The Apothecary Diaries Volume 1: Too Much Confidence



Yes, there’s a few elephants in the room with how inactive I’ve been (that can wait for later), but more importantly The Apothecary Diaries volume 1 has arrived, and it’s left me with quite a bit to think about. From the moment that the anime opened, I’ve been very… interested in what the source material might look like. Of course, I could have read the digital version of the title, but I’m incredibly against digital reading for a number of reasons, so I waited for the physical release from Square Enix themselves. As a quick aside on that piece of info, for the first light novel I’ve bought from them, it’s pretty damn good in terms of quality. It has the whitest and thickest pages of all the publishers, and had (as far as I could tell) zero grammatical (or otherwise) errors in the text- something that seems to be quite the challenge for a certain light novel publisher. Either way, it’s really great quality out of Square Enix that continues to challenge the “big dogs” in the industry, so I can say that the price is justified.

Though, all of that has very little to do with the light novel itself, so let’s actually talk about that. If there was a single thing that could encompass the sort of “danger” that appears with The Apothecary Diaries volume 1, it’s the foreword from author Nastu Hyuuga. Here, Hyuuga themselves claims that Maomao will eventually be immortalized as a wonder detective of the light novel medium. I think that confidence may have worked if this was one of Hyuuga’s only works, or if Hyuuga’s other titles could keep pace…. but taking a peek into their history and you’ll find only one other series out of a total of 6 series that has made it past 2 volumes (light novel or manga). Now, that’s not exactly a slight against Hyuuga themselves, but I think it more than illustrates the hubris displayed with such a needlessly bold foreword- that is quickly followed up by a story structure that raises alarm bells.

In a single volume, there’s 31 chapters (plus an epilogue). Yes, that is the correct number, and yes, I double checked that. Of course, like every piece I’ll be chatting about here, these are not inherently “bad” pieces, but as you’ll see they all quickly pile up and give readers a stronger perspective of the work. Either way, Hyuuga has fractured The Apothecary Diaries volume 1 to high heaven. Thankfully though, the anime doesn’t reflect that fragmentation to the same degree at all. All the same though, those chapters do comprise quite a few larger arcs (noted by the “part” appended to a chapter name), but that very “clean” cut can be plenty jarring at times, and in a sense resets the effort that Hyuuga’s gone through to deliver the story to readers. In contrast though, Hyuuga certainly finds a better cadence as the series continues- something that the anime prepared me for. What it didn’t prepare me for however, was just how much of a slog those early mysteries would be. Just as you get to feeling a certain rhythm arise from the work in the first half, Hyuuga firmly closes the doors on a room and quickly whisks you away to a new chamber, with something completely new to look at. It’s a routine that eats up the first half of The Apothecary Diaries volume 1, and one that I really wish I didn’t have to force myself through.

In all honesty though, I think the piece that made the earlier mysteries a challenge to work through is Hyuuga’s tone and appeal. In a single word, it’s very self-affecting- which isn’t quite a surprise after something like that foreword. In some cases, that selfish writing can work out rather well, but the world displayed in The Apothecary Diaries volume 1 is not that kind of world. You need something darker, something more vain and even shallow to be able to write as selfishly as that. Which is a shame, because I think Hyuuga could certainly pull it off. Their writing from a technical perspective is very good, enough so that it’s certainly worth praising.

What holds this back then is Hyuuga’s very purpose with this first volume. I’ve been reading (an unhealthy amount of) That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, and hands down Hyuuga’s writing beats Fuse’s nine times out of ten. If I were to choose a volume to pick up next though, my hands would immediately reach for Fuse’s work. It’s a very simple thing: Tensura’s purpose is far more well-defined than The Apothecary Diaries volume 1. Hyuuga’s selfish writing doesn’t quite reach the peaks required to truly be appreciated or valued within the work, and because of that the mystery aspect suffers greatly. Hyuuga could write Fuse off the face of the Earth, but it still wouldn’t be a victory. The humor can be better in the light novel than the anime (in my opinion), and it still isn’t enough to right the wrongs of this first volume.

In a sense, The Apothecary Diaries volume 1 lived up to expectations. It sticks close to the anime, but each work is comprised of an entirely different heart and soul. The sheer passion and adulation that the anime exudes is entirely different from the selfish pride that the light novel presents. Sure, Naganuma’s version of the humor might rub me the wrong way, but it remains a facet of the work that allowed it to be so good. And really, Naganuma deserves a world of praise for the adaptation, having done both direction and series composition. It’s a world of subtle and simple changes, but it gives Hyuuga’s ideas so much more life and passion that isn’t presented alongside a claim of greatness for its creator.

Of course though, Naganuma’s adaptation would be nothing without Hyuuga’s groundwork. As much as I’ve criticized the foundation of Hyuuga’s work, there ultimately remains a great deal worth praising- it’s just that I already did that with the anime. The characters are solid, the setting very well understood, the dynamics enjoyable and engaging, and so on and so forth. From a purely technical perspective, Hyuuga has the ability to succeed, and evidently has with the success of The Apothecary Diaries the world over. It’s just that success does not always equate to greatness, and I feel like this first volume squarely misses that mark. Of course, it’s only the first volume, but being treated to the wonderful work of Naganuma through 24 episodes (or roughly 2 volumes of the light novel), I have my reservations about the amount of problems that will be solved with volume 2.

With all that said, I think that the vast majority of fans are better off sticking to the anime for The Apothecary Diaries. In my eyes, the first season is the definitive experience for the work that comfortably surpasses the limitations of the light novel. Of course, I also understand that my words alone are not enough to satiate the curiosity of everyone, but I really do feel the need to caution potential readers- it really does not have much worth experiencing. Unless you’re a die-hard “have to know everything”, I doubt even the larger differences between anime and light novel are enough to bother with. Of course I may end up wrong with volume 2, but with just The Apothecary Diaries volume 1, the proof remains in the pudding.

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