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.
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.
What is with all the faux animal ears? I was watching and paying close attention. I do not see actual ears because there is no white fuzz inside them just a patch of conical shaped hair. Or at the very least, they do not always appear as ears. In episode 9, for example, I watched several miinutes during a slow calm period of the story and no sign of actual ears. In fact, I do not think I see them move much if at all, which is also very unlike those kind of ears. It is a bit overly atypical type of magical and/or neko animal ear type anime. Nothing really stands out except the amusing aspect of the main character, Kei Agamaki, whereby he fears animal spirits. Even though none of the girls actually are physically at least and yet the show deals with prejudices as if they were. The visual contradicts the story. This is not a old out of date show or filled with so much flutter it is hard to keep up with characters so there is no reason for such an error to be present. You do not see this in any of the Utawarerumono series. It is almost painful that not one but all the girls fall for humans as if it were some given automatic must for the story and I am not sure the reasons really pan out for all of them. There is a so called fox spirit leader character that actually looks more like a horse or a lama than a fox. The fox woman and elephant man to a degree kind of feel out of place because most characters look more human like or at least one might expect them to look like the animal they are supposed to be a spirit of. It might have helped if their was a better slightly more thorough explanation or other none agency animal spirits that looked like animals and who were not the enemy as it would have given the impression it was not so out of place after all. It is amusing and even somewhat funny at times but the only really unique thing about it or anything that keeps it going and standing out from all the other very similar stories is the fear of Kei of spirits.
There is not a great deal of violence in it but there are times of tense moments and romantic suggestion approaching adult manner. It is an amusing story to watch but do not expect any Earth shattering epiphanies that will make you stand up and shout that this is the greatest thing ever or even that good of a thing. If it were a school assignment, it would get a C at best and a D - at worst. The Gate handles mystical creatures and magical to human relationships far better than this series and in a much more unique way, though some of it's characters are in fact lacking. There is a decent enough amout of time spent into developing the characters but nothing really sticks about any of them as there is nothing that stands out or seems all that suprising or original. Kei does have a somewhat interesting twist about his story and there is some sort of mystery concerning Zakuro. There are other character building back stories that make attempts to engage and involve the viewer such as the twins so called tragic life story how they were thrown out and mistreated but something still seemed to untainted and squeeky clean about them despite such a thing during the flashbacks. It made it a tad harder to really feel they were mistreated and it never makes much sense about their time in the cave or how they managed to live there without venturing forth even after the visitor stopped coming. It does not really click that it was possible or at least that it was possible and how they came out of it. At the very least, their back story feels a bit incomplete, filled with plot holes, and somehow not well thought out.
The various powers of the girls though it is vaguely explained still feels like it is missing something to really draw the viewer into the story and accept it as genuine. The thing about the branch is a bit confusing as well. It does make up some points by the end and the pleasantly interesting twist it delivers. That kind of ending does not happen real often in anime but it does happen. I can not decide if it is unsettling, conflictive, disingenuine, just confusing, or awkwardly acceptable but based on how the characters that changed at the end behaved up until the end, it honestly hardly exemplifies them from their sins, actions, and other misdeeds. It is nice that it could happen but at the same time it feels a bit forced and/or unreal by the foundation of what the story established leading up to the end. The romantic side story is also rather pleasant but has the same kind of forced disinginuine kind of sensation. Plus it is just oddly too convenient to feel acceptable and of course the oddball twin harem kind of is the most fanciful, forceful fake feeling of all and more so when you consider they did the same thing with the other pair of half demon twins to one of the characters. All in all, it kind of gives off that manufactured aura where everything just fits too neatly and automatically into a basic, 'all the guys meet all the girl characters and they all naturally fall in love'. It is a nice fantasy to think love is that simple and easy for everyone in the world but that is also a big part of what makes it feel obstinate and fictional.
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