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‘The Apothecary Diaries’ Season 1 A Successful Beginning

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Thank goodness, warm weather is here. It’s spring at long last, which means the winter season of anime is coming to an end. One of the shows wrapping up its first season on Crunchyroll is The Apothecary Diaries.

The Apothecary Diaries is the story of Maomao, a young girl living during the Tang Dynasty working as an apothecary in the red-light district when she’s kidnapped and sold to the Imperial Palace as a servant. This may seem like a terrible situation, but Maomao is nothing if not resourceful.

Through some clever medical sleuthing, Maomao manages to make a pretty good life for herself as a poison tester. It’s now up to her and an influential eunuch, Jinshi to solve various medical mysteries and political schemes.

[Warning: Spoilers for The Apothecary Diaries season 1 below!]

The Apothecary Diaries is a blast

I’m going to cut straight to the chase: this show is fun. Questionable harem tropes aside, The Apothecary Diaries is an entertaining story about medicine and politics. I did not think a show where most of the plot is different people getting repeatedly poisoned would be this entertaining, but I am willing to eat my words on that. Get ready to stamp your frequent poisoning card every other episode and have a great time.

The Apothecary Diaries is a good name for the series. The ebb and flow of the narrative really does feel like you’re seeing bits and pieces of Maomao’s everyday life and adventures from a diary. Side characters come and go, briefly stepping into the spotlight for only as long as their medical mysteries remain unsolved. The overarching plot of personal development and vague political schemes don’t feel particularly urgent until they are immediately relevant. Things unfold whenever they unfold. It’s like a narrative lazy river.

I enjoyed this form of storytelling, for the most part. It was an excellent way of tying in pieces of the overarching plot through side stories, while letting Maomao and Jinshi learn and grow through each mystery. Bits like the dead metalsmith’s secret trade being key to an assassination attempt in the final episodes had a good payoff.

The Apothecary Diaries season 1
Jinshi and Maomao in The Apothecary Diaries (Crunchyroll)

That being said, sometimes it was a little difficult to connect to the plot. The emotional aspects of each story were very hit or miss. For instance, I don’t care about the dead blacksmith’s three sons learning to get along. We only spend twenty minutes with them and know very little about their personalities.

The stories about the cast’s recurring characters were much more interesting, as we had time to grow to care about them, and thankfully the bulk of the episodes centered on them. Some episodes do an excellent job of pulling on heartstrings, like the final episodes centering on Maomao’s equally eccentric father.

Regardless, every plotline is mostly important through how it affects Maomao, which is always fun to watch. And none of the mysteries are boring. About 90% of this show is a wacky adventure through various ways to experience organ failure, which makes it all worth it.

An entertaining cast of characters in this Crunchyroll anime

Overall, The Apothecary Diaries has a cast of loveable characters. The concubines and their staff all have their own stories, along with Maomao’s friends in the red-light district. It was fun to spend an episode or so focusing on different members in the rotating cast of Maomao’s life, and to learn more about them, usually because they were about to die via allergies or poison.

Then there is Maomao, my beloved Maomao. It’s always great when the main character is by far the best part of the show. Maomao’s strong personality and eccentric ways had my heart from the beginning. It is with much love that I declare her a complete freak. She certainly is a unique character. “Apathetic mad scientist girl who frequently fantasizes about slowly dying from blowfish poisoning” is an angle I haven’t seen from a show before, but it is one I would like to see again.

If you made a compilation of all the best moments from The Apothecary Diaries, it would be a 10-minute supercut of her being a weirdo. Possibly, the best moment of the show is when she looks gorgeously blissful eating soup, only to happily announce that it was poisoned.

Deuteragonist Jinshi is also a fun character, albeit nowhere as compelling as Maomao. The “popular Machiavellian pretty boy” angle is entertaining, and like Maomao, he is entertainingly weird. Mostly, I want to know what his deal is. The slow reveal of his backstory and motivations is one of the more interesting aspects of the overarching narrative, and I am excited to get more of that in season two.

Jinshi’s unfolding romance with Maomao is going to take a little more work to sell me (I think he needs to respect her boundaries more), but it’s enjoyable. I’m a simple person, if you give me a romance with an androgynous man head over heels for a woman who cares more about indigestion than him, I will give you all my money. It is fun to watch him gush over a woman who looks at him like he’s a bug. Maybe in the second season, Jinshi can win both me and her over.

The Apothecary Diaries season 1
Maomao in The Apothecary Diaries (Crunchyroll)

One of the surprising delights of season one is watching Maomao open up to the people around her. Her character development is wonderful, and I can’t wait for more of it in season two. For such a laid-back narrative pace, The Apothecary Diaries did a remarkable job of having me immediately crave more episodes without a cliffhanger, simply by being a good show. If I need a second season at once, I consider the first season to be a success. Bring me more Maomao at once, I beg of you.

What Didn’t Work 

Don’t get me wrong, I deeply enjoyed this show and cannot wait for more of it, but it’s not without its issues. As mentioned before, not all episode plotlines are created equal, and that extends to the animation. Some sequences are absolutely stunning, and some are… meh. The Apothecary Diaries goes back and forth between beautiful visuals and jarring 3D props that do not look natural to the art style at all. The majority of the animation is solid, but I cannot lie that the occasional 3D spinning plant shot caught me off guard.

This one is silly, but allow me my one nitpick: I hate the narrator. If you are going to fully embrace the diary angle and give us a narrator, at least make it consistent. Instead, we get this random voice that shows up once every five episodes to say one line. It’s jarring, and I do not care for it. It actively reduced the quality of each episode for me every time it happened.

Overall, I think The Apothecary Diaries’ virtues make up for its faults twice over, but that’s up for you to decide.

Season 2 of The Apothecary Diaries confirmed

Season 1 of The Apothecary Diaries is now streaming on Crunchyroll. And good news, we are getting a second season! While no specific dates have been announced, it’s set to air sometime in 2025. Will you be watching? Did you enjoy the first season? Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or on The Cosmic Circus Discord!

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