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Ooku: The Inner Chambers
by Fumi Yoshinaga
As story hooks go, Ooku’s got a great one: A strange plague during the Edo period of Japan kills off more than three-quarters of the country’s male population. As a result, the culture and gender relations end up going all topsy-turvy, and succeeding generations find the women ruling the roost and men being protected and prized for their ability to produce offspring. This is especially in the Shogun’s harem, or Inner Chambers, where the story takes place.
It helps that the story is by Fumi Yoshinaga, who, in books like Antique Bakery and Gerald and Jacques, has proven herself to be more interested in gender relations and identity issues than mere yaoi squickiness (although she certainly likes that too. Certainly the fact that Ooku won the Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize in its home country has led to a certain amount of anticipation among some manga fans.
Unfortunately, while Yoshinaga remains an excellent and expressive artist, the series stumbles out of the gate. One of the main problems is the translator’s decision (no doubt motivated by an attempt to approximate a certain Japanese dialect) to have everyone speak in a formal, Renaissance Faire-like manner, with lots of “thees” and “thous” and “didsts.” It has the unintended effect of coming off as forced, and distancing the reader from the characters and the story.
Beyond that though, Yoshinaga doesn’t really seem to do much with her idea, at least so far. She seems more interested in conveying the various back room politics and romances that take place in the inner chambers than giving thought as to what such a huge change in the population would do to a culture. Would the fashion still be identical to what it was in the real world, with men shaving their heads and women wearing long gowns? Wouldn’t that change somewhat drastically? Would a female shogun really keep a male harem and if so, would it be so identical in structure to what the real Edo shoguns had? This may sound like nit-picking, but makes the story seem more than a bit facile, as though she just swapped everyone’s sex and that alone would be interesting enough. It may well be that I’m not giving Yoshinaga enough credit and that she’s actually considered these issues and will explore them in more depth in future volumes. But so far, I’m not encouraged.
Reviews of Red Snow, Pelu and more after the jump …
Welcome to another edition of What Are You Reading. Pull up a chair and sit down, won’t you? Our guest this week is Bill Kartalopoulos, who teaches classes about comics and illustration at Parsons, is a contributing editor for Print Magazine, and a comics reviewer for Publishers Weekly. But he’s probably best known as the Programming Coordinator for the SPX convention in Bethesda, MD.
Bill and everyone else has quite a number of books by their bedside table this week, so we’ll get right to it. Be a dear and click on the link below, won’t you?
X-Men Misfits Vol. 1
Story by Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman. Art by Anzu
Del Rey, 192 pages, $12.99.
Grafting the X-Men onto a shojo manga template isn’t a half-bad idea, considering the soap opera antics of the series back in its heyday (and indeed, even today). The problem lies in that Telgemeier and Roman have grafted too much of the template onto this comic, so that none of the characters have any room to move beyond their narrowly defined roles. It’s way too slavish to shojo cliches — Anzu apparently never met a chibi she didn’t like. There’s some amusement in seeing Angel gussied-up Bishonen style or Beast looking like Totoro’s second cousin, once removed, to be sure. But its adherence to shallow formula is just as bad as the dull exposition and fight scenes that make up most modern X-Men comics. Too bad. I was really hoping for something that blended the best aspects of both Western and Eastern comics, not something that swapped out one set of cliches for another.
* Let’s start things off with Kristy Valenti, who examines the Seven Stages of the Comics Critic:
Everyone is familiar with this phase in its various forms: passionate defense of one’s favorite superheroes, even (and especially) from those currently cartooning them, leading to message-board brawling; the realization that it’s easy to snark crappy comics, of which there are legion in all genres and from all countries; long, slightly combative conversations with relatives about how even the New York Times literary establishment has embraced the medium; railing against the current comics (and comics criticism) establishment. This is also the phase in which the danger of style over substance looms, if a critic becomes more concerned with flashy, rather than solid, writing.
* Lissa Pattillo posts what I think is the first review of The Color of Water, the second volume in Kim Dong Hwa’s manwha trilogy.
* Sean T. Collins includes Phoebe Glockner’s Diary of a Teenage Girl in his ongoing Favorites series: “Heartbreak and rage: that’s what I feel when I read this book.”
* Curt Purcell peruses Doug Wolk’s Reading Comics and declares it good: “Basically, I’m enough of an outsider to find a lot of the current comics scene puzzling, but enough of an insider to have a fairly precise sense of what I don’t understand. And that’s what makes Wolk’s book so worthwhile for me.”
* Andrew Wheeler reviews a whole mess o’ manga.
The Color of Earth
By Kim Dong Hwa
First Second, 320 pages, $16.95.
This is one of the most sexually frank and at the same time coyest comics I have ever read. On the one hand it deals honestly and openly with the growing adolescent curiosity about sex and puberty in a manner that would get few Western cartoonists would dare to try, perhaps out of fear that they would then have to make a call to the CBLDF.
On the other hand, it’s all delivered in endless double-entendre, with the characters talking about flowers and persimmon seeds and whatnot, but you know what they’re really talking about — nudge-nudge, wink-wink.
• No doubt there will be a plethora of Seaguy-related reviews when the new series is completed, but for now you’ll just have to content yourself with Jeff Lester, who offers an excellent analysis of the original series and claims the sequel is “worthy of your time and attention.”
• Nina Stone, however, had an entirely different reaction: “I’m guessing this is all somehow a commentary on superheroes and our culture. But, honestly, I can’t really figure out what that commentary is supposed to be saying.”
• Also at Comics Reporter, Tom Spurgeon emerges from a reviewing hiatus to talk about Tarzan The Jesse Marsh Years Vol. 1.
• Jog continues his and Tucker Stone’s dissection of Humanoids books with an interesting look at how changes in coloring can affect the impact of a work.
• Sandy Bilus reads X-Men and Spider-Man 1-4 and declares “the art is the draw, here.”
• Noah Berlatsky compares Frank Quitely’s work on All-Star Superman with that of Dokebi Bride manwha creator Marley and finds the former lacking:
The point here is that super-hero comics very rarely have a strong sense of wonder. With all the spectacular feats, you’d think they would — but somehow they all end up as tricks; they’re fun and goofy, or I guess more recently bloody, but they don’t actually inspire awe. And I think it’s because of something Tom said, “Superman keeps the universe our size.” Super-heroes are there to make things more manageable. Awe — a sense of vastness, of human insignificance or vulnerability — is antagonistic to everything they stand for.
Before we begin today’s run-down, a quick word on the dates listed below. I’m going by the catalog I received in the mail here, and not by the dates listed on the company’s Web site. In other words, even though NBM says the next Trondheim book is coming out this month, I’m saying March, because that’s what it says in their catalog. I apologize in advance if this screws anyone up.
Now with that out of the way, let’s move on …