Review: Otome Yokai Zakuro

 

In an alternate history Japan wherte humans and Spirits coexist the ancient spirits aren’t happy about the movement to westernize Japanese society. In order to bring peace the Japanese military recruits a group of half spirits and forms the Ministry of Spirit Affairs in which each half-spirit is teamed up with a military officer. Zakuro, a half-spirit of enormous power and a hatred of westernization, is teamed up with Agemaki an aristocrat’s son who has a fear of spirits.

Otome Yokai Zakuro looks and feels like a generic romance with a little bit of action. The characters and relationships of the show are written honestly and believably. The supernatural element has a uniquely Japanese feel, being steeped in Japanese mythology and imagery. The spirits and half-spirit protagonists become representations of the classical Japanese way of life dressed in Yukata in contrast to their soldier partners modern military uniforms, the half-spirits weapons are even branches from a Sakura which transform into awesome knifes during combat. The meeting of the groups becomes a visual representation of the core theme of the narrative; the ancient way of life is starting to clash with the introduction of westernization.

The action of the show is hit or miss. The early fight scenes are exciting, visually interesting, and unique in the way the half-spirit’s attack. The twins, Bonbori and Hozuki, sing a sweet melody that acts as a spell against the enemy spirits while Zakuro attacks ruthlessly with a knife. The first few battle scenes are entertaining but as the series goes on they become repetitive and dull, although the Twin’s soothing melody was always a joy to hear and perhaps made up for some otherwise full fight scenes. Even more disappointing was when the human soldiers jumped into the action. Their entire contributions consist of blocking attacking spirits with a sword thrust or a dull sword battle that lacks any creative choreography.

However Otome Yokai Zakuro isn’t an action show, it is a romance and as I stated above the characters and relationships are well written and believable. At times it feels like the show may be about to relay on some cliché but the show avoids it by developing the female characters with rich back story. Unfortunately the male characters, except for Zakuro’s love interest Agemaki, are horribly underdeveloped. Riken and Ganryu fall into stereotype mode by being stoic large, dependable guy and young prodigy respectively. Where those characters come up short the rest get detailed back stories, interesting episodes dedicated to their development, and situations that test the strength of their character. My favorite example comes from the first episode; the soldiers arrive and woe the young woman including the doubtful Zakuro. Zakuro is completely taken with Agemaki because she is a young woman who had been cooped up in a monastery her entire life and he is a young aristocrat soldier. Any naive young girl would fall for the dashing soldier, but once Zakuro gets to know him a little the initial interest fades as she learns his fear of spirits and general ineptitude. Zakuro’s distrustful nature overrides her initial emotional response.

Zakuro is the focus of the main narrative, being the title character; and the entire story arch revolves around the circumstances of her birth. Her thread guides most of the action of the series, including the large plot twist of the series which puts the reason the Ministry of Spirit Affairs even exists into question. The twist isn’t as effective as it might have been because of lack of time given to some important pieces of information, which isn’t uncommon for a thirteen episode series. Many of the elements fail because of time constraints, serious holes open up as the series comes to a close I in an attempt to end the show neatly, for example some of the main villains changes sides with little explanation and the protagonists seem far too trusting of people who were planning to murder them minutes before.. All the threads opened throughout the series to be closed satisfactory with the one off episodes and plots that seem to exist only to develop characters all coming together in one overarching storyline. The last four episodes are one unbroken story and the elements that make the series interesting; the character relationships, the mystery surrounding Zakuro’s background, and the struggle between old and new worlds all climax in a fantastic end. The issues of time play a factor but Otome Yokai Zakuro strength lies in the main cast, and Zakuro herself, more than the storyline. The show gives plenty of time to develop at least Zakuro’s character as it brings the narrative to a close, so much so that I can forgive some of the rushed elements. So much of the narrative is geared towards wrapping up the main thread that some of the larger thematic and conceptual elements of the series also get left in the dark.

What Otome Yokai Zakuro didn’t do that I had hoped it would is really explore the aforementioned struggle between old and new. The theme goes from being in the forefront of the early episodes to be simply an undertone for the entire series without having it profoundly addressed. The message ends up being that change is good, but elements of the past should also be held onto. However, that message can’t be universal because of the early world development. The series attempts to show the romantic relationships between the half-spirits and the soldiers as proof that both worlds can live side by side but I can’t help but think the idyllic view that the show takes isn’t completely accurate.  Increased westernization was driving spirits from their ancient homes and even killing them. That thread is left unexplored favoring instead the plot surrounding the mystery of Zakuro. As the soldiers and the half-spirits find a way to coexist I can’t help but think of all the lesser spirits who are being trampled because the old world and the new world is incompatible. I think even the show didn’t know quite where to take itself. Those first few episodes were some initial step and those interesting elements of old world versus new world could have been just backstory to begin the unlikely romance of Zakuro and Agemaki. The girls themselves never make much progress towards westernization only going as far as to try some western foods. The ideas that there was a larger theme could have been placed on the series by my own expectations and were never there at all. I hope that isn’t the case and if the series is to continue those elements of this alternate universe gets the attention it deserves.

Otome Yokai Zakuro is a fantastic romance series with strong plot, world building, and characters. The overarching plot unravels a mystery based on the dynamic characters the show presents to the audience. However, even with those strong elements Otome Yokai Zakuro’s action becomes repetitive and strong thematic elements that start to develop early on become lost in the romantic story and lose their effect when the relationships between the characters attempts to be a metaphor for the old and new coexisting while the show forgets the basic set up of the narrative. The show becomes crunched for time causing a rushed, neatly tied up ending in place of something more genuine.

 

Good

  • Strong characters and story
  • Mystery utilizes the excellent character development

Bad

  • Action scenes become repetitive and boring
  • Plot loses sight of original themes
  • Obviously didn’t have enough time to develop the story they wanted too

One thought on “Review: Otome Yokai Zakuro

  1. For the reasons you stated above I would greatly like to see a second season of this show. One more intensely addressed the issues of displaced and murdered spirits. I did enjoy the relationships, though Ganryu struck me as near useless character better used as decoration. And of course I'd like to see those develop further, I just think initially everyone who watched and enjoyed this show started watching one series and eventually got something very different by the end. Romance completely outshining affairs of state in this case.

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