wOct 4, 2009

Ōoku, volume 1

Fumi Yoshinaga is famous for writing series like Antique Bakery, in which men in Japan create a French bakery and sell delicious pastries. Ōoku is a more serious piece, focusing on an alternate history in 18th century Japan. The series has won many awards in Japan, including the Japanese Sense of Gender Award.

There are currently four volumes in Japan, and the series is on-going.

In the United States, Ōoku is being published as part of the Viz Signature series, which means that the book is taller and wider than standard manga. It also has cover flaps and a few pages in color. The book is beautiful.

Traditionally, the Ōoku was the part of Edo Castle where the shōgun's concubines and relatives stayed.

In Yoshinaga's alternate history, 75% of Japanese men have been killed by the Redface Pox. Men and their seed are a scarce resource that women protect by making up the labor force themselves. They also make up the shogunate. Because of this, Yoshinaga's Ōoku is populated with men.

This world in which gender roles are reversed mostly focuses on court life, as indicated by the title. I personally might have preferred it if the narrative focused on life beyond the palace where there are more women learning to cope with fewer men, but I am able to empathize with the characters.

In each chapter, the plot continued to deliver dramatic and unexpected turns. I look forward to reading more, and I recommend this series to others.

The main quibble that I have with this series is not the fault of the manga-ka, but the translators at Viz. The series takes place in 1716 Edo. Throughout the volume, characters are shown speaking in Early Modern English, or the same type used in Shakespeare, with thees and thous, etc. While it's clear that whoever translated the text was familiar with Forsooths and thines, I think that sometimes the translated text is ridden with errors, or at the very least not edited for an optimal flow.

An example would be, "Such brazen shouting! Doth he think this is a soldiers' barracks, perhaps?"

If this were actually written in Elizabethan time, wouldn't the phrase read, "Doth he think place a soldiers' barracks?" or maybe, "Doth he think this place to be a soldiers' barracks?"

More often than not, it seems that words like doth, thee, and thou are simply inserted for their modern counterparts and the rest of the sentence is left unedited.

The language is also combined with colloquialisms, or sharp shifts to modern English that often seem an uncomfortable mix:
"Do not get so full of thyself!" [Even if this colloquialism were used, wouldn't it be, "Do not get so full of thine self!" ?]
"Verily so. I got a good look earlier, and...."

One character even employs the use of the curse, "Zounds!" which doesn't even make sense. "Zounds" was a shortening of the epithet, "God's wounds!" which makes sense in a predominantly Christian society. However, in 1716 Japan, Christians lived in hidden societies, and feared discovery because the punishment was death.

I will confess that I don't know very much about the Japanese language, so maybe those on my FL can correct me if I'm wrong?
I don't even know much about the mechanics of the English language, aside from reading it a lot. For some reason, throughout my years of schooling (including being an English major at a good university), I never learned how to diagram sentences. My sense of "wrongness" in writing is usually intuitive, so I could be quite wrong myself.

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scribbled mystickeeper at 10:43 AM

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