Kusuriya no Hitorigoto (The Apothecary Diaries) Review

Maomao, a young orphaned apothecary, finds her place in a world that treats girls and women more as property than as people.


  • Great character stories and backgrounds
  • Some good mysteries that need to be solved
  • Some mysteries based on real natural phenomenon


  • Glosses over some of the darker sides of society

Kusuriya no Hitorigoto Review

Kusuriya no Hitorigoto, or The Apothecary Diaries, is a fascinating and engaging story centering around Maomao, a young teenage female apothecary who, through an unfortunate event, finds her place in the world.

Admittedly, the anime begins a little slow. It’s not a show that engages viewers with wow factors like amazing animation or fantastic action scenes. In fact, as far as animation goes, Kusuriya no Hitorigoto is fairly average, perhaps even below average for audiences who desire fantasy elements like swords and magic.

In a sense, the show is a return to the heart of good any great show: the story, or rather, the characters. Many shows today, especially isekai anime, have fairly stereotypical characters with hero complexes, and the focus is more on the goal—destroying the demon lord or leveling up—to carry the story.

The Apothecary Diaries returns to the basics: a focus on the character, and the hero of the story is a young orphan, Maomao, who follows in the footsteps of her adopted father, also an apothecary.

Maomao doing what she loves best: picking medicinal herbs

Their relationship is a bit strange, and while it’s clear that she cares deeply for her father, they’re more like close friends than they are father-daughter. But as the story progresses and viewers learn more about Maomao, it becomes clear why she’s not quite able to form those close relationships.

Instead of relying on action and fighting scenes, namely overcoming obstacles like leveling up, defeating some monster, going through some maze, this series instead relies on mysteries to engage. At first, these mysteries center around health and illness. That shouldn’t be a surprise given the title and Maomao’s training.

But as the story progresses, Maomao’s sharp deductive ability is illustrated in areas outside of medicine, leading to one of the main conflicts in the story involving her benefactor, a eunuch named Jinshi.

These seemingly unrelated mysteries that she becomes involved in become more than what they appear, and the resulting surprise leads to some revelations about Maomao and her past that answer questions about Maomao’s past and her strange quirks introduced in earlier episodes.

What the anime does well is engaging viewers through some health illness, somewhat like the popular medical mystery show, House, which aired from 2004-2012. Maomao’s critical mind and practical experience is contrasted by the quack doctor and superstitions of the residents of her time.

Maomao’s first case: the consort’s illness

Yet Maomao isn’t quick to rush to judgement even when she solves the mystery. In one case, she correctly deduces that the cause of death of one of the concubine’s baby, yet she offers the perpetrator some sense of resolution and honor to protect a lifetime of sacrifice and loyalty.

There’s a strange contradiction about the series in this way. Maomao recognizes her place as a commoner in a feudalist society, and she doesn’t hesitate to remind viewers of this fact on many occasions, yet she often disregards rigid social conventions in pursuit of the truth.

There’s something also to be said about women in feudal China. The anime paints a somewhat rosy picture of a community of women who ply their trade in brothels. On the surface is a community of strong women who look after one another, who raise and protect one another in a society that otherwise treats them as disposable.

The pleasure district

Yet there’s an undercurrent of evil or darkness throughout the series that is hinted at by Maomao and perhaps not explored due to age of the audience. Maomao provides subtle clues or makes one-line statements to the darker side of the pleasure district that reveals the uglier nature of society: how women can be tossed into a ditch when their usefulness ends.

Ultimately, people are a product of their society. The women in the show don’t know that there’s more to life than being a wife or a courtesan. Or that there’s more than aspiring to be a flower in the emperor’s garden. But even if they knew that their lives could be more, they wouldn’t be allowed to pursue it.

Kusuriya no Hitorigoto is a story of a young female apothecary finding her place in the world, but there’s a broader, more subtle message here about those women who yearn for more, who take control of their situation and live their lives and about the forces around them, including other women, who attempt to keep them down. Maomao’s story, her tragic background, perhaps suggests that we are all victims of the struggle that is life, except of course for those at the very, very top.

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