「無愛想な薬師」 (Buaisō na Kusushi)
Mao Mao’s introduction to the Gyokuyou’s quarters had the feeling of a lamb being led to slaughter- a huge leap in status from washer-girl to lady in waiting, not to mention the sympathetic gazes of the other ladies. Mao Mao’s job turns out to not be just a lady in waiting, but a food taster, a grim job for sure. The comment that a poison attempt was made twice on Lady Gyokuyou drops like a lead weight- that means that two people already died or were severely injured. Indeed, one of them is no longer able to move her extremities. It does make me question though why someone would attempt to poison her- surely it would be common sense to assume such a high ranking lady would have one, so why waste time and effort on something bound to fail? This also highlights the stress Lady Gyoku faces at court with the constant threat to her life and her child’s life.
I don’t think we have much to fear on Mao Mao’s behalf. She’s a very dedicated, intellectually young lady, going so far as to even test poisons on herself (she would not be the first scientist to have done that). This job is totally in her wheelhouse in the most bizarre, yet fabulous example I’ve seen of the intersection between one’s skills and interests and societal needs.
I rather liked the clever ploy by the lady in waiting to stem the flow of cash getting into the kidnapper’s pockets. Mao Mao is right, they have no right to her money but getting an increase is unavoidable with the new job, so the broken vase solves that. Furthermore, she gets an extra bonus for food tasting that goes right to her, not the kidnappers, a victory against the system.
I also really like the episodic nature of the poison of the week- it’s relaxing to watch Mao Mao’s thought process as she explains the science behind the latest mystery. This week features a soldier poisoned on the field, quickly leading to fingers pointing at the village chief for supposedly allying with the enemy. Intriguingly, it wasn’t a purposeful poisoning attempt, but rather, a lack of knowledge in using naturally poisoned rhododendron wood to light the camp fire. I find this incident also interesting because it subtly points to the political scene historically going on in the background of this story, even if it doesn’t take center or even side stage.
In this episode, Jinshi for his part comes off as a cad, attempting to seduce Mao Mao to shut her up, getting touchy feely with her and asking her for an aphrodisiac. And also stealing some of her hard-earned midnight snack. It’s stupid that he’s a test of chastity for palace women- it’s quite the double standard and also just plain weird, not to mention cruel of the emperor. Coop the women up in an all-female environment, of course they’ll get over-excited at the sight of a beautiful dude hanging around their neighborhood. Politically and historically the chastity thing, as silly as it is, makes sense because the emperor would want to make sure there was no question about his children’s paternity- but still…
Mao Mao finally gets her wish, a return to the lab, with a (creepy) request from Jinshi for an aphrodisiac. I enjoyed Mao Mao’s reaction to being back into experiments-also totally relatable for me. I loved being in the chemistry lab during college- there’s just something about the smell of the chemicals and excitement of concocting something that comes across really well through Mao Mao. As a fun fact, while chocolate is popularly purported to be an aphrodisiac and was viewed as such by ancient Mayans, a scientific study showed that chocolate is in fact not an actual aphrodisiac.
Stylistically speaking, while the color scheme is a little too bright and bold (in some ways, reminiscent of the color palette used in Jigokuraku) for my tastes, I do like the way light is picturesquely played with in some of the scenes. I also found it odd that they used multiple Chibi animal shots of Mao Mao- a pig and a cat to be precise. The cat thing makes sense because the characters for her name 「猫猫」, literally mean “cat cat”, but there was no need to add a pig face in there too. I remember the Chibi cat stuff being in the manga as well, but it seemed less intrusive then than it does in the anime. Halfway through this (rather long) premiere, I’m pretty satisfied with how it’s turning out.