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Netflix Announces an Anime Where Woman Are in Charge of Edo-Era Japan, and I Cannot Wait

Promotional image from Ooku: The Inner Chambers

There are tons of huge announcements coming out of Anime Japan this weekend. For example, Saturday saw the long-awaited first trailer for the second season of Jujutsu Kaisen. But we’re not talking about Jujutsu and Gojo’s haunting and beautiful eyes right now. Because as speckled as Netflix’s track record with anime is, one of their announcements from their Anime Japan panel caught my rapt attention. Later this year, we’ll get an anime adaptation of Ooku: The Inner Chambers, which imagines a gender-swapped power dynamic in Edo Japan. Female shogun and all.

I’d never heard of Ooku before this, but everything I’ve learned makes me ridiculously excited. The series is about an alternate history of Japan’s Edo period (1603-1867), where a disease has wiped out 75% of the male population. Women have taken over every role traditionally given to men, from leading family businesses all the way up to the shogunate (ruler of Japan). Traditional gender roles and expectations continue to be quite persistent in Japan, so this is a provocative exercise.

What’s more, the source material boasts a female mangaka (Fumi Noshinaga). The manga, which ran from 2004 to 2020, won a ton of awards for its investigation of gender roles, as well as Japan’s coveted Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize. The upcoming anime series is courtesy of Studio Deen, which has the excellent BL series Sasaki and Miyano among its recent roster. The production team boasts a female scriptwriter (Rika Takasugi) and character designer (Yoko Sato).

So, basically, it’s a period anime written by women about a society where women have usurped all the power from men? Sign me the hell up.

What is the ooku, and why is it an interest focus for a gender-swap?

Judging from its title, the series seems to focus on the men who live in the titular ooku. Which could be fascinating. Goodreads adds in the summarization, “The men, precious providers of life, are carefully protected. And the most beautiful of the men are sent to serve in the shogun’s Inner Chamber…”

The “inner chamber” is the best English equivalent to “ooku.” In actual Edo Tokyo, the ooku was the women’s quarters of Edo Castle. The women who lived there were “the shoguns’ wives, concubines, mothers, daughters, and their female servants.” No one in the ooku could leave the castle without permission, making them shut off from the outside world. In their study of the Ooku, professors Cecilia Segawa Seigle and Linda H. Chance state, “The Ooku was built, and its rules developed, to protect and promote the women of the shogunal household, and to project the masculine authority of the shogun as the head of the premier military family.”

However, they also note that the influence of the ooku “grew during a time when the notion of women leading an institution was very much out of character. Their power was a hidden phenomenon few people paid any attention to for many generations.” Although these women stayed within their assigned roles, it’s way more complicated than “simple submission.” How this plays out when the gender roles are swapped will be incredibly interesting.

Everything I learn about Ooku: The Inner Chambers is intriguing as hell. Netflix hasn’t announced a specific release date yet, but it will be out before the end of 2023. I can’t wait.

(Featured image: Studio Deen / Netflix)

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Kirsten (she/her) is a contributing writer at the Mary Sue specializing in anime and gaming. In the last decade, she's also written for Channel Frederator (and its offshoots), Screen Rant, and more. In the other half of her professional life, she's also a musician, which includes leading a very weird rock band named Throwaway. When not talking about One Piece or The Legend of Zelda, she's talking about her cats, Momo and Jimbei.