The previous entry I mentioned that I will blind buy all works by 2 mangaka. This is the second one.
I was introduced to Yoshinaga’s works via Antique Bakery, which is a light-hearted slice-of-life about four men who run a fancy pastry shop. Her drawings are made from simple lines, and she loves drawing beautiful men. Backgrounds are also simple, even barren almost.
With Ooku, her drawing steps up a bit, and she starts putting more detail in her pictures, although still very clean and simple, unlike the very busy, dynamic style of Inoue.
It’s a bit blurry, but you can see the obvious differences, with the complicated, detailed line work that Inoue uses (right) as opposed to the flowing hand of Yoshinaga (left).
I have no preferences, as they are both extremely effective with their styles. Inoue draws an action filled, dramatic manga, as opposed to Yoshinaga’s works, which are more serene and graceful (although they can be equally backstabby… this is politics we are dealing with).
Ooku is set in an alternate history. A plague has struck Japan, wiping out 80% of the young male population. Because of this, women have risen to power, filling roles that men normally filled, including landowners, and even the shogun herself. The most beautiful men are culled around the country and sent to the shogun for her own private harem, or “ooku,” in an effort to allow her to choose from the best stock to make an heir with. Ooku stretches over the reign of several shogun, and is currently 6 volumes in English, and ongoing.
This series is a wonderful exploration on the reversed gender roles. The politicking and problems the shogun and her harem have to deal with is fascinating. Men are an extremely valuable commodity, with many men choosing to sell themselves to impregnate women, in the women’s desperate efforts to have heirs. Poisonings are common in jockeying for power. The men of the ooku, usually sexually frustrated since the shogun will have only one or two favorites, or she’ll be too young, if the previous shogun died unexpectedly, resort to homosexual relationships (or rape) to vent themselves. Japan hides their men-shortage from the rest of the world, having the shogun talk to foreign dignitaries from behind a screen. All so very, very fascinating.
There are a couple of flaws though. Yoshinaga’s drawings don’t have really differentiated faces, so many of the characters look similar, especially since her usual way of distinguishing men (hair) is gone since in those days, adult men had all the same hairstyle with the shaved top and topknot. The confusion gets worse because the timeline skips back and forth between the third and sixth shogun. I think I will have to make a timeline and character chart so I can figure out what books cover what, and who appears where. Also, some people may not like the English translation, where the translator chose to use a Shakespearean style English, full of thees and thous. It is jarring at first, but after a couple of chapters, my brain adapted and doesn’t really notice it anymore except maybe briefly when I start a new volume after a few months.