Maomao is a girl who works under her father at an apothecary when she is kidnapped and forced into working as a lowly servant girl in the rear palace of the imperial capital. There, the emperor’s concubines are in conflict with each other as the pressure to provide a male heir ramps up, especially as newly born children seem to be dying quickly and no one seems to know why. However, Maomao, with her knowledge of medicine and poison, recognizes what is wrong and attempts to pass the message along to the two high-ranking concubines currently with sick newborns. While only one of them receives the message to save her child, that is enough to get the attention of Jinshi, the eunuch who manages the rear palace—and a beautiful man who captivates the hearts of most women, but not Maomao. Jinshi gets Maomao promoted to be a lady-in-waiting for the concubine she saved, as well as her poison-tester, and thus she finds herself far more deeply involved with the empire’s matters than she would have liked.
One of the most anticipated anime of the season has finally dropped with not one, not two, but three full-length episodes for viewers to sink their teeth into, and it has not disappointed. A few recent anime have used the “Imperial China-esque rear palace” setting that this anime also uses, and that alone may draw in a few viewers who are interested in that particular setting or just want something different. The storyline in these episodes is mainly about establishing the setting, and while it does not get too depressing, it nevertheless does not sugarcoat the realities of life in such a time, whether as brothel workers out in town or as concubines with varying levels of political relevance. Helping out the story setting is a strong cast, including Jinshi, who is well aware of his charms and is somewhat puzzled at why they don’t work on Maomao, and a supporting cast like Lady Gyokuyou and her other ladies-in-waiting who add some levity to the episodes.
That said, as someone who has read some of the original light novels, I can say this for sure: this story is absolutely hard-carried by Maomao. She is a mad scientist at heart, who loves experimenting with poisons on herself and enjoys making drugs of various sorts. At the same time, she feels completely out of place in the rear palace and regards most of what goes on around her not related to medicine and poison with sarcastic indifference. This creates a great combination where she can throw a good snark at one moment and be all excited about making aphrodisiacs the next. At the same time, she is capable of showing thoughtfulness, which is notable in episode three where she looks into the case of one concubine whose service is about to be cut short. As far as the anime adaptation goes, it absolutely nails the visual portrayal of Maomao and her reactions to everything going on around her, and Aoi Yuuki does a splendid job as her voice actor. The rest of the anime looks great as well, but for a story that so heavily relies on its main character, it is great to see that she is given all the attention she needs to make this anime adaptation every bit as great as the light novels are.
All in all, this looks to be yet another amazing anime from a season full of amazing shows, and I absolutely will be continuing with The Maomao Diaries.
The Apothecary Diaries is streaming on Crunchyroll.