Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Otome Youkai Zakuro

I'm not a frequent consumer of shoujo material, but here and there I indulge in some shoujo watching just to keep me out of monotony. I usually drift towards series with a decent amount of adventure or combat, on the likes of the classic and always remembered Utena. The anime i'm going to talk about is far from being a shoujo masterpiece as Utena, but will certainly entertain and bring some hours of laugh to any one giving it enough time.


Otome youkai Zakuro is set briefly after the Meiji restoration in Japan. The country is opening to foreign trade guided by the external influence of the european trade superpowers, and takes giant steps into modern era. Steam, charriots, architecture, even the calendar changes to meet the perceived ideal of progress as seen on the old Europe. But this modernity comes at the cost of tradition, as the Japanese forget their own cultural assets and traditions, neglet their gods and youkai (japanese spirits).

Their mission: getting down and dirty with the foxy ladies.
On this climate, a comission is born from the military to ensure a quiet trasition to the new era that does not neglet the past. A ministery of supernatural affairs is thus born, and three young soldiers are sent to serve on this new army division together with four ladies, born from the union of humans and youkai. Their mission, help citizens with troubles caused with rogue youkai and other supernatural incidents rising from the restless youkai population of the capital.
To ease the task, the minister and the tutor of the girls (an old kitsune lady) decide to tag the boys and girls in teams. And so, the short fused and tsundere Zakuro gets paired with Agemaki, a charming officer from a rich family, scared to hell by spirits and demons. The delicate and meek Susukihotaru teams with the big and silent Riken, and for desserts, the young prodigy officer Ganryu joins Hozuki and Bonbori, two cheerful and mischievous identical twins.

Zakuro is a high level tsundere proficient with edgy weapons.


Like every shoujo, the main plot focus more on the feelings of the characters than the events itself, which just act as catalizer. As chapters go by, the anime explores the relationship between them and how they cope with the acceptance of the occidental culture (in the case of the girls) and with ancient spirits of old (in the case of the boys).For this reason don't expect much of a deep plot but a sequence of situations.

My main objection to the comes from the final chapters though. When the major plot point starts to unfold, the main villain's motivations, despite clear, don't feel that convincing. Also, the need of finding a "good" ending for him makes him go through some personality inconsistencies wich in turn leave you with the feeling that he's made quite a fuss for something that in fact wasn't thaaaat important to him. Additionaly, for an anime that revolves heavily on the love relationship of each of the three couples, the end might dissapoint for being left open in this particular issue.

The bad guys are mostly cool but with a tendency to overdo things to much.


OYZ features a very clean and nice animation. Character designs are nice (I particullarly adore the twins) and even some secondary characters end up being quite nice and enjoyable. Boys design look more shoujo style, but girls retain general manga proportions, which makes the genre barrier more easily crossable for any guy wanting to venture into this particular anime. Also, the use of expressive background s full of flowers and the likes is cut to just the necessary leaving space for the backgrounds to delve deeper on the Meiji era japan scenery that recalls other series like Sakura Taisen.

One of the best chapters sees the girls dressed in occidental ball dresses.


Music is one strong point of this anime with tunes ambiented on ancient japan, and seiyuus play a major role on making it memorable. Special mention to the song the girls sing while in combat (Benibana no Otome Uta), heavily reminiscent of japanese child songs and that really helps you get on that old japanese mood.

The opening animation is pretty nice (despite being strange that the main character just gets 2 seconds of screen time), but the opening theme is a bit of a let down. Not that it is bad, it's just that the rest of the soundtrack is simply awesome and the opening feels a bit stereotype.

The secondary cast is kinda bizarre in the beggining but they end up charming you.
The series has 3 wonderful ending songs that play alternatively, each one focusing in one of the couples (or trio) and sung by their own seiyuus with still images of the couple. The 3 songs really really feel like a perfect match for the characters, and go from the slow ballad to the cheerfull song of the twins trio, going through Zakuro's theme itself featuring Agemaki smoothtalking the girl on the background.


Overall, Otome Youkai Zakuro is a series i would recommend, specially for fans of romantic comedies tired of school slice of life situations. And even if you are not, certainly the soundtrack is worth of some space in your mp3 player.


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