Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions > Otome Youkai Zakuro Episode 1 – Opposites Attack

Otome Youkai Zakuro Episode 1 – Opposites Attack

In another version of 18th century Japan, spirits of traditional folk legends walk openly in the human world. While these spirits have had diplomatic relations with the official Japanese government, misunderstanding and prejudice still abounds in their interactions, and the recent Meiji reforms have only exacerbated tensions. In order to promote inter-species cooperation, and to deal with a recent rash of violent spirits, the human and youkai leaders agree to form a new bureau that pairs human and youkai to deal with these problems.

This has all the makings of one of the weirdest buddy cop stories of all time, but that’s obviously not what intended. For, in order to make things easier on the freshly commissioned second lieutenants assigned to the department, their partners are all “half-youkai,” which mean they look like beautiful human girls. Save for the addition of fox ears.

Oh great, you’re probably thinking: another romance story involving animal-eared girls. But, ears aside, there’s very little family resemblance between this and the just-finished Asobi ni Iku Yo! That can only be a good thing, but it remains to be seen if it’s enough.

Ok, one advantage Asobi has over this show: Asobi knew to keep its cute mascot characters silent

Otome Youkai Zakuro (which can be translated as Spirit Maiden Zakuro or Demon Girl Zakuro) is one of those shows that mixes genres in a classically anime-ish way. It’s not strictly a romance or an action show, and while it’s based on a manga published in a magazine for adult men, the character designs are far closer to what fills more feminine-oriented works. I’m not certain exactly what audience it’s aimed at and what it exactly wants to be.

One thing it certainly isn’t, however, is subtle. The romantic pairings are established almost immediately, although the characters themselves haven’t necessarily accepted this fact yet, and each paring seems to speak to a particular lesson the author wishes to impart. Zakuro, the lead girl, is paired with the son of a general, Kei Agemaki, who is a charming gentleman of a classic pretty boy mold—and happens to be terrified of spirits, trying to conceal this to avoid failing in his mission and bringing shame to his family. Given Zakuro’s own disdain for all things human, they serve as the main odd couple for the show.

Agemaki can turn on the charm when he needs to, but that's mostly when he's trying to cover up overwhelming fear

The other pairings serve to counterbalance the main one. Susukihotaru, while more open to humanity as a whole than her colleague, is intimidated by the tall and imposing Riken Yoshinokazura. That latter seems to be a gentle giant, however, and that issue might already be resolved by the end of the first episode. Twins Hozuki and Bonbori are paired with the extremely effeminate Ganryu Hanakiri, to … well, I think he might just be there for comic relief.

The conflict between the supernatural world and scientific progress is an increasingly common theme in contemporary fantasy works, but I’ve rarely seen the premise played as straight as it is in Otome Youkai Zakuro. Ordinarily the spirit world is concealed or withdrawn from the mundane one, but here both sides are fully aware of each other. This doesn’t keep prejudice from being a severe issue: Zakuro dislikes humans, while Agemaki, obviously, is terrified of spirits. And judging by the comments of humans outside of the newly formed unit, the two sides have clear boundaries about the “proper” way to interact with the other.

Kushimatsu, like most real youkai, is far more animal-like in appearance. This show would have been rather different if normal youkai were partnered with humans instead of beautiful half-breeds

This makes the mere existence of half-youkai like Zakuro a bit unlikely, especially considering that normal youkai aren’t exactly attractive to human eyes. How such pairings would happen in the first place (and why Zakuro would still dislike humans after having one as a parent) is a major question for the series, assuming half-youkai come into existence the way I expect they would. And why half-youkai would be the ones primarily responsible for hunting down rampaging full youkai also deserves some explanation.

The plot itself shows hints—by which I mean the audience can instantly figure out—that something is actually causing nature spirits to go berserk, implying the simple monster of the week set-up will evolve into something greater. But how the show will split between action, romantic “comedy,” and just plain romance can’t be determined by a single episode.

The fight scene is competently done, if not particularly memorable. What is notable is Agemaki temporarily breaking character

Unfortunately, while Otome Youkai Zakuro doesn’t do anything wrong, exactly, it seems to be missing a crucial spark. Cat Fox ears aside, this show seems to have several points in its favor. The existence of multiple romantic pairings avoids the traditional problems with a harem set-up. The action scenes, while not up to the best this season has to offer, are still competent and rather more balletic than the normal fare. The overall concept even manages to use youkai in a somewhat novel way.

But there’s just something about the characters that seems contrived. The paralyzing fear of Agemaki’s, which he can overcome just long enough to prove his manliness before falling prey to it again and having to be rescued? The way in which Zakuro’s dislike of humans is initially overcome by Agemaki’s charm, which only causes her to go deeper into denial? All this seems a classic set-up for a hopeless but charming protagonist to woo the tsundere in spite of himself (and herself). And nothing about it is special enough to make that particular story interesting again.

This pose tells you everything you need to know about how Zakuro feels about her new partner. See the above link for a parallel

This is hardly the worst show currently airing. And it’s by J.C. Staff, which is known for great adaptions of material from romance manga and light novels, and which did the shows both I and my co-blogger selected as the best of last season. But it’s missing any particular “wow” factor I was hoping to find, something to make it memorable. Time will tell if it can produce it.

You can watch the episode here.

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