Manga and JDorama adaptation: Ooku


This historical manga is presented in a chronicle style where the beginning starts off with events that lead to the reign of the 8th Shogun Yoshimune, then takes a flashback to the reason behind why feudal japan is reigned by female Shoguns, which is written by the scribe Murase in Chronicle of the Dying Day.

JDorama which is first arch of the manga first part of Chronicle of the Dying Day, synopsis:

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Set in a fictional Edo period Japan, where a mysterious epidemic, in the story it was called Scarlett Small Pox, that infect men under 25 years has spread wide across Japan, rendering an unbalance population ratio of 1:4 between men and women. This gave rise to a matriarch system where the Shogunate is govern by a women.  The Jdrama adapts the first arc of the manga in 10 episodes. Starting off with the 3rd Tokugawa Shogun Iemitsu dying of the epidemic.

I don’t know exactly why and how come, but apparently he did not leave any heir even with a vast harem that was shown in the drama, except a daughter born out of wedlock (I think he pounced a woman on the street). Anyway, the unscrupulous, cold, calculating, yet bad ass wet nurse (Head of the Seraglio) Kasuga no Tsubone (played by actress Aso Yumi) decided that for the good of the country, the death of the Shogun will not be announced, they would put a proxy (her son) to disguise as the shogun, a kidnapped the princess and also killing her mother and wet nurse in the process, because of course to leave no witnesses, and placing her as the Shogun (with no title, but adapting her father’s as the Third Shogun Iemitsu), but she is there not really to rule, but as an oven to bake the next in line.

So what happened to her father’s Seraglio? Well again Kasuga no Tsubone decided not to leave any witnesses (Off with their heads!).

So the new Shogun (played by actress Tabe Mikako) is dressed up as a male, and for her, they created a seraglio filled with only young beautiful samurais, to be the candidates to sire the heir, and of course as it is a reversed harem, no females allowed. So a few years later the obvious things happen when you have a bunch of males cooped up in one place for years with no hope of female proximity. The teenage Shogun who was dressed a boy, was attacked a violated by one of the guards, making her bitter towards men and leaving her pregnant. She killed the assailant though. In the story her daughter born of this violation died, traumatizing her a little further.

So having a cold female Shogun  who hates men, Kasuga no Tsubone finally dropped her view on our hero, a Nobleman turned Monk, Arikoto (played by actor Sakai Masato). True and faithful to her treacherous ways, she made sure that he will leave the cloth and enter back to secular life. Arikoto was brought to the seraglio to father an heir, the Shogun and he, after going through trials finally fell in love, only to find out that he is infertile, thus cannot make her pregnant. At the end she bore 3 princesses with three other concubines. And he became the new Head of the Seraglio replacing Kasuga no Tsubone who died of old age. And the shogun ruled as the first Female Shogun, officially adapting her father’s name.

As a footnote: In my opinion as in the manga Arikoto was supposed to be as beautiful as a woman, why oh why did they cast actor Sakai Masato for this part in the dorama when Japan has a bunch of beautiful men as actors. Honestly,Sakai Masato does not give out an image of a maiden faced man, but maybe if they were going for the “Bitchy Old Hag” look, in that case they nailed it just fine.

Comments on the manga:

230px-Ooku

The manga itself has more stories to tell, consisting of 8 volumes and 35 chapters. The scanlation of the manga had annoyingly weird old English wanabe conversations. If you’re interested to read it you can find it here.

Because of the gender roles theme explored in this manga, it is highly recognized, nominated and rewarded:

  • Nominated for Manga Taisho in 2008
  • Nominated 3 times  for Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize, before winning the grand prize in 2009
  • Excellence Prize in the 2006 Japan Media Arts Festival
  • Won a special prize in The Japanese Association of Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy’s fifth annual Sense of Gender Awards in 2005
  • Listed by YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) as in 2010 as one of Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens
  • In 2009 won a James Tiptree Jr. Award again on gender exploration and understanding.
  • In 2011 one the Shogakukan Manga Award for girls category

Wow!

Gender role is a highly discussed and in my point very vague subject. Unlike other feminism issue that are widely studied i.e. Women’s health, birth control and infant health, violence against women, etc. Gender role is not as black and white. A lot of gender issues that was touched in this manga is a bit on the obscure side, obscure meaning it is subject to reader’s tradition and views of sexuality.

At the end of the day there is a lot of moral issue to be reflected in the manga, I appreciate the author for bringing up the subject to be an object of food for thought, about what would happen if a lot of things we see in today’s society was reversed, and packing it into a graphic novel.

I also find it interesting how the author brings up the issue on capricious of the wealthy and powerful. In a time of shortage of men, the female shogun hoards the healthy men in her seraglio with the excuse that it is to produce an heir to the throne, even though a woman has a limited pregnancy capacity, and having so many husbands does not increase the amount of children she can bare.

Here are some other issues that were in the manga and short facts:

  • Polyandry: Polyandry is a form of polygamy where a woman takes one or more husbands. Pretty much like in the original Indian version of Mahabharat, where Drupadi is wedded to the 5 Pandhavas. Polyandry is traditionally practiced in small communities found in Tibet, China and India. And yes mostly Polyandry are among siblings just like in the story, as this is a practice developed sustain inheritance within the family so each generation will inherit the full pie and not pieces of it.  There are cases of Polyandry in other communities in Africa, Oceania and South America as well. One thing is sure though, the fundamental of Polyandry in a traditional community most of the time it is beyond the subject of sexuality although there are implications to it. Polyandry is a method developed for conservation, be it wealth or progeny, and also it is one form of ensuring the continuity of humanity in times of difficulty or famine.
  • Male Prostitution: In the manga, men are rented out as studs to make women pregnant. Remember that this is supposed to be in the Edo era, so a woman cannot just walk into a sperm bank to get her supply of Y chromosome to induce meiosis.
  • Same Gender Rape: In the Ooku as it is forbidden for any other woman besides the Shogun and her wet nurse, the men who live there are generally frustrated, so they will seek even by force relief from other men. Kind of reminds us of the prisoner stories in state penitentiaries we hear about.
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