If anyone's intending to read this ever, read no further. I don't want to spoil what's the biggest pleasure of the series.
It's a Chara imprint and hence about as BL as Motoni Modoru's Detective Aoneko, set in approximately the same period. My expectations of romantic fluff were not disappointed as I proceeded through the first story of the dorky heir's suddenly displaying the arbitrary and comic hots for an unprepossessing male geisha. (Not what you think. Taikomochi are kind of hangers-on and middlemen in a geisha house, there to tell jokes and be comic and make music and promote the social atmosphere of the patron/ geisha relationship.)
But gradually and to my delight I realized that what I was actually reading was a murder mystery *and* a ghost story in Ima's unparalleled and trademark style. Like expecting sandwiches for dinner- which I like, yes- and instead being served smoked salmon and cold lobster and green salad and wine. Ahhh, the richness.
And that's what kept happening. This fluffy world starts looking really very odd. The dorky botchan's infatuation is a little... strange, shall we say, coming from a man who turns out to be an habitue of the Yoshiwara. And uhh what's with the Yoshiwara still existing in early Shouwa anyway? I thought it was abolished some time in Meiji, even if geisha kept practicing afterwards? We find out what's up with the retired owner of the geisha house Phantom Moon Tower, but there's something *really* not-quite-right about the current one, who bears a more than passing resemblance to the fox-spirit in 100 Night-travelling Demons. These stories are even better than the 100N-tD ones because we /don't/ have a view-point character like Ritsu who expects odd doings as a matter of course. They're also every bit as twisty and obscure and 'OK let's read that again' as her more famous series; Ima is a master of the speakerless subjectless contextless dialogue bubble that's TERRIBLY IMPORTANT for understanding what's happening even if you don't know what it means until the story ends. I love her anyway but occasionally she tries me, fotherington-thomas, she tries me grately.
There are other, more mundane mysteries, like the fact that the fluffy bespectacled male geisha's body is covered in knife-scars. Got into a fight with another customer, was hacked up and nursed back to health at the Phantom Moon Tower, couldn't pay his bills and became a geisha to pay his expenses, even though his only talent is telling ghost stories. Is the story. Which is as true as saying that this manga is about the owner of a miso store in early Shouwa. The whole story- the last one which, yes, needs to be read three times before you realize what's happening- is stunning and disturbing and immensely erotic. I couldn't have hit as many of my own hot spots if I'd written it myself. It absolutely doesn't hurt that our geisha looks a lot like the shikigami who impersonates Ritsu's father when he's impersonating Ritsu's father. (His real form is in that icon up there.) Only Ima can make fair hair and glasses and a witless smile seem so sinister.
The bummer of all this is that she literally writes one story in this series a year. OK, she wrote two in 2003. Yay. It might be worth getting a subscription to Chara just on the off-chance there'll be Phantom Moon Tower episode in the latest ish.
As for what's with the Yoshiwara and the not quite 20's clothing, the atogaki reveals that the series is basically A/U. She wanted to do a jidai-mono about a male geisha but the research killed her, so she fudged it for something semi-modern. Hence, as we're told in an inserted story, we're in 'a period close to the early Shouwa.' Not that far from Tantei Aoneko, in fact.