With Maomao (Aoi Yûki) solving the mystery of Lihua’s (Yui Ishikawa, NieR: Automata Ver. 1.1a) ailment, calm seemingly returned to the inner palace. But there is little rest for the court, as a garden party is planned requiring all to attend the emperor. But odd events may imply something sinister is afoot in The Apothecary Diaries Episode 5, “Covert Operations.”
This week’s episode opens with a visit to Jinshi (Takeo Otsuka) as he practices swordsmanship in a training duel. The moment does a great job of delivering the fight, showcasing contrasting styles of swordsmanship nicely. While Jinshi is thoughtful and calculated in his approach, his opponent is far more forceful and aggressive. These contrasts provide an interesting presentation of this brief moment of combat.
While this duel provides a well-animated fight sequence, it also feels like its placement here is important. The series had not hinted at Jinshi being so skilled, and by the end of the episode, it feels like that knowledge will be plot important. If so, it speaks well of how the series is going out of its way to pre-establish elements of characters like this. While it wouldn’t be unreasonable for Jinshi to suddenly display such talents in a moment of need, taking the time to establish them here makes it feel preplanned, and not just made up to resolve a plot beat.
From here, The Apothecary Diaries Episode 5 catches up with Maomao as she takes some downtime to pick some mushrooms for herself. Her gleeful discoveries bring a smile as she gathers her secret delights and concocts a way to indulge in them without having others learn of their origins. To this end, she heads to where she practices her apothecary work, confident that the doctor will keep her secret safe, at least so long as she shares.
Just as the pair finishes dining on their secret treats, a man arrives seeking aid in the curing of a curse. With huge rashes spreading across his palms, the man claims he was cursed recently as he burned items of trash, as is his job. When he threw some clothes and some wooden writing tablets in, the flames began to change colors and he found the rashes spreading on his hands.
After preparing a salve for the man’s rashes, Maomao calmly demonstrates to the man how different chemicals can cause fire to burn in different colors, much like fireworks. This is a great moment for her, as it showcases her patience and desire to educate others. This extra knowledge is never requested of her, she simply volunteers it in the hopes that it will help the man better understand the world he interacts with.
The chemistry lesson is interrupted as Jinshi arrives seeking Maomao so he can discuss similar matters with her. Jinshi’s curiosity concerning these elements lends the viewer to suspect that something is amiss. The line of questioning draws Maomao to suspect that the wooden tablets may be used to pass secret information to people. But while these concepts are concerning, she shrugs them off as far beyond a food taster’s concerns.
I like how this sequence works to blend Maomao’s daily work as an apothecary with the larger plot. That each episode takes the time to see her settle some form of medical situation is fun, but if left as a stand-alone element it could cramp the time the series has to explore its narratives. By working it in with the plot, the series indulges in letting Maomao do what she enjoys, while not cutting into the larger story.
The Apothecary Diaries Episode 5 next sees Maomamo arrive at Lady Gyokuyô’s (Atsumi Tanezaki) chambers to find delivers being made and the house awash in commotion. She learns that a biannual garden party hosted by the emperor is upon them, and the four chief concubines, as well as their ladies-in-waiting, will be expected to attend. This sees Maomao garbed in colorful new clothes and made up to look presentable for the various nobles who will be attending. But when the ladies go to do Maomao’s makeup, they are shocked to discover something.
One of the small design elements that has always made Maomao stand out among the other characters in the series is the freckles she has. As the ladies clean her face in preparation to cover up her freckles they discover that they are not real. We learn that she used clay to make it look like she had freckles so she would be less desirable to those wandering through the red-light district she lived near, as being too beautiful to the wrong man could lead to being dragged into a back alley.
When Jinshi visits Gyokuyô before the party and learns of all this, he is saddened by the necessity for such tricks. He gifts her with a hairpin and lays his hand on her head as he apologizes for her hardships. While this moment could be seen as a sweet gesture under many circumstances, in this particular setting it feels extremely emotional. How reserved most people are where emotions are concerned has been apparent throughout the show, doubly so for someone as high up the food chain as Jinshi. To show such care for a simple food taster of no notable birth feels like a huge expression of concern and fondness.
As The Apothecary Diaries Episode 5 wraps up, the garden party begins. But amidst the swirling dresses of dancers, there is a tension that feels ill-placed for a party. With the episode already delivering charming moments and emotional character development, it tops off this skillfully crafted narrative with a strong moment to leave viewers wondering what is to come in the next entry.
The Apothecary Diaries Episode 5 is available now on Crunchyroll.
The Apothecary Diaries Episode 5 — "Covert Operations"
With the episode already delivering charming moments and emotional character development, it tops off this skillfully crafted narrative with a strong moment to leave viewers wondering what is to come in the next entry.