Anime Review: Otome Youkai Zakuro Episodes 2 and 3

(Originally published on Livejournal on 12/12/10)

Anime Review:
Otome Youkai Zakuro Episodes 2 and 3

What this is about: I have reviewed the first episode of every subtitled anime show of the Fall 2010 season. For the shows that received an initial ‘thumbs up’, I am going back and looking at the second and third episodes — which ones will survive to the next round?

Series Premise: Set in an alternate-version of Japan of the late nineteenth century, the country is undergoing rapid transformations as more and more Western customs and ideas are integrated into society. To help ease the transition, a special Ministry of Spirit Affairs is established. Four young army lieutenants are selected and paired up with four young female half-youkai (spirits), who try to make the best of the situation.

ep.2 tl;dr review: Agemaki pisses of Zakuro…again; Zakuro saves a tiny spirit left homeless by new construction.

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Episode 2 Summary: The War of Wills continues between Agemaki and Zakuro; while Agemaki is trying his best to learn more about the spirit world and get along with Zakuro, she remains as obstinate and bull-headed as ever — especially when he unintentionally insults her by offering a candle to eat. The team then receives orders to check out a disturbance at the construction site of a new Western-style hotel. They discover a large, shadowy spirit running rampant, but Zakuro is able to reveal its true nature as a tiny spirit left orphaned when its shrine was destroyed, now being increasingly cornered by ever-present streetlights and modern buildings. As the hotel owner and the growing public mob turn against the spirits, a passing Army lieutenant offers up an amicable compromise, earning Zakuro’s respect and admiration.


ep.3 tl;dr review: Agemaki and Zakuro go to the countryside to investigate young girls being spirited away; Zakuro’s past haunts her memories.

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Episode 3 Summary: Zakuro is feeling her oats, anxious to prove herself, and the opportunity arises when the mayor of a country village arrives with a problem. Young girls are being spirited away in the night, never to be seen again; when Zakuro overhears, she immediately volunteers to investigate. Kushimatsu explains to Agemaki how half-spirits are born: Young, pregnant women are stolen away in the night and returned; the mother is shunned, and the half-spirit child is then immediately taken away. This is why Zakuro is so worked up, and Kushimatsu cautions Agemaki to watch over her. While in the village, Zakuro hears a voice calling her. During the night, she is entranced and drawn away to a cavern, but Agemaki is able to catch up to her and awaken her before she enters the cave. Together, they go inside, and confront a dark spirit that has been calling women and young children to feed upon — not to impregnate as was originally feared. Zakuro is able to defeat the demon in one fatal blow, and the town is saved.


My Thoughts: Boy oh boy, I really wanted to like this show. No, wait, not enough emphasis — I really, really, really wanted to like this show, because the artwork and designs are positively exquisite, beautiful beyond belief. Designed by Lily Hoshino, who is very popular and well established in the boys-love/yaoi community (which is why I never heard of her) with an extensive list of credits, as far as I can tell this is the first time any of her works have been adapted into an anime. I should quickly add that as far as I can tell there is absolutely *zero* yaoi or related content in this series (so far…), so that’s not an issue. This being my introduction to her works, I happy to admit that this show is a visual feast and very pleasing to my eyes.

>BUT<

There's more to an anime show than just pretty designs. And, alas, outside of the gorgeous artwork there's not much else to keep me captivated. On its face, the general premise is intriguing, setting up a clash of cultures between the spiritual East and modern West, and that certainly is played out as the main story in the first two episodes, albeit heavy-handedly. On the smaller scale, though, it is also a clash between the semi-Westernized soldiers (primarily Agemaki) and the tradition-clinging spirits (primarily Zakuro) — and here is where it falls somewhat flat. Zakuro is a textbook example of a tsundere character, and *every* *single* interaction she has can be easily predicted based entirely on that. The whole tsundere phenomenon been grossly overplayed in the past few years, and gets boring when the character is reduced exclusively to those terms. Agemaki, on the other hand, is 10% cool dude and 90% wuss, and it becomes equally as tiresome to watch him lose his shit over every little scary or dangerous thing.

I also really dislike the inclusion of silly humor bits and shopworn anime tropes it the show, it really detracts from the flow of the story. If they played it a few degrees closer to a straightforward, serious drama, I would be more satisfied. (Essentially the same gripe I have with Legend of Legendary Heroes: Drama and comedy do not *always* mix well together.)

There are hints of a much larger, as-yet-unrevealed plot looming in the background. But so far, it’s just hints (we are still in the stage of defining the characters, early in the first act). As for me, I’m just interested *enough* to stick around to find out what that over-arching storyline entails. This is yet another show that ended up “on the bubble”, and I debated back and forth whether to continue or not. Given that there are several “meh” shows that ended up “on the bubble” at this point for me (Psychic Detective Yakumo, Letter Bee Reverse, Bakuman, Kuragehime, Arakawa Season 2), one of them had to give. And this one ended up getting the axe.

The Verdict: – Slight thumbs-down – not *quite* good enough.

It is entirely possible I might return to check out later episodes of this show at some point in the indefinite future, but don’t count on it.

For more info:

My review of Episode 1: http://matthigh.livejournal.com/560795.html
Mania review of Episode 2: http://www.mania.com/otome-yokai-zakuro-episode-02_article_125728.html
Mania review of Episode 3: http://www.mania.com/otome-yokai-zakuro-episode-03_article_125881.html

Returning back to the second episodes of the Fall 2010 series coming up next: Kuragehime (2-3), Arakawa Under the Bridge x Bridge (2-3)

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