Ask any reader of Ten Ten, current or former, where most readers think the story loses all cohesion and they'll usually say it's during the Feudal Japan story arc. It's easy to see why. A sudden shift to 16th century Japan, plethora of new characters, and a mixture of historical people can be jarring to the non-Japanese history buff. So is the story as convoluted as believed? Has Oh! Great really lost his mind? A little yes, a little no.
First off, yes there's another flashback story. Unlike the previous one which took up two volumes (technically four in regular manga format) this one only takes up a little more than 1 1/2 of the volume. Why the sudden shift to Feudal Japan? According to Oh! Great, it's because he 'really likes history'.
The problem with this is the average reader is not too keen on 1600's Japan. The story weaves fictional story into historical fact. Guys like Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Tokugawa Ieyasu, Mitsuhide Akechi, Tenkai are virtual unknowns to most Americans and the political backdrop is given no explanation as this book wasn't exactly designed for English readers in mind. The common criticism of this storyline is that there are too many characters to keep track of and in a way this is true. These guys don't exactly have names that roll of the tongue.
So was this flashback arc worth it in the end? In the long run, actually yes. Is it still a bit confusing? Yes.
This volume is all about Sohaku and what his big plan is. To discover this, Reiki takes Aya back to the past to view his motives and history. She takes her back to a period of time where a group is plotting to assassinate Sohaku as they believe he is driving the country into the ground. Leading this group is Ichiyo Nagi, Soichiro's ancestor. Along for the ride is a shapeshifter named Shojo, a blind warrior named Kabane, and Aya's ancestor with the same name. Throughout this journey, Aya slowly learns just what exactly is Sohaku and his special power.
So if it sounds so simple, where does the confusion stem from? As stated, it comes from mixing fiction with fact. A lot of this volume deals with historical events and people and given little explanation as the book assumes the reader has a firm grasp on the subject. An example of this is Sohaku is actually Tenkai, who is historically theorized to actually be Mitsuhide Akechi. To be fair, the book has a few pages of explanations on some of the characters to give them a clearer background, but those explanations don't really have much to do with helping understand the character presented in the book, more so just giving the reader extra information about them. Now I'm no expert on 16th century Japan other than playing the Samurai Warriors games so I was a bit familiar with some of these guys. For the uninitiated, it is certainly daunting and can easily lead to confusion.
My advice, the key to easily understanding the story is in two details. As stated, Sohaku is actually Tenkai who is pretty much the only one who is close to Tokugawa Ieyasu, the current Shogun and manipulated by Sohaku. If Nagi's group can kill Sohaku, they can put the country back on the right track. The other detail is that Shojo is a shapeshifter. This is absolutely key.
For such a seemingly complicated story, was it at least entertaining? I certainly thought so. After reading, I was thinking about how the story could be shortened to just the reveal of the big moment, but I realized that everything that came before it needed to be there to make sense. Everything done in this volume has a point and I just can't see where parts could be removed and the story can keep having the same effect. This means that the unraveling plot to murder Sohaku was my favorite point in the story. The build up and the aftermath I found enthralling. I really can't say much more otherwise this will be a spoiler-filled review.
If you are a violence and fanservice junkie, no worries here either as this volume has both in spades. You know the drill. Heads roll and are lopped off. Bodies are flayed. Innards go shooting out. Stabbings. Characters walking around nude for no reason. Bondage. Rape. Imaginary tentacle rape. It's as if he said, 'you know what? Just because this is happening in the 1600's doesn't mean I'm making it any less violent or sexual. In fact, I'm gonna make it hyper violent and super sexual!'
I personally enjoyed this volume. I can see why others wouldn't and that's fine. The story does go back to the present in the last two chapters so if you hated this flashback, it's over before the volume is.