The two big multi-cours of the moment are moving in lockstep, to an extent. Both Sousou no Frieren and Kusuriya no Hitorigoto are big commercial hits – Frieren bigger, but not by that much. And both start off their new cours in transition. Not only that, Kusuriya too seems to be moving into an exam arc, though the sense is that it’s going to be the shorter and less all-consuming of the two. I’m less worried about the course change with this show, but it’s still a bit of a random element heading into the second cour.
We start off with a cold open featuring Jinshi and the man who may be his father or older brother, the Emperor. I still don’t like Jinshi as a person but I’m starting to appreciate his value as a story element – he brings qualities that open up a lot of possibilities. He refers to the Emperor as cunning and is self-deprecating about his own abilities (though certainly not his looks), and it’s crystal clear these two are using each other in some fashion. No fools either one of them, but you get the idea (and we know for a fact with Jinshi) that both these clever men have their blind spots.
Speaking of clever men, Maomao is spending one more night with Oyaji before returning to work at the palace. He correctly points out the folly in her intention to bring items like a mortar and pestle with her – she’s not a doctor, and such things would cast suspicion on her as a potential poisoner. We still don’t formally know whether Luomen is in fact actually Maomao’s father, but the growing impression is that it doesn’t really matter. Her affection for him is very genuine, and seemingly his for her. The fact that her new position will seemingly allow Maomao to visit more frequently is clearly a draw for both of them.
As I speculated two Sundays ago, it would be impossible for Maomao to simply return to her old position as a lady-in-waiting. I’m sure the consorts will still be a major factor in the story, but for now she’s coming to work at what Jinshi refers to as “his house” – the Outer Palace. In truth it’s a massive complex of offices and residences, including a military quarter. Maomao however will be living in Jinshi’s personal residence, which operates under the sole authority of Suiren (Doi Mika). Again her relationship with Jinshi is unclear but it seems quite personal more than professional.
Suiren and her explanation for why there are no other girls working for her adds fuel to the fire where the unlikelihood of Jinshi’s eunuch cover story is concerned. The other female officials in the outer palace (“like secretaries” is how Maomao describes them) are deep green with envy about this new arrangement, and Maomao resorts to showing off her (self-inflicted) scars to extricate herself. It’s funny to see Maomao referring to Jinshi in terms that he’s utterly irresistible to either men or women, as if she herself is neither. She comes off as totally asexual at this point, but it’s early enough in the narrative that I suppose that could still change.
The military side of this new arrangement is potentially crucial too. Jinshi insists Maomao restore her freckles after she shows up fully remade by her big sisters at the Verdigris, clearly panicking at the attention she’ll garner in that form, and warns her to steer clear of the military section. And there’s a monocled fellow there who’s already noticed and taken an interest in her, which vibes as unlikely to be one she would welcome. One of the jealous officers may have some connection here too, but at the very least she’s obviously cleverer than the others and may be involved in some nefarious plotting herself.
Finally, that exam element. Jinshi wants Maomao to pass the court lady exam, and sends her off to study. But Maomao in her own words is bad at learning things she’s not interested in, and there’s no reason to think she’s remotely interested in the minutiae of being a court lady. Jinshi doesn’t seem like the sort to just let something like this go, so failing the exam is unlikely to deter him from this course of action – he’s bound to keep pushing until Maomao is so sick of it she passes the exam just to shut him up. And when she does, that will presumably transition Kusuriya no Hitorigoto into yet another phase of its story.