Ooku ~Tanjou~ (大奥 ~誕生~ – Inner Palace ~Birth~) presents an alternative history in which the shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu dies, leaving only a daughter as heir. To keep the country from plunging back into the chaos of a generation before, Iemitsu’s death is kept a secret in the hope that his daughter (played by Tabe Mikako) will eventually give birth to a male heir who can take over. The hero of this story – Arikoto (Sakai Masato) – is brought in as a consort for the female Shogun.

When we last left the two main characters, they were in love with each other, but about to be separated because Lady Kasuga (Aso Yumi) was unsatisfied by the results of their pairing. She decided to bring in a new man for the Shogun, who would take Arikoto’s place. This led to a depressing scene in which the Shogun and Arikoto expressed despair, behaving like they had no power over the situation.

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I have no idea why they didn’t feel a greater sense of agency, and that puzzle will become all the more acute by the end of this episode.

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Meanwhile, there’s also the idiot who Kasuga brought in. We see a bit of his earlier life, in which we see him thinking in the most brutish way possible – how best to take advantage of the woman who is infatuated with him.

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In the Ooku, he’s utterly awkward, presenting himself boorishly and speaking in an uncouth manner.

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The previous consorts are aghast when they see the behavior of the new guy, but Arikoto doesn’t show any emotion, and nor does he say anything unkind about the young man.

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Arikoto is his normal restrained and considerate self when speaking with his replacement, but he has a grim look as he walks away.

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For large sections of this episode, we just watch the newbie acting pathetically:

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Lady Kasuga seems thoroughly satisfied with her plan, though, as she decides to assign his training to Arikoto, in what she no doubt sees as perfect symmetry and an excellent joke.

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And so, Arikoto is forced the train someone who lacks all the refinements of civilization in Edo period Japan.

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Gyokuei (Tanaka Koki) sees this as unnecessary cruelty against his master and looks like he once again wants to seek vengeance.

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Gyokuei basically admits his desire to seek violent retribution against Arikoto’s replacement, but Arikoto doesn’t tolerate those kinds of sentiments from his young companion.

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The next day, the Shogun’s new consort is all dressed up, and seems to be gaining confidence.

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Once Arikoto leaves, Gyokuei makes his stance on the circumstances clear, almost threatening Arikoto’s competition.

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Arikoto does get to meet the Shogun . . .

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. . . but not much comes of that except that the realization that not much has changed between the two of them . . . yet.

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The Shogun makes her displeasure known to Kasuga, but Kasuga simply accepts the fact that people will hate her, as she continues in her demonic drive to protect the Tokugawa Shogunate.

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That same drive means that when she hears that Masakatsu’s family has arrived, she immediately orders Masakatsu to stay in his room. After all, Masakatsu was proclaimed dead so that he could take on the public role of the Shogun behind a mask.

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Masakatsu’s wife shows enviable persistence, still wanting answers about her husband from Lady Kasuga. Kasuga, of course, pretends not to be in the Ooku, leaving Masakatsu’s family waiting.

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Masakatsu can’t help but take a peek to see how his children have grown.

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Meanwhile, there’s a familiar-looking cat roaming the palace grounds:

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And the Shogun’s new consort gets ready to meet his master:

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At first, the meeting looks like it’s going properly, as he at least remembers to bow when she enters . . .

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. . . but things quickly go downhill as he stumbles, forgetting not to give his name until the Shogun asks for it. He looks up at her, sees that she’s young, and assumes that this means he can take the lead.

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That’s a big mistake, since despite being gentle in Arikoto’s arms for so long, the Shogun still retains enough of her old fiery self, and more than enough indignation at the young man’s insolence.

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Beyond that, I’ll leave the rest off as spoilers. Does the Shogun accept her new mate or throw him out? Will Arikoto really just sit around and do nothing? Will Masakatsu continue to defer to Kasuga when his family shows a persistent belief that he’s still alive? And what about that cat that looks like Wakamurasaki? How will Gyokuei take it when he sees it?

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There were good aspects and bad aspects of this episode. On the bright side, it definitely moved the plot forward and resolved some earlier loose threads. At the same time, I’m growing really irritated by the Shogun and Arikoto. Really, the only redeemable character in all of this is Masakatsu. He’s the only one I feel any sympathy for at all.

The boorish character was just a pain to watch. If we could expect him to complicate the court intrigue, that would be one thing, but he doesn’t seem capable of it. The threads of intrigue that we’ve got going right now are pretty sparse. There’s only one real villain in the picture – Lady Kasuga – and even though she’s not plotting in secret, no one can lift a finger to oppose her because she’s trying to protect the shogunate. There’s no evil character with less laudable motives, leaving very little for the main characters to do except brood over their fate. Arikoto’s replacement isn’t capable of evil plotting, so any hope that he might be able to take up the slack is pointless to contemplate.

Really, the problem boils down to the fact that the two main characters have nothing to do. More by choice than by circumstance, they aren’t agents in their own play – simply pawns to be pushed around. Five episodes in, it’s already getting late for them to redeem themselves.