It’s an incredibly rewarding week for fans of Viz’s Signature line, with new volumes of Children of the Sea, Gente, former Pick House of Five Leaves, I’ll Give It My All… Tomorrow, and 20th Century Boys. Vertical has a winning week as well, with new volumes of former Picks Chi’s Sweet Home and Peepo Choo. It’s a week when one can hardly choose a single favorite, and it honestly pains me to do so.
But choose I must, so out of all that wealth, my Pick this week goes to the fifth volume of Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ooku, also from Viz’s Signature imprint.
Here’s a bit of what I had to say about the first three volumes:
In this alternate history of Edo-period Japan, an incurable disease has wiped out much of the nation’s male population, leaving women to take up traditional men’s roles, including that of shogun.
As this series is structured, its first volume begins eighty years after the disease’s initial outbreak, at which point the male population has declined by 75% and women have become firmly fixed in their new roles. The second and third volumes then return to the beginning of the outbreak, which finds the nation in a panic–desperate to maintain male rule, even to the point of delusion, if that is what is required.
This structural choice is, frankly, brilliant. By removing any real question about the outcome of events that occur during the second and third volumes, Yoshinaga allows herself (and the reader) to focus on the process, which really shows her off to her greatest advantage. Though the universe is dense and the language even more so (needlessly, to some extent, thanks to an unfortunate choice in its English adaptation), this arrangement allows for a great deal of slow, masterful character development and an emphasis on human relationships and the psychology of political theory …
As a fan of Fumi Yoshinaga, josei manga, and the Viz Signature imprint, there is no question that a series like this, even just in theory, is a very exciting work. Fortunately, this truth extends beyond the theoretical and into the actual. Ooku is beautiful, engaging, and a very exciting work indeed. It is also challenging and ambitious enough to garner some real respect for josei manga in western fandom at last. And for that, I’m truly grateful.
I have some thoughts about volume four for your perusal as well, and though I haven’t yet written up the fifth volume, I can tell you that I’m only loving this series more and more. Check it out for yourself!