WHEN the shogun was a woman. Abduction, coercion, abuse, assault : Arikoto and Iemitsu's romance isn't exactly a Hallmark love story.

''Ooku'' tells a love story in an alt-reality historical Japan with upended roles.

Gender is a trap. The binary is a lie. And flexible sexual politics can lead to real change.

That's some of the subtext in the fascinating Netflix anime series '' Ooku : The Inner Chambers, '' which tells a complex love story in an alternate-reality Edo-period Japan in which an illness upends society's gender norms and expectations.

The show's story, adopted from a popular manga that also spawned several live-action series and movies in Japan, is framed as a historical record of how this alt-Japan and the shogunate came to be.

When the shogun, the last male heir to the Tokugawa clan, dies from an aggressive strain of smallpox that targets young men, he is secretly replaced by a daughter, Iemitsu, who is taken to the place and raised as a man.

[ Iemitsu is based on the real-life shogun of the Tokugawa clan with the same name; ''Ooku'' cleverly build up its world from select real historical characters and events.]

She struggles to find her place within the limitations of the gender binary. Her manhood and womanhood are never in service to her understanding of her own identity.

Whether she's passing as a male ruler or having a child to secure the Tokugawa bloodline, her actions must always be in service of the shogunate.

The World Students Society thanks Maya Phillips.


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