I was talking with a friend about Apothecary Diaries (one I lent the manga to) and she brought up a good point. When watching the anime, you get the impression that they really put in a lot of effort designing Maomao but the rest of the characters where left by the sideline. And I agree. I understand why but still…
I think the one that suffers most from this is Jinshi. His beautiful appearance is actually an important part of his character and in the manga you can see it. Even if he might not be your personal cup of tea, he is so detailed and carefully proportioned that you just have to objectively admit that you can see why he would be popular.
However, because the non Maomao characters are all a little lackluster in design, I find that they blend together more. The courtesans ae still striking in my opinion but otherwise I have a bit more trouble singling out anyone. So it makes Jinshi one of those characters that everyone fawns over and you just have to accept it. Like OK, the story tells me he’s hot so I just go with it. And that lessens the impact a bit.
Like this week. We unfortunately didn’t have an actual mystery to solve but I enjoyed watching Maomao’s efforts to help courtesan Lihua heal from her poisoning. Palace intrigue and petty backroom politics are an important part of life in the inner palace and this episode was a great way to illustrate that.
In the manga, the rivalry between courtesans is much more insisted upon and it’s clear why Maomao wouldn’t be welcomed in another palace. It seemed a bit exaggerated here in the anime, especially when we find out that Lihua’s personality is not quite what one might expect at first glance. But still, I can accept the idea that an untested servant would not be welcomed as a doctor. Considering the times, the fact that Maomao’s a girl probably also disqualifies her from being taken seriously.
But things turn around for her with a simple word from Jinshi. As the overseer of the inner palace, he could of course simple order the other attendants to obey Maomao but he’s a man that’s always had more success luring flies with honey. Now imagine that scene if the character was illustrated in much more detail and with better consistency. If he visually stood out form everyone else. The impact would be so much greater. And the visuals would tell you the whole story. Why he doesn’t need to be strict. Why he attends to such matters personally and so on…
But enough about that. What about Maomao! In the comments last week, Dawnstorm praised the voice actress and I have to say I agree. The way Maomao snapped when she got angry and her voice dropped to a lower register, was just delightful. It had so much power and you could feel her anger through the screen. That was a great performance and something that is sure to make The Apothecary Diaries a better show for it! I look forward to seeing more of that!
In general, I really enjoyed this episode. I found the pacing very pleasant. I liked that we already get a broader view of life in the forbidden city and how the different houses go about their daily affairs. I also enjoyed the fact that they essentially removed Lihua as a potential antagonist. She has interests that don’t always align with Gyokuyou but she’s definitely not a “bad guy” and as such, there is no actual antagonist in the series creating a much loser structure.
Finally, I enjoyed the small glimpse we got of Maomao’s previous life at the brothel. We are likely to slowly discover her past bit by bit. It’s unusual to have a main heroin with such a colourful backstory and her acceptance and generally positive attitude towards sex work is pretty refreshing in anime. Maybe even in general. That’s a rather unexpected bonus!