One dark, stormy night when Cassie was somewhat tipsy, the evil Patchworth decided to take advantage of the poor inebriated maiden. After whispering sweet nothings of pacing, characterisation and voice actors in her ear, they joined forces. The result of this illicit tryst? Well, you’re reading it.
Set in an idyllic, westernizing Japan, Otome Youkai Zakuro chronicles the activities of the newly-minted Ministry of Spirit Affairs. The government agency ostensibly exists both to help spirits adjust to the changes occurring within the country and ease tension between humans and youkai. As they all get to know each other, they pursue the ministry’s overt goal by intervening directly to solve problems that occur between the two races. However, as the series wears on, Zakuro’s mysterious power becomes the target of a shady organization with whom the group increasingly finds itself at odds.
On the surface the basic concept seems more like the thinnest excuse to get a gaggle of archetypal bishies to work hand-in-hand with a collection of adorable half-youkai heroines. But, with the frequently-shunned girls gradually opening themselves up to the dashing soldiers - who each have their own hangups ranging from Agemaki’s abject fear of youkai to Ganryuu’s physical weakness - all the pieces for a good story seem to be in place. There’s plenty of romance, lots of action (mostly performed by cute girls!), a sprinkling of legend, and a touch of mystery. Sadly, the series doesn’t dwell long enough on anything to make these elements work. Had the show drawn out the real conflict more, adding doubt, a false conclusion, or a little complacency to affect its cast, the inevitable climactic showdown might have resonated stronger. (Patches: I’m reminded of Sakura Wars TV, which while a narrative underachiever still had a strong ending that flowed from twenty-six episodes of collected character interactions.)
That being said, the mystery behind Zakuro’s past and her true identity, draws you into the story. Though some of the twists and turns are glaringly obvious - I’m looking at you big, bad antagonist in the mask - in general the show doesn’t do a bad job of entertaining its audience. Sure, it may not have you counting down the days, hours, or minutes until the next episode, but the anime proves suitably engaging and won’t have you constantly checking the clock to see how long you have left to endure. (Cassie: I ended up stalling it for several weeks while it was airing as despite being a rampant youkai fangirl - seriously, chuck a kappa in an anime and I’m happy - even I never quite got into this anime.)
Otome Youkai Zakuro can’t quite seem to decide whether it’s an ensemble piece or not, and instead settles for haphazard development as a poor excuse for a compromise. For all intents and purposes the series isn’t a group narrative. Zakuro and the delicious, blonde studmuffin, Agemaki, stand clearly at the centre, with everyone else taking a sideline. However, the advancement of their relationship ends up rushed; in fact, timid Susukihotaru and strong, silent Riken’s romance shows a much more natural progression. After thirteen episodes of Agemaki going from “you scare me, please don’t eat me!” to “I love you” *sparkly eyes* quicker than a road runner in heat, the affair between Susukihotaru and the stoic soldier proves far more compelling than the couple we’re supposed to be focusing on.
One word: eyegasm. As the knockout aspect of Otome Youkai Zakuro, J.C. Staff have gone to town and the show’s animation feels like the equivalent of being bundled up in a fluffy blanket of quilted moe. Instead of harsh cut shadows, graduated shading and pastel hues add a delicate effect to proceedings, which accentuates the plot’s romantic themes. These softer tones also work to enhance more than just the narrative. Despite Agemaki and the others waving the flag for bishies everywhere, the colour scheme upgrades their appearance from merely drool-worthy to delectably lick-able, as if they’d taste of candyfloss if you just had a nibble of their earlobe. (Cassie: I bet Riken is like a rich, dark chocolate - bitter but oh so good!)
J.C. Staff’s experience animating the charming, turn-of-the-century baseball moefest, Taishou Yaykuu Musume, shows clearly in the artistic approach to the setting in Otome Youkai Zakuro. The naturalistic palette gives the streets the proper period feel and helps situate the soft-colored character designs as part of a unified aesthetic. Everything from the gaslights to the sakura blossoms scream Meiji in the best possible way and really helps the anime exude a sense of place. (Patches: I want to go on record to say that I can’t believe that this aired at the same time as Tantei Opera Milky Holmes. CLEARLY, JC Staff has an ‘A’ team and a ‘B’ team. Can you guess which one this show got?)
With a voice cast this strong, the acting brings plenty of earjoy. Moe fans should love watching Yui Horie and Aki Toyosaki play “who’s the most face-meltingly cute” as twins Hozuki and Bonbori, when they’re not d’awwing at Kana Hanazawa’s Susukihotaru. Make no mistake, however, this is Mai Nakahara’s show. The stilted tsundere doesn’t fall far from the archetypal mold, but her volatile reading gives the girl far more personality than the script does on its own. Not to be outdone by the ladies, the male seiyuu perform just as admirably. Takahiro Sakurai delivers a standout performance as Agemaki, flawlessly switching between dulcet, panty-dampening tones for when the blonde bombshell turns on the charm (cue spinning roses), and frenzied panic at the sight of a rogue youkai. Meanwhile, Satoshi Hino gives a solid interpretation of Riken. Though a character of few words, Hino manages to create the perfect balance for the unflappable soldier utilising the stern lilt of a military officer with a softer edge that proves he’s nowhere near as scary as he looks.
“Moon Signal” is not the upbeat ear-worm of a song like “Shinryaku no Susume”, but is instead the right kind of J-Pop torch song to open a series like Otome Youkai Zakuro. Its combination of plaintive strains and poppy underbeat give it the kind of vulnerable energy that defines the show’s protagonist, making it a pitch-perfect anthem for the anime. That the strongest of the three ED themes comes from Aki Toyosaki and Yui Horie should surprise no one, as they have well-established singing chops demonstrated in Toyosaki’s tenure on K-On! for and in Horie’s work on the themes from Toradora!, School Rumble, and Kanamemo. The anime’s in-episode centerpiece--the prayer song the women use to empower Zakuro’s blade--provides another distinctive aural treat, capturing the dangerous determination of the half-spirits and its haunting melody sends a chill down your spine whenever it features.
Otome Youkai Zakuro’s characterisation is like opening your presents on Christmas morning; the anticipation is unbearable, and while some gifts are just as awesome as you’d hoped, there’s always one dodgy pair of socks, or a set of padded hangers that for some bizarre reason your grandparents thought you’d love. With a cast comprising of handsome military bishies and half-youkai cuties there’s plenty of room for full character exploration and luckily some individuals do actually deliver. As the focus of a large portion of the series, Zakuro naturally receives the most attention, with details of her past and powers gradually surfacing throughout. Conversely Ganryuu, Hozuki and Bonbori play fifth, sixth and seventh fiddle to Agemaki and the rest, serving as little more than fluff. Unlike the others, their love affair seems less like a believable romance and more akin to childish adoration. (Cassie: Ganryuu’s entire purpose seems to be that of the resident Lothario indulging in his sordid little threesome. At least Hozuki and Bonbori sing and clap their hands a bit.)
Though of little consequence to the actual plot, Kiri and Sakura deserve mention as the most huggably adorable characters to appear in an anime since the pint-sized cast of Hanamaru Youchien. With their childlike behaviour proving surprisingly realistic for such a bishie-filled fluff fest, the rosy-cheeked youkai solicit more than their fair share of “awwww” moments throughout the course of the series.
The cast could have been turned to the show’s advantage. Riken and Susukihotaru display stellar development for side characters which doesn’t feel as uniformly distracting as the Ryu-Chizu arc from Kimi ni Todoke. Again the claustrophobic episode count prevents their relationship’s success from forcing Agemaki and Zakuro into a more believable dance. Instead, the rapid forward movement on the two mains’ romantic plot sort of wills itself into conclusion during the final three episodes in order to provide the proper emotional resonance. This development short-changes Zakuro who doesn’t get enough time to really express the tsun to dere evolution in an adequate manner. (Patches: I WANTED to sink my teeth into “true tsundere falls in love with Tamaki Suoh”, but it just didn’t click. Maybe he really deserved a Haruhi Fujioka-like half-youkai?)
Patches: Otome Youkai Zakuro falls firmly into the same category as Pandora Hearts. I was reluctant to turn on the episodes, enjoyed them while I watched them, but was left wanting more. The show’s exceptional visuals and delightful characters should have drummed up undying affection and had me on my feet during its most tense moments, but everything here feels like a tease. Given the convergence of bits that normally make a hit--romance, bishies, action, an incredible voice cast--the fact that this anime is merely enjoyable seems a let down in some way. Not that it’s bad, just it could have been great.
Cassie: Without a doubt, this show is all about the pretty. The gorgeous guys, the beautiful babes, and the sumptuous settings all combine to deliver a visual treat that J.C. Staff does best. Meanwhile the voice cast acts like a high class host club for the aural senses, satisfying every fibre of your sensory being. Sadly, the narrative doesn’t quite manage to keep up, so while your eyes and ears are having the time of their lives, your brain may not necessarily share the same enthusiasm.
I really enjoyed this anime due to the fact that the story just sucks you in and keeps you there all the way through it. It had a great ballance of action, drama, and comedy that wasn't over the top, but also not to boring. The artwork was great and showed some great detail. The characters also were designed perfectly and no matter what, you can get sucked into their story. Overall it is a great series and had the perfect ending.
Animated by J.C. Staff, which translates to “screw the plot; here comes fan service.” Directed by Kon Chiaki, who is a bit famous for her debut work at Higurashi but the rest of her roster is one big failure. Nothing to see here, go home, Zakuro is yet another fantasy romcom for girls and just like the bulk of its kind, it is generic, far-fetched and uninspired.
The story is about humans cooperating with half-monsters against other monsters, as part of cultural understanding. And since this is a fan caring show, the human military officers don’t look like unshaved macho brutes oozing testosterone, but as fashion model gays. And the half-monsters don’t look like ferocious hairy beasts but as cute girls with animal ears; the stuff otaku wet dreams are made of. This is how realistic this show is.
But I am not going to condemn it for being good at what it aims (making the viewer escape reality). It’s the very own core elements that are taken as a joke and end up alienating any viewer who is not fooled into liking a show just because it has gays and nekomimis. For example, the core theme of the series is racism and how two different species need to understand one another if they are to cooperate better. Yet it is done very superficially to matter in the long run. I mean, who in the audience would REALLY hate these cuties just because they have animal ears? And to the most part they don’t even act any different that normal Japanese people, so what is the problem in understanding them? The very internal struggle of the story is not convincing or even captivating; it is just a silly excuse to pair cutties with hotties. I mean the show ends and nothing changed at all; it even feels like a typical harem finale.
So ok, the story sucks. How about the action? They are after all teaming up to take out dangerous monsters. Well no, not even that is good since the battles are short and way too simple. They just sing a silly song or the monsters are way too stupid and fall for juvenile tricks. Plus, it’s the girls doing all the work, while the males are just standing idle and looking all dazed with how cute they girls are. So they are practically useless in this otherwise teamwork.
Ok, the action sucks too. How about the characters? They all look different and there are several flashbacks showing the ill treatment the girls received in the past, which indeed works as character coloring on a basic level. Well no, they all end up being very shallow, besides Zakuro for having HALF THE SHOW centered on her. All the rest of the girls don’t have any side story of their own and the males are just idle spectators. Everybody ends up being defined by a sexual fetish, which in effect makes them all boring caricatures. As fan catering as other shows like Elfen Lied or Ouran High School may have been, each character there would start as a fetish but along the way would receive a unique side story that would set him apart from the rest. This does not happen here at all; they all go through the exact same events and have very similar simplistic backgrounds, so they only end up being the same character with different looks.
So ok, the characters suck too. How about the romance? It has a taboo pairing of humans with half-breeds so it must be good. No it isn’t. The so-called romance is very forced and shallow as all we see them doing is being paired by their superiors in the first episode. Well where is the romance if they didn’t chose their partner or fell in love with him/her BEFORE being paired? They could have being paired any other way and the result would be the same thus there is no actual love here. As for the evolution of their relationship later on, it doesn’t exist since Zakuro is the only one who has a story to begin with.
So ok, the romance sucks. How about the production values? I must say that the artwork and animation are well done for such a show, as everything looks like a dreamy setting, blending a retro look of Japan, along with fantasy and even occult. The use of colors and lighting is done great and you really feel woozy when they are fooling around and anxious when they go chase some monster. Plus the characters are all drawn from the stuff of wet dreams so it helps to keep your eyes open. The thing that is bad is the action scenes which are plain horrible in terms of duration and choreography. The music part is not so good as the soundtrack is passable pop songs and some voices may feel to annoying from time to time. Otherwise, not bad in itself.
As you can tell from the above, I didn’t enjoy Zakuro much. It was all too basic and superficial. I also don’t give this show any value as it is so generically executed, not even the target audience will be interested for long and will forget it as soon as the next fan catering anime pops up.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 8/10
Analysis: General Artwork 2/2, Character Figures 1/2, Backgrounds 2/2, Animation 1/2, Visual Effects 2/2
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Analysis: Voice Acting 2/3, Music Themes 3/4, Sound Effects 2/3
STORY SECTION: 5/10
Analysis: Premise 2/2, Pacing 1/2, Complexity 1/2, Plausibility 0/2, Conclusion 1/2
CHARACTER SECTION: 5/10
Analysis: Presence 1/2, Personality 2/2, Backdrop 1/2, Development 0/2, Catharsis 1/2
VALUE SECTION: 1/10
Analysis: Historical Value 0/3, Rewatchability 0/3, Memorability 1/4
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 1/10
Analysis: Art 1/1, Sound 0/2, Story 0/3, Characters 0/4
I'm not quite sure what I was expecting when I picked this show up, and I was actually seriously annoyed after the first episode. However, I'll admit that I got sucked in, and, despite the obvious thin-ness of plot, I ended up enjoying it.
Story: What annoyed me so much in the first episode was the contrived-ness of the premise, which felt a lot like someone said, "What excuse can we devise to throw three dapper bishounen into the lives of four moe-moe ear-girls? And of course they'll ALL fall in love with exactly the right person--we don't need any reasons for that!" And then then conclusion was like, "Bwahaha all according to the plan of mask-man!"
Once I got over that aspect, much like a fish being reeled in against my will by the overpowering moe of looooove, I actually thought that elements of the premise/plot worked rather well. Half-youkai by their nature are half-breeds, and the idea that they were used and shunned and maltreated was not unusual given that fact. It made me think a lot about race, as well as making their tragic past much more believable. In fact, very little of the tragedy in the characters' pasts felt contrived when I framed it term of race, class, and power. Also I liked the theme of tension between Westernization/traditional Japanese-ness. That stuff is like moe for my brain.
Characters: Each character had a distinct personality, and they were dimensional and had moods and quirks and weaknesses. Each had actions he or she could or could not take based on their character. The villain was fleshed out, had a past, had a clear motive, had an Achilles heel. Nothing ground-breaking. Character development (characters growing/developing themselves because of things in the plot) was thin to lacking, and some of the side characters had more believable romance than the title character.
Inner Feminist must break in and say how much she liked the male characters admitting to deep emtions and that they were usually the weaker ones, and also that the girls had strong roles (or like Byakuroku, was able to [somewhat] overcome her victimization). However, Inner Feminist did not much like how the girls were fated into their relationships with The One or how girly-girl-silly the girls were or how they were roled into caring for children (but that's [mostly] just because she's a tomboy at heart and dislikes kids).
Loooooove is in the air~!<3 That's about all you need to know. The show was entertaining, and had some substance if you care to develop it in your head for your own amusement. Otherwise, sit back and feel the loooooooove. Also random side note: the catchy demon-killing chant had me singing "Washi wa hana ka? Chou chou ka, oni ka?" for days.
When I reached out and started to watch Otome Youkai Zakuro, I was hoping that I could feel a little of the sublime love I got from watching Spice and Wolf. I was disappointed at first, but if you are well-read on my reviews, you know I try very hard not to be biased. That being said, forgetting the hole in my chest, yearning for more Spice and Wolf-esque romance and storytelling, OYZ was honestly not all that bad.
Story: 5 out of 10
Story was the lowest of the categories to me, solely because of the inconsistency of maturity. In one episode, they would face a monster that loved the flavor of pregnant women, because of the children inside of them were tasty. Then the next episode involved a board-game spirit that needed to see true love to disappear. It is incredibly irritating as a viewer to wonder "Should I be watching this anime seriously, or just casually?".
The entire storyline plays out fairly episodic until the last few episodes, a group of military boys get sent to a special spirit division of the army to group up with half-spirit girls and try to promote a healthy relationship between humans and spirits. Within only a few episodes, love is in the air, and comedy is a plenty.
The plot thickens when a man in the shadows starts trying to capture the main girl, and he turns out to be her half-brother (who wants to marry and have sex with her? Kind of a touchy subject there guys...) who is also bent on world-domination, or some other 5-cent villain excuse. All in all, completely average and erratic.
Animation: 8 out of 10
The animation of OYZ was insistent, just like the storyline. There were moments of dazzling beautiful displays of art, and then scenes of choppy, boorish coloring. The beautiful moments were much more prevalent than the bad, and the pretty parts certainly were pretty. For that, I give it an 8, but the inconsistent style was a little annoying at times.
Sound: 7 out of 10
Sound was an unexpected treat. Lots of singing, excellent voice-acting, and catchy OP and ED songs made the sound department really shine for this series.
Characters: 9.5 out of 10
The highlight of the series, characters, were incredible. OYZ did a fantastic job of making fractured, likeable characters that will have you cheering for them the entire way there. No two characters are alike, and they all have admirable qualities, but they all fight tooth and nail for what they love. For that very reason, all 7 main characters become heroes in our eyes. Zakuro's past, and Agemaki's growth are two of the pivotal points to character development that made this series what it is.
Zakuro has a haunted past of loss and despair, but through friendship, and a deep sense of love given to her by her mother, she carries on, trying to help out those in need. Agemaki is rich, prolific general's son, but is a caring, sensitive lad. These daddy issues lead him to have an irrational fear of spirits,and through Zakuro, he learns to not only overcome them, but learn about himself in the process.
Even the minor characters of OYZ are well thought out. The 4 main bad guys all have different reasons for being there (Rangui from love, Hanadate for lack thereof, byakoroku to protect her sister, and Daidai to feel useful), and this makes them much more believable as characters versus the typical "I don't like things so I smash world rawr!" that infects so many villain characters.
Overall: 7 out of 10
Overall, OYZ is no ground-breaking work of genius, but it is a subtle sort of series that will have you smiling from time to time. It is not a series that focuses on romance, action, or drama specifically, but dabbles in all. The overall feel of the show is young love. If you are someone like me who remembers what young love felt like, or perhaps you are young and in love now, I think you will appreciate this. Floods of nostalgia made me a melodramatic mess as i sat here watching thsi series unroll before my eyes. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.