The end of vol. 17 implied that we were going to get some kind of wacky sex-comedy plot as Prince Kazu (who, in case you’ve forgotten, is a woman pretending to be a man) came up with a plan to get pregnant in order to secure her beloved Iemochi’s position as shogun. It goes on like that for a few pages before the series’ brand of political intrigue reasserts itself, and then… tragedy strikes. For a series where it feels like things go bad for the main characters with just about every new volume, this one still manages to hit pretty hard, and we’re still in the first quarter of the volume.
While the emotional fallout from this event is handled well, the political ramifications generally feel like a downer. With a potential civil war brewing, desperate measures are being taken to secure power by both sides in the conflict. The problem is that the leaders on both sides seem to only have their own best interests in mind. Which leads mangaka Fumi Yoshinaga to offer up a variation on the Meiji Restoration that took place in real life. With the Tokugawa facing a deposition from power here just as they did in our world as this series comes to a close.
That’s right everyone, this is the penultimate volume of “Ooku” and the series' strengths and weaknesses are on full display here. The character drama is as good as it’s ever been, and while the political intrigue does intrigue, it also starts to feel like a depressing slog after a while. Perhaps it wouldn’t come off that way if the series hadn’t been mirroring real life in that regard for the past several years, but I’d be very surprised if this series ended on a high note. People familiar with the Meiji Restoration will know that it led to Japan’s modernization. While ending the series with the revitalization of Japan on the world stage sounds like a fine way to end the series, my guess is that Yoshinaga will also find a way to remind us that it also led to the rise of fascist Imperial Japan. I could be wrong, so let’s find out what the case will be together when vol. 19 arrives.