I had almost lost hope for this one. I remembered it being announced for the 2023 winter season but as all the premiers came and went and I started on the third episodes of some of the shows I’m watching, I figured it had been pushed back to a future season. So imagine how delighted I was when Anilist notified me that episode 1 had just aired out of nowhere. And then I got a little overwhelmed when I saw that episodes 2 and 3 had aired at the same time.
Don’t do that guys, some of us review this stuff! We should be considered above all other viewers because… reasons…
*My screencaps are quite flattering…
Let me give you all the context here because I have a history with the Apothecary Diaries. I started reading the manga soon after it was released (see here) and I quite liked it. In fact, I have kept up with it and new physical volumes crowd my shelves regularly. But there’s more than that to it.
I had a friend… no really I did…still do! This friend was an anime lover but had absolutely no interest in manga. I think she told me she had either never read any or tried once and had decided she preferred anime. Now don’t get me wrong, I prefer anime. That is absolutely fine. But knowing her just a little, I thought she might find some manga to enjoy and the first one I lent her was The Apothecary Diaries. It was such an ideal choice with the rich art and intriguing mysteries peppered with both comedy and romance. And it was an unmitigated success. Not only did she borrow every single one of my Apothecary volumes since (and read the series twice over) she is also rapidly making her way through my entire manga library.
From there we met another co-worker with whom we bonded over manga, organized little manga reading sessions over lunch, and added more friends to manga discussion sessions after work. And before you knew it, we were this little nerdy gang. And it all started with The Apothecary Diaries. As a result, the series is near and dear to my heart on a meta-level that is hard to match.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk adaptation.
Like I said, I tend to prefer anime. So far there have been two exceptions only. xxxHolics (and I did like that anime a lot but the manga…whoa!) and .. The Apothecary Diaries.
Now don’t get me wrong, some of it might just be that I need to get used to the dissonance of seeing an interpretation of the story other than the one in my head. But I think that a lot of it has to do with the art.
The Apothecary Diaries doesn’t look bad. Angles and distance do distort character models at times which is not ideal but it’s also not uncommon. And of course, anime routinely streamlines and cut down on the amount of visual details to make a work viable for animation but as I mentioned, the art of the Apothecary Diaries is rich. It’s lush, striking, and pleasant to look at. We regularly take pictures of specific pages and send them to each other just to admire the images. But the anime just looks fine. It’s kind of run of the mill. The costumes are nice but honestly, nothing would have caught my eye if I didn’t have the memory of the manga versions. And the colors, which I was so looking forward to are just a touch too drab for my taste.
This isn’t a deal breaker or anything but if you haven’t read the manga, all I’m saying is that I would list the art as a reason to pick it up. I wouldn’t say the same for the anime.
The animation on the other hand is great! I particularly like the use of that shiver animation when Mao is around Jinshi. It makes me laugh every time and I think it adds a lot to the fun of the story.
As for that story. Well, honestly it’s pretty faithful to what I remember. And I like it. I had once described it as Murder She Wrote in the Inner Palace of historical China and I stand by that description. Although the medical aspect might bring to mind House MD for some.
I do love mysteries (if you are following my Ron Komonohashi posts you already know that) and The Apothecary Diaries offers a pretty decent mix of them. Sometimes it gets a bit convoluted with the solutions but there’s nevertheless a focus on finding logical solutions that can be explained within the terms of the story. And I respect that. Moreover, I found myself really fascinated by the setting. Discovering the mores and rituals of the inner palace and the politics associated with all who lived there was surprisingly interesting and I ended up reading a bunch of books on the subject. And although the Apothecary Diaries offers a very sanitized and feel-good version of it, there are some really nice tidbits of historical trivia all throughout.
I also like these characters. All of them. I like Maomao. She’s a fun protagonist. She’s a snarky know-it-all who usually gets the job done, that’s a common archetype. But the fact that she’s also a small (in stature) girl and a servant forced to show respect to pretty much everyone around her, warps the archetype in ways you don’t often see. Jinshi is a decent foil and a linkable himbo. I think the two of them together are some of the most fun we get on screen.
But I also really enjoy the supporting cast. Gyokuyou is a great example of a strong female character who not only retains her femininity but is actually defined by it. Gaoshun is a much-needed straight man who brings sanity whenever he gets in the room. The balance is good and most characters have something unique to add. I won’t get too much ahead of myself since we are only talking about the three first episodes.
What I realize right now is that because there are three episodes here and these were the first three, I find it very difficult to not drift into my thoughts of the manga. These are the establishing stories. I do think they do a good job of setting things up. I believe that I would have enjoyed the show just as much if I had not read the manga but at this point it’s a little hard to tell.
I’m going to have to keep watching to see how things pan out!
One last thing! What’s with that OP??!! Maomao would hate that OP.