By Fumi Yoshinaga. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Melody. Released in North America by Viz.
Let's get one thing out of the way immediately, and talk about the adaptation and translation of this title by Akemi Wegmuller. It's rare that I mention an adaptor/translator in my reviews, unless they're either Carl Horn or there's a big noticeable change between two of them (see: Zetsubou-sensei, Negima... Del Rey has this issue a lot). This particular title has gotten a bit of controversy due to its language choice, though, so it seems unfair not to note the adaptor herself.
I don't really have too much of an issue with the faux-Jacobean style that most people speak in this edition of Ooku. As long as it's consistent, I can simply roll with it, and it does help to establish that 1639 is not just 1992 with horses instead of cars. The trouble is that it's not always consistent. When used by the upper-class it seems to be, but sometimes Wegmuller is dealing with more of a rural character, such as Sutezo in this volume, and she tries to show his accent/speech pattern by slipping in some modern words. It reads horribly. "I must hie! 'Tis my dad!" Later on he even starts using ain't and leaving the ends off of words, which might be fine in a title like Dr. Slump, but here just makes him sound like Gomer Pyle, Ooku Veteran. I appreciate that translating accents is a herculean task, and that there is no good way to go about it. This was a particularly jarring one, however.
As for the volume itself, I think it's worth dealing with the translation issues. This is riveting stuff, almost impossible to put down once you begin to read it. Sometimes I put off volumes like these, knowing they're going to be heavy stuff with very little humor. But then I begin, and suddenly it's 200 pages later and I'm checking Viz's calendar to find out when the next volume is out. (August, in case you wondered.)
We're still in flashback mode here for the whole volume, and it would seem we will be for Volume 4 as well. This means we're still focusing on the first female Shogun Iemitsu and her bedchamber lover Arikoto. Considering the petulant brat we met in Volume 2, seeing Iemitsu in this volume is startling. We'd seen before that she was clever but petulant and damaged. Now that she has her lover and a sense of balance, the cleverness comes to the fore as she's already out-thinking most of her advisors as to how the country should be run. It does seem a tad rushed and unbelievable, but I'll OK the sacrifice of pace to see Iemitsu come into her own as a regal leader.
Unfortunately, the goal is not to have a great female Shogun, the goal is to hide things until a male heir can be produced. And Arikoto is not cutting it, for some reason. So he's removed, and another guy, Sutezo, is brought in. Sutezo is meant to be a simple man out of his depth, but merely by coming between the couple we've come to love, he's not winning fans. He reads like a creepy opportunist. Unfortunately, Yoshinaga must have thought so too, as he's written out in an almost ludicrous way, but not before fathering... a girl. Oh well.
The most interesting and chilling chapter is the one showing Iemitsu (who is in disguise as herself, a very clever notion considering the Shogun is still "hidden") walking around a village and seeing the sick, starving people. No punches are pulled here in showing the utter brutality of this famine (which lasted several years), and her solution is cold but very politically apt. This all leads up to the climax, where another death, this one not so sudden, allows Iemitsu to finally come out, so to speak, and reveal herself as Shogun as the volume ends.
It can be very easy to forget the 'alternate-universe' premise of this and just get caught up in the history, especially since at this point there are still a number of men still around. Still, it's good to see Iemitsu develop, and now we can see the strong beginning of the female shogun line (which apparently decays into luxury later on, going by Volume 1 - yeah, remember Volume 1?). And the relationship between her and Arikoto is passionate yet pragmatic. I'd love to see them have a happy ending, but fear that Volume 4 will put paid to that. I'll still read it.