I must say, Kusuriya no Hitorigoto has an easy charm about it that I find very winning. I can’t think back on any episodes that made me marvel at their greatness, but they’re all a sort of a vibe. The writing is plenty smart enough, and only rarely seems too anxious to remind you of that. There’s no denying that a lot of this is down to Yuuki Aoi’s performance as Maomao (which is S-class, as usual for her). But I think the character is a good one even on the page, and the premise and setting carry their weight just fine. It’s a nice combination.
This episode, frankly, could have been a bit of a clunker if the above weren’t the case. Because the mystery was a bit of an Encyclopedia Brown (Google it, kids) job, really. It was fun but the sort of thing you really wouldn’t expect to see in real life. And Maomao solving something completely outside her realm of expertise (though there was an overlap with the lead poisoning) feels like kind of a misstep to me. She runs the risk of being too smart not just for her own good, but her good as a character. It all works better if she’s an expert in her realm and smart, not if she’s Jane Marple (Google it, kids).
But I can’t really be bothered because it was all very amusing. And yes, it did tie in to the central plot in some interesting ways. Jinshi was obviously pouting at drawing Xiaomao into a mystery not of his choosing (never mine that it was Lakan’s). And a little peeved at how easily she became interested. One might have fun speculating on why Lakan got involved in the first place. I mean, obviously in part to test just how clever she is for himself. But I don’t rule out that he might have had at least a sliver of altruistic motive too, if in fact the old metalworker was a friend. Or at least someone whose talent he genuinely admired (which I think he pretty clearly did).
The whole thing with the three brothers and the fishbowl and the key was the weakest part of the episode, really. It was a very light novel (or YA) sort of mystery, honestly. The best part here continued to be the interaction between Maomao and Basen. She finally realizes why he looks familiar – he resembles Gaoshun (I confess that didn’t stand out to me). If that means Basen is Gaoshun’s son, it certainly lends itself to some interesting questions (not least, why does he seem to dislike her so much?). I’ve pretty well concluded at this point that Jinshi is obviously not a eunuch. Gaoshun not being one would be harder to explain, though I suppose it could be something that happened after Basen was born. Or it could be a cover story altogether…
Now – that final conversation between Jinshi and Lakan. This reveals what may be the third reason why Lakan involved Jinshi and Maomao, because of the brother dynamic. That remark about how younger brothers should be recognized for their talent seemed extremely pointed, and I feel as if Lakan was trying to tell Jinshi that he knew something about his true (still unconfirmed) identity. And the way he begged off finishing the “devaluing a courtesan” story was his way of telling Jinshi he knows Maomao’s true history, clearly. Lakan’s importance in the story appears to be only beginning to assert itself, and whose side he’s on (beyond his own) is still very much a mystery.