Shoeki's brief book is not a particularly novel topic: humankind under examination, and found wanting. What is unusual is his approach, and the specific targets of his barbs.
'Court', by the way, seems to have the sense of 'Imperial Court' rather than 'Court of law'. Animals of the several kinds meet, and Shoeki creates clear precedence among the lords and under-lords, the generalissimo (I wish I knew what word led to that translation), and all the other ranks within each kingdom. Shoeki establishes the proper role for animals of each type - including the roles of predator for the larger and prey for the smaller. The humor lies in showing how behavior proper to an animal is quite unsuitable for a human, no matter how common it may be.
The whole story is backed by hundreds of years of folklore about each animal, combined with alchemical beliefs about the five elements (fire, air, water, metal, and wood), plus a huge mythology or philosophy of Shokei's own. The story was written in the 18th century. Scientific thought was well established in Europe back then, but seems not to have been as strong in Japan of that day. The contrast is fascinating, even if Shoeki is not an accurate representative of his time.
Most interesting, though, was Shokei's choice of targets. Shinto priests came under fire. Buddhists of the half-dozen major schools took more of his sarcasm, as did doctors. Shokei outdid himself, though, in repainting Confucius, Mencius, Lao Tzu, and Chuang Tzu as criminals against the proper humnan spirit, as parasites on society, and as breeders of other human parasites. Other historical masters are less well-known to Western readers, but suffered the same fate at the hands, paws, wings, and fins of Shokei's menagerie.
As I said, I wonder about parts of the translation. I also wonder whether Shokei had trouble sustaining his initial writing energy. Each chapter is shorter than the one before and, I think, less sharply written. Still, the book as a whole is delightful. The commentary within is interesting, but the 18th century social and scientific Japanese thought behind the book is what really held my interest.