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A manga by Fumi Yoshinaga, the author of Antique Bakery and a few other works, Ooku is the story of an alternate Japan. Our tale begins in the reign of Shogun Iemitsu, the third Tokugawa Shogun (1630s or thereabout).
A plague, marked by fever and red boils, begins in a small mountain village.
Four out of every five plague victims die.
All those who catch it are men (mostly young) and boys. Indeed, most young men and boys catch it.
By the time of Shogun Ietsugu, some four generations later... things have changed.
- The first arc (Chapters 1-4) takes place in the fourth month of the sixth year of Shotoku (1716) and focuses on two newcomers to Edo castle: Mizuno Yunoshin, a young man of a semi-impoverished Samurai family who decides that a lifetime sequestered as a courtier in the Inner Chambers of Edo Palace (with a healthy stipend sent home) is an improvement over the prospect of a 'good' marriage to someone other than the merchant's daughter he has known since childhood... and Tokeguwa Yoshimune, a ruler of the rural Kii province who maneuvered herself into position to become Shogun upon the death of the sickly child Ietsugu and is taking a hard look at what is around her.
- The second arc (Chapters 5-14) centers on the beginning of the whole mess as young Abbot Arikoto, third son of Duke Madenokoji Arizumi, is summoned to pay homage at Edo and finds out why no one has gotten a good look at Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu for six years... the hard way.
- The third arc (chapters 15-16): Iemitsu the Younger stands revealed, however even her official stance shows a hope of bearing a son and things returning to normal. Fat chance. She dies at age 27, leaving her eldest daughter Ietsuna (nee Chiyo) under the guardianship of Senior Chamberlain Arikoto (recorded in the official documents as O-man).
- The fourth arc (chapters 17-24): The fifth Tokeguwa Shogun, Tsunayoshi, brings both the Ooku and Japan itself to the brink of revolt through her capricious rule while plots to gain power over and through her grow.
- The fifth arc (chapters 25-26): A petty grifter named Sakyo is saved from a near lethal beating at the order of a passing noblewoman... who happens to be the next Shogun, Ienobu.
A live action movie based on the first arc was released in Japan in October 2010.
Ooku contains examples of the following:
- All Women Are Lustful - Somewhat deconstructed, as it is the prospect of children that so many women who cannot afford a husband are willing to pay good money for.
- Alternate History
- Anatomically-Impossible Sex - A unfortunate consequence of being cooped up in the Ooku since young, Keishoin has no idea how pregnancy works and hence keeps pestering Tsunayoshi to have a baby despite the fact she no longer menstruates.
- Animal Wrongs Group - Tsunayoshi's "Edicts on Compassion for Living Things" turn Japan's government into this, with punishment for swatting insects and execution for harming the packs of stray dogs wandering Edo.
- Animation Anatomy Aging - Most noticeable with Tsunayoshi and Yoshiyasu since they're seen at various stages from girlhood to old age.
- Apocalyptic Log - The "Chronicle of a Dying Day" (and apparent source material for the current story arc) was commissioned as one by the Reverend Kasuga on her deathbed. It is not likely that she anticipated the man assigned to write it, the scribe Murase, being 97 when Shogun Yoshimune called on him for clarification on several traditions whose rationale has been forgotten.
- Arranged Marriage - Part and parcel of the aristocratic life and a sign of a family's prosperity and status.
- Art Shift - The art style occasionally shifts to highly stylized figures that resemble old-fashioned Japanese woodcuts. Perhaps it is simply Court etiquette.
- Awesome Moment of Crowning - The end of Volume 3. Strictly speaking it was the annual ceremony of tribute and fealty to the long-reigning Shogun Iemitsu, but the moment the screen behind which said Shogun (supposedly) sat was raised for the first time in the better part of a decade and a young woman commanded all to look upon her? Counts.
- Bishonen - By the bucket.
- Cast Full of Pretty Boys - The Inner Chambers in general.
- A Child Shall Lead Them - Ietsuna.
- Yoshimune herself, after the deaths of her mother and two sisters, found herself in charge of Kii province at the age of twelve.
- Ietsugu, the seventh Shogun died at seven, after a reign of three years.
- Clueless Chick Magnet - Poor, poor Arikoto. Women of all stations making calf-eyes at him when he was a monk was one thing, but the teenaged girl he pledged his late beloved he would raise as a daughter making an Anguished Declaration of Love? Awkward.
- Costume Porn
- Dark and Troubled Past - Let us say that when we first meet Shogun Iemitsu the Younger there is a reason she comes off as a budding Caligula.
- Deadly Decadent Court
- Death by Childbirth - Not explicitly stated, but it is strongly implied that the numerous miscarriages Iemitsu suffered in her efforts to bear a male heir were a major contributor to her early death.
- Death by Sex - It is a rule dating from the time of Iemitsu for the first courtier of the Inner Chambers to lie with an unmarried Shogun to be discreetly executed for causing injury to her Hymen (Iemitsu the Younger had... issues). Too bad nobody told Mizuno or Yoshimune ahead of time.
- Deus Angst Machina - Arikoto comes to terms with being forced to abandon his religious vocation and become the bedtoy of the Shogun only discover that he is infertile... and Iemitsu is not.
- Disposable Sex Worker - The ladies Kasuga hires for the monks.
- Divorce Requires Death: Yunoshin needs to be declared legally dead in order to leave the Ooku.
- Double Standard Rape (Female on Male) - For Yoshimune, It's good to be the Shogun.
- Drinking Contest - Sakyo is first seen winning money in one. It seems he regularly drinks women under the table on a bet.
- El Cid Ploy - The original plan was to conceal the death of Shogun Iemitsu until someone could sire a male heir on his bastard daughter and continue the Tokugawa line.
- Everything Is Worse With Bears - The manga starts with a little boy being mauled by a bear. This may or may not be related to the fact that his brother is the first victim of the Red-Face Pox.
- Evil Chancellor - Emonnosuke, despite the overt Manipulative Bastard streak ultimately avoids this.
- Evil Matriarch - Blessed Kasuga. Full Stop. Yes, she was 'merely' Iemitsu's wet nurse. She still counts.
- Harusada, too
- Faking the Dead - Mizuno Yunoshin
- The 47 Ronin - Mourned as a waste of good men.
- Gendercide - Comparatively mild with the gender ratio stablizing at 1:4, but no less dramatic in terms of ramifications for that.
- Gender Rarity Value
- God Save Us From the Queen - Tsunayoshi borders on this.
- Harem Rape - Yes, they went there. No, it's not played for laughs.
- Heir Club for Men - Kasuga is essentially a member of the club, but most of Japan gives up on it by the time the younger Iemitsu is unveiled.
- Hemiplegia By Falling Over - Even Sutezo did not deserve that.
- Hidden Elf Village - The closing of Japan had a rather different rationale here. While the Dutch factory at Deshima remained open, every trip the local Kapitan made to pay homage was precisely stage managed to conceal the lack of men in the country and government.
- Edo Castle served as a miniature version for several years after the death of Shogun Iemitsu the Elder.
- Honest Advisor - Baron Hisamichi.
- Impoverished Patrician - Yunoshin and Sugishita in the first arc, various aristocrats from Kyoto later on, including Arikoto and Emonnosuke.
- In Spite of a Nail - Despite being the opposite sex, the Shoguns of this timeline share the same names, reign dates and have very similar personalites to their historical counterparts.
- Jidai Geki - The Reverend Kasuga lived through the tail of the Sengoku period and the main body of the series is set in the early Edo period.
- Knight Templar - The Reverend Kasuga. She murders and kidnaps without batting an eye, and will use the only person she is halfway fond of as a brood mare. Her motivation?
"A country at peace. Without war."
- Lady Land - Not only have women supplanted men in all remotely dangerous or strenuous occupations, but by the time of Yoshimune they have also almost entirely sidelined men in rulership and administrative positions.
- Loads and Loads of Characters - The story develops over several decades, so this trope naturally applies.
- A Match Made in Stockholm - Subverted when Arikoto learns that the Shogun in whose name who he was effectively kidnapped and forced to abandon his vocation was as much a prisoner as he is. And possibly even more of a victim.
- Modest Royalty - Shogun Yoshimune. When one uses the gift of ornate robes as an excuse to dismiss a privy councillor and is known to meet with high officials in what amounts to her pyjamas it is hard to describe a ruler as anything else.
- My Beloved Smother - Kasuga to the original Iemitsu.
- Oh Crap - When Shogun Yoshimune informs her childhood friend and longtime retainer Hisamichi of her intent to replace all the privy councillors with a single intermediary to serve as a go-between between her and both the councillors and "that troublesome lot in the Inner Chambers," the latter could only giggle at first.
Hisamichi: "Dear me! That sounds like a most difficult post indeed!"
- Only Six Faces - Mostly applied to young men.
- The Ophelia: Ienari's wife, Shige, goes nuts when not only her kid dies, but she's accused of being the real killer AND of having done so to frame Ienari's concubine, O-Shiga. She's not crazy, however: it's a part of a plan she and O-Shiga, whose kid also died, brewed to enact revenge on the real killer: Ienari's mother, Harusada.
- Persecution Flip - Inversion of traditional gender roles is a major part of the premise, after all.
- Poor Communication Kills - Blessed Kasuga was not going to let Abbot Arikoto leave Edo Castle alive anyway, so why not level with him about needing his services as a stud and appeal to his patriotism and/or love of peace instead of starting off with the dark hints and murders?
- Praetorian Guard - A secondary purpose for gathering so many male samurai in one place, especially early in the Ooku's history. Even in the series' present day, the men of the harem are required to train with the sword and to patrol the castle.
- Primal Scene - Tsunayoshi catches Yoshiyasu and Keishou-in, her best friend and her father and has a breakdown.
- Rape as Backstory - Iemitsu (Chie), twice over.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Shogun Yoshimune.
- Red Light District: Yoshiwara in Edo, which fell on hard times with the coming of the Red Pox and was later revived by Iemitsu to provide the women of the city a chance at children.
- Scarpia Ultimatum - Blessed Kasuga chooses an indirect method. Rather than threaten Arikoto directly she has one of her men start killing his companions and the courtesans she sent in to tempt him into violating his priestly vows right before his eyes.
- Screw the Rules, I Make Them - Averted. As horrified as she was by the whole "Secret Swain" bit, and for all her intent to rescind the edict once she found out about it, Yoshimune had to let the execution of Mizuno go through... one way or the other.
- She Is the King - Women who take on rulership or administrative roles, as well as those who register as heads of noble or samurai households, not only take male titles but use alternate male names for records and official functions. By the time of Shogun Yoshimune few even think twice as to why.
- Situational Sexuality - Considered quite normal in the Ooku, much to the shock of newcomers such as Yunoshin.
- Also outside the Ooku. Yunoshin expressed shock at the idea of male homosexuality, since he thinks there is no point for men to sleep with men because there are so many women.
- It's more a case of this
- Slice of Life - There are numerous interludes in the various flashback arcs showing how common farmers and townspeople are adjusting to the death of menfolk.
- Star-Crossed Lovers - Nothing seems to go right for Arikoto and Iemitsu. The next couple Shoguns have problems of their own along these lines.
- Succession Crisis - Multiple.
- The whole shell game with the two Iemitsu was to avoid one.
- The death of Shogun Tsunayoshi's child and the politics surrounding which of her nieces to pick add to the (considerable) troubles of her reign.
- Sweet Polly Oliver - In the first years after the coming of the Redface Pox, several noble houses dressed a daughter in drag and discreetly substituted them for a dead heir. Iemitsu stopped that practice cold just by showing up, although those taking 'masculine' positions still take male names.
- Time Skip - several in Volume 4.
- Tomboy and Girly Girl: The two Shoguns - Tsunayoshi and Yoshimune. Taught since young that she should strive to be attractive to handsome men, Tsunayoshi was shocked at Yoshimune's alternative view that since she no interest in bishonen, stands to reason that there would be men insterested in plainer girls like her.
- Unlucky Childhood Friend - O-nobu, the daughter of a wealthy merchant house and longtime neighbor of Yunoshin. The guy she marries shortly after his sudden death from illness within the Ooku was reported? Well, maybe they do look a bit similar....
- Wife Husbandry - Nearly occurs totally by accident, but to his credit Arikoto gave as emphatic a rejection as one could give a reigning Shogun
- Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe - The translator made an honest effort at representing the archaic speech of the original Japanese which:
- Completely erases two regional accents (Mizuno's brassy Kanto-ben, and Arikoto's elegant allusive Kyoto-ben) which are specifically mentioned and somewhat relevant to the plot.
- Leaves out the honorifics both in the original and those which are present in that form of English to start with.
- ... limps.