Cour one of Kusuriya no Hitorigoto comes to an end, with what I might call a pretty typical transition episode. Some multi-cour series choose to treat these as just another week, but I rather like it when an effort is made to make them feel like both a reflection and a look forward. It was pretty clear after last week’s events that the status quo wasn’t going to hold, which makes this a logical endpoint and a new beginning. If that’s the way the source material naturally fell that’s good fortune for the adaptation; if they moved things around to make it happen, they did so pretty artfully because it wasn’t obvious they had.
What happened with Fengming was obviously serious enough that it couldn’t all be swept away with her execution. The crime was serious, first of all, More importantly in context, her family is quite rich and influential. As was the way of such things at this time and this place her family members were punished, but above and beyond that anyone who was deemed tainted by business connections to them (even second-hand) was effectively banished from the Rear Palace. And as that includes Maomao’s family, she’s not exempt from the broad brush of blacklisting.
This poses a problem both for she and Jinshi. In Maomao’s case it’s because she still has a large debt to the old lady, but also because she’s come to rather enjoy her new life. For Jinshi it’s simple – he’s infatuated with her. What that means depends in part on whether he truly is what he’s purported to be (I have my doubts), but either way, he loves having Maomao around. But he has a duty to fulfill, and even after an uncharacteristic display of humility from Maomao in pleading to be retained, Jinshi reluctantly sweeps her out along with the others.
Maomao is certainly right in her observation that in many ways the Rear Palace and the brothels are not all that different. But in practical terms they can be very different for her. The Madam continues to push her to become a courtesan herself, which Maomao resists fiercely. But her duties find her about as close to being a courtesan as it’s possible to be without actually being one. That includes accompanying the three princesses of the brothel on a visit to an extremely wealthy client’s house, with many court officials and military officers present, and going through the motions of catering ton their whims.
Jinshi was genuinely as surprised to see Maomao as she him, I think, so I don’t think this can be construed as a stratagem on his part. But seeing her again cements in his mind the idea that he really doesn’t want to (or can’t) live without her. That indirect kiss was pretty creepy, because Jinshi generally speaking is a pretty creepy guy if you ask me. But the landing point is a huge cash settlement for Obaa-san (plus some toxic fungus to win Maomao’s heart), which I take to mean Jinshi is buying Maomao back. But I still suspect things can’s just go back to how they were – I don’t see how she can go back to being a lady-in-waiting, for example.
There’s certainly plenty of interesting ground to cover in a second cour (which will start in two weeks). As most of you know my track record with light novel adaptations is checkered to say the least, but it’s obvious that Kusuriya no Hitorigoto is no mass-produced model as LNs go. It’s a very interesting piece of work, with a degree of subtlety we almost never see in this medium these days. And if one of the biggest flaws in LNs is their tendency to spell everything out for the audience (often in the title), it’s that much more notable that The Apothecary Diaries leaves a lot unsaid, trusting the audience to put the pieces together. In the end it’s good, and that’s all that really matters, not where it comes from.