In Ooku ~Tanjou~ (大奥 ~誕生~ – Inner Palace ~Birth~), the shogun is a woman, and young men populate the inner palace/harem of Edo Castle. However, the situation is not yet normalized, and the Japanese public has no idea that Tokugawa Iemitsu has died, leaving only a daughter as heir. To reveal the death of the Tokugawa shogun at this point would plunge the entire country into another age of chaos and warfare like the one they had just exited a generation before.

Iemitsu’s daughter (Tabe Mikako), currently technically Shogun, is trapped in the Ooku for the rest of her life along with Arikoto (Sakai Masato) and all others who know the truth. Inaba Masakatsu (Hirayama Hiroyuki) handles official duties, pretending to be Tokugawa Iemitsu while wearing a hood. The goal is to hold out until the Shogun has a male heir who can take over. Lady Kasuga (Aso Yumi) forced Arikoto into the Ooku in the hope that he would be the Shogun’s consort.

Wow, this show takes a lot of explaining! As we pick the thread up, Arikoto’s assistant Gyokuei (Tanaka Koki) is telling an urban legend about the Ooku regarding a samurai seen holding a woman’s freshly severed head. Apparently, the Japanese liked telling horror stories four hundred years ago, too.

Councilor Murase Masasuke (Omi Toshinori) has it right when he says people spread the stories because they don’t have any better ways of having fun. That’s even more certain when Gyokuei reveals he overheard the story while passing the room of the Ochuro – the failed consorts of the Shogun. The Ochuro are a nasty bunch, and as Gyokuei points out, they don’t have any friends.

Lady Kasuga helps the Shogun get ready for the day, but the Shogun is in a foul mood.

Meanwhile, Arikoto waits, patient as a monk.

The Shogun enters, and we get the first extended scene between the two main characters since the first episode (where the Shogun made a brutal first impression).

We learn something very surprising – that the Shogun gave birth to a daughter at the age of 15, and that the child died immediately. So, add that to the list of traumas she’s experienced.

Arikoto expresses empathy for what she must have felt, to have lost the child.

That seems to allow the Shogun to feel more at ease in his presence – she starts playing with the cat.

She also starts to talk about Lady Kasuga and her father, including the reason for the Ooku’s existence.

I must say, the change in her behavior is striking. Seems like a character inconsistency at this point, but perhaps it’s only because we haven’t seen much of her character – especially when she’s not around others like Lady Kasuga. Possibly, Kasuga insists that she behaves a certain way.

The Ochuro notice that the Shogun is spending more time with Arikoto and, as is their lot in life, they’re jealous – especially the angry one, Shigesato. There’s really no mystery to why they didn’t end up being accepted by the Shogun.

Gyokuei is keeping a close eye on them, though, recalling the torture they put him through, concerned that they have foul plans for Arikoto. He overhears the two calmer ones expressing their feelings about dying useless in the Ooku. Might that spark some compassion from former monk Gyokuei?

Looking for the cat at night, Arikoto spots swordmaster Sawamura (Naitou Takashi) carrying the full length of a woman’s long hair in one hand, looking exactly like the legend that Gyokuei described. What’s this all about?

The next morning, still hunting for the cat Wakamurasaki, Arikoto and Gyokuei spot it in the hands of Shigesato.

Gyokuei moves to confront Shigesato, but Arikoto tells him to wait, and they watch as Shigesato cuddles the cat, pining for the Shogun.

The cat eventually returns to Arikoto’s place for dinner without them confronting Shigesato. There, Councilor Murase points out that a cat (neko) bestowed by the Shogun is referred to as neko-sama (猫様) – that is, given a lord’s (or esteemed guests’) honorific. He chastised them for calling the cat “Wakamurasaki” without adding the honorific -sama.

When Arikoto mocks the formality, Murase points out that there’s nothing to laugh at, and ominously warns that if anything happened to the cat, there would be a punishment. Gyokuei doesn’t look happy to hear that . . .

. . . but then we see him approaching the place where the Ochuro stay, cat in hand. What’s he up to?

Looks like he’s aiming for revenge rather than trying to protect Arikoto. He’s trying to frame the Ochuro with Wakamurasaki’s demise. Can he really go through with such a heinous act?

I knew that, once they put the cat in, they’d have to find a way to make it a big deal, and the easiest way to do that was to kill it. But could it really be at Gyokuei’s hands? I’ll let you find out by watching.

I can promise you a Shogun enraged, one way or another. There will be a great tragedy (and I’m not talking about the cat) and a shocking turn, as this episode does not resolve the conflict in the clean and easy way. Oh, and don’t forget that mystery about Sawamura and the full head of hair. Arikoto chooses the most interesting things to get angry about.

But it’s not all about anger. No, at one point, the Shogun looks like she’ll die laughing – though it’s a sad laugh:

There are some picturesque scenes. And in terms of scenes between Arikoto and the Shogun, this episode is an embarrassment of riches – suddenly the two of them are together constantly.

Just as a warning, though, there are extremely disturbing scenes as well, as all of the Shogun’s worst moments (including an attempted rape) flash while she’s laughing.

It was an exquisite episode, answering the remaining doubts I had about the series – those surrounding how Tabe-san would handle the character of the Shogun. She did remarkably well in a whole range of scenes, in which her character was developed tremendously.

Not only that, but just when I thought I knew where the episode was going, they went somewhere different. Just when I thought I knew who Gyokuei was, they changed that up, too. It’s nice to be surprised, and those twists contributed to an extremely fast pace to the episode – they didn’t dwell on anything for very long.

So, all goes well. Thanks to Heiwa Fansubs for the absolutely essential subtitles.

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