The Apothecary Diaries ‒ Episode 17


Maomao doesn’t do things by halves. We already knew that was the case from her all-in approach to doing anything she’s asked to, and that goes for when Jinshi asks her to use makeup to disguise him so that he can go out into the town. At first, Maomao is surprised (and concerned) about his request for her to put makeup on him, because the last thing the world needs is a more modern version of Helen of Troy, but when she figures out that he’s asking to become less beautiful, it makes sense. Jinshi’s far too recognizable as he normally is, and even if no one who saw him in town knew him as the gorgeous eunuch, he’s too striking to be able to blend in and go about his business. Donning duller feathers to make him a less fine bird, to garble the old saying, is what’s needed.

To say that Maomao relishes her task would be an understatement. I suspect that the reason is two-fold: one, she’s getting to put her skills into play, and two, she can get closer to Jinshi and get an eyeful without anyone misinterpreting things. Or, mostly without anyone misinterpreting things; her sniffing his hand raises Suiren’s eyebrows and Jinshi’s temperature. Not that Maomao wants to inspect his body for prurient reasons or because she’s romantically or sexually interested in him because even if she is, she’s unaware of it. (And I don’t think she is anyway.) But she’s felt that there’s something off about him for a while, even if she hasn’t really vocalized it, and apart from being the perfect blank canvas to paint, she can also fully catalog some of those oddities. The main two are his rather extreme musculature and the callouses on his hands. We know that Jinshi has been training with a sword, but this is Maomao’s first real glimpse at the fruits of that, and it’s not something she was expecting. It deepens the mystery of who (or what) Jinshi is, because she’s right, that’s not common for eunuchs, although another light novel series set in a similar place and time, Raven of the Inner Palace , notes that there are some martial-trained eunuchs for inner court security purposes. (That would be in novel four of the series, so past what was adapted into anime.) That doesn’t seem to be the case here, though, or at least not that Maomao is aware of.

There’s a lot more to managing a disguise than just makeup and clothes, though, and although Jinshi’s face shape can be changed with cotton wadding and his body hidden with false bulk, he’s still ridiculously beautiful. But there’s also a hidden motive in all of this that Maomao is unaware of and would hate if she knew: Jinshi absolutely could have gone as himself to his meeting at the restaurant, but then Gaoshun and Suiren wouldn’t have gotten to facilitate a little date for he and Maomao. Jinshi may be perfectly well aware of this, but even if he isn’t, he’s plainly having a blast – not only is he walking around with the benefit of anonymity, but he’s also spending time with the woman he’s into. A piece of him does know that Maomao is annoyed with this, although his statement that he didn’t expect her to be so solicitous of her dad is odd, given how desperate she was to get home. Maybe he assumed she just wanted to be able to play with her poisons or something. But regardless, it may give him a little hope, because it does show that she can care for other people.

It’s clear that Jinshi has been mulling over what Lakan told him about wanting to devalue a courtesan, and that he’s worried about how that might apply to (or relate to) Maomao. Her explanation that a high-ranking courtesan could spend her entire career without sleeping with a man (although that’s not a certainty or a given, and Pairin enjoys the sexual aspects of her work) is eye-opening for him, and when she adds that pregnancy is the quickest way to devalue a working woman, it seems like he isn’t quite sure what to think. The disappearance of the crowd around them at that point shows just how much it shocks him, and whether he’s putting pieces together about Maomao’s potential heritage or worrying that Lakan was threatening Maomao herself isn’t yet obvious. But Lakan is a dangerous character in one way or another, and all the cute little chicken skewer dates shadowed by a grumpy Basen can’t remove his shadow from this story.


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