The idea that men are almost extinct in feudal Japan really forces one to think about all its ramifications, an amazing title that everyone should own.
Writer/Artist: Fumi Yoshinaga
Translation: Akemi Wegmuller
Adaptation: Akemi Wegmuller
What They Say
In Edo period Japan, a strange new disease called the Red Pox has begun to prey on the country's men. Within eighty years of the first outbreak, the male population has fallen by seventy-five percent. Women have taken on all the roles traditionally granted to men, even that of the Shogun. The men, precious providers of life, are carefully protected. And the most beautiful of the men are sent to serve in the Shogun's Inner Chamber...
The quality of reproduction this book received is simply amazing. The book is A5 sized, with French book flaps, and the first three pages are in color. I find it interesting that the color pages are printed on standard paper and not glossy, much in the way Dark Horse does their color pages now. I don’t have a problem with the pages not being glossy, but I am really curious how much money that method saves the publisher. Aside from that, the printing itself is beautiful. Solid tones are found throughout the book, which is quite impressive because there are numerous solid black pages that look perfect.
Yoshinaga’s art is both beautiful and highly detailed. Backgrounds display good depth and panel layout is highly varied. The variety and detail given to the character’s clothing is amazing. The large cast of characters requires a lot of research/imagination to keep their kimonos so highly varied, which should be expected since most of this book takes place in the royal court. The character designs are well-drawn and easily differentiated. Characters show great variety of expression and just enough goofiness in comedic situations to be funny without venturing into SD territory.
The translation and adaptation for this book must be one of the more difficult series being released in the U.S. Taking place in the royal court of feudal Japan, the story has a lot of official title use and ‘Sir’ this and ‘Liege’ that. There aren’t that many situations using honorifics. However, the adaptation does use the Elizabethan English style to mimic the classic speech the author must have used in the original. Early on in the book, it seemed a little forced, but that quickly subsided and I was able to get into the flow of the story.
Contents (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
At some point in Japan, during the feudal era, a horrible calamity spread across the land. A gender-based disease quickly kills off around 75% of all the men, regardless of age, health, or status. This single change on a sheltered island country with no immigration quickly turns society on its head. Women are forced to pull men back into the home because they are sickly and their seed is too important to risk on hunting expeditions and warring. Not only the dangerous jobs, but now there just aren’t enough men to complete the labor that society requires, such as farming and manufacturing.
Mizuno doesn’t seem to have a problem with this new life though. It has been roughly 80 years since the calamity, so he was born into this new society. As the son of a samurai family, he can live his life the way he wants. His family isn’t very wealthy and doesn’t have a very high standing in society, but his parents didn’t have to sell him off to the pleasure district. Nor do they have to charge unmarried women for a night of sex and hopefully a resulting pregnancy. At first, I thought the idea of being a male prostitute in a world full of women hoping to get pregnant sounded like a good idea. But then the idea that women could become sadistic and take pleasure in womanhandling a guy and sexually torturing him for her pleasure kind of changed my mind.
However, Mizuno doesn’t have to worry about that. He never charges a woman for a night of sex, no matter who she is, merchant, samurai, or laborer. Women are all equal in Mizuno’s pants, I mean eyes. Even with all that, what he really wants is to marry his childhood sweetheart. Unfortunately, her merchant family is of higher status than Mizuno’s samurai family. So with a love that can never be, Mizuno decides to join the Ooku.
Since men are so rare, even the role of politics has transferred to women. Now that the leader of Japan is always a woman, she can have her own harem, the Ooku, or the Inner Chambers of Edo Castle. This harem is even more of a status statement when one considers there are almost 800 men, and that the Lady Shogun is the only woman allowed in the Ooku. That is a lot of men that could be married and making babies outside of the castle walls. Plus, the Ooku is basically a male prison because they can never leave the inner chambers and never see any women.
Regardless, Mizuno is out to make a name for himself and the job pays well. He can’t use the money himself since he is stuck in the Ooku, but he can send it home in hopes of making his families life easier. Seems arrogant to think he can out impress 800 other men, but Mizuno is handsome, smart, and talented. It doesn’t take him long to rise through the ranks until reaching the status of A Groom of the Bedchamber. However, there is a lot of politics at play within this all male world and Mizuno may end up with the raw end of the deal.
Since Mizuno entered the Ooku, the previous Lady Shogun has died and been replaced by a middle-aged ruler of a distant province. The new Lady Shogun is nothing like her predecessors. She is a woman warrior who doesn’t believe in opulent luxury and sees how low the royal coffers have reached. The Lady Shogun is out to turn the royal court on its head, and give it a swift kick in the butt if that is what it will take to get the state back to fiscal responsibility. First, she dismisses all the courtiers for the last shogun, then she begins cutting staff in the Ooku. Not only that, but she has many questions about today’s society and whether or not women always ruled.
Will the Lady Shogun successfully get the court’s spending under control? Will she alienate the court so much that she forces their hand in a revolt against her? Will Mizuno stand out so much from his peers that he gets cut low to maintain the status quo?
This book does a masterful job forcing the reader think in a way that few titles can. Just the original idea of women outnumbering men 3:1 in feudal Japan alone is enough to force one to think about all the ramifications. This idea is built upon as the author takes the reader for a ride, pointing out all the key differences she thought up. If men are prone to illness and only 25% survive childhood, this would force women to take over traditionally masculine roles such as farming and manufacturing. That makes sense but something I wouldn’t have thought of on my own, maybe due to my gender, is the idea that women would also be forced to take over the role of warrior and hunter. Both of these are incredibly dangerous careers and the chance of losing men through the engagement of these acts is too much to risk.
Those are all interesting ideas, but where the author shines is her presentation of courtly life and all the changes forced by the near extinction of males. That and her ability to sprinkle comedy throughout the story keeps the book moving right along.
Since the Lady Shogun is so powerful, she can afford to maintain a harem of around 800 mostly young men. This doesn’t sound like fun to me, personally, more like a jail where you might have the chance of sleeping with the Lady Shogun every once in awhile. However, it pays really well and it is a much better life than many of the men could have outside the palace walls.
I am probably not doing this book justice, but it really is an amazing story with a plethora of twists. I’m sure some male manga fans might be loathe to pick this up, but other than the idea of what can happen in a men’s prison, there is very little dude-on-dude action. In fact, I’m sure some of the female fans out there will be disappointed with how little that plays into the story.
Overall, this is an amazing book that forces the reader to reflect on societal norms and how different they could be if men were almost extinct. Not only that, but the author really threw me for a loop as to who the main character for this series really is. My idea changed three different times before volume one finished.