I know I keep saying that The Apothecary Diaries is not a romance, doesn’t mean I don’t see what’s going on between our two main characters. Maybe saying Jinshi is in love with Maomao is a little far-fetched, but he’s not not in love with her. Okay, that sounds confusing but romance is rarely ever simple. Especially if that romance is hidden under layers and layers of conniving political drama and medical anomalies. Like, where does one even find the time to court anyone?
But it wouldn’t be so unbelievable to think that Jinshi is in love with Maomao. It’s plain to see that his clinical interest in our eccentric protagonist has turned into romantic affection, as early as back in Book 1 of the original Light Novel. I mean, clearly Jinshi likes Maomao a lot, he proposed to her at one point. While Maomao is out here, too single minded in her duties to really think about something as trivial as romance. Honestly, sometimes their relationship feels like a whole circus with Jinshi as the sad clown trying to make Maomao see him as more than just an ally.
The thing about The Apothecary Diaries is that it is one of the few Seinen mangaout there that has a female lead, without romance being the main focus of everything. Unlike in something like a Shojou, Maomao is anything but the love-lorn protagonist waiting for her Prince Charming to come to the rescue at impromptu times. Instead, she’s going to get herself out of sticky situations, even if it is through sincerely bizarre ways. Again, she’s a crafty person and Jinshi is one of the many people who admire her tenacity.
But that doesn’t mean she owes anyone affection. Which, hear me out here, is so refreshing. We are so used to the so-called strong female characters that later become accessories to the male character’s storyline, ending up being shallow and underdeveloped. But over here, Maomao is truly her own person. If anything, Jingshi is the side character to Maomao’s brilliance. But that doesn’t diminish how Jinshi is in love with Maomao. So, let’s discuss that relationship more in yet another round of Lore Analysis.
Jinshi And Maomao: Loving From The Sidelines
Okay, I’m making it sound much more sad and forlorn than it really is. Jinshi’s romantic inclinations towards Maomao are anything but sad. The guy knows how to make a situation work out in a way where he seems to be an appealing option. Which, I guess some of that just crosses over from being a trained Palace Eunuch. Jinshi is nothing if not charming to a fault, using his influence to ultimately aid Maomao in finding her footing in the Royal Court.
But Maomao seems to be one of the very few people that are immune to his charismatic personality. Like, don’t get her wrong, she sees the appeal, from a physical standpoint. After all, Jinshi is said to be very beautiful, even in the plot. But it is more of an aesthetic thing? She doesn’t get why he’s so popular beyond that. And with their relationship being the way it is, it’s hard to find a good balance between the two. She is technically Jinshi’s servant, and yet Jinshi is the one who can’t stop being clingy and meddling in her ways.
But can you blame the guy? Like, Maomao isn’t just a pretty face. She’s intelligent and capable, even being kidnapped and smuggled away into the Royal Palace didn’t break her spirit. She’s amazingly knowledgeable, thanks to the years of experience interning for her adoptive father, Luomen, who owned a Pharmacy in the Red Light District. The girl knows how to tackle medical mysteries like it’s her birthright.
And the best part is that Maomao is completely aware of her capabilities. She knows when she is the smartest person in the room, and isn’t shy about commending herself for a job well done. Jinshi might appreciate her plenty, but Maomao is her own cheerleader. Like, do you understand how rare it is to find a female protagonist that isn’t your usual flavor of boringly humble? No wonder Jinshi is so self sacrificial around her, I would be too!
But yeah, it’s safe to say that Jinshi loves Maomao. He is head over heels for her and that doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon. However, The Apothecary Diaries does something really cool here, which is that they let the romance take a backseat to the true plot of the story: The medical mystery solving!
Subdued Romances In Manga For the Win!
So, I’m the first one to jump on a kitschy, cute Shoujo anime when it starts airing. Like, I am 100% a fangirl and I love shipping culture. It’s how we get amazing stuff such as great fanart and genuinely epic fanfiction. And hey, who doesn’t love a sappy romance in their anime, every now and then? But sometimes, even I need a more nuanced take on a relationship.
I think I’ve grown in my tastes, which is why I like when plot heavy manga and anime have a side of romance, instead of the other way around. There’s just something so special about seeing two characters grow as individuals, while also growing closer together. But it is paced well, instead of forcing the couple together. The main focus of the story is the plot, not the two characters I’m shipping. Like, yes I want to see some lovey dovey stuff go on, but I can also wait until those interactions between love interests become more organic.
No, think about it: There is nothing that puts me off a work of fiction faster than characters that have 0 chemistry together being pushed to be a couple. Like, it’s insane how many manga and anime out there completely forget the plot, just to cater to the lack of buildup between the main love interests. And this is where I really grew to appreciate The Apothecary Diaries for its unconventional take.
Don’t get me wrong, it still isn’t a romance. This is a Seinen Mystery at its core, and that will remain the main focus of the story. But it does have some romantic elements in it. Jinshi is in love with Maomao, but it isn’t center stage. Instead, you see Jinshi and Maomao interact, mostly in regards to the mysteries that need solving in the Inner Court. You get to see Jinshi experience the full extent of Maomao’s passion for poisons and antidotes, and it’s her dedication that makes him fall in love.
Honestly, give me more subdued romances in manga and anime, because it makes for a better story overall. I want to enjoy an interesting tale, while also having the promise of some romance going on in the background. And if that sounds like your cup of tea as well, then The Apothecary Diaries follows through beautifully.