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[The Apothecary Diaries (Season One)]
AKA: 薬屋のひとりごと ; Kusuriya no Hitorigoto
Genre: Period Drama/Romance/Comedy
Length: Television series, 24 episodes, 24 minutes each
Distributor: Currently available streaming on crunchyroll.
Content Rating: TV-14 (Mature situations, violence.)
Related Series: N/A
Also Recommended: Raven of the Inner Palace
Notes: Based on light novels written by Natsu Hyuga and illustrated by Touko Shino, published first online; in print by Shufunotomo. Also manga by Hyuga, and Itsuki Nanao, published by Square Enix, and by Shogakukan.

The Apothecary Diaries (Season One)


Maomao is the adopted daughter of an apothecary, and is a prodigy on potions, poisons, and general period pharmaceuticals, as well as having a brilliant deductive mind; but being a woman was not easy in this setting (ancient China, more or less), and, while she tries to keep a low profile, a kidnapping puts her in a troublesome spot, and her attempt to do a good deed compounds her peril (but eventually her opportunities, too), as the manager of the "rear palace" (where the Emperor's concubines live) turns his (at first unwelcome) attention on her.


So I didn't get the "big" hit this season, Frieren, to review, but I DID snare this one, as well as the OTHER absolutely wonderful show this season (which hasn't quite completed; later for that one); and, as Meatloaf et al have observed, two out of three ain't bad.

As usual, I knew nothing about the light novels/manga on which this is based, so the general setting made me wonder if this was going to be more similar to Raven of the Inner Palace on the one hand, or Psychic Princess on the other. As it turned out, there are NO supernatural elements in THIS one, so it's not exactly like EITHER of those shows; but placing it on a spectrum between them is still a valid exercise. For the question in my mind was, will this show play it all seriously (like Raven), or will it try to mix in crude, anachronistic humor (like Psychic Princess)? It turned out that it falls closer to the Raven end, but it does make one concession to Psychic Princess' unseriousness: while Maomao is usually utterly deadpan, in the presence of interesting pharmaceutical ingredients of the day (e.g., ox bezoar), she gets all Super-Deformed and Hair-Nekomimi'ed with her enthusiasam. I would have preferred for the show to have played her completely straight, but in the end I forgave the "playful" depictions of her, since they're used sparingly.

The show is certainly accurate in its depiction of the limitations on women in its age. If a woman wanted to wear finery, her choices were: (1) selling her body to men, either as a courtesan in a high-end brothel like Verdigris House (Maomao had, before being co-opted into the Imperial Palace, been supplying pharma products to its courtesans- doubtless cosmetics, cures, and contraceptives); or, if she was really unfortunate, having to be a street prostitute (we'll see just how horrible THAT can end up). Option (2) was GIVING her body away, as one of the Emperor's concubines, becoming a baby-making machine (male babies preferred of course) for him. Maomao doesn't want ANY of that; forced to go to the Imperial Palace, she dons her "ugly" makeup (it's exceedingly simple, and relies on a particular Asian idea about what makes a woman's face unattractive; see, for example, Belle). She tries to escape attention by just being a cleaning lady at the Palace, but her intelligence and her sense of ethics drive her to send an anonymous warning; and Jinshi, the "manager" of the Rear Palace, tricks her into revealing herself. (The "Rear Palace" is the same thing as Raven's Inner Palace; it's the court of the Emperor's concubines, and the only males allowed are eunuchs.) Jinshi initially comes across as a smarmy "pretty boy”; his charm works on all the ladies of the court, except Maomao. He's revealed as a more substantial character as the series progresses, though, and the central relationship in the story becomes the one between Jinshi and Maomao. You wouldn't think much could develop between a woman and a eunuch, but, well...

Maomao isn't the only woman in the show trying to avoid being forced into doing something she doesn't want to do, and she's not the only one with the cleverness to get out of relationships she doesn't want, and to find a way to be with the people she DOES want to be with. There's quite a bit going on under the surface, and that brings us to what I found most interesting about the show- the plotting.

The individual story arcs are constructed in a fascinating way. Typically, we'll have a few episodes of Maomao solving various small mysteries. (She's not only got the instincts of an expert detective, but she also seems to have a knowledge of natural science that seemed to me at least a millennium too advanced, but I'll let THAT pass too.) However, it always turns out that these "small mysteries' were part of some larger scheme, and THAT will result in a crisis of some sort that precipitates a cascade of revelations. Yet at the end of 24 episodes many mysteries still remain, though from what I've read some of them will be resolved in Season Two (in 2025).

Just a few more things:

-I kind of got the feeling that some of the latter part of the story with Lakan got abridged. (He's the court strategist, and prospagnosia sufferer- look it up, I did.) Maomao's utter loathing of the guy is a continuous thread in the story. (He's the only one that could inspire an expression in Maomao besides her Deadpan, and her Pharma Giddy, modes- with that expression being one of Utter Hatred.) Maomao completely avoids the guy, yet we see her playing a game of Go with him. Yes, it becomes clear what her intentions are; she made a bet with him. Granted, she knew what the outcome of the GAME would be, but I could think of several ways subsequent events might not have come out exactly the way she planned. Her plan, in fact, had more than a whiff of Arlington Road Syndrome to it. (I've mentioned this before; it's my term, based on my impression of that movie, for a plan in which success only occurs if EVERYTHING occurs EXACTLY as the plotter intends, even though there are multiple places where things can- are even LIKELY to- go otherwise.) Still, given her utter refusal to be in the same PLACE with him throughout the rest of the show, it seemed to me that she would have to go through some difficult steps just to be sitting across the gameboard from him, much less be civil to him.

-Maomao, when she's not trying to be "ugly", "cleans up" quite well. At one point, the Verdigris Girls "dress her up" and present her to Jinshi. She's as deadpan as ever though and, if she'd simply said "What?" to his staring at her appearance, I think the scene would have been absolutely perfect.

Maomao isn't always demure- she also has a take-charge, no-nonsense mode, and it's easy for her to be frank about topics that others (including the males!) are squeamish about discussing. (At one point, she's presenting Sex Ed to the concubines, and her resolute, deadpan approach makes it absolutely hilarious.) There's a scene where Jinshi opens up to her that's really moving- and we know that there are OTHER things that he may open up to her about, in time. There are several side characters- some concubines, some soldiers stationed in the palace- who look like rich sources for future stories. And I'll be waiting to see those stories.Allen Moody

Recommended Audience: Some graphic violence and mature themes. While Rightstuf provided age ratings, this data seems harder to find on its successor Crunchyroll Store, so I couldn't go to manga ratings for help. MAL goes PG-13, but honestly I'd recommend for a slightly older audience.

Version(s) Viewed: Crunchyroll video stream.
Review Status: Full (24/24)
The Apothecary Diaries (Season One) © 2024 Hyuganatsu, Imagica Infos/
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