Monday, December 20, 2010

Manga Review: Ooku: The Inner Chamber (volume 1)

While I prefer to review single volumes in a regular novel series I do prefer to review a manga series as a whole (probably because shorter volumes means that less happens). But since my library only has the first volume of Ooku (plus the wiki pages says that Viz has said it's to be a 10 volume series with only one volume coming out each year and only five so far in Japan) it's not like I have much choice here.
Still I'm not too unhappy about it, I've wanted to read Ooku for awhile now and since I'm trying to avoid scans and it's shrink wrapped in the stores I was starting wonder if I would have to buy the first volume to even try it out. A note on the shrink wrapping, this isn't porn or even violence besides a few kendo fights. But the book is named for the "inner chambers" of the shogun, the characters do have sex (and gay sex which seems to get an even worse rap) and there was one or two pictures that were done in the old woodblock style but featured half naked women working instead of men. So it is a mature book, with the way so people freak out I hardly blame the publishers for shrink wrapping it, but it's hardly a dirty one.

Ooku: The Inner Chambers by Fumi Yoshinaga
Summary: 80 years ago a plague swept Japan and killed off most of the young men and leaving the women to take up all the traditional male roles up to and including the Shogun to protect their precious seed bearers.

The Good: I've read a number of stories over the years where they really try to reverse the gender roles and this is the best variant I've seen so far. It's really the little details that make it work (the woodblock prints of women doing the work, the mother yelling at her son for not being grateful with the father trying to calm her down, the sister making lewd comments and the mother yelling at her for sullying her brother's ears) so it doesn't feel like the gender stereotypes got flipped but that the genders really have switched places. So, very good setting there and the characters are different enough personality wise to keep them separate which is doubly good considering how big the cast is after just one volume. Add in the hints that history before the plague 80 years ago seems to have been obscured and that Japan is hiding their lack of men from the rest of the world and you have the making of a great historical, political epic.

The Bad: I can't figure out if this is supposed to be more of a slice-of-life story (which focuses on different characters at different times) or a central plot driven story and it leaves me a little hesitant to buy the next volume. The first chapter or two works to set up the story through the eyes of a newcomer but since they leave the story doesn't seem to have someone to shift to next. And tvtropes says there has been three arcs so far (with the third as the current) so I'm really puzzled. I don't have any problem with either of those options but it does feel as if the manga-ka wasn't 100% positive of what she wanted to do next and I've been burned a few times lately by reading stories that got worse towards the end so I don't want to go ahead and buy the next one unless I'm really sure. So, to sum it up, nothing specifically in the story feels weak but overall it feels like it may be lacking something but I haven't read enough to be sure.*

The Art: Even though I did get the cast mixed up quite often that was because we had a good sized cast and not because they looked identical. I ended up having to use hairstyles to tell characters apart(usually in manga I rely more on clothing) but that's how I tell people apart in real life anyway. The art was clean and well drawn, leaning towards the realistic side and I found it pleasant to look at but not particularly memorable.

One thing that every reviewer has brought up, I'll admit that it bothered me less but still confused me, is the fact that all the speech is in some strange older variant which sounds like someone was either trying to emulate Shakespeare or grew up in a Quaker community. I've heard some people even say that not everything was translated correctly and I do wonder if the original Japanese was written in modern Japanese or an older dialect there is well (tvtropes seem to suggest it was but I'm not 100% convinced). There is a way to give an old time-y feel to a story in word choice but this isn't the way it's done and it felt very contrived. It's not enough to keep me from buying the series and I'm also interested in the upcoming live action film but I really doubt I'll get to see that.
And as a heads up I actually have enough stuff backlogged/almost finished that I'll have a review every day/every other day this week provided that college doesn't get amazingly busy and I'll be alternating between books and all the other media (just because I'm strange like that) and I might start doing a brief write-up for the show of the week in anime club.

*And this could all be solved if either my library/friends had the second book of if it didn't have shrink wrap so I could skim it at the bookstore, and I honestly mean just skim it since I do think I'll end up buying this series.