“Episode 1”

The plight of the redface pox that solely afflicts the male population questions the traditional notions that women being of the “fairer” sex makes one weaker and thus relegated to being a doll in a case, leaving the power to the “stronger” men. According to historical norms, the men were the tougher ones, the ones who went into battle and made the rules, yet here they are being ravaged by the plague and the survivors reduced to pretty dolls. Whereas the “weaker” women are out there doing the intensive labor, governing the realm. Does it really have to do with that (which is B.S. anyway) or does it have to do with societal notions which enforce gender-biased expectations that influence on a personal level how each thinks and acts (I think it is the latter)? This is further challenged by Yoshimune’s supposed martial arts prowess and incredible strength that she used to beat a sumo wrestler- not something a “delicate” sex could do.

At first glance, Fujinami seems far more amicable than one would expect from someone of the title of Senior Chamberlain, allowing Mizuno Seki Tomokazu to spar in the dojo and promoting him to groom with bestie Sugishita as his attendant. It becomes clear in the end that Fujinami’s true motive was to rid the playing field of competition for his pet lover, Kashiwagi while getting back at Mizuno for getting above his station. In seeking to escape a miserable life where men’s bodies are bartered as commodities and he cannot marry his love, Mizuno leaped out of the frying pan and into the fire- the Oooku is a microcosm of that oppression the men face outside of its walls.

Then, we have the class bias, the prejudice towards Mizuno for coming from a humble background. That actually is a boon for him, allowing him the privilege of practicality, of learning the true state of affairs outside the palace walls and efficiency techniques like needle hunting, that the pampered nobility would not know.

The power politics behind the closed doors can break you before you break in, it is not for the faint of heart and a good deal of luck plays a role as well- something which both Mizuno and Yoshimune Kobayashi Sanae are favored with on both accounts. Rather a stroke of justice that Mizuno be promoted higher than those rapscallions who hazed and tried to violate him. Magnanimous of Mizuno to overlook their wrongdoing now even when he now has the power to pay them back tenfold- that’s the sort of man Mizuno is and the sort of man who should be at the top of the harem’s pyramid. I do wish that Mizuno and Yoshimune had more time together- I think had they been together longer, they could have made a real power couple, both holding the same iron nerves and passion for doing what’s right.

Mizuno unflinchingly takes fate by the horns, not afraid to look it straight on while being kind and generous without bowling anyone over in the process. In the shogun’s audience, brave Mizuno voluntarily takes the fall for laughing at the shogun’s trip up when he wasn’t even the one that did it. He has a strong backbone indeed, to unflinchingly meet the shogun’s eyes like that, though what catches her eyes is his simple get up. Then, when told of his fate as the Secret Swain, he again unflinchingly faces his lot- no pleading, but rather a straightforward concern for how his family will be provided for. Definitely a man to admire and it’s no wonder at how popular his wisdom, kindness, and lack of deceit won him such popularity among the lower ranks.

Sugishita is totally right- execution of the groom who breaks the shogun’s maidenhood is a twisted custom, brutal to the guy and outrageous to boot- there’s no way a self-proclaimed hot-blooded woman like Yoshimune is a newbie in the bedroom (which is obvious later on when she routinely assaults poor unsuspecting men). But tradition is tradition (and no one knows why)- unless you’re one of the few who bucks the past for a more reasonable future, as both Mizuno and most importantly in terms of actual political weight, Yoshimune. Also, how awkward on both sides of the curtain to have an audience and be the audience for your duty- I imagine that would dampen the mood a bit. Thankfully, we get a little happy ever after ending here with faking Mizuno’s death and sending him back to marry the love of his life, O-Nobu.

Even though women are head of the state, taking male names still harkens back to the days of patriarchy. Yoshimune has the measure of it- that such a strange naming convention points to the root of the issue. In a society run by women, their names are erased by men, even when women are just as good as men at what they do and have even had the opportunity to prove it.

Make no mistake about it- unacquainted with Oooku’s customs as they may be, Hisamichi and Yoshimune are not lacking in the brains department, outwitting the Oooku with their own customs, using the garden party tradition to lure in and dismiss men from service and calling out corruption in the staffing, using the dismissals to leverage their influence on Fujinami, making him clay in their hands. I like Yoshimune- she’s tough as nails, while being concerned for the welfare of others- treating Mizuno like a human being and not a mere sex doll during what was essentially their one night stand and seeking to end horrible laws like that of the Secret Swain. And that scene where Hisamichi stands up to Fujinami- you could feel the tension and strength emanating from her every word.

And oh the kimonos! As someone whose hobby is kimono dressing, I nearly lost my mind seeing the gorgeous patterns, colors, and textures put into animated form. You can tell a lot about the person and the occasion just from the kimono worn. Take for example Yoshimune’s uchikake (fancy outer kimono that nowadays is typically mainly worn by brides at weddings, though back then, was worn by nobility) that was of a black Nerinuke fabric (high quality silk with a sheen, the black color is often associated with formality and maturity) and Cintamani jewels, which in Buddhism is like the Philosopher’s stone, associated with wisdom- a symbol of the type of leadership expected from Yoshimune.

The kimonos worn by many of the groomsmen were yuzen- a type of painted dye on silk. The flamboyant patterns are what would have been seen on kabuki actors, noh performers, and dandies back in that day and extremely expensive. As such, that Mizuno chose a mature, sedate black certainly says a lot about his character. The silver threaded design of water waves on his back is a traditional pattern that symbolizes the hope that one’s fortunes will never stagnate, that it will always flow onwards like the ripples or waves in water- good fortune which Mizuno certainly meets when allowed to reunite with his childhood love.

Speaking of O-Nobu- the furisode (long-sleeved) style she wears is still worn today (I have one myself), typically worn for very special occasions by young, unmarried women (you may have seen them in New Year’s anime episodes) and it first came into vogue several decades before the events here take place. Another minor detail, but interesting nonetheless- the kimono collars shown here are different from what is worn nowadays- the white collar peeks out from the back of the neck, but in modern kimono that is a big no no, the white collar should never show in the back. However looking at fashion sketches from the Edo period, you do see the peeking collar, so it might be a historical thing more than an error on the anime’s part.

All in all, this was a fair adaptation of the manga, at least from what I’ve seen thus far. With Netflix releasing it all at once, I won’t have to wait to see the rest of it, though if I decide to keep up with covering this series, the posts will probably be more spaced out.

ED Sequence


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