So far, the second cour of The Apothecary Diaries has left us with small clues here and there, but it’s episode 18 that actually hits hard with some mind-boggling developments. It’s a bundle of strange reveals and somber thoughts, one after another. The pieces of the plot are all coming together, ever so slowly. What’s for sure though, is that Lakan is absolutely, very bad news.
The Courtesan Who Lives Behind the Verdigris House
The Apothecary Diaries episode 18 provides a glimpse into the pleasure district’s reputable establishment, the Verdigris House. However, we discover that the brothel used to operate in shame many years ago and had no choice but to accept less reputable clients. The woman Maomao attends to is a former courtesan of that era who, unfortunately, caught syphilis. Her visit may be nothing at first, but the clues that the anime has laid out points tell us that this woman is someone. Interestingly enough, this character’s only voice debut was a humming lullaby.
To make matters more intriguing, the eccentric with the monocle appears at the Verdigris, so Maomao is forced to stay in the annex until he leaves. Everyone’s reaction, including Maomao, is so suspiciously normal that it puts me off. What’s more, the courtesan brings out some Go pieces and Maomao calls her a stupid woman. It is later implied that the eccentric has an offer that Granny supports (because money is involved), which Maomao, with all her might, ignores.
Meimei also paves the way for some more interesting things here. She calls the woman at the annex “Big Sis,” so she knows her personally. Later, she also shares that she is willing to work a little bit longer as a courtesan, and it’s somewhat related to the monocle freak, Lakan. Maomao is unable to understand, entertaining the thought that love is an emotion she’s long lost in the womb of the woman who birthed her. It’s a sad thought to have (and a major plot bomb), so the scene that follows with her big sisters happily spoiling her is heartwarming to watch. Given that they appear in the opening theme, it’s probably correct to surmise that the three princesses of Verdigris play a big role in the apothecary’s childhood.
The Connection Between Jinshi, Maomao, and Lakan
To finally understand what is going on, let’s rewind a bit. In the last episode, Jinshi has been thinking about what Lakan said about how to devalue a courtesan. He’s also worried about how it possibly connects to Maomao. While the skewer date was a fun and refreshing moment that I really enjoyed, it makes me sad to see it overshadowed by an unpleasant mood set up by Lakan. We are suddenly pulled into this dark and bitter position of confronting Maomao’s backstory. Our speculations have been confirmed: the apothecary is the eccentric man’s prize from the devalued courtesan.
Jinshi is clearly distressed piecing everything together. We already knew that the elderly eunuch, Luomen, was Maomao’s adoptive father. Meanwhile, in this episode, Lakan has smugly admitted to being her true biological father. Let me remind you, this is the weird high-ranking military official who seems to be lazing around every time he appears on screen, as well as being the douche who has been pressuring Jinshi with impossible tasks. This monocle freak’s passive, manipulative, and rude attitude is what I would describe as distasteful, so I understand Jinshi’s brewing anger. What’s more, Lakan has put Jinshi in a tricky situation, almost as if the eccentric has declared war. Jinshi is observant enough to realize that Lakan’s odd requests and stories lead toward his true motive – getting Maomao.
Lakan’s Dirty Tricks
The confrontation scene is pretty intense because after playing around the bush, Lakan and Jinshi are now more direct. Have you ever watched a movie or a real-life situation where two people exchanged such cunning one-liner arguments? Lakan and Jinshi’s conversation felt exactly like that, subtly forceful in between the lines, like a play of power in a careful chess game. Jinshi says how unpleasant the “devalued courtesan” question was; Lakan calls him a rude thief. Lakan mentions his distraught to find that she’s been stolen after finally convincing the madam of Verdigris; Jinshi asks if he wants his prize back (since he bought her in episode 12). Lakan is willing to pay a price to claim her; Jinshi parries with a query of his refusal. And then, Lakan humbly, and oh so very much emphasizes, that he would simply give up as he would never oppose such a high-ranking individual, ultimately and playfully revealing that Lakan knows the eunuch’s true identity. In the end, Lakan emerges as the better player, leaving an annoyed Jinshi with the troubling thought of how Maomao would “think” about such a secret.
Albeit a short one, it was a tense and satisfying scene to watch. (Tea sipping and popcorn munching intensifies.) However, I admit that the subtitles on Netflix may have missed the mark with that chilling “musume” emphasis because they put Lakan’s line as “the girl,” which makes Crunchyroll’s “my daughter” subtitles more impactful. I’m also sad we don’t have this panel animated, but I suppose it’s one of the exclusive joys of being a manga reader.
What is Jinshi’s Real Identity?
To be honest, the mystery behind Jinshi’s real identity is old gossip but the fact that someone is here to blackmail him with it is what makes this scene so stunning. It makes his secret all the more intriguing! In fact, The Apothecary Diaries episode 18 continues to sprinkle more subtle things about it – the vegetarian meals, the ceremonial rites, and even Suiren’s comment about status. (The head maid seems to strongly ship Jinshi and Maomao.) Even through her inner monologues, Maomao has shown us her theories to question his “high-ranking eunuch” position, but she also knows it’s too much of a bother or unnecessary for a servant to pry about. It’s frustrating as the viewer, but if it’s worth being patient about, we might as well be.
That said, the plot once again points us in the direction that Jinshi is a noble, maybe even one very much related to the Emperor himself (as the ceremony requirements imply). As much as I want this theory said aloud, we all know the anime’s plot is too playful with its secrets. (I also can never really let go of what Ah-Duo revealed back in episode 11.) Anyway, while episode 18 gives us something new to nitpick about Jinshi’s mysterious identity, it actually does a lot more in showing us that Mamao’s own background is just as intriguing, so let’s dive into that.
Behind Maomao’s Mature Personality
Maomao’s emotional state is one of the major highlights of The Apothecary Diaries episode 18. The unpleasant question from Jinshi obviously triggered something distressful in the back of Maomao’s mind. Through her narration and thoughts, we are shown glimpses of the emotions that the young girl feels. The scenes display them as lingering or spilling over every once in a while, never too strong enough to fully reveal themselves. It’s what makes episode 18 so effectively eerie. For example, at the beginning of the episode, we first see that murderous nightmare based on true events. It quickly follows with her light happiness of waking up to see Luomen, whom she calls Dad. At the Verdigris house, she indifferently narrates the courtesan’s story, and then later mentions leaving any emotions of love in her mother’s womb (Ugh, the anime gives us so little, every time). When she’s with her big sisters, she somewhat feels a fondness for them, too.
In addition, Maomao has a sharp and rational mind, much so that she knows she must keep herself distanced from many things. This is highlighted by Suiren’s comment when she notices Maomao is careful of boundaries; she stays away and interacts so little with Jinshi. The quote goes, “Just because a person is of noble birth doesn’t make them inherently different from the start. Nobody knows how a person’s life can twist and turn. Separating everything based on status can lead to missed opportunities.”
At this point in the story, we can surmise that her apathetic yet keen personality is how she’s come to defend herself. This is most likely rooted in the mystery surrounding her birth and upbringing. While we can’t yet see the whole picture of what The Apothecary Diaries episode 18 is implying, it’s needless to say that all of this has put Maomao in a troubled state of mind. This then leads us to the one-second moment that made episode 18 the hype episode that it is.
The Quick Frame of Episode 18
Towards the end of the episode, after Lakan’s confrontation, we see Jinshi asking Maomao about the eccentric wanting to visit. We can already feel the mood at first glance – the orange ghostly shadows of dusk, the building’s extended landscape, and even the lack of any music. It’s here that we unexpectedly find the most horrifying jumpscare of The Apothecary Diaries.
The millisecond appearance of Maomao’s reaction is a great example of an amazing anime moment. It’s the stuff of nightmares and horror movies. Brief yet terrifying. It perfectly encapsulates Maomao’s pure disgust and discomfort (and hatred?) that she feels toward Lakan. We’ve never seen her like this before, so it makes it all the more unsettling. Part of the quick frame is Jinshi’s shock at it, the way he’s taken aback from the light to the shadow is a detail I also quite like.
In that short moment, Jinshi understood what Lakan’s existence meant to Maomao. It’s also incredible how the mood can change so drastically as Maomao casually returns to work. Later, Jinshi hopes to never see Maomao like that again (because whether he admits it or not, we all know he deeply cares for her).
As a light novel and manga reader, no words can describe how satisfied I am with this particular scene. I’m happy with how the anime took this as their own too. You see, in the manga version, it’s the same sequence with the only difference being that it takes on a more immersive perspective as compared to the anime, where it is gone too fast. The manga panels allow us to relish Maomao’s sketchy and disturbed expression, as well as Jinshi’s fear and worry. Either way, I think they both do a pretty good job in sending the message – Maomao really, really dislikes Lakan.
The Mysterious Courtlady, Suirei
We meet Suirei again in the earlier parts of episode 18, but it’s the scene towards the end that really leaves me with a weird feeling. It’s interesting to see someone who also takes an interest in herbs just like Maomao (minus the crazy excitement), but to say out loud the statements, “How good of an apothecary are you?” followed by “I’m going to plant some morning glory here,” and then leaving… it’s as suspicious as it gets. Suirei’s appearance in this episode is the odd one out, and I also don’t think she’s related to Lakan, so it really leaves us in a confusing situation. Other than Maomao getting crazy excited about medicinal herbs (at the exact hill in the opening theme), it also mentions the resurrection medicine joke. Also, who wouldn’t be scared of an expressionless woman holding a sickle?
The Apothecary Diaries Episode 18 Delivers an Exquisite Chapter
The Apothecary Diaries is truly a show I’ve been wholeheartedly enjoying. The second cour in particular has taken an oddly charming and nostalgic form, a calm before the storm – a clear foreboding of something inevitable. Episode 18 takes all the build-up that has happened throughout many episodes and just, runs with it. To say how masterfully delightful the execution has been would be an understatement. Although we still have six more episodes to see it through, to look at this episode’s quality of art and storytelling is enough to show how amazing the anime is. For instance, one of the most noticeable characteristics of The Apothecary Diaries is how it both subtly and strongly only implies the details of its plot without actually telling it. It reveals its mysteries almost shyly or selfishly, leaving viewers with a much enthralling experience. We are left to speculate, and as Luomen tells Maomao, it is never good to act without hard facts, so we tend to stay in this limbo of mystery throughout the series. That is why episode 18 is special – so many, many bits of information are mentioned. It’s so well done to the point that it’s so satisfying, exciting, and depressing. Here are some of my favorite bits:
That said, isn’t this such an exciting turn of events? The way the series is slowly revealing its mysterious story (or tea, as I like to call it) is something I quite enjoy. Unlike mainstream animes where the storytelling is linear, The Apothecary Diaries has its charming way of keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. Not in the adrenaline rush kind of way, but rather, one that keeps them ever absorbed in stimulating and mindful logic. It’s also unafraid and mature when taking on heavy themes, while also handling them with utmost respect and elegance. Although it takes a serious tone at times, a lot of it comes from the series being a little bit dramatic and scandalous too. The anime adaptation takes all of this and transforms it into a great experience every week. It always has perfect timing, from its beautiful, impactful frames to its comedic chibi moments. To be honest, it makes me reminiscent of the 2000s animated movies and OVAs, but I can’t figure out which one.
As I finish this episode review, I reiterate how the direction of the series is really, really good. The characters have become their own, and the profound details and elements of the anime are something I appreciate. The Apothecary Diaries episode 18 was especially entertaining to experience not just in visuals, but with all its storytelling and plot developments. Piecing together Lakan’s unpleasant stories, Maomao’s origin, Jinshi’s secrets, and the introduction of the ill courtesan behind the Verdigris House – I must say that it poses more questions than it does answers. This is so frustrating and yet, very enjoyable. I can’t help but feel so engaged with the anime’s suspense as its plot continues to stir things up.
For instance, the writing of the anime thus far has proven that it doesn’t naively lead its viewers to such an obvious thing so now, it begs the question… how evil is Lakan? I’m glad we didn’t get a cliffhanger this time, but damn, the previews for the next episode look wild. I’m very excited to see the mysteries unravel soon (and as a manga and LN reader who barely remembers, my heart can’t wait to see them finally animated.)
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The Apothecary Diaries is streaming on Netflix and Crunchyroll. The English-translated manga is available on Square Enix.
© Natsu Hyuga/Imagika Foss/”The Apothecary Diaries” Production Committee
© 2022 Natsu Hyuga/Nekokurage/Itsuki Nanao/SQUARE ENIX CO., LTC