of a fictional Edo-period Japan in which the male population has been reduced by 75%.  The characters look to their history in search of an explanation for their society’s irrational reluctance to abandon the myth of masculine superiority despite the fact that men no longer hold any positions of power.  Why do these Edo-period Japanese still pay homage to the male ego?  By revealing the process through which old values persist in the face of radical social transformation, Yoshinaga sheds some light in our own continued fondness for stereotypes and myths of sexual difference.

Ooku: The Inner Chambers – Volume 2

The First Volume of Ooku: The Inner Chambers ends with the newly installed Shogun asking a question of an elderly monk. This question, though apparently simple, cuts straight to the heart of her kingdom, her culture, her history and her identity:

    – I wonder if this land was always the way it is now. I ask myself why it is that when a woman succeeds as head of her family — whether she be a merchant or a samurai or a village magistrate — she must take a manly name?  From reading the registries of this realm one would think the country was run by men.  (…) Like this, the true state of our country cannot be grasped. These registers are a distorted mirror indeed of our society, and I wish to abolish this custom of using manly names forthwith.  Unless…
    • – Unless there is a logic to the present custom…? —

Ooku: The Inner Chambers – Volume 1 (2009)

0.  A Statement of Subject and Method

Fumi Yoshinaga’s Eisner Award-nominated and James Tiptree Jr. Award-winning series Ooku: The Inner Chambers is a multi-volume manga series set in an alternative version of Medieval Edo Period Japan in which a terrifying plague has wiped out 75% of the male population.  Using this fictional event as a point of divergence (or Jonbar hinge), Yoshinaga sets about exploring what might have happened had Japan’s Edo-period social and political institutions been forced to adapt to such a dramatic demographic change.

Show Me Your Lightning Bolt!

My burgeoning affiliation with the All New! All Different! Boomtron, with its Ooku reviews and its Sandman Meditations and its other various lovingly crafted commentaries, comes with the knowledge that I am lacking in … well, knowledge. And it isn’t even the sort of knowledge your average Jim-Bob on the street would see as significant. Unfortunately, it’s something I prided myself in for years, and now …

Now I find myself at a distinct loss. And it’s a little embarrassing.