It’s hard for me not to conjoin The Apothecary Diaries with Frieren at the Funeral. They’re the two big commercial dogs of the post-Oshi premiere timeframe, each bowing in Fall 2023. Frieren always seems to be just a nose ahead – in manga sales, in aggregator scores, in my personal rankings. But while both have initiated a sea change with this new cour, I’m finding the one with Kusuriya far less jarring. And my sense is that it may very well jump ahead of Frieren as a result, at least for the duration of their current story arcs.
It’s winter, and Maomao is settling into her new home in the outer court (even if she finds it sorely lacking in free-range medicinal herbs). Clearly though she’s missed in the Rear Palace. And the the arrival of the new Pure Consort, Loulan (which is the name of an ancient Chinese kingdom, interestingly), offers an opportunity Maomao’s old boss is unable to resist. Gyokuyou submits a request that Maomao be the one to teach the new consort, keen to see her lady-in-waiting again. Interestingly so does Lihua (clearly Maomao made quite an impression in their time together). A fee is agreed (Suiren puts the kibosh on Maomao’s plan to pad the bill) and off to the Rear Palace she goes.
I suppose there’s a certain irony in a virgin (at least as far as we know) being the one to instruct imperial consorts in the ways of seducing and pleasing men. But Maomao has a unique background one might say, and a distinct lack of self-consciousness about the topic even if she’s keen to make sure no men – even a eunuch (ROFL) like Jinshi – are let in on the secrets. All this proves a bit much for poor Lishu, though the others seem to enjoy the process. But the new consort Loulan is impassive and silent through all this (so much that we don’t even know her seiyuu yet). Maomao is surely very good at reading people, but so far Loulan is a closed book to her.
An explosion at a storehouse wakes Maomao in the night, though she’s getting savvier about court politics – she checks her curiosity and decides not to get involved (freezing her freckles off is a factor too). Our monocled friend from last week makes another appearance, and Jinshi reveals his name. He’s Lakan (Kirimoto Takuya) and he seems very curious about the incident, though I don’t get the sense that he caused it. Old friend Lihaku gets assigned to investigate, sporting evidence of a promotion (courtesan princesses don’t come cheap), and Maomao runs into him while on-duty. At this point her natural nosiness kicks in and she can’t hold back the urge to investigate things herself.
It stands to reason that if Lihaku is there, some sort of foul play is suspected. But he doesn’t seem to be the brightest bulb in the chandelier with these things are concerned, and Maomao quickly takes command of the scene and briskly gets to the bottom of it. Explosions caused by grain dust (as from flour) are a very real thing – 18 people died in one in a factory in Glasgow in 1872 (and ironically, the same number in an explosion in a Minnesota mill six years later). Again this is a case where Maomao’s knowledge about such things is a bit of a conceit, but her devotion to science and the scientific method certainly adds to her appeal as a character.
It’s pretty obvious that the pipe Xiaomao finds in the storehouse started the fire, and that it’s far too fancy to belong to a simple warehouseman. She’s very much involved now whether she wants to be or not, and you get the feeling this might be something she’d have been better steering clear of. But Kusuriya no Hitorigoto is at heart a mystery series, and Maomao is a person of insatiable curiosity who seems to draw incident to her like moths to a flame. This sort of thing happens, and it continues to be very interesting to watch.