Otome Youkai Zakuro takes place in an alternate version of Japan's Meiji Era. In this version of history, humans and spirits coexist side by side in the same world. However Japan is becoming more and more influenced by the West, and more people are accepting Western religions as their chosen faith rather than the more traditional Eastern faiths which have dominated the country for many centuries, leading to conflicts between humans and youkai.
To help ease tensions, an organization is established called the Ministry of Spirits made up of a group of male soldiers and a group of female youkai. Unfortunately things don't go as swimmingly as one would hope, as one of the soldiers, Kei Agemaki, is terribly afraid of youkai and one of the spirits, Zakuro, has an extreme dislike for humans who accept practices and traditions from the west. Life for these two is about to become a lot more interesting as they have to learn how to cooperate with their worst enemies!
#1: "Hatsukoi wa Zakuroiro (初戀は柘榴色)" by Mai Nakahara with narration by Takahiro Sakurai (eps 1, 3, 7, 10) #2: "Junjou Masquerade (純情マスカレイド)" by Aki Toyosaki, Yui Horie, and Yuuki Kaji (eps 2, 5, 9, 11) #3: "Futari Shizuka (二人静)" by Kana Hanazawa and Satoshi Hino (eps 4, 6, 8, 12)
Cliches, stereotypes, formulas, and other such mass production "tools" that are involved in the creation of "original" anime are a common part of the industry these days. One only has to look at the shows released over the previous season, never mind the previous year, to see just how many titles are nothing more than variations on a given theme.
That doesn't mean that they're all bad though. While an anime may be burdened with cliches, have a fomulaic plot and/or stereotypical characters, if these are used in an intelligent and innovative manner then it's possible to produce something decent at least. Sadly, many of shows made this way (which unfortunately is the majority of anime these days), have more in common with the delusions of a hormone addled teenager (either male or female), than they do with quality entertainment.
Thanks heavens for small favours.
Otome Youkai Zakuro is based on the ongoing historical fantasy manga of the same name by Hoshino Lily. The story is set in an alternate Japan during the Meiji era's period of Westernisation, where the Ministry of Spirit Affairs deals with the common and uncommon issues that arise in a multi-vital society (i.e. youkai and humans trying to live side by side).
The story is pretty decent for the most part, especially in terms of content, and there's a lot to keep the casual viewer watching the show. The plot is pitched at a specific audience though, and while it may flow quite well, although there are times when it's difficult to tell who that audience is. In addition to this, one can't help but think of Otome Youkai Zakuro as more than a little "folkish", and with good reason too as aside from the obvious allusions to Japanese folklore and mythology, there's actually a very subtle, and slightly bawdy, undercurrent to the show that seems to have bypassed just about everybody.
Confused? Well, it's not that obvious as it has to do with soldiers, maidens, garter-belts and folk songs. Three soldiers are sent to join the Ministry of Spirit Affairs where they are to partner young half-youkai ladies (complete with animal ears), who are supposed to represent the yamato nadeshiko, but carry branches with pomegranate blossoms inside other spirits or their garter belts like they're some kind of hidden weapon.
Seriously, if I showed that sentence to anyone interested in traditional ribaldry or the more coarse side of folk music they'd first applaud the subtlety, then laugh themselves silly.
But I digress. The fact is that Hoshino Lily managed to insert some very sly inferences directly into the plot without anybody realising it, which should bode well for the series ... if it wasn't for one thing that is. While the story may be decent enough, certain key plot events can feel staged because the viewer is able to predict not only what is going to happen, but the outcome as well. This is one of the dangers of relying too heavily on cliches, stereotypes and formulas, as there is an inherent repetitiveness that arises from using these "tools".
And boy, does this show use them.
Otome Youkai Zakuro is one of those shows that looks as though it was made while someone was checking boxes in a "moe: how to ..." handbook. One look at the series and it's clear that while this may be labelled a seinen show (with some rather obvious shoujo influences), the target audience is mainly those who like "cute" young girls with animal ears.
The "human" characters have been made to look as attractive as possible, even when they're being evil, and there's a certain generic quality to the design principle that can sometimes make the viewer wonder if they've seen the character before (I'm pretty sure I saw the elephant guy in India). The settings are nicely detailed, but while they're well suited to the time period, they seem a bit too clinical and sanitised. Everything and everyone are too clean and too "nice", even when bad things are happening, and this can sometimes make it difficult to take the show seriously. The colour scheme also compounds the "nice" atmosphere, and Otome Youkai Zakuro is literally awash with "cute" pinks, blues, greens, yellows, etc.
On the plus side, the animation is pretty good, with flowing character movements and some rather nice action set pieces. The problem is that the shadow of repetition raises its head once more. There are a few scenes that, aside from the backgrounds, are simply the same routine repeated over and over again (the most common one being Zakuro's transformation into "Mega-Zakuro" - which basically means she has a knife instead of a stick and her pupils change shape). Fortunately this doesn't really impede on one's enjoyment of the series, but it does make one wonder why more effort hasn't gone into the animation production, and also why a respected studio like J.C. Staff decided to cut some very obvious corners.
Thankfully the acting is a definite step in the right direction, although it has to be said that some of the roles didn't really require anything special. Nakahara Mai is an enormously talented actress and has some surprising lead roles under her belt (Furukawa Nagisa from Clannad, Ryuuguu Rena from Higurashi, etc), but while she gives a decent performance in her role as Zakuro, she is ultimately limited by some mediocre scripting. The same is true for Sakurai Takahiro (who plays Agemaki Kei), and the rest of the cast, and while all of the sieyuu clearly have a great deal of ability, there are times when it feels like their skills aren't being fully utilised.
On a different note, aside from some strange choices with the incidental music, the soundtrack is functional, but that's about the best one can say about it. There are some small issues with timing, and more importantly relevance, but these can be viewed as minor niggles that are quickly forgotten. The big issues are the opening theme and the three ending themes. The OP is well animated, but the timing is all over the place, and to further compound matters Moon Signal by Sphere doesn't fit in with the look, storyline, or atmosphere of the whole show. The song feels completely out of place, but that's just the tip of the iceberg.
All of the EDs are sung by the seiyuu whose roles are partnered in the anime (for example, Nakahara Mai and Sakurai Takahiro sing the first one together), which is nice, and could have worked well as an additional reinforcement of the bond between the soldiers and the youkai maidens. Unfortunately it seems as though somebody has overestimated their musical ability (I look pointedly at you Sugimoto Masaru), as the first two EDs, Hatsukoi wa Zakuro-iro and Junjou Masquerade, are stereotypical efforts that don't work with the ending sequence's imagery, nor the main storyline itself. Strangely, the third ED, Futari Shizuka, is more in keeping with the feel of the show, so it's obvious that although somebody was paying attention, it wasn't enough or they were sinply overruled by the producers.
Now while it may be true that the scripting wasn't up to spec, that doesn't mean that the characters were poorly envisioned. Granted there is a degree of formula to their personas (Zakuro being a tsundere is one example of this), and a number of cliches are on display with their development, but as a rule the characters aren't that bad. Each is able to grow because of their "partnership", and while there is a certain method and measure to this, the evolution of the characters is treated with a degree of diffidence that somewhat belies the open targeting of the moe market.
Unfortunately, the developmental method is a bit too formulaic at times, and because of this the viewer can feel like certain obvious events are being force fed to them in an effort to elicit some sort of empathy. That said, the characters are charming in their own ways, and while they may appeal to a specific fan base, that doesn't mean that others won't find them interesting, or even cute.
I will admit that Otome Youkai Zakuro surprised me, as while it's definitely cliched and formulaic, it's also pretty enjoyable in a charming, quirky sort of way. Yes, the story is predictable, but rather than make the characters completely stereotypical there has been some effort to give them a degree of individuality (which is one of the reasons why the poor scripting is so noticeable). The design may be aimed at the moe markets, but within that saccharine sweet exterior lies a story that tries to mix several genres to produce something ... at least a little different.
Ultimately though, this is yet another example of the anime industry wasting the opportunity to produce something above average. It's a decent show, but it had the potential to be so much better than it is if the producers and director had tried that little bit harder to ditch the fomrulaic approach. read more
Ever hear of the saying "try something new", well I'm glad I did. At the beginning of the season I wasn't expecting much from Otome Youkai Zakuro but boy did this series surprise me.Otome Youkai Zakuro is produced by J.C. Staff and the reason I wasn't expecting much from it was because they were already producing 2 other more hyped anime this season. However I think this might be the best one out of the three they put out this season.
The series takes place in the Meiji Era (which is anywhere between 1868 and 1912). During this time 3 Soldiers are sent to the Spirit Affairs where they work with half spirits to resolve the issues between spirits and humans. But as they continue with their jobs a greater problem presents itself which is deeply related to Zakuro's past. As the story continues to unfold Zakuro's problem grows bigger and the Spirit Affairs are forced to resolve it.
Otome Youkai Zakuro gave me a pleasent surprise because every episode was significant and contributed to the story. The story was well paced which a lot of anime series fail to do these days. A lot of new series I watch these days tend to leave off all plot until the final episodes which makes the series seem rushed. However Otome Youkai Zakuro advances the plot more with every episode that goes by which doesn't make the ending or any part of the series seemed rushed whatsoever. The actual plot was actually really well written and not overly complicated. The problem with a number of series these days is they try to be so creative that it just over complicates things. Otome Youkai Zakuro didn't try for too much which is why the story flowed so well. The plot of the series seemed pretty simple and straight forward and as it unfolds it becomes something beautiful. Also unlike a number of series out there, Otome Youkai Zakuro actually has a proper ending instead of leaving the series up in the air.
The art and animation were beautiful. The animation was pretty smooth and the art was just astounding. The backgrounds had a lot of detail and it always caught my attention. Art isn't really something I usually pay attention to but this was so beautiful that it managed to catch my attention and enhanced the beauty of the series.
The sound is also really well done. The opening was really good and one of the first openings which I actually remembered the rhythm to. The alternating endings were always a treat and well done too. I often found myself listening to the full ending which is something considering I'm a guy that likes to skip endings.
The problem with tsunderes today is that anime series like to overdo it. Characters these days are so overly tsundere that they just seem unrealistic. However Zakuro is different, although she is a tsundere she isn't overly done, she can admit when she's wrong. This is what I like about Zakuro, her personality is not over-done which makes her feel so real.
Our main protagonist Kei Agemaki is alright too. He starts off really afraid of spirits but as the series continues he fights his fears and by the end he has completely no fear of spirits. He also has other flaws too but that's what makes him a good character. Some anime these days have protagonists who are perfect in every way shape and form which isn't good because they don't develop.
There is also romance between Zakuro and Kei and what makes it good is that they both have flaws and that they both help the other with it. The romance just wouldn't be the same if the other did not have flaws.
The other characters also help this series too. The romance between Riken and Susukihatarou is really interesting. A lot of other series don't usually have romances between other characters which don't usually get you to think about them. However since this series had every character develop relationships, you never really forget any of them.
There's nothing really bad to say about Otome Youkai Zakuro. I often found the episodes to be short and it never bored me. Everything about this series was great because it didn't try for too much and it didn't exaggerate things. It seems that a lot of anime series today are really poorly paced with lackluster plots because they focus too much on side stories of characters. Otome Youkai Zakuro just shows that with a well written and well paced plot, everything else will just fall into place.
Otome Youkai Zakuro promised a unique plot from the very beginning, and it's only getting better and better. Backed by great character developement, voice acting, and artwork, this anime is sure to keep everyone hooked.
I like everything about this ainme, and haven't really found anything to dislike. I expect it to get even better as it continues, and I'd definently suggest it to everyone!
Story- The plot wasn't confusing at all. It wasn't cliche, and very original. It did have a few things that were predictable, but only a few. I think that this was a very unique and different anime. The ended was surprisingly different then how I though it would end. There was only one thing I didn't like at the end.
Art- The art really shined in this anime. The character and setting art was average, it was the fighting. The visuals were stunning during a fight scene. There were vivid colors and it flowed nicely. The cherry blossom petals that occasionally showed look beautiful. The art in the opening rely captured the show. It showed the action part as you see Zakuro fighting, the cherry blossoms in the wind. The colors they used either represented the darkness of the show, with reds and blacks, or the lightness and love, the flowers and bright colors.
Sound- the music itself was slightly memorable. I like the opening theme song. It really captured the show. The voice acting was spot on; It really reflected the characters. There is no dub.
Characters- I think that some of the characters could have been given more dept, such as Riken and Susuki. Other than that I thought that each character was extremely either well presented or average. Zakuro look at acted a lot like Hikari from Special A, I'm not getting over that.
Enjoyment- I really loved this shoe. I love hoe original it was. The girls singing as the other kills a spirit, perfect. The powers they had, pure genus. The only problem I had was what I stated.read more
We are mostly all here to watch anime and read manga, but there is plenty more in Japanese fiction that we can take advantage of. Here is a primer on modern Japanese literature and novels translated to English that anime fans should consider reading.