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Review: Otome Yokai Zakuro Episode 1: The Tides of History and a Cowardly Lieutenant

Quick Summary

In Otome Yokai Zakuro episode 1, “Prepare to be Bewitched,” it’s the period of rapid Westernization in Japan, and the government wants to put an end to demons meddling with humans. So, the government creates the Ministry of Spirit Affairs and assigns three young military officers, Kei Agemaki, Riken Yoshinokazura, and Ganryuu Hanakiri, to lead it. They meet their spirit counterparts in Zakuro, Susukihotaru, and the twins Bonbori and Houzuki, and while the meeting seems to go well, there are clear signs that some friction exists between the two groups. Can Kei and his officers find a way to work with Zakuro and the other half-spirit girls? Will circumstance even give them the chance? Or will the demons who are causing so much trouble for humans take advantage of their strife?

Note: This post may include spoilers, so be cautious.

What’s in This Post

3 Favorite Moments

Moment 1: Wait, Kei Wants What?

Review: Otome Yokai Zakuro Episode 1: Zakuro was unimpressed by Kei's cowardice.

Way to kill the mood, Kei! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

By this point in the episode, the show has firmly established Zakuro as a half-spirit who loves tradition and hates anything to do with the encroaching Westernization. That includes the soldiers she’s been ordered to work with to form the Ministry of Spirit Affairs. That is, until she meets Kei.

I got the sense that Zakuro, as tough as she acts, really has very little real world experience. So when Kei turned on the charm, she faltered. As testament to that, she was sitting outside when she said to Susukihotaru (09:31), “Your almanac might be right…” Earlier that day, Susukihotaru had read the almanac, and it said that the timing was right for romance. Zakuro had scoffed at the idea, calling the almanac a Western invention.

That night, Zakuro saw Kei walking towards her. She didn’t know that he had just encountered the housekeeping staff in monster mode, Mamezou hanging upside down and saying “Hi, big guy,” and Amaryouju shaking Kei’s hand with a trunk. As in, an elephant’s trunk. All Zakuro knows is that Kei comes up to her and throws his arms around her.

At first, Zakuro found Kei’s charm to be interesting. Then… let’s just say he stumbled a bit. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

“You mustn’t! It’s too sudden,” she says (11:39), blushing and looking all tender.

Then he tells her that he can’t go to the outhouse alone because he’s scared of all of the spirits.

Her look of disgust would have melted steel.

She said to him, “You’re just a pansy!”

While I give Kei points for being honest, I have I don’t blame her for her scorn!

Moment 2: Milk – It Does a Body Good

Just last night, he was almost too terrified to move. Now, he’s suddenly able to touch a half-spirit! Even baby steps are steps! Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

After Kei’s midnight rendezvous, Zakuro is even more dead-set against all things Western. When the housekeepers serve milk the next morning, Zakuro objects. Loudly.

Ganryuu, the youngest of the soldiers, tried to convince her how healthy it was (as a side note, I had to laugh at how easily Bonbori and Houzuki manipulate him — though I can’t exactly feel sorry for him!).

Slamming the cup down, she protests that it’s disgusting and there’s no way she’s going to drink cow’s milk.

Zakuro didn’t buy into the idea that cow’s milk was healthy, despite what Ganryuu said. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

As you can see from the screen capture above, Zakuro looked fierce. I expected Kei to cower. But he didn’t. At first, he just tried to repeat what Ganryuu said, but Zakuro interrupted him.

She said that she can’t stand humans because “They adopt Jesuit practices without a second thought” (14:27). Again, I expected Kei to back down. But he didn’t! The man who couldn’t go to the bathroom alone just the night before said that he thought it was a good idea to be open to “changes that are good.”

Of course, Zakuro lambasted him, but I liked that small spark — something in him was responding to her, even if he didn’t realize it. That’s how I like to see relationships start.

Moment 3: Riken’s Gesture of Kindness

Riken decided to give Susukihotaru a new perspective. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

After they met the soldiers and learned who would be their partners, Zakuro and Susukihotaru were walking in the courtyard. Susukihotaru was almost painfully shy, and she was honestly apprehensive about being paired with a solider as huge as Riken (7:56). She even said as much to Zakuro. What she didn’t see was that he was just walking past the two of them. She was terrified that he had overheard; even Zakuro looked a little concerned.

Later, Susukihotaru was trying to reach a box on top of some cabinets. No matter how hard she strained, it remained out of her reach. Suddenly, Riken came up behind her and gently lifted the box. She was startled when she turned to see him standing there. She didn’t know what to say. All she could think was that “He’s so big and scary…”

I think Riken’s gesture touched her heart. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Carefully, he handed her the box. Then he went down on one knee (16:30). As he looked up into her eyes, he asked in a quiet voice, “Am I still scary?”

She was taken aback by his kind gesture. She even blushed. He had heard her say he was scary, and instead of being offended, he asked himself what he could to to put her at ease. How cool is that?

Thoughts

I’ve wanted to review this series for you for years. In fact, when I started reviewing older series along side the newer ones, I had intended for this series to be the first! Some Twitter polls I ran picked other series, though, so this year, I made a command decision.

No throw-back review poll for the Fall 2019 season! I’m going to review Otome Yokai Zakuro for you!

First, isn’t the OP amazing? It captures the elegance of a bygone era, with the half-spirit girls in their kimonos. It captures the sense of danger with the mysterious figure removing the mask. It hints of the cult and intrigue. I don’t think I could ask for much more from an OP!

It doesn’t hurt that the first ED is way cool, either!

When I watch the first episode of a series, I look for that one amazing moment that will entrance me. For The Asterisk War, it was in the first episode where Julis-Alexia van Riessfeld released her flames that so impressed Amagiri Ayato. In Re:CREATORS, it was when Souta Mizushino claimed that the story he was about to tell “was a story that surpassed all stories.” In this episode, it was the first 44 seconds, where we see Zakuro take on some dangerous demon while Susukihotaru, Bonbori, and Houzuki sing a hauntingly beautiful song.

By this point in the first episode, not even 60 seconds into the story, I knew I was going to finish this series. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

So I was doubly happy when I found a similarly arresting moment later in the episode. Don’t get me wrong: I thoroughly enjoyed almost all of the first episode. But there was another moment that really got my attention. It was when all of them went to look at the flowering trees.

As they walked through the street that were lined with vendors, many of the human crowd give them dark and unaccepting looks. The “good” people of Japan were trying to move forward, and here was this group of spirits and half-spirts — a reminder of the past. The kids, Kiri and Sakura, don’t even notice. Amaryouju and Kushimatsu ignored it. Zakuro tried to play it off like it’s nothing, but her expression makes her feelings clear — she hates it.

The theme of kind and blamless people being subjected to unfair discrimination has always fascinated me. It played a huge role in the series Shikabane Hime, and it looked like this series was going to treat it with the same level of importance and seriousness. Then it introduced a curve ball.

Kei was equally unhappy about the undeserved scrutiny, but Zakuro didn’t give him time to feel any kind of moral superiority. She said (18:03), “Weren’t you also scared of us? You’re no different from them.”

It stung Kei that Zakuro thought he was no different from the judgmental crowd. But she was wrong — there was one major difference. Capture from the Crunchyroll stream.

Raiju’s rampage (the lightning beast) interrupted their conversation, but I think Kei was about to protest, and I think he was right. He was scared of spirits, but he recognized it as a weakness in himself. He saw it was something to be ashamed of. He saw it as something he should fight to overcome. That’s quite a bit different from active discrimination, which is based on an ignorant assumption of superiority — and which invokes no shame.

Kei helped save Kiri and Sakura from the confused Raiju. The fact his own actions so terrified him that he couldn’t move was just a bit of added levity. But Zakuro saw the gesture for what it was: The instant Kei saw the little ones in danger, he acted. He didn’t care that they were spirits. He saved them because they were, in and of themselves, worth saving. She didn’t come out and say it, but by the end of the episode, I think she saw that there was a difference between Kei and the onlookers.

Now, if he can just keep his courage about him…

What did you think of the backdrop of the encroachment of Western civilization? What were your favorite moments? Let me know in the comments!

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9 thoughts on “Review: Otome Yokai Zakuro Episode 1: The Tides of History and a Cowardly Lieutenant

  1. I wasn’t aware of Zakuro before this. I’ve watched the first three episodes, and I’m putting it on my weekly watch list. Thanks.

    1. ” I’ve watched the first three episodes, and I’m putting it on my weekly watch list. Thanks.”

      Awesome! I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. There’s a lot to like, but watch the relationship that develops between Kei and Zakuro. It goes in some interesting directions!

  2. I watched Demon Girl Zakuro… two years ago now I think? I thought it was a very “average” anime personally. Some characters are better than others, but overall I had a feeling it’d be a mostly forgettable experience… and it sort of was, as all I really remember from it is Zakuro herself.

    One thing for sure though is that the art and character designs were excellent, and your images have reminded me of that!

    1. “I thought it was a very “average” anime personally. Some characters are better than others, but overall I had a feeling it’d be a mostly forgettable experience…”

      It’s interesting to me how two people can view the same show so differently. In this case, I wonder if it’s how the theme resonated with you? This feels a lot like Shikabane Hime to me, and it’s also not widely well-regarded. Maybe I’m just a sucker for the underdog theme?

      “One thing for sure though is that the art and character designs were excellent, and your images have reminded me of that!”

      I’m glad you think so! I thought the art was beautiful as well. The non-human characters felt distinctive and well-realized, too.

      1. Well this one I binged, and I think that exploring themes and a show’s tone / intent often go over my head when I do that. Writing episodic posts definitely has allowed me to pick apart more intricate anime.

        That said, I suppose if I had to give a reason as to why I thought it was forgettable was just that I didn’t feel motivated to follow the story. A lack of purpose, I guess. Felt like it was a slice of life, but I’m not sure that it was trying to BE a slice of life…

        1. “Well this one I binged, and I think that exploring themes and a show’s tone / intent often go over my head when I do that. Writing episodic posts definitely has allowed me to pick apart more intricate anime.”

          That’s happened to me more than once! I watched Chivalry of a Failed Knight several times, but it was only after I started reviewing it that I noticed some of its themes. Arpeggio of Blue Steel was even more like that.

  3. Aww, Zakuro was one of the very first anime I watched as it aired. It doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it deserves, so I’m glad you picked this show. I can’t really remember what happens in which episode. I did re-watch the show once, but that actually makes things worse, in that I differentiate between episodes even less than when I watch them on a weekly basis.

    I think one of my favourite episodes was the one where Zakuro meets Kei’s family. I remember that one comparatively well.

    1. “I think one of my favourite episodes was the one where Zakuro meets Kei’s family.”

      I liked that one, too. Zakuro had begun to build a friendship with Kei, so seeing how she reacted to Kei’s military father was interesting. Seeing Kei tip-toe around his dad was interesting, too. If I remember right, his mom more or less saw through everyone!

      Also felt really bad for Zakuro having to bind her ears. That had to hurt!

      1. I’ll probably have a few things to say when that episode rolls around (my take’s pretty much exactly like yours).

Please let me know what you think!

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