A manga by Fumi Yoshinaga, the author of Antique Bakery and a few other works, Ooku is the story of an alternate Japan. Our tale begins in the reign of Shogun Iemitsu, the third Tokugawa Shogun (1630s or thereabout).A plague, marked by fever and red boils, begins in a small mountain village.It spreads.Four out of every five plague victims die.All those who catch it are men (mostly young) and boys. Indeed, most young men and boys catch it.By the time of Shogun Ietsugu, some four generations later... things have changed.
The first arc (Chapters 1-4) takes place in the fourth month of the sixth year of Shotoku (1716) and focuses on two newcomers to Edo castle: Mizuno Yunoshin, a young man of a semi-impoverished Samurai family who decides that a lifetime sequestered as a courtier in the Inner Chambers of Edo Palace (with a healthy stipend sent home) is an improvement over the prospect of a 'good' marriage to someone other than the merchant's daughter he has known since childhood... and Tokugawa Yoshimune, a ruler of the rural Kii province who maneuvered herself into position to become Shogun upon the death of the sickly child Ietsugu and is taking a hard look at what is around her.
The second arc (Chapters 5-14) centers on the beginning of the whole mess as young Abbot Arikoto, third son of Duke Madenokoji Arizumi, is summoned to pay homage at Edo and finds out why no one has gotten a good look at Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu for six years... the hard way.
The third arc (chapters 15-16): Iemitsu the Younger stands revealed, however even her official stance shows a hope of bearing a son and things returning to normal. Fat chance. She dies at age 27, leaving her eldest daughter Ietsuna (nee Chiyo) under the guardianship of Senior Chamberlain Arikoto (recorded in the official documents as O-man).
The fourth arc (chapters 17-24): The fifth Tokeguwa Shogun, Tsunayoshi, brings both the Ooku and Japan itself to the brink of revolt through her capricious rule while plots to gain power over and through her grow.
The fifth arc (chapters 25-26): A petty grifter named Sakyo is saved from a near lethal beating at the order of a passing noblewoman... who happens to be the next Shogun, Ienobu.
The sixth arc (chapters 27-29): With the child shogun Ietsugu sickly, the succession crisis heats up, threatening the lives of both senior chamberlain Ejima and actress Ikushima Shingoro.
The seventh arc (chapters 30-): The story returns to Yoshimune as she begins her rule as shogun, institutes changes to better Japan and keep it isolated, commissions doctors to find a cure for the Redface Pox, and begins to bear children. With three daughters borne to her and a reputation as a popular ruler, Yoshimune's position looks very secure...but what of her successor? Will it be the elder but oafish daughter or the younger but more capable daughter?
All Women Are Lustful: Somewhat deconstructed, as it is the prospect of children that so many women who cannot afford a husband are primarily paying for. Sakyo's story demonstrates, however, that most women still want the hottest sperm donor they can afford.
Anatomically Impossible Sex: An unfortunate consequence of growing up in a Buddhist monastery and then being cooped up in the Ooku as an adult, Keishoin has no idea how pregnancy works and hence keeps pressuring Tsunayoshi into promiscuity in hopes she will conceive a child...even when she's years past menopause. It also leads to the Edicts of the trope below, which are meant to lift her "curse" of infertility.
Animal Wrongs Group: Tsunayoshi's "Edicts on Compassion for Living Things" turn Japan's government into this, with punishment for swatting insects and execution for harming the packs of stray dogs wandering Edo.
Animation Anatomy Aging: Most noticeable with Tsunayoshi and Yoshiyasu since they're seen at various stages from girlhood to old age.
Apocalyptic Log: The "Chronicle of a Dying Day" (and apparent source material for the current story arc) was commissioned as one by the Reverend Kasuga on her deathbed. It is not likely that she anticipated the man assigned to write it, the scribe Murase, being 97 when Shogun Yoshimune called on him for clarification on several traditions whose rationale has been forgotten.
Arranged Marriage: Part and parcel of the aristocratic life and a sign of a family's prosperity and status. As the effects of the Redface Pox grow worse, being able to marry at ALL becomes a sign of considerable prosperity.
Awesome Moment of Crowning: The end of Volume 3. Strictly speaking it was the annual ceremony of tribute and fealty to the long-reigning Shogun Iemitsu, but the moment the screen behind which said Shogun (supposedly) sat was raised for the first time in the better part of a decade and a young woman commanded all to look upon her? Counts.
Bears Are Bad News: The manga starts with a little boy being mauled by a bear. This may or may not be related to the fact that his brother is the first victim of the Red-Face Pox.
Bishōnen: By the bucket—at least in the Ooku itself. The rest of the country is a bit short on them.
Chekhov's Gun: Gyokuei murders the cat Murasaki and frames it on Shigesato as revenge for the attacks on himself and Arikoto. He later believes this to be the cause of Tsunayoshi's infertility; the gods punishing the sins of the father on the daughter. This leads to the Edicts on Compassion for Living Things.
Yoshimune herself, after the deaths of her mother and two sisters, found herself in charge of Kii province at the age of twelve.
Ietsugu, the seventh Shogun, died at seven, after a reign of three years.
Clueless Chick Magnet: Poor, poor Arikoto. Women of all stations making calf-eyes at him when he was a monk was one thing, but the teenaged girl he pledged his late beloved he would raise as a daughter making an Anguished Declaration of Love? Awkward.
Costume Porn: Lampshaded a bit in the story itself, as the idleness of the Ooku makes this one of the few amusements available to its residents...but Mizuno attracts Yoshimune's attention by going with something more subtle.
Death by Childbirth: Not explicitly stated, but it is strongly implied that the numerous miscarriages Iemitsu suffered in her efforts to bear a male heir were a major contributor to her early death.
Death by Sex: It is a rule dating from the time of Iemitsu for the first courtier of the Inner Chambers to lie with an unmarried Shogun to be discreetly executed for causing injury to her person (Iemitsu the Younger had a truly horrific First Time and could not understand that it isn't always like that). Too bad nobody told Mizuno or Yoshimune ahead of time.
Heir Club for Men: Kasuga is essentially a member of the club, but most of Japan gives up on it by the time the younger Iemitsu is unveiled. By the fourth generation, almost no one even realizes anymore that things were ever different.
Hidden Elf Village: The closing of Japan had a rather different rationale here. While the Dutch factory at Deshima remained open, every trip the local Kapitan made to pay homage was precisely stage managed to conceal the lack of men in the country and government.
Edo Castle served as a miniature version for several years after the death of Shogun Iemitsu the Elder.
Brother-Sister Incest: Akimoto and his sister Kinu slept together, resulting in a daughter. Emonnosuke was quite amused when he found out, and notes that even the origin of Japan was based on this trope. Whatever else, at least Akimoto and Kinu both consented to it...
Parental Incest: ...which is more than can be said about what happened between Sakyo and his mother. Little wonder he was willing to work at Ienobu's household with no pay if it meant getting away from her.
In Spite of a Nail: Despite being the opposite sex, the Shoguns of this timeline share the same names, reign dates and have very similar personalities to their historical counterparts.
Jidai Geki: The Reverend Kasuga lived through the tail of the Sengoku period and the main body of the series is set in the early Edo period.
Knight Templar: The Reverend Kasuga. She murders and kidnaps without batting an eye, and will use the only person she is halfway fond of as a brood mare. Her motivation?
"A country at peace. Without war."
Lady Land: Not only have women supplanted men in all remotely dangerous or strenuous occupations, but by the time of Yoshimune they have also almost entirely sidelined men in rulership and administrative positions.
A Match Made in Stockholm: Subverted when Arikoto learns that the Shogun in whose name who he was effectively kidnapped and forced to abandon his vocation was as much a prisoner as he is. And possibly even more of a victim.
Modest Royalty: Shogun Yoshimune. When one uses the gift of ornate robes as an excuse to dismiss a privy councillor and is known to meet with high officials in what amounts to her pyjamas it is hard to describe a ruler as anything else.
Oh Crap: When Shogun Yoshimune informs her childhood friend and longtime retainer Hisamichi of her intent to replace all the privy councillors with a single intermediary to serve as a go-between between her and both the councillors and "that troublesome lot in the Inner Chambers," the latter could only giggle at first.
Hisamichi: "Dear me! That sounds like a most difficult post indeed!"
Yoshimune: "If so, then thou hast little reason to laugh, Hisamichi. 'Tis thou who shall fill the post."
Persecution Flip: Inversion of traditional gender roles is a major part of the premise, after all.
Poor Communication Kills: Blessed Kasuga was not going to let Abbot Arikoto leave Edo Castle alive anyway, so why not level with him about needing his services as a stud and appeal to his patriotism and/or love of peace instead of starting off with the dark hints and murders?
Praetorian Guard: A secondary purpose for gathering so many male samurai in one place, especially early in the Ooku's history. Even in the series' present day, the men of the harem are required to train in martial arts and to patrol the castle.
Primal Scene: Tsunayoshi catches Yoshiyasu and Keishou-in, her best friend and her father and has a breakdown.
Put on a Bus: Only natural this happens, given this story takes place over many decades...
The Bus Came Back: ...but on occasion, this happens too. Gyokuei spent an entire arc away, only to return as the father of the next shogun. Arikoto reappears twice in his old age, once to visit Gyokuei one last time, then later to pay his respects to the now deceased Gyokuei. And Yunoshun has a cameo where he expresses his desire to join the local fire brigade.
Red Light District: Yoshiwara in Edo, which fell on hard times with the coming of the Red Pox and was later revived by Iemitsu to provide the women of the city a chance at motherhood.
Scarpia Ultimatum: Blessed Kasuga chooses an indirect method. Rather than threaten Arikoto directly she has one of her men start killing his companions and the courtesans she sent in to tempt him into violating his priestly vows right before his eyes.
Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Averted. As horrified as she was by the whole "Secret Swain" bit, and for all her intent to rescind the edict once she found out about it, Yoshimune had to let the execution of Mizuno go through... one way or the other.
She Is the King: Women who take on rulership or administrative roles, as well as those who register as heads of noble or samurai households, not only take male titles but use alternate male names for records and official functions. By the time of Shogun Yoshimune few even think twice as to why.
Situational Sexuality: Considered quite normal in the Ooku, much to the shock of newcomers such as Yunoshin.
Also outside the Ooku. Yunoshin expressed shock at the idea of male homosexuality, since he thinks there is no point for men to sleep with men when there are so many eager women.
Alternately, he's stunned at how much sperm is getting wasted on non-procreative sex, when it's pretty much worth its weight in gold in the outside world.
Slice of Life: There are numerous interludes in the various flashback arcs showing how common farmers and townspeople are adjusting to the death of menfolk.
Star-Crossed Lovers: Nothing seems to go right for Arikoto and Iemitsu. The next couple Shoguns have problems of their own along these lines.
The whole shell game with the two Iemitsus was to avoid one immediately returning the country to civil war.
The death of Shogun Tsunayoshi's child and the politics surrounding which of her nieces to pick add to the (considerable) troubles of the latter half of her reign.
The story kicks off with one, as the death of Ietsugu means the heads of the three cadet branches of the Tokugawa all have a shot at the shogunate. Yoshimune of Kii makes it to Edo the fastest and wins.
Sweet Polly Oliver: In the first years after the coming of the Redface Pox, several noble houses dressed a daughter in drag and discreetly substituted them for a dead heir. Iemitsu stopped that practice cold just by showing up, although those taking 'masculine' positions still take male names.
Tomboy and Girly Girl: The two Shoguns Tsunayoshi and Yoshimune. Taught since childhood that she should strive to be attractive to handsome men, Tsunayoshi was shocked at Yoshimune's alternative view that since she has no interest in bishonen, it stands to reason that there would be men interested in plainer girls like her.
Unexpected Successor: Yoshimune. Not only was she from a minor branch of the Tokugawa family, she was the third daughter of it, so it was unlikely that she'd even become head of her own family, much less Shogun. A combination of the deaths of her older sisters and the sickly nature of the branch that Ienobu came from saw her take the shogunate.
Unlucky Childhood Friend: O-nobu, the daughter of a wealthy merchant house and longtime neighbor of Yunoshin. The guy she marries shortly after his sudden death from illness within the Ooku was reported? Well, maybe they do look a bit similar....