Let’s discuss the exciting but rather delayed release of Kusuriya no Hitorigoto / The Apothecary Diaries, focusing on the project’s suitable creative team and current developments in the industry. Additional topics include Overtake!’s skillful data processing, suitably confident writing and guidance, and more fun stuff!
The Anime Industry Now Loves Special Premieres
Special premiere episodes are by no means a novel idea, but they are certainly gaining popularity at the moment. You may have observed that by devoting so much of their production budget to that idea, several of the biggest movies of the year—like Frieren and Oshi no Ko—have pushed the envelope of what is conceivable. The former started off as a legitimate feature picture, which allowed them to build up a great deal of buzz through a limited theater run prior to the proper broadcast, while the latter leveraged its connections to land in Japan’s most renowned movie programming slot. Similar successes spread, not only from the producers trying it out for other titles but also from an increasing number of smaller companies experimenting with special broadcasts. Double-length and even longer premieres are becoming so commonplace that, as is now the case, you can count on many of them occurring each season.
As is often the case, however, there are situations when they are difficult to work around—TV anime will naturally oppose to anything that calls for more labor or even merely finishing a section of it sooner. Even in those slick, well-known films that we recognized as important inspirations, pulling off this trick wasn’t always easy. Oshi no Ko was never one to waste time, therefore the movie-length intro would never have been possible if they didn’t have some incredibly fast painters on their core crew.
Even while Frieren isn’t under quite as much strain, they still need to be mindful of the passing of time because they have 28 episodes to produce in all and many of their employees have other commitments. In this case, each of the several episodes that comprised the special premiere had its own distinct beginning arc, as is customary. They were given a fully pre-scored approach to the craft, which added a little something extra by allowing the pictures to sync with the music. For the remainder of the performance, this approach is only used very rarely. Even a production this extraordinary needs to be clever about how it spends the extra time and money needed to make these exceptional occasions worthwhile.
That does raise another important issue: why would you do this particular action? A producer’s viewpoint is to assertively establish your title’s presence, as several of these recent triumphs have done. That limited perspective, however, ignores the fact that these well-known examples—whose tales people read again and again—hit particularly close to home because they are brimming with emotionally charged story elements that readers could encounter in a single sitting. While serialized storytelling has its benefits, if you can capture the catharsis of a whole emotional journey right from the start and keep viewers glued to the screen each week, wondering what will happen next, you can have the best of all worlds. Frieren too experienced a great sense of success as a result. Whether these special premieres are produced as a single, longer episode or as a collection of smaller ones doesn’t really matter in the end. It is not as important to have the production circumstances or clever management to handle the endeavor as it is to have a legitimate reason to investigate this concept from a storytelling standpoint.
All of this is to suggest that, despite not actually having those circumstances or a good reason to do so, Kusuriya no Hitorigoto began with a triple-length episode. And it’s excellent!
Kusuriya no Hitorigoto Is Finally Here, And It’s Damn Good
What then is Kusuriya’s problem? It’s hardly surprise that the anime adaptation will take this turn, considering that TOHO is leading a sizable endeavor in this manner. Even if this is a very two-edged sword, as we’ve already seen, a special premiere just serves to maintain the current privilege-based tendency. A pretentious pre-animated teaser would not have been attached to the project announcement for your average adaptation. Even with this enthusiastic backing, Kusuriya isn’t really being developed by one of those teams that takes a few years off between projects, and studio OLM is always working, so it doesn’t have much time to spare. There’s really no compelling need for it to even attempt, given that most of the content that follows its initial three episodes is equally episodic.
Similar to Frieren, it’s crucial to remember that executive producer Kazutaka Yamanaka is involved. We noted in our introduction to that production that NTV’s Madhouse studio was clearly essential in making the broadcast feasible, and that another TOHO source attributed the concept for the special premiere to manga publisher Shogakukan. It is clear from seeing from a distance how similar performers participate in other TOHO activities that they are also at least partially open to the idea. This is how we end up in circumstances like this, where unconventional methods are preferred over common sense.
How do you overcome the fact that you’re adapting a story that isn’t frontloaded to profit from this and that you don’t have the extra time or money to spare? In the former case, doing nothing was the appropriate course of action because there was no reason to address a nonexistent problem. Despite not following a self-contained arc like other shows that have greatly benefited from this choice, Kusuriya’s first three episodes are nonetheless a very strong series that effectively highlight the various facets of the show in a short amount of time. Watching it live on TV was a little confusing because it repeated its opening and closing sequence three times, occasionally going straight from the finish to an opening you’ve already seen without even a commercial break. Nevertheless, its quality alone made for a fun experience.
In terms of output, the response was also to do nothing, rendering the whole undertaking futile. Though it saved the crew some hassles, this casts even more suspicion on the choice. In addition to starting three weeks later than scheduled, Kusuriya had three episodes at first in order to preserve the production buffer required to complete a two-course performance. And with that, this project resolved a problem that it had caused itself! It is now possible for us to talk about the series and its producers, which is our true reason for being here.
Typical of chuuka/Chinese-style works, Kusuriya is essentially a mystery series set in the inner and outer palace of an imperial hammer. Since Maomao, an anime character who is adorably weird, plays a detective, it is extra amusing. In a civilization isolated from the outer world, she deciphers mysteries that the emperor’s subjects find unintelligible by combining her expertise as an apothecary with simple folk wisdom. But even in the red-light district where she grew up, even her foster family thinks she’s a giant freak—and with good cause, given her history of self-poisoning to try out different drugs. Because she often misses obvious love advances, the result is a passable mystery series, further improved by the interactions between this eccentric and people around her, who never appear to be in the same mood as her or even in the same genre.
The crew of the adaptation reflects the diversity of the series’ cast. Leading their efforts is series director Norihiro Naganuma, a skilled man whose skills haven’t always been properly utilized. As a disciple of Hiro Kaburagi, Naganuma assisted him on many projects that, at the very least, skew toward the female population, such as Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun, Hozuki no Reitetsu, and Kimi ni Todoke. More importantly, though, is that he is an extremely meticulous director who highlights background information about settings and characters that he feels important—even if it wasn’t mentioned in the original work. This is immediately apparent in Kusuriya, as the first episode begins with a peek into Maomao’s everyday life before her kidnapping—a feature that is absent from both the light novel and the manga adaptation that the anime mostly draws inspiration from. This was already clear from his first major series directing and writing project, Ancient Magus Bride, which had its premiere as a short OVA series before the official TV adaptation of the manga.
There are benefits to Naganuma’s methodical approach throughout these first few episodes. Sequences like Maomao contacting the emperor’s favorite concubines to solve the riddle of their children’s illnesses show other small but noteworthy attempts to advance the characterization. It was always implied that she had messages for both Gyokuyou and Lihua, and the fact that only the former acted upon the advice was meant to tell the audience something about each character. The anime highlights this by presenting a brand-new scenario that shows the terrible outcomes of Lihua’s haughty actions against her handmaidens in silence. It’s important to observe that thoroughness goes to even a physical level, given how often Naganuma ensures in his storyboards for these three episodes that the shadows respect the intricate building and objects—even though he doesn’t necessarily striving for realism.
Analyzing the third episode in particular highlights yet another flaw in Naganuma’s plan. In his case, I suppose his analytical thinking sometimes clashes with his dreamy and whimsical ideas, but it would be incorrect to see it as a binary. Because of his concentration on rationalism and absence of the intangibles, it’s unfortunate that he never seemed to be particularly effective at conjuring the otherworldly, especially in light of the Ancient Magus Bride adaption. This isn’t usually a huge deal, in my opinion, because Kusuriya is a more grounded story. There aren’t many scenes in this episode that truly reach the ethereal notes you’d hope to see, though, since it was intended to have a horror movie vibe and revolve on a strange dance. Taking everything into account, though, I do think that awarding Naganuma the series has far more advantages than disadvantages; if anything, it acts as a reminder that other titles cannot make the same claim. Being compatible is essential!
If Naganuma matches the realistic tone of the surroundings, character designer and lead animation director Yukiko Nakatani is the perfect embodiment of Maomao’s foolishness. Many of the amusing faces on her sheets and chibi figures seem to be lifted straight out of her Precure series. She does a terrific job at giving the idea that she belongs in a different genre than everyone else with this technique. Some hair color choices in the series indicate that its design sensibilities were never all that realistic, but the translation is taking cues from the beloved manga’s decision to give Maomao a charming, gremlin-like expressiveness that is unrivaled by anyone else. And Nakatani is an excellent choice in that regard.
The animation is refined but not unduly intricate at this time, which heightens the anticipation for the teaser for episode #4. Upon witnessing other events that fell short of those refined requirements, I was deeply taken aback by the singular beauty of those fifteen seconds in real time. I found all of Norio Matsumoto’s methods—which were completely different from the show thus far—to be very appealing. He used simple shapes to convey volume, and he was willing to switch between humorously flat and more three-dimensional images. He also used much thinner and more delicate linework.
So where could that have come from? In a manner that makes me unsure, it’s more exciting. Chinashi is definitely involved in this production, even though I’m not sure if it will be for this particular episode. This is because he regularly sends news and messages from the main crew. It’s interesting to note that OLM, who produced the first two episodes and subcontracted the third, is officially involved in Kusuriya. This is the same company that developed the distributor’s 10-year celebration campaign, which featured emerging filmmakers like Chinashi directing their own short films. If my guess is right, it would be interesting to talk about how this whole affair came about with Takafumi Inagaki, the animation producer representing the company and someone he has previously worked with as an ex-Liden. That will be revealed to us in a few days!
Overtake! And Confident Anime Scriptwriting & Direction
In the first column, I gave Overtake! a shout-out because it appeared like a really confident original animation, with naturalistic writing that lets the audience in on subtleties without giving them away and a straightforward yet engrossing direction. A week later, I feel as though I may not have been emphatic enough when I made this claim in the first place: Overtake! has the best TV anime scriptwriting of the year so far.
The fourth episode is the most expositional of the entire series, which makes it even more remarkable because it sticks to using natural dialogue and elegant storyboarding as its main expositional devices. As we have already mentioned, this technique amplifies the interest in the character drama, but it also applies to the funnier moments, especially when they are intercut with several minutes of charming cartoon animation by Ryuichi Makino (with special thanks to chief animation director Masako Matsumoto, who is still heavily involved). From Haruka’s pain by the mocking remarks that he lost the race to his willingness to forgive Kouya, his new partner, for dragging him into this disastrous commercial in the first place, the episode moves along without any problems. When a natural blabbermouth breaks open the same wound, he blocks Kouya on his phone. We witness him do this, and the adults comment on it later in a funny way, but it is never uncomfortable explained to make sure the audience is still following.
Naturally, the episode handles the darker parts of the story just as effectively and gracefully. Once more, the direction is followed; as Saeko discloses the cause of her suffering, a ringed hand corresponds with Kouya’s ringless one, and that’s all we need to confirm the earlier perception that their marriage was just another casualty of this horrible situation. The conclusion seems quite natural because Saeko doesn’t need to explicitly explain this to a youngster she just met, and the anime relies on its audience’s ability to deduce this information without needless explanation.
The penchant for flatter zenkage/kagenashi shots in this episode may be largely ascribed to Shotaro Kimura, the episode director and storyboarder. Shotaro has recently been seen working under Mamoru Hatakeyama on projects such as Kaguya-sama. If I had to pick one thing to highlight, though, it would be his use of repetition as a particularly effective strategy. The previously mentioned Makino sequence’s cuts to increasingly more melting ice cream on the ground are a deft approach to highlight the point—that guy is talking way too much. In the beginning of the episode, Haruka is seen paying his respects to his family grave with a single leaf, and by the end, he has added a second one, as he had previously opened up to Kouya. He comes close to speaking out what he is feeling, but he stops himself since both he and the audience know what has happened, and he also lets his partner know by his movements. Overtake! is incredibly restrained.
Recent Promotional Videos And Such News
For this new PV for A Sign of Affection/Yubisaki, I would like to thank Renren. First of all, it appears to be just as fantastic as the teaser, which gives me faith that quality josei-muke titles may still be released after a protracted hiatus. It also had interesting team news. Studio Ajia-dou is notable historically because it has been there long enough to see entire artistic currents flourish and, in some cases, expire, as they have fallen into mediocrity in an industry that can no longer support certain forms of ambition. Still, there’s something there. That shouldn’t be too shocking because the people I saw as essential members of groups like YKK—at their height of popularity—remain engaged and possess unstoppable skill sets.
For the original animation REVENGER earlier this year, Masaya Fujimori and Masayuki Sekine, among others, tried to create an immersive impression of place. As the production progressed, those complex environments also got in the way of a team that was far too inexperienced, hurried, and distracted with other tasks to handle this goal, even though they were successful in this early on; this is, in essence, the story of many contemporary TV projects. These veterans are simply unable to salvage failing projects on their own when the majority of labor is assigned to unprepared personnel with little to no notice. But you know what they’re really capable of? Improve a rather well-considered project—that’s my goal for Yubisaki. Some of these renowned animators, like Fujimori and Yoshiaki Yanagida, have disclosed that they will dedicate their whole careers to animating the series’ sign language. They will be influenced by the broad aesthetic cues and the way KyoAni’s Koe no Katachi handled the subject matter, which is always a good thing. Considering how solid everything seems thus far, I hope that these sign animators and Sekine, who is assuming the traditional position of layout designer, are doing what they should be doing, which is raising goodness into perfection, instead of trying to salvage something that is barely useful.