One anime I’ve been enjoying is Kusuriya no Hitorigoto, aka The Apothecary Diaries, a fresh and unique look at life in the Imperial Court in ancient China. Let’s learn about this gorgeous anime, and see why my first impression of the show was wrong!
The Apothecary Diaries is the story of the daughter of an apothecary named Maomao who gets kidnapped and sold to the Imperial Palace. It is set in a fictional version of Ming Dynasty China. She starts out as a lowly servant, but her skills with herbs and medicines soon catch the eye of the court, delving her into palace intrigue. She is quickly promoted to official Imperial food taster because of her expertise with poisons, and becomes a full-fledged healer.
The anime is based on a light novel by Natsu Hyuga first published on the Let’s Become a Novelist! website. This is another reminder of the amazing creative engine that the Narou-kei web novels have proven to be for the anime industry as a whole. In addition to the light novels, there are not one but two manga adaptions to choose from.
My First Impression of The Apothecary Diaries Was Wrong
As a longtime student of Japan’s anime industry, I try to watch out for trends. I’ll never forget the first episode of anime I watched that began with the famous Universal Studios logo. I’d known for a while that American companies like Universal were getting in on funding anime via the “anime production committee” system, but it was surprising to see it advertised so openly.
Over the past decade, Chinese companies like Tencent and Bilibili have also started investing in anime, bankrolling various series in exchange for distribution rights in China and a slice of global profits. Some works that have been funded via Chinese companies include Nier:Automata, Kubo-san Won’t Let Me Be Invisible, and Aharen-san wa Hakarenai.
While I’m in favor of more money flowing into the anime industry to help raise the salaries of creative staff, I’m also nervous that increased influence by foreign corporations could harm the anime that we all know and love. Already, we’ve seen drama generated when Chinese online users objected to the “immorality” of Mushoku Tensei, causing the show to get banned on some platforms. If anime starts to self-censor to appease Chinese investors, the rest of the world will definitely suffer.
When I saw the beautiful Chinese imagery of Kusuriya no Hitorigoto unfold, I was sure I’d see Tencent or Bilibili mentioned in the opening credits, because of the Chinese nature of the anime. I was surprised to see that this series is a 100% Japanese work. It’s animated by the venerable TOHO and many veteran staff, including director Norihiro Naganuma. And they’ve really pulled out all the stops, with great animation in every episode.
The Importance of Kampo Medicine to the Japanese
Japan very much sees itself as a cultural child of ancient China, along with the other nations of Asia. Mrs. J-List is often saying things like, “Don’t make fun of China! They have 3,500 years of history!”
Japanese doctors and hospitals practice normal Western medicine which would be familiar to anyone reading this. But there’s also a lot of attention paid to traditional Chinese herbal medicine, called Kampo. Doctors are just as likely to issue a prescription for traditional Chinese herbal medicine as fancy drugs from Pfizer or Merck. Considering that Chinese medicine is 1,500 years older than Western healthcare solutions, it’s nice to see the tradition upheld.
Why is The Apothecary Diaries Worth Watching?
The world is totally unique. I am regularly floored by the incredible variety of stories anime throws at us. On the one hand, many shows revisit the same familiar tropes. They let us experience a new variation on idol, harem, rom-com, and other comfortable genres. Then there are completely original concepts like this one, which we’ve never seen before.
Maomao is a fun character. Watching the tsukkomi mumblings of Maomao — voiced expertly by Yuuki Aoi — as more important duties are pushed on her is the best part of each episode.
It’s a great love story. It’s fun watching the story of Maomao and Jinshi unfold. Because classical China is so unfamiliar to most of us, the settings and costumes are even more exotic and wonderful to look at.
If you want a Nendoroid figure of Maomao, it’s up for preorder here!
Thanks for reading this post about The Apothecary Diaries. Are you watching this amazing anime? Tell us what you think of it in the comments below!
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