With the modernization and westernization of Japan in full swing, the Ministry of Spirit Affairs is established to smooth over the relationship between the human citizens of Japan and their more spiritual counterparts whenever conflicts of interests happen.
Three young men from the Japanese military forces are sent to the ministry to work together with half-spirit partners. And while this doesn't pose a problem for two of them -- the stoic and silent Yoshinokazura Riken or the lively and ambitious Ganryuu Hanakiri -- it does present a huge obstacle for Agemaki Kei, who seems to have developed somewhat of a phobia for them.
If you think this all sounds like your average setup for a fairly typical shounen/shoujo meld, then you are most certainly right. Otome Yokai Zakuro will most likely remind you of a show -- or quite a few, even -- you've seen before. And that's exactly what you get: a short, little show that runs its story to its logical conclusion while leaving on a note hopeful it'll get the chance to prove its mettle again at some point in the future.
Otome Yokai Zakuro's humorous selling point is in its male lead; Agemaki Kei, and how he's put in a work situation his gut instinct doesn't react well to, which can be described more or less like how it would be if Ranma Saotome (of Ranma fame) were put to work in a veterinarian clinic dealing mostly with cats. Kei's fear isn't born out of malicious intent, but stems from a situation that will be explained somewhere in the middle of the show, and with a complexity that went beyond my expectations. (For the records; those weren't high expectations.)
And that's why it's such a shame that his partner subscribes to one of the most tiresome personality traits among common female anime heroines; the tsundere. (Though all honors go to her voice actor; Nakahara Mai, who has played a large and impressive variety of characters.) Zakuro is, of course, somewhat hot-tempered and prone to violent outbursts towards male characters that get on her nerves. Unsurprisingly, this will happen often, seeing as Kei's reluctance to spiritual beings reaches its peak when he is placed in a housing complex where ALL the residents are spirits or half-spirits, meaning he will do a lot of unintentional misinformed or just plain wrong things to set her off. And that, as they say, is comedy.
Thankfully, the others aren't as prone to those kinds of outbursts, so those of you who are tired of characters like Zakuro can at least find some solace in Riken and Susukihotaru's more classic Meiji-era styled romance, or you can look to Ganryuu, who gets not one, but two partners in the twins Bonbori and Hoozuki, who both seem to have been made from the Shampoo (also of Ranma fame) character mold; open, friendly and VERY fond of close, intimate contact. Rounding off the main cast is Kushimatsu the fox spirit and Amaryoju, a spirit resembling an elephant. Kushimatsu can probably be considered the ward of our half-spirit cast, even from long before they joined the ministry, while Amaryoju is the leader of the Ministry of Spirit Affairs house itself. While both of them have vaguely humanoid bodies during most of the show, Kushimatsu does have a "real" form that you will get to see, as does (presumably) Amaryoju even if you don't get to see his.
Otome Yokai Zakuro plays a humorous tone for the most part. While it does address some serious issues, mostly centered around the clash of interests between spirits and human beings, the main dish is nevertheless the relationship between the human guys and the half-spirit girls. One could probably accuse the show of pandering, seeing as the girls are all quite the lookers, fox ears and all. Then again, the guys are also cut out from the big ol' Bishounen mold, so it really swings both ways. The first episode also counts as an introduction to the powers of the half-spirit girls, all of which enters battles in a pretty elaborate song and ceremonial dance routine. With them, they have the familiar whom contain petal-covered branches that can be turned into weaponry, mostly short swords.
During the last third, however, Otome Yokai Zakuro takes a far more serious tone, and this is where we get to the meat-and-bones regarding Zakuro and her past, and just how she came to live with Kushimatsu and the ministry. While the shift in mood isn't necessarily enough to give you whiplash, it's definitely noticeable. It's also, sadly, somewhat cliched and predictable, at least in regard to how it handles some of the flashback scenes.
In terms of quality, Otome Yokai Zakuro is a bit hard to place. It's certainly not a bad show by any stretch of the imagination. The relationship between Kei and Zakuro might be the one who will eclicit the most discontent over just how formulaic it is with Zakuro being a tsundere and Kei being a bit of a wimp, but the show actually has the courtesy to show some restraint every now and then. In contrast, the other pairings feel almost abridged in comparison, which might set off some of the viewers who like the side cast better than the main.
The whole aspect with the spirits, however, is mostly handled quite well. The aforementioned song-and-dance routine is actually quite easy on the eyes as well as the ears, and thankfully never repeated each and every single episode the throughout entire show. Like the human characters, the spirits range from being innocent to downright unnerving, so the show isn't really playing favorites either, which is a good thing.
And in the end, Otome Yokai Zakuro also brings its story arc to a conclusion in a fairly satisfactory matter (the sole exception being that I felt some of the villains got off a tad too easy), but with an open end, hoping for the chance to bewitch you again at a later date. While I wouldn't say I was bewitched per se, I don't think I would mind seeing some more of this.
'Twas a fun time for the most part. I suspect fans of the whole tsundere/wimp romantic comedy setup might want to add another star here. — Stig Høgset
Recommended Audience: There are some pretty violent moments in this show, particularly in the last half. The most extreme examples are one of the yokai Kei and Zakuro were sent to take care of, which turned out to be a monster that enjoyed feeding on pregnant women, and later on, the attempted rape of a drugged and/or hypnotized girl. There are no explicit details in this, but the implications are still out in the open.
Version(s) Viewed: crunchyroll.com stream, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (13/13)
Zakuro © 2010 Liliy Hoshino / Gentosha Comics / EZakuro Production Committee
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