Krystallina: This volume of The Apothecary Diaries is really another volume of Reluctant Detective Maomao. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing even though that means volume 5 has a bit of filler-like feel to it.
Maomao now works for Jinshi, and between his assignments and her curiosity, she investigates everything from a mysterious fire to a vague last will. For modern audiences, the first won’t be too hard to figure out, but others will fall into the “stretched mystery logic” category. That shouldn’t be a shocker in a manga where the heroine loves poisons.
I said last time it was obvious The Apothecary Diaries was moving on to a new phase, but so far, it really hasn’t happened. And I can’t help but miss the consorts livening up the pages; the expert old maid of Jinshi’s just doesn’t have the same level of fun in between the cases. One of my favorite chapters here included the consorts, and while neither readers nor Jinshi get to hear what Maomao is saying, their post-lecture reactions give a solid idea…but considering it’s Maomao, those tips are likely even more extreme since the more mature consorts obviously learned a few tips. Heh.
As for the main plot, the manga shows a couple of characters who are a bit different from the others around them, and Maomao can’t quite get a read on them. You can’t get much more obvious “BIG STORYLINE” flags than that, but neither are really touched upon again. I think some characters in shadows or a few suspicious/strange actions by them would have upped the intrigue and kind of veiled the “mystery of the day” feel of the book.
If anything, the real intrigue comes from Jinshi. In a rare chapter from his perspective, readers learn he sees himself as average save for his looks. Then, later, we meet a man who can actually yank Jinshi’s chain. If Maomao views Jinshi as the professional troll in her life, then Lakan is Jinshi’s. He acts like a goofball, but he’s one of the top advisors. And not only does he seem to be subtly trying to spur Jinshi to rise above his current station, he also has a few stories in his past that likely connect to a certain fake-freckled face young lady.
The Apothecary Diaries volume 5 doesn’t set up the next stage as well as I would have expected or hoped, but even these less important cases are rather entertaining. Without a lot of insight (real or misconstrued) on the new characters, the book is at its best when Maomao interacts with the old cast. Because as Li Haku can attest to, if you don’t listen to Maomao, you could get killed…literally.
Krystallina’s rating: 4 out of 5
Helen: This volume marks the beginning of volume 2 of the light novels and new stories mean new characters! As Maomao begins working as a maid for Jinshi in the Outer Court there are plenty of new folks for her to meet, such as Ba Sen (Basen in the novels, his connection to the main cast is obvious thanks to Nekokurage’s art, even before Maomao herself accidentally guesses it) and an unnamed attendant who seems to be one of the few people completely unfazed by Maomao’s antics. Maomao isn’t exactly sure what she’s supposed to be doing here — obviously she is doing the work of a maid and sneaking off to do more apothecary-like things when she can — but it seems like she hasn’t completely realized that some folks In the imperial court are using her as an amateur sleuth, as her reputation for it is getting around to when even a military strategist Jinshi knows asks for her to look into something.
This part of the story also marks when both we the readers and Maomao get to see that Jinshi’s life isn’t nearly as easy as she thought, in fact he seems quite overworked! More than that, while it seems like Jinshi is able to control the Inner Court easily with his looks, the more we see of him in the Outer Court the more it becomes clear that he’s still a rather young man who can’t handle everyone and everything (like that military strategist); It’s also clear that he has painfully few loyal retainers and it’s no wonder the few he has been pleased with Maomao’s hiring! Although even Jinshi can’t do everything in the Inner Court, Maomao is called upon to provide “special training” for the four highest ranking consorts and that is a strictly women-only event! I was a little disappointed to see that the new Pure Consort Loulan doesn’t look nearly as eccentric as I had been picturing her in the novels but I suppose there is a limit to how odd a character can look and yet also be considered conventionally attractive enough to obtain such a high-ranking position in the imperial harem.
Overall this volume continues with the tone and humor established in the first four and continues to be just as delightful. It does seem that Nekokurage is drawing Maomao more and more cat-like with each passing volume, but considering the number of past incidents Maomao recounts getting up to in this volume alone (if there’s anything Maomao won’t eat to find out if it’s poisonous or not she hasn’t found it yet!) then yes, Maomao does remind you of a house cat whose owners are constantly yelling “WHAT DID YOU JUST EAT? SPIT IT UP, NOW!” Alas, unlike real cats (where it’s easy enough to remove things like lilies and onions), the entire court is going to have a much harder time doing that with Maomao, especially when it seems as if someone before her already seeded the Inner Court with so many plants for medicinal use…
Helen’s rating: 4 out of 5